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Elgan: Why you'll love Facebook Lite

The social network's new design is brilliant, but will it spark a revolution? I hope so

September 11, 2009 01:02 PM ET

Computerworld - Facebook Lite became available to members in the U.S. and India this week. Facebook Lite was reportedly developed for people in countries with slow Internet connections, but Facebook noticed that American beta testers loved it, so they rolled it out here.

Facebook Lite loads much faster than the regular version. The HTML is optimized, so there's less code for browsers to download. The new version has fewer and smaller ads and pictures.

The Lite version works beautifully on smart phones. It's ideal for netbooks and the coming generation of smart books. It's better for laptops and mobility in general. And I think it's better for full-size, large-screen desktops, too.

Here's an incomplete list of differences in Facebook Lite:

  • Smaller type
  • No way to get to "applications" and "pages."
  • No way to "chat"
  • "Groups" is gone
  • "Events" and "birthdays" appear in a single line above the main feed.
  • Fewer and smaller ads
  • Profile photo removed
  • Left navigation bar removed
  • "What's on your mind?" bar removed

I asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers how they like Facebook Lite, and everyone who responded said they prefer it to the regular version. But why?

I pointed out back in May that "every massively popular new way to communicate in the past few years has shared the attribute of perfect linearity." (I'm talking about e-mail, instant messaging, blogs and others.) I wrote that "linearity imposes clarity on information, and puts the user's mind at ease ... People love linearity." What Facebook has done with Lite is to make Facebook linear.

The difference between Facebook Lite and regular Facebook perfectly illustrates the superiority of the Lite approach.

Normal Facebook is mildly stressful to use. The page has multiple "points of entry," to use a phrase from the print publication design world, which means more than one place to start reading. It has three columns, and each column has multiple categorized boxes of content. In a nutshell, there's "stuff" all over the place and options galore. It's a nightmare.

Facebook Lite, on the other hand, has exactly one "point of entry" -- the top item on your linear "Top Stories" list. It simply feels good to use. Dave Winer, an influential software developer, writer and entrepreneur, summed up Thursday how many of us feel about the new Facebook Lite by posting on his Facebook page: "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh."

Facebook Lite's linearity is precisely why Google beats Yahoo, and why Twitter is growing so fast. It explains why iGoogle isn't popular and why the iPhone is preferred over Windows Mobile devices.

Facebook Lite will prove massively popular. But will it trigger a revolution in site design? It should.

Who needs a 'Lite' version?

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