Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

What is this, Windows 95?

On countless surfaces in Facebook’s open, bullpen-style offices, the word ‘Hack’ is scrawled, spraypainted and stenciled. The message is simple: This is a company focused on the particular flavor of experimentation native to Mark Zuckerberg-style geeks. And not much else.

Since the beginning, this has been apparent in the visual style of Facebook. Even after the recent redesign, it retains the inoffensive color palette of its earliest days.

At first, this was a welcome departure from the chaos of MySpace. But now it feels corporate. It feels like something that came out of late-90’s Redmond.

The general feeling of blah extends to Facebook’s unnecessarily tortured UX.

Compare Facebook’s “resharing” functionality to the “repin” feature on Pinterest, a site whose stripped-down interface is in no small part responsible for its success.

On Pinterest, there’s no decisions to be made: Everything gets a caption, there are no choices about thumbnails, I don’t have the choice to remove the source of the link, etc. Pinterest asks me to navigate one dropdown and a single (not optional) caption field.

Facebook, meanwhile, throws me two dropdowns, one of which has critical consequences for privacy, an optional caption field that kind of breaks the site’s UI if I leave it blank, a superfluous (grayed-out) URL, a description field whose auto-filled text is always inadequate, a choice of thumbnail (and, inexplicably, grayed-out thumbnail choice buttons when I have no options – why not just leave these out?) as well as a separate checkbox for leaving out a thumbnail all together. Whew.

Where have we seen this kind of feature creep before? Oh, right, Office:

So why does Facebook continue to expand at such a rapid clip? Simple: network effects. Like Windows before it, it’s good enough, and since everyone else is using it, you kind of don’t have a choice.

The irony here is that after many years of stagnation, Windows 8 indicates that Redmond may finally be figuring all this out, or at least the design side of the equation. That doesn’t mean that both companies aren’t ultimately vulnerable to disruption. In the case of Facebook’s weirdly corporate, hospital-waiting-room user experience, that day can’t come soon enough.

7 comments. Share your thoughts »

Tagged: Facebook, Microsoft

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me