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Jan 20 2010

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Facebook, When Were You Planning To Tell Us About Removing The “Boxes” Tab?

facebookFrom Facebook’s Developer’s Roadmap:

“Going forward (in the short term) application tabs will be the only way applications can integrate into profiles and Facebook Pages. We will remove profile boxes, application info sections, and the Boxes tab. We are exploring additional ways to enable developers to integrate into profiles and Pages.”

Then they mention that this will be happening in “early 2010″.

Then under “Details” we learn that

“Application tabs (including static FBML tabs) will be the only way to integrate applications into profiles and Pages. Application tabs will shrink from 760 pixels wide (today) to 520* pixels wide to accommodate a slightly revised design. Boxes, info sections, and the Boxes tab will be removed in the near future.

In the longer term we are evaluating a number of new and interesting ways for you to help users express connections to your applications as a part of their identity. You can expect to see some of this thought emerge in future iterations of the profile.”

Really? When were you planning to tell us?

Remember us? You know, Facebook USERS?

A cursory Google search using “Facebook Removing Boxes” turned up only a relative handful of mentions in a handful of blogs. It is interesting that most of the entries that appeared were about ways one could REMOVE the boxes tab, as it appears that it was very annoying to some people. There was a brief mention in Mashable for Journalists, and only one article that discussed Facebook removing boxes from profiles.

On the one hand, I understand the motivation of those who have been ever vigilant to prevent Facebook from looking like a 2006 pimped-out MySpace page. The Boxes page is currently the primary place on a profile or fan page that has the potential to become a glittery mess. I don’t think anyone who has migrated to Facebook from MySpace wants to see that happen.

Ever.

On the other hand, whether we marketing and social media folks who are proliferating on Facebook like it or not, Facebook is a SOCIAL environment that many millions of people go to experience Farmville, Mafia Wars, Blessings, Smiles, and Birthday Cards. They actually WANT to chat with old high school friends about what their grandkids are doing, or engage in breathless OMG teenage drama.

We want to “optimize our profile for business”, but they don’t actually give a damn about our marketing or social media strategy.

And the Boxes page is the one place where they (we?) can park all those apps and nobody has to see them if they don’t want to.

But how many Facebook users will actually see this post, or the other blogs where it is mentioned? More to the point, when was the last time YOU happened by the Facebook Developer’s Roadmap?

Exactly.

This change is going to catch the vast majority of Facebook users by surprise. Some users will be very unhappy to lose what remains of the ability to personalize their Facebook profiles. And since there are only a few tabs showing at the top of a profile, the net effect is that most apps are going to be buried even deeper than they already are, a discouraging trend for app developers. Add to these the reduction in tabbed page width to 520 px and it sounds like a lose-lose all around.

I learned of this just today when I paid a visit to my own Boxes tab thinking I would like to move an existing box to my wall tab, and I discovered that a couple of the apps had notices on them that Facebook would be removing my boxes soon and if I wanted to keep this info on my profile I should follow the directions about how to create a new tab.

A complaint I have had about the Boxes tab is that it is called “Boxes,” and you can’t change the name of it. But one of the things I really like about boxes is that they are provide personalized information “at a glance”. I don’t have to scroll through a bunch of tabs to get a snapshot of someone. This is especially true for marketers, who tend to friend people they don’t actually know, but it can apply just as much to reconnecting with old friends that you haven’t seen in many years. I think you can learn a lot about someone from the kind of information you find on the Boxes page. What books, movies or music did they review? Do they send cool birthday cards? Do they have a favorite game such as Scrabble or Sudoku, or do they play that game about collecting eggs? If you hate Mafia Wars, you can decide not to friend someone if they are a serious player. If social media is really about relationships, the kind of info on the boxes page is the very information you need to discover whether you have a lot in common with someone, or nothing whatsoever.

Another thing I like about boxes is that they are easy. You add an app, it creates a box. You don’t like it, you can delete it. The end. You can show little bites of information in boxes that give a nice overview, and visitors to your profile or page can skim over the ones they are not interested in. For instance, I have a box for an app called “Where I’ve Been”. I like the map that shows either cities or countries I have visited, and that is about all I care to share at a glance. I don’t need a tab and a whole page for that, though I did add the tab just to see how it would work.

When I added the tab, I discovered that the app had accessed my photo albums (which are only supposed to be visible to my family and Real Life friends) and my place of birth, and discovered that my local currency was the Argentinian Peso and that I live in South Jersey. Some of this info is incorrect, and at any rate includes details I didn’t care to share.

I have worked around the limitations of the boxes page and actually used it effectively for clients. I am going to have to wait and see what they actually remove and be ready for the changes, but I am guessing that my profile and some fan pages I have built will have to be substantially revamped to achieve the same level of personalization.

So, what say ye, fellow social media professionals and other enthusiasts? How is the elimination of the boxes page going to affect you, if at all?

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