Friday, 10 February 2017

Why Facebook Should Ditch Messenger on the Web

The past several weeks Facebook has been rolling out a major change to its users on its web site. Quite simply, it has replaced its Messages with a web version of its mobile app Messenger. Facebook made no formal announcement that it planned to do so. Users simply logged onto Facebook on their personal computers one day and suddenly discovered the change. To say users who access Facebook through the website on desktop and laptop computers are unhappy about the change would be an understatement.

Indeed, a response from a member of Facebook's Help Team to the question "How to change Messenger back to Messages?" on Facebook's Help Community garnered over 1500 comments, all of them critical of Messenger. The question itself has hundreds of other responses, nearly all of which are also critical of Messenger. Check any news story on the change and one will find several comments from people who outright hate the fact that Messages was replaced by a web version of Messenger. There is even a Facebook group for those who despise the web version of Messenger.

I have no doubt many will simply dismiss the complaints about the web version of Messenger as people hating change, but looking over the comments both in the Facebook Help Community and the various news articles make it clear that a good number of Facebook's users on PCs have legitimate complaints about it. People are not simply saying that they hate Messenger, they are saying why they hate Messenger.

Among the primary complaints is the look of the Messenger web interface. Many people hate the colour scheme (which can be changed), with several stating that it is much too bright. Another complaint is that the fonts are far too large and that the Messenger web interface is not as compact as the old Messages interface. Many have commented that it looks as if it was designed for twelve year-olds. Now all of this might seem trivial except for one thing. Quite simply, many of the complaints about the Messenger interface are coming from people with poor eyesight and older people, who say that the Messenger interface is difficult to use. It seems clear that Facebook did not take those with poor eyesight into account when they designed the Messenger web interface.

Even once one gets past the look of the Messenger web interface there are yet other problems with its functionality (or lack thereof). On the old Facebook Messages one could set it so that hitting the "Enter" key would create a new paragraph rather than sending the message on its way. On Facebook Messenger hitting the "Enter" key automatically sends the message. To create a new paragraph, one has to hit "Shift+Enter", which is rather awkward when composing a message. Many users are very annoyed about this.

Another problem is that one cannot copy text from messages in Messenger. This is a serious problem for many people, myself among them. In the past if I had to write a short article for someone, I could simply send it to them in a message on Facebook and then they could then copy the article and paste it into whatever blog or document it was for. I'm not sure how many people actually used Facebook this way, but from the various comments it would seem that several people would like to be able to copy text from messages. Like me, I think many of these people will go back to using email for such purposes, which I don't think is what Facebook intended.

Yet another problem with the Messenger interface is that individual messages are not timestamped. One has no idea when a specific message was sent beyond the date.  In other words, one has no idea how long ago a message was sent. I can see how this could have a negative impact on messages that might contain time-sensitive information.

Of course, what may be worse than the lack of a timestamp for individual messages is the inefficiency of Messenger's search. On Facebook Messages one could search for a specific topic in one's messages and come up with only those specific messages. On Facebook Messenger the search results will still deliver messages with the topic for which one is searching; unfortunately it also displays the whole conversation. This means one may have to go through a whole conversation before finding what he or she wants.

Among the worst of the problems with the Messenger interface is that the box for composing messages is much too small. It is a narrow strip that one cannot enlarge at all. Obviously this will be a problem for anyone composing a message that is more than a few lines at best.  I think Facebook did not take into account that many Facebook users used Messages as if it was email, rather than as if it was chat. They weren't simply writing short messages of a few lines, such as a text message on a phone, but longer messages of several lines and even paragraphs.

In the end, in forcing the Facebook Messenger web interface on users who neither wanted it nor needed it, I think Facebook made a mistake that many social media sites and other web sites have made of late. Quite simply, they assumed that because something is popular with their mobile users, then web users will like it as well. It is the same mistake I believe Google has made with the New Google+. The simple fact is that what works well on a mobile device often will not work well on a personal computer. Computers have larger screens and more memory and don't share many of the constraints that smart phones and tablets do. In my experience, what PC users want out of social media sites is functionality. Sadly, that is something that Messenger is sorely lacking. Indeed, I haven't even begun to list all of the problems there are with Facebook Messenger's web interface, and I already listed quite a few.

Given the outrage over the change from Facebook Messages to Facebook Messenger on the web, I think Facebook should simply deem it the failure that it is and allow users to switch back to Facebook Messages. Honestly, I think there are so many changes that they would have to make to the Facebook Messenger interface for it to be acceptable to many web users that it would be far easier to simply give Facebook Messages back to users. Indeed, it seems to be what users want. Sadly, if the past many years have proven anything, Facebook doesn't seem to care much about what its users want.

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