Fixing Facebook: Tips and tricks for handling common complaints

If you like Facebook but don't like the way it handles privacy and annoying applications, here are some simple fixes.

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Keeping game updates private

Admit it -- you actually like FarmVille, Bejeweled and the many other game applications that Facebook offers. But you don't want to bother your co-workers with gaming updates -- especially if you're playing during office hours!

The fix: Control your app settings. Within your privacy settings, choose to edit the settings for applications and Web sites. The setting "Game and application activity" lets specific individuals see -- or be blocked from seeing -- application-related updates.

You may also want to check individual application settings. Facebook applications integrate with several aspects of your profile, and these permissions often can be enabled or disabled independently of each other. Check to see which applications have optional permission to "Post to my Wall," and disable as needed.

Showing your friends list

You're still friends with your former co-workers -- or with employees at your ideal next workplace. Such connections could translate into guilt by association, should your current supervisor see who your friends are on Facebook. The same holds true for segregating other parts of your life. "When I add a family member to my FB friend list, I might not want them to see my full list of friends," worries one Computerworld reader.

The fix: Hide your friends list. On your profile page, click the pencil icon in the "Friends" box in the left column, then click "Change Visibility Settings." You can then choose specific people for whom you allow or disallow access to your friends list. For those with restricted viewing rights, this is an all-or-nothing option: Facebook does not offer the sort of granular control that would allow you to show off only some of your connections and not others.

Type size

There are two ways to view your friends' updates: aggregated into your home page's newsfeed or on a per-friend basis by visiting their walls. Traditionally, those two options were presented at different type sizes: 13 and 11 points, respectively.

In late October, Facebook changed these displays to a consistent 11-point type. But since the newsfeed tends to have more content than a user's wall, cramming so much data into a smaller font proved problematic. The new font was just too small for most viewers' eyes. "My eyes are stressed to begin with from staring at a computer screen at work," commented a Computerworld reader. "I don't like the idea of being in my own home, my relaxing time, and stressing them more."

The fix: Set your own type size. Most browsers will enlarge an entire page if you press Command-Plus or Alt-Plus on your keyboard, but this magnifies everything: buttons, pictures, margins and more. A more focused approach is to modify just the typeface in the newsfeed. Use either Better Facebook or F.B. Purity to configure a custom type size. After your newsfeed loads, these plug-ins quickly re-render the page to your specifications, producing a slight delay but a more readable display.

Group messages

Facebook groups, like Facebook pages, make it easy to identify with a cause or a brand that interests you and to receive information about those topics. But a recent feature, confusingly called Facebook Groups, can inadvertently be a source for spam, e-mailing you every time a fellow group member has anything to say.

The fix: Configure your notification settings. Facebook users can engage in a variety of activities, from poking to photo-tagging, each of which you can be notified of via either e-mail or SMS. These options are defined in your notification settings. The specific item that controls group messages is labeled "Change email settings for individual groups."

Searching your wall history

Facebook has been around long enough that its members' accounts can be years old. The content that you can aggregate in that time is difficult to sift through without any search functions.

The fix: Download your profile. In October, Facebook unveiled a new feature: the ability to download your entire profile, including wall, photos, events, friends list, messages and more. Just go to your account settings and choose "Download Your Information." Facebook will begin compiling your data and will e-mail you when the archive is ready for download.

Once that information is stored locally, you can search it using any tool you want, from your Web browser's "Find" function to Apple's Spotlight.

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