The Growing Complexity Of Facebook Is Confusing Your Mom

Facebook has a thing for moms.

The last two times I’ve attended a Facebook event – both the unveiling of its redesign and its announcement of Connect on the iPhone – Facebook employees emphasized how excited they were about the fact that their mothers had recently joined the social network. The milestone is a symbolic one, indicating that Facebook is expanding beyond historically internet-savvy generations to include an older user-base, namely folks who use their computers primarily for basic tasks like Email and photography but have largely stayed out of the social-media craze. Yes, there are plenty of older tech-savvy computer users, but this is hardly the norm.

Facebook is clearly trying to bridge this gap, and it’s making significant progress. But it still has a long way to go.

Thing is, I really don’t think Facebook is that user-friendly for people who are trying out social networks for the first time. In fact, with its plethora of granular privacy settings and the somewhat foreign concept of ‘Networks’, Facebook can be downright baffling for new users. I’ve been using the site for years and I still have trouble configuring privacy settings for various photo albums and Friend Lists. The settings are all there, somewhere, they’re just confusing. Homepage redesigns and somewhat frivolous new features aren’t really helping the matter.

Facebook’s default privacy settings aren’t exactly geared towards novices, either. Creating a new photo album lists the default sharing option as “Everyone”. It’s trivial to change, but how many people simply click ‘next’ and share their photos with the world without really meaning to? And new accounts are set by default to share their information with everyone else on their network, which works out to quite a few people if you happen to join a regional network (which Facebook suggests during the signup process).

What Facebook really needs is a ‘safe mode’. Something that caters to the the kind of person who may occasionally lend a few thousand dollars to a Nigerian princess, or who sends out chain-letters that originated in 2002 to dozens of friends at time. Many of these people are quite intelligent. They just haven’t grown up with the constant threat of scams and phishers. And they’ve been told so many times not to adjust a program’s settings (for fear of doing something wrong), that they’re afraid to explore the site and figure out the privacy settings for themselves.

A ‘Safe Mode’ could take any number of forms, from a profile with stricter default privacy settings to a Clippy-like virtual helper (hopefully with fewer annoying tendencies than Microsoft Office’s old sidekick). Just something that makes the site a little easier to use for those people who aren’t really sure what they’re doing.