@ Review of Usability, Accessibility, and Dark Patterns of Facebook
I wanted to delve into what it means to be a top grossing social media giant by taking a closer look at Facebook and the practices on it’s likely large UX team. I am doing a review on the topic of usability, accessibility, and it’s dark patterns.
I can recall a time where I was about to go off to college and I was reading a magazine for teens for fun. I read (and re-read because I thought it strange) a little blurb that said, “Make sure by the time you graduate you have a really nice photo of yourself because it’s popular in college to have a photo in a popular online ‘book’ that compiles everyone at your school.”
This was in 2005, the “online book” turns out was Facebook. It was simply a network of online profiles, with fields of input that included your photo, your age, your school, a “wall” to post, private message, and yes the “poke” button! Years down the line a few things remained intact but regardless of what era you’ve been in with Facebook it remains usable and accessible which is likely why it persisted in the long run.
Usability is simply put the ease of use of an interface. If the product is usable it is predictable and expected. Let’s go over a handful of ways Facebook’s interface is useable.
One of the things that makes Facebook’s interface learnable is affordances or properties that show how an interface is to be used. In the picture below Facebook uses multiple affordances to orient users on how the sign up functions are to be used.
1.What to type in each field
2.Arrows that indicate options
3. Blue text used for hyperlinks
4. Question marks for help/tool tips.
5.Button in green used to indicate finalizing process.
Facebook up unto this past year had used consistency within its branding. For the most part they never changed the layout or blue color scheme of the famous timeline, yet have been adding and making it more complex as time has gone on. These consistencies and standards have helped its learnability over time. Notice the blue nav bar on the top, the placement of the profile picture on the left, options and friends right below profile picture, the wall or content of the user remains in the center, the ads on the right. As time has gone on components have moved around but nowhere in time has there really been a drastic revamp where all has changed.
Facebook features error prevention and recovery. I frequently forget my passwords and sometimes fudge up Chrome’s password settings. Facebook uses error recovery to these password problems by creating a high contrast tool tip to hover over the field you are struggling with. Not only this but it gives you specific hints in the tool tip to narrow down the problem.
Facebook utilizes tools to make its experience full of options to reduce memory load increasing its memorability. For instance when inputing into the search bar Facebook helps users with recommending commonly searched field but it also lends to helping users prevent errors in spelling which results in missed search results. The recommendations also help with recognition rather than recall.
Satisfaction might speak for itself with Facebook as it has been present for over fifteen years and counting. It is by far the most popular social media site globally and shows, for the most part, growth. Facebook may be leading in this arena because they seem to make it easy to give feedback and have teams that work on using this feedback to build a better site. For instance in this navigation bar you can see “Give Feedback” is listed as one of the first options indicating a high priority.
Let’s briefly discuss accessibility. The newest feature of accessibility was released in this year’s version of facebook revamping. It included a new format that spaced out the elements making it better for users with fine motor impairments. In addition it provides a dark mode version of the interface to make it optimal for those with visual impairments. Facebook was already doing well in the high contrast area of accessibility with its white on black text making it easy to read, but this version takes that idea a bit further.
So in addition to all the positive things there are to say about Facebook’s interface there are maybe as many negative things to say. Unfortunately I don’t have much time to discuss them all but the design is one of many reasons why, along with political and ethical reasons I decided to part ways with all Facebook products (including Instagram and Whatsapp): Dark patterns.
By design Facebook has an endless scroll, excessive user notifications that are complicated to completely turn off, makes permissions hard to find, makes it impossible to use parts and apps on the site without giving all your personal privacy away, collects information that is hard to find and erase, and it’s very difficult to deactivate and delete your account.
One would also think this process remains the same. However, it changes drastically from time to time as well as between desktop and mobile. Over the years I’ve taken breaks multiple times and it takes a large effort to search for it.
The current desktop (inconsistent for mobile, even though they fully understand consistency) steps to deactivation are as follows:
- Click arrow in the top right of Facebook.
- Select Settings & Privacy > Settings.
- Click Your Facebook Information in the left column.
4. Click Deactivation and Deletion.
5. Choose Deactivate Account, then click Continue to Account Deactivation and follow the instructions to confirm.
6.In the instructions you will find pop up fields for each entry dissuading you from deactivating.
7. It will then ask you if you really want deactivate and to confirm.
8. Once you finish with options you will be asked to re-enter your password.
Besides making deactivation or deletion an effort other features like infinite scrolling and interconnectedness by design was addicting. They most definitely built a design that understood the various levels of our neurobiology which is related to ads and increasing engagement and likely not user’s interests. The unfortunate fact is this shows no signs of changing, rather it will progress until government regulates.
Facebook as a tech titan is dedicated to finding ways to keep users so therefore has multiple ways to provide its account holders with regular efforts in increasing usability and accessibility. With so much effort in creating a cohesive and easily accessed site Facebook is sure to be in the foreseeable future as a major social media player.