Facebook Tests Photo Viewer That Encourages Comments, Google+ Comparisons

Facebook is testing a new photo viewer layout that mounts engagement buttons and comments to the right rather than beneath images. See, Facebook doesn’t want you to just view comments, it wants you to start a conversation. Apparently the company doesn’t care about being accused of copying Google+, since the viewer’s layout is very similar to that of its competitor.

The fact is that this is good design, though, so it makes sense for Facebook to integrate whether or not it has appeared elsewhere. Currently when Facebook users view photos, they see a big blank space on the right but can’t see the comments below with scrolling past the fold and away from the image. That makes users more likely to leave the photo viewer before engaging. The blank space is better filled with comments that lend context to a photo, as a small percentage of Facebook users are now seeing.

Facebook hasn’t been shy about taking inspiration from other products. In the months since Google+ launched, Facebook has added features found in Google+, including an asymmetrical Subscribe option, video chat, enhanced¬†friend lists, and near-infinite post length. Facebook’s goal is the best user experience, and Google got a lot of that right. Google+ certainly wasn’t shy about using Facebook’s design as a starting point.

Facebook employees have repeatedly assured me that product teams aren’t thinking about ad revenue when they design products. Still,¬†convenient repercussion of the tested photo viewer design may be an increase in ad clicks. Rather than displaying ads beneath photos, the tested design shows them more prominently in the comments sidebar. Finding these types of synergies between business and user experience will be key to Facebook honoring the interests of its future investors.

So why does this small change matter? First, encouraging conversation aligns with Facebook’s goal of driving connections between people, such as friends of a photo’s owner who might interact in its comment reel for the first time. Second, these comments drive notifications for all other commenters, which inspire more return visits and time on site. I bet the test will show increased engagement, and Facebook will implement some version of side-mounted comments.

[Thanks to our anonymous tipster for the screenshots]