SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc. is making sweeping changes to the world's largest social networking site, aiming to give users more control and to curb new forms of spam, company officials said late on Sunday.
Facebook's redesign aims to make user profiles more dynamic by giving more prominence to the newest information, and it is cracking down on applications that violate privacy or user-control guidelines.
“Users should have control of their information when and where they want,” said Ben Ling, the head of Facebook's platform product management. “Users should share things because they want to share them.”
Facebook will offer members a cleaner and simpler set of the Web pages which make up personal profiles. These profiles, which can be organized into tabbed pages, let users share tidbits of their lives with select groups of friends or colleagues.
Previously, members could edit largely static parts of their profiles such as birth date, education or music interests.
“Facebook is making significant changes, both in terms of what information gets prominence and what gets buried,” said Gartner analyst Ray Valdes, adding that the changes may seem abrupt to many users.
“The company is trying to eliminate some of the toxic threats to the Facebook experience.”
Facebook's popularity has surged since the site became an open platform for independent designers to distribute their own Web programs 14 months ago — attracting developers who have created 24,000 programs, and inspiring a new Web vocabulary with terms like “SuperPoke”.
But the format has given rise to a new form of spam, nicknamed BACN (pronounced ba-con), which is sent by software makers using viral marketing tricks to flood members with confusing messages seemingly from friends.
Facebook's existing design ended up rewarding many software makers for intrusive, attention-grabbing tactics, said Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst with Forrester Research.
“Facebook is trying to weed out the non-important social activities,” Owyang said. “The redesign makes your profile more relevant to other users, telling them who is doing what, where are they and what are they doing socially.”
Some of the most widely used applications from Facebook's biggest independent developers, Slide Inc. and RockYou, were banned earlier this month until they complied with Facebook's demands, Facebook's Ling said.
Slide's Top Friends program was only restored to Facebook after fixing privacy violations, while some features of Rock You's Super Wall, which counts 500,000 active users, remain temporarily disabled, a Facebook spokeswoman said on Sunday.
Facebook, which began in 2004 as a socializing site for college students, has become the world's largest social network, overtaking News Corp's rival site MySpace.
The latest changes aim to reward designers who create genuinely useful programs and to stop software makers from forcing members to promote their applications without fully knowing what they are doing.
“Some developers chose to build applications,” Ling said. “Others took advantage. Obviously it is not good for users, not good for other developers, not good for Facebook.”
Hadi Partovi, 34, president of music-sharing site iLike, said: “One big change is that Facebook users will effectively get to try before they buy.”
“The changes stop things from being automatically added to your profile without your okay,” Partovi said.
The moves are also meant to reassure members about privacy by helping them better understand how friends can see the personal information they publish. Facebook has been dribbling out details of these plans since early this year in an effort to reduce surprises for users.
It also gives users more control over tools they use to share snippets of text or photos, videos, music or other personal information with friends in their network, said Mark Slee, 24, product manager in charge of the profile redesign.
New profiles will first be offered as an optional view to members before gradually being implemented for everyone.
By Eric Auchard
(Editing by Quentin Webb)