Facebook’s “Move fast and break things” mantra was put into action again this year as the company overhauled a number of its products, introduced many new features and eliminated old functionality. Here is a month-by-month review of changes that most affected users, marketers and developers on the platform in 2011.
Facebook started the year with a new look for profile pages. With Timeline on everyone’s minds now, it can be easy to forget that 12 months ago the social network had redesigned profiles to include more photos and information at a glance, eliminating the horizontal tab structure that had been in place since 2008.
Users began to get access to the new Messages product, which groups all direct messages between users whether they are viewing a conversation from the inbox, chat window or mobile.
In an effort to make advertising more relevant by including social context, Facebook introduced Sponsored Stories that allow advertisers to pay to promote activity on the site, such as likes or check-ins. The company added more Sponsored Story types in April and June.
Memorable Status Updates
Perhaps hinting at the nostalgia-inducing Timeline to come later in the year, Facebook began displaying users’ status updates and stories from the past.
Facebook started giving users the option of accessing Facebook over an encrypted connection and encouraged developers to obtain a Secure Sockets Layer certificate to make their iframe apps accessible to users with secure browsing enabled. Since then, the company has prompted users to switch to HTTPS and made SSL certificates mandatory for all developers.
Page owners got a number of new features to help them manage their communities. These included activity notifications, “Use Facebook as a Page,” and a spam filter for comments. Fan pages were also designed to look more like the new user profiles and place pages, which displayed applications vertically on the left hand side rather than in tabs across the top. Advertisers also gained the option of driving ads to any landing tab, not just the default.
Improved Like Button
Clicking the Like Button began sharing full-sized stories in the News Feed rather than the one-line Recent Activity stories it previously generated. This along with the Send button that came in April have replaced the Share button, which Facebook no longer supports.
Facebook made commenting more like chat by removing the “Post” button and instead publishing comments after a user hits “enter” on the keyboard. Since this leads to more accidental comments, Facebook later began giving users a 12-second window to edit their comment.
After a Q&A product similar to Quora never made it out of beta in 2010, Facebook relaunched Questions as a poll feature aimed at helping users get recommendations from their friends. Pages began using the feature to engage their fans with questions that had a more viral effect than plain-text posts.
Deals Subscription Service
Facebook seemed to be taking on Groupon when it began a new pre-paid deals service for users in select cities, but it discontinued the test in August.
Ahead of the rumored Google+ launch, Facebook made improvements to its Groups product aimed at helping people share with subsets of their friends. Most notably, group admins gained the ability to approve people before they are added to the group. Users could now also upload photo albums or ask Questions within groups.
The Send button was introduced as a way for people to share articles and third-party websites with groups of friends, whereas the Like button posts to all a users’ friends.
New Ad Analytics
Facebook made several changes to its advertising analytics dashboard to focus on performance indicators such as Page Likes, app installs and social reach, rather than older online advertising metrics such as CPM.
Recommend This Place
The social network implemented a recommendation box on place pages (and fan pages that included an address) so that users can share their opinions about a location or a business.
Tag Pages in Photos
Users and pages gained the ability to tag other pages in photos they share on the site. This increases the reach of any given photo and builds additional connections between users and pages.
Happening Now: Prelude to Ticker
Facebook began testing a “Happening Now” module on the right hand side of the page. This later became the Ticker, which shows more recent activity from your friends, including comments, page likes and now Open Graph activity like listening to a song in Spotify.
All developers on the Facebook platform became required to use Credits as the sole payment option for their social games. The company had announced a July 1 deadline at the beginning of the year and then added additional payment options and feedback channels for developers over the next few months to support the transition.
Video Calling and Group Chat
Teaming up with Skype, Facebook integrated video calling into its chat product. The social network also expanded group chat to friends who were not already in designated groups. Users can now add any friend to a chat conversation.
Revised Privacy Controls
The company simplified its privacy settings page and moved controls to the profile editor and news feed publisher. Users also gained the ability to approve tags in photos, check-ins and statuses.
Canvas App Page Changes
Facebook made several changes to the Canvas Page, bookmarking and games stories in the news feed in order to improve game discovery, retention and user experience. The redesign added a real-time activity ticker dedicated to stories about a user’s friends engaging with games.
Expanded Ads API
Facebook brought its ad API out of private beta and began allowing more developers to build tools and services that programmatically create, buy and manage Facebook ad campaigns.
Standalone Messenger App
Moving away from its all-in-one mobile application strategy, Facebook released Messenger as a separate app to rival texting and group chat alternatives.
New Locations App for Pages
Some corporations gained access to a beta product that allows them to designate multiple locations under a parent page and include a store finder on the page.
At F8, Facebook unveiled a new version of user profiles that organizes stories in a timeline format, giving users the option to add life events to any point in their personal history.
Open Graph Application Platform
Along with Timeline, the company announced a new way to connect people and objects beyond the Like button. Developers will be able to make apps that let users share what they are reading, watching, listening to, cooking and more. Along with this comes “frictionless sharing” and additional avenues for app discovery.
Reconfigured News Feed
To accommodate this new type of Open Graph app, Facebook redesigned the home page to include News Feed and Ticker.
Facebook introduced a new one-way follow dynamic with its Subscribe button. Users can subscribe to the public updates of anyone who allows subscribers. This gives the social network a way to compete with Twitter and Google+.
The social network introduced Smart Lists to automatically group users’ friends by location, workplace and school. As users become comfortable with Facebook grouping friends automatically, we could see Facebook’s algorithms creating more nuanced lists that compete with Google’s Circles feature.
After much speculation, the company unveiled a way to help mobile developers market their native and HTML5-based apps through its platform. Developers can now take advantage of bookmarks, requests and the news feed in the same way that Facebook canvas developers do.
Talking About This
Facebook added a new public metric to pages called “Talking About This.” This metric encourages pages to think about engagement, not just accumulating Likes.
Facebook released its official iPad app after months of leaks and rumors about its development.
Sponsored Stories in Ticker
The social network began showing Sponsored Story ads in the Ticker, signaling more lines being blurred between paid and organic content in the future. The company later told us Sponsored Story ads will be shown within the News Feed starting in 2012.
Timeline Goes Live
Facebook began its global release of the Timeline profile developers had gotten a preview of at F8. Timeline is still opt-in for users until sometime in early 2012. The company also debuted Timeline on mobile devices for the first time.
We discovered Facebook testing a new coupon post feature for pages that could have big implications for next year. Pages that are part of this beta can offer discounts and promote them with Sponsored Stories.
Private Message Test
We have also seen the social network testing a way for users to privately message page owners. This, too, could have a big impact for people using Facebook for business in 2012.