Full Details On Facebook's Overhauled Profile Pages

Later tonight, 60 Minutes will be broadcasting an interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and VP Product Chris Cox, where they’ll debut a new Profile Page in front of millions of viewers. It’s a big deal given how core profiles are to the social network, and we’ve got the full rundown on what’s new and what’s changing. Read on.

There are two big themes to the revamped design: a bigger emphasis on keeping things visually interesting, and streamlining the design to make it easier to find information people actually care about. Facebook Product Manager Peter Deng explains that on the old profiles, some of the most popular features and information has been a pain to find — the ‘View more photos’ link, for example, is immensely popular, but it’s been nestled between far less important links for years.

So it makes sense that first things you’ll notice on the new profile pages involve major layout changes. Your vital stats — birthday, employer, current city, and the all-important relationship status — are now featured at the top of the page. A photo stream appears just below it, showcasing a handful of the photographs you’ve most recently been tagged in (you can choose to ‘hide’ a photo that you don’t want to have in your stream, so there’s some flexibility with what shows up here).

Tab navigation is now taking place directly below the profile photo, which makes profiles look more similar to Place pages — we reported that this was coming back in October. Most of these tabs are self-explanatory: clicking ‘Questions’ will bring up that application, the photos tab brings up your photo albums and albums you’ve been tagged in (now with infinite scroll!) and so on.

The biggest change to these tab apps involves ‘Info’. This now looks totally different — the dozens of text links representing your Interests have been converted to images whenever possible, giving you a more visual overview of the person.

Fortunately, you don’t have to tell the world you’re an avid fan of cheesy rock band The Darkness as soon as they hit your profile page — you get to manually sort which interests will appear as images, and which are hidden (though still accessible) under the ‘more’ tab.

Other changes to the Info tab include the addition of new categories that you can add interests to, including Philosophy and Sports. And you now better describe your workplace activities by adding Projects — you can also tag other friends who you’ve either worked with or done an activity with, the same way you would with photo tags.

The ‘Friends’ tab has also gotten an overhaul. Click it, and you’ll now see a more attractive grid of your friends’ faces alongside a search box.

Moving down the profile page, you’ll see the last big change: you can now feature friend lists on your profile. This comes with some default lists — you’ll see your Significant Other highlighted here (if you have one), and any family members you have on Facebook. But you can also create custom lists of your own that you want to show off to other users. This will inevitably lead to the creation of ‘Top Friends’ lists, which users have wanted for ages, and will doubtless be the cause of plenty of teenage angst.

Some other smaller changes: Messages and Pokes are now more prominently featured toward the top of the page. And there’s a link to your ‘friendship page‘ featured on the right side of the screen as well (this feature was recently released, and was harder to find).

Another very important change involves how Facebook is approaching the roll-out of the new profiles. The new version will be showcased during tonight’s 60 Minutes episode, but unlike most of Facebook’s previous feature releases, users are not being forced to start using the revamped site immediately. Instead, Facebook is taking a similar approach to the one Twitter used for ‘New Twitter’: it’s letting people opt in.

Facebook will be asking users if they’d like to upgrade to the new profile page, but they won’t have to do it now if they don’t want to. The company isn’t saying how much time will pass before everyone will be forced to make the switch (they say it will likely be on the order of weeks, but that other factors could affect that). One thing to note: if you do upgrade, you can’t go back to the old version, so tread lightly if this sort of thing genuinely upsets you.

The second interesting thing about the rollout is the new ‘wizard’ that users will see immediately after activating their new profiles. Using some nifty popup and fade effects, Facebook will walk you through a handful of steps highlighting the major changes to profile — the new photo stream, menu layout, and so on. The process only takes a minute or two to complete, but it’s definitely a big improvement over some of Facebook’s past rollouts.

Both of these features are obviously intended to help reduce user confusion — which is important given that profile pages haven’t changed much in years. And it may help Facebook avoid some of the inevitable backlash that it gets every time it changes anything on the site.

I’ve haven’t had much time to play with the new profile, but my initial impression is favorable. Yes, I’m sure there will be plenty of griping from people who don’t like the ‘vital stats’ area (which you can’t rearrange), and those vain users among us (myself included, obviously) now have to spend time making sure they look good in the five images in their photo streams. But once everyone gets over their aversion to change, I think they’ll come to like the new profile pages just fine.

Oh, and you can now activate the new profile right here.