Facebook News – Photos Update and New Groups

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Last week, Facebook updated their Photos service to allow higher resolution images and the ability to download them easily. You can also view photos in a lightbox (dims the rest of the page) from any page, although I’ve yet to see this in action. People have been saying that Flickr should be worried, because Facebook appear to be moving into their domain with these changes.

While they are encroaching on Flickr’s ground, I also don’t think that these changes will do much to stop Facebook photos from being mainly used for uploading snaps with friends or holiday pics, and theres nothing wrong with that. Flickr offer higher res images and many other features and facebook simply can’t match at the moment for the more serious hobbyist and professional photographers out there. Myself included in that. Flickr also doesn’t spam your friends when you upload anything, and I like that.

With this said, you never know where facebook will go next. Their next update to photos could be another huge step forward and end up putting them in even more direct competition with mine and most other people’s favourite photo sharing community.

Today they held a press conference to announce a big new feature. We all suspected that it would involve some kind of Skype integration involving facebook connect and potentially audio / video chat in the browser.

In the end, the announcement had nothing whatsoever to do with Skype and instead they launched a new version of Groups, that actually works as intended. Groups up until now have in my opinion been used primarily as a way of either protesting something or just messing around, and not as actual groups for a use. They were too similar to facebook pages and simply confused people.

New groups does a far better job of living up to what you would expect from the name group. It’s a service that allows a group of people to communicate with others in a private setting, away from the rest of the site. I think in essence, what Facebook are doing with this, is that they’re admitting that the site has grown too big and that most people have too many friends form to be able to use the site in the way they originally were. Currently, it’s difficult to share things with only a specific group of people only and keep track of everything. Most people have too many “friends” and they don’t want to bombard them with things they have no interest in.

You can set privacy on individual posts but with groups you have a set destination for communications of a certain type with a set audience. Groups also includes group chat, which is a chat room for all the members of a group. it’s a cool idea but it may get hectic when you have lots of members online at once.

I think that while it wasn’t an obvious update that everyone would have thought of, it is one of those features that as soon as you understand what it does, you understand why it’s needed. There may be a complexity issue now that we have lists as well as groups for sorting our friends, but they may eventually decide to converge the two as to not confuse everyone further. At the end of the day though, the reason why this is needed is because the site is now too big and not just a site for your close friends and if someone has hundreds or potentially thousands of friends, the important stuff that you care about can often get lost in the shuffle.

It reminds me of how Twitter originally used the public timeline as the default homepage before it changed to just being focused on you and who you’re following. It got so busy that reading the front page was essentially pointless. Twitter Lists is also a similar concept which allows for more organisation of content. In that vein, I think that they might end up making big changes to the news feed so that you could pick a group feed and use that as your default homepage, or something along those lines.

As for the Skype integration, I guess we’ll have to wait to get our hopes up until the next press conference invites are sent out.