Continuing with my series on User Experience, I’d like to point out an absolutely epic failure. So let me start this one off with a question:
What in God’s name was Facebook thinking when they defaulted everyone’s publicly facing email address to their @facebook.com address?
Image courtesy of The Verge
What exactly happened?
Previously within Facebook, I could choose which email addresses of mine the public saw with the intention that it was a great way for my friends to know how and where to contact me. In one quick move the other day, they reversed all settings that I expressly added. Here’s a quick synopsis of what they just did:
Over a year ago, Facebook introduced the ability to receive mail at a email@example.com email address.
Emails received to this address wouldn’t go to the normal inbox, but rather the “Other” inbox, which is hidden under the “Messages” section, doesn’t update with an unread count, and doesn’t send out any notification of email received. Yeah, a poor experience to begin with.
On June 25th, Facebook defaulted everyone’s publicly facing email address to their own @facebook.com address and hid every external email address.
The consequences of the above actions are pretty crazy:
Every Android user that has integrated their Facebook accounts have now had their address books overwritten with their friends’ @facebook.com address instead of any other address they originally had for them.
The default email address for every person in those address books now is @facebook.com and when an email is sent to that (probably unknowningly), it gets buried in the “Other” inbox within Facebook Messages.
When Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6 add their Facebook integration, the same exact thing happens. As a Mountain Lion Beta tester, I can attest that this has already happened to me.
The only way to revert back to your old email address is to remove the Facebook integration entirely, which negates the whole point of integrating Facebook at the OS level to begin with.
So what has Facebook said about this so far?
First off, a Facebook spokesperson has basically said we’re all doing it wrong and that we’re simply “confused”. They say they’re not dropping emails, they’re just sitting inside the “Other” box. Which I’m pretty sure very few people knew about up until now.
Another Facebook spokesperson told The Verge they did this because they wanted to completely hide everyone’s email address until they expressly change it. Except this is a bullshit excuse because that option has existed for at least a couple years inside the “How You Connect” dialog within the Privacy settings. Here’s a screenshot:
The above setting is actually pretty elegant. It says that regardless of which ones and how my email addresses appear on my profile, when the addresses get pulled by the address books, my friends can choose to opt-out of that experience.
The only good way to fix this is to reverse the action entirely
Facebook is telling users that they can go back and fix it themselves for their own account (there’s no way to fix it globally for all of your friends).
Let’s review the easy (sarcasm) steps:
Go to your profile
Find the button under your cover photo that says “Update Info”
Scroll down to “Contact Info” and click “Edit”
Look at the Email addresses you have listed and then choose with the first button who can see them
Then decide if they’re on your Timeline or not.
I have no idea what distinguishes something from being visible to friends, and then why you still decide if it can be visible on the timeline.
Easy, right? No way.
What happens next
Here’s the most painful part: Apple and Facebook have had a tepid relationship for years and only just now appear to be improving it slightly. It’s taken a long time to get address book integration with Facebook and now they’ve completely fucked that up. Previously it was going to be the absolute best way to make sure you had up-to-date information on your friends. Now it just sends everything to Facebook’s walled garden without even a notification as to where something got sent. Oh, and that’s if the average user even figures out how to use the “Other” inbox.
If there was any time that we should question how much we’re relying on Facebook to power the social web, it’s now. They have so much control and just illustrated to the world how easily they can exert it.
I wish I knew what the recourse was here but hopefully Facebook does the right thing and straight-up reverses its actions. In the meantime there is bound to be a lot of angry users.