By Harry McCracken | Friday, September 11, 2009 at 6:40 pm
I think of them as Facebook brain freezes: Every so often, when I’m on the site, I just get overwhelmed by the quantity of features it offers and can’t figure out how to do something simple such as post a photo. They’re a temporary condition, but a frustrating one. Which is why I’m intrigued by Facebook Lite, the new stripped-down-to-the-essentials alternative interface the company launched yesterday.
Originally meant for emerging nations such as India where broadband isn’t a given, Facebook Lite is also being rolled out in the U.S. Here’s my home page in Lite mode:
And here it is in heavy standard form:
Facebook Lite does away with third-party apps and a number of inessential fripperies in favor of a more streamlined look. As far as I can tell, it also doesn’t include chat, which is one reason why I haven’t made up my mind whether I’ll use it much. But I really like the idea of an alternative, simpler interface for a feature-rich application, and I hope other purveyors of services and software crib it.
For eons, developers have talked about how 80 percent of users rely on only 20 percent of a typical application’s features. In response, they’ve sometimes come up with simpler versions of well-known apps–Microsoft Works and Photoshop Elements being two examples. Most of these products haven’t been all that good or all that successful–Elements is an impressive exception–and I think part of the problem is that most folks are convinced they’ll eventually need the 80-percent-of-features they aren’t currently using.
Facebook Lite, however, isn’t something different from Facebook; it’s Facebook with a different skin. You can graduate from Lite to full-fledged Facebook without losing anything, or jump back and forth between the two versions at will.
What if Microsoft Works was not a dumbed-down edition of Microsoft Office but rather a different view of Office? (Works’ other selling point besides simplicity has been its low price; maybe you’d have to pay to unlock the full Office interface.) FriendFeed (now owned by Facebook) is notoriously complex; the current version’s a lot easier to use, but it could still benefit from a Lite view. Every time I try to learn Adobe Flash, I get overwhelmed and put it off; a Lite view would help
Call Lite versions training wheels if you must, but there are instances in which I wouldn’t be ashamed to use them–especially if I knew nobody was watching…