Want Facebook To Be Better? So Did 'YoZuck!' Creator Youssef Sarhan

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With nearly 700 million users spending a good percentage of time on the service, its seems like everyone has their own Facebook features wishlist, or complaints list. I would personally like to click through Event locations to Google Maps on the Facebook iPhone app, in order to get directions faster. I’m sure your gripe is probably different but just as granular, depending on what you use the social network for.

As the service has sort of tacked on features as it has grown, its designers are faced with the challenge of having all moving parts interact harmoniously with each other, to scale. As one impartial designer described it, “Facebook UI is a Frankenstein. It’s like eBay where network effect is so strong at this point it kinda doesn’t matter what they do.” 

Well Irish web designer Youssef Sarhan thought otherwise, and implored Facebook to rise to the UI challenge by creating the gif-fueled blog Yo Zuck! Implement This in early April, gathering ideas for how Facebook can improve its UI and UX, including but not limited to a site wide online status, nested video comments, video chat and an events map. Facebook reached out to Sarhan shortly after his site started garnering attention.

We too contacted Sarhan for an in-depth interview about how he thought Facebook could do better, and fortunately he obliged. Here’s the interview broken into Q&A format below. All images via YoZuck! Implement This.

What is your current position?

At present I am a designer at an enterprise-level CMS Firm, working on User Interface, UX and Brand design.

What was the inspiration behind the site?

The inspiration for YoZuck! formed organically while using Facebook. Naturally, where a design fails is usually quite apparent, so it’s easy to spot the marks. The bigger challenge is to see past where Facebook has failed, but instead where Facebook has failed to go; the uncharted territory.

What are your future plans?

Honestly, I’d like to go into space; aside from that I’m not making any predictions just yet.

Has Facebook tried to acquire you yet?

A couple of people have been in touch and think what I’m doing is pretty cool, which is encouraging.

What do you think is the worst thing about the Facebook UI currently?

Quite simply nobody has 100, 200 or 300 friends, you have about 10 or 20 if you’re lucky. There are sociological reasons for this and that’s not going to change anytime soon. While I think it’s important to stay in touch with people you meet it’s not necessarily relevant to know what all these people are doing every time you login. I understand Facebook has made some efforts to streamline your news feed to those you interact with most but I still believe there is huge progress to be made in this area. I’m currently working on a solution to this problem.

So what is your solution?

Simply, it involves an option to temporarily focus your news feed to deliver content which only relates to a predefined circle of friends. The idea being, you login, and straight away you can find out what’s up with the people you care about most. You don’t always want to spend half an hour floating through the noise of 200 other friends to find out what your closest friends are doing.

Which YoZuck feature do you want to see actually implemented the most?

The idea I want to see is the idea I haven’t thought about yet; but going by what I’ve done so far I’d love to see nested video comments (http://yozuck.tumblr.com/post/4482821418/nested-video-comments). At the moment users have two options, leave a nested comment as a plain HTML link or post a separate video on your friends wall in response. Neither really work as they detach the users from the sharing experience, the conversation becomes fragmented.

What do you think about the notoriously flawed Facebook Events UI (especially on mobile)?

There are many versions of Facebook mobile, depending of course on your device and platform. However you’re correct, Facebook Events are lagging, but this is not restricted to mobile, it’s quite a surprise that for a feature so strongly powered by time and dates there is no option to view these events on a calendar. In general though, Facebook are making great progress with their mobile effort, I’ve noticed a lot of subtle iterations over the last few months.

What are some things that Facebook is doing right design-wise?

There is a strong consistency to the Facebook brand and interface interactions, people recognize Facebook and know how to use it without having to think too much. It’s also very likable product, no pun intended. That alone is a massive design success.

What do you think is the biggest uncharted territory for Facebook?

There are two ways to look at that question:

1) What everyday features can be added/dropped to refine the product?

2) What overall direction should the product be taking?

When you think about the premise of Facebook and what it stands for, the uncharted territory is exactly everything Facebook isn’t doing. From the smallest UI iteration to the 5.6 billion people yet to signup.

I talked about a Facebook browser, when you consider Google already has Chrome, it doesn’t seem all that strange that Facebook could have one too; of course this would come with a litany of privacy concerns, but that’s a conversation and a genuine concern for another day.

The purpose of Facebook is to capture the personality and lives of the individual, well for millions that means watching films, listening to music and reading books.. among other things.

What are the most far-fetched ideas that you’ve had?

What about Amazon on Facebook? Sounds crazy? Might just work. It’s not like the Amazon interface is a pleasure to use, and maybe you’d trust the recommendations of a friend more than you would a stranger. Discounts for referrals? Facebook groups model could be used for online book clubs? Students could recommend books with attached notes to fellow classmates? I’m making these up as I go along. Deals with iTunes. Integration with Netflix: What about a way to simultaneously watch a film with a friend or partner in another country? Think long distance relationships. I could see lot of people using this.

These are reckless ideas of course, but it’s these ideas that trigger better things to happen. Of course, I need to stress you can’t implement each and every feature you think of; it needs to be smart, useful and clear otherwise the product will become bloated.

This is a lot of feedback, what should Facebook focus on first?

At the moment when FB ships a new feature they are generally looking for a 100% uptake, but therein lies the problem. It results in a feature that satisfies the lowest common denominator of user needs. Yes developers can create apps, but the most successful apps are games, not useful tools.

I think Facebook should be focusing on the needs of groups of individuals not just the generic needs of all individuals, that is the fundamentally uncharted territory.

Site traffic stats over the past couple of days?

I honestly have no way of knowing exactly, somewhere between 20K–50K I’d imagine.

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