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Facebook adds Single Sign On, Deals mobile features (and miniaturizes news-feed font)

By Rob Pegoraro

There's still no "Facebook phone." But why should the social-networking site bother to build one -- as rumors recently suggested it would -- if it can make its mobile software a central part of the smartphones people already use?

facebook_iphone_app_logo.png

That's the takeaway from the announcements the Palo Alto, Calif., company just made. With two new mobile features, Single Sign On and Deals, Facebook is inviting its 500 million users and the businesses and services they patronize to shift far more of their interactions to its sphere of influence.

Single Sign On aims to ease the problem of logging into different services on a smartphone by allowing users to tap a "Log in with Facebook" button, briefly switch to Facebook's app to confirm the action, then go about their business as if they'd signed in normally.

For services such as Groupon, which demonstrated how this feature works in an upcoming version of its smartphone application, Single Sign On has the potential of smoothing away the user-interface friction that today impedes mobile transactions. But this optional feature also puts Facebook in the middle of its customer relationships.

The same dynamic works for Deals, which lets shops offer discounts or freebies to nearby Facebook users who use its Places feature to check into their locations. For example, the Gap will give away a free pair of jeans to the first 10,000 people to check in at its stores, while the Palms hotel and casino in Las Vegas will give a third night free (if it has rooms available) to Facebookers who check in for two nights there. Macy's, H&M, REI and Starbucks are also participating; you can see a full list on Facebook's blog.

For now, Deals only work in Facebook's just-updated iPhone app and its touch.facebook.com smartphone Web site; although Facebook just upgraded its Android app, this feature didn't make the cut.

facebook_deals_PR.jpg

In a quick test with an iPod touch, I couldn't find any establishments offering deals near Clarendon. (Hence, I had to turn to Facebook PR for the image at left showing this feature.) But that will change. While other sites have versions of the same idea -- see, for instance, Foursquare's specials or Yelp's upcoming check-in offers -- Facebook now has 200 million people using its mobile services, many of whom spend far more time on them than in other mobile apps. The temptation for merchants to offer Deals to lure in passersby may be overwhelming; will we also see shopkeepers complaining about Facebook's leverage the way some restaurateurs worry about OpenTable?

(Disclaimer: Since Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook's board of directors and the paper markets itself on Facebook, I won't be surprised to see The Post adopt some of these features.)

Facebook's most obvious new feature, however, doesn't affect mobile users at all. Sometime yesterday, it redesigned the News Feed that dominates its home page to use a smaller font and add more space between a friend's name and his or her update.

This causes two problems. First, it threatens eyestrain. Second, it breaks up Facebook updates written in the traditional sentence structure the site once required. Instead of seeing an update appear as "Rob Pegoraro approved this message," it now shows up like this:

Rob Pegoraro
approved this message.

Ugh. But when you click through to somebody's profile, the traditional format, with name and update on the same line, returns.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes wouldn't say if the change was an experiment or permanent. What's your vote on this -- and on Facebook's mobile news? Let me know in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  | November 3, 2010; 3:52 PM ET
Categories:  Privacy, Social media  
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Comments

Noticed the wall changes and hate them. Personally and as an accessibility/usability consultant.

However, I think I understand it. As more businesses adopt FB pages, they don't treat their name as the subject of a sentence. So they're turning it into an identifier or title of a post, instead of the start.

So, to me, this says that FB is really starting to turn away from a user-based model towards a business-promotion model.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | November 3, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

They keep messing with the list of friends who are online in the left column.
I dislike the tiny profile pictures instead of names list. For awhile, clicking on these pix lead to their wall. Now it goes back to IM chat. IM chat seems to be messed up now too in terms of who's actually online.

Their engineers a not very good.

Posted by: jgllo | November 3, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

The smaller font was a stupid move. If they change it back, others will complain. So now they have to develop user-adjustable font sizes, probably at considerable coding expense.

Posted by: beetsnotbeats | November 3, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

I don't mind so much that the rest of the status update is on a separate line, but the smaller font is KILLING me. And I'm only 35!

Posted by: ICchris | November 3, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I also dislike the new, smaller font.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | November 4, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

What smaller font? I don't see anything.

Posted by: rrgeek | November 6, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

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