Chris Alexander

On Engineering


A Review

6th November, 2007

Facebook is by far the fastest growing so-called “social network” online - in 3 and a half years it has grown to 51 million active users, while the actual number of registered users is much higher than that. It also claims half of it’s registered users sign in every single day (me among them) and that there are over 55 thousand regional “networks” which users can be a part of.

I’ve been “on” Facebook for just over a month now, and I don’t care that it’s growing faster than MySpace, got one of the largest MySQL installations, is the second most trafficked PHP powered site in the world, and is the biggest user of the Memcache^ open source application - it has still got its problems.

One of its key features is the open platform on which developers can write and distribute applications for all kinds of things - this means that Facebook, like so many other sites of the same type (ahem, MySpace) suffers from profile overload, where users end up with tens of different little applications running on their page, making the browser sluggish, a monstrous delay while all the data is downloaded and a serious muscle build-up in all their friends’ scroll-wheel fingers.

Another one of Facebook’s “key features” is its simplified navigation. This is all well and good, but when you have so many functions on a site, some would say it’s not such a great idea to cram all those functions into a very small number of menus. I’m by no means computer illiterate, and it took me what seemed like ages (maybe nearly a week) before I completely got to grips with the whole menu structure and how it works. One of my friends joined at the weekend, who happens to be quite good at using computers too, and he’s still very much struggling with the whole thing, despite the best efforts of his other half to educate him. Surely the best type of interface yes is quite simple, but surely it should be intuitive too?

Despite this, Facebook is definitely one of the best out there. It’s layouts and colours aren’t hacked to bits like MySpace, and even if some of the pages are 5 kilometers long at least they look pretty respectable. It’s a great way of keeping in touch with anyone you haven’t seen for a while or who is a long way away, and once you’re used to the menus and layout it all seems natural.