Facebook announced the new profile page, updating how member profiles are shown. I was pre-briefed last week by Peter Deng, the product manager in charge of the project, about the changes.

In a nutshell, the profiles are getting a new look with a few new features that will not only make them more functional to read, but also easy to update. I’ll detail those in a minute, but some perspective first. Why the big deal?

First, anytime Facebook makes changes to the interface, there is usually a huge outcry. Expect nothing less this time, especially because this is a person’s expression of themselves on Facebook. Learning from past experiences, Facebook is not pushing this out automatically to people, but instead allowing people to opt-in (you can try it out on the new Facebook Profile “About” page. You can see my new profile too.)

Second, the freshness of profiles is vital not only to the experience, but also to Facebook’s business model. Facebook has innovated a great deal to add new things associated with a person, such as the Pages of which they are a fan or recent “Likes” they have indicated. But the profile page remained an island, infrequently touched, infrequently updated.

And that’s a problem when the advertising that Facebook offers is keyed off the explicit information included in a person’s profile. Advertisers can target off that information but if you’re like me, you seldom look at or update the Info tab on your Facebook profile page.

So Facebook has an incentive to encourage people to not only update their profile pages, but to also make it much more reflective of their interests and relationships, making it a real reflection of the people and things that are important to them. And in so doing, people are providing valuable meta data to Facebook and its advertisers. Deng took care to emphasize that a person’s privacy settings are unchanged with this update – so if they do not want their information to be publicly available, it will not appear thus.

So on to the three key features that I believe are going to make profiles more functional, updated, and thus, valuable to Facebook in the end.

Profile Summary

A synopsis of each person will appear at the top of the new profile page. It includes typical “conversation starters” that get people talking – things like where you work, who you’re married to, where you went to school, etc. In addition, the latest photos posted by the person will also appear – again, complying with existing privacy settings so you only see photos that you have permission to see. In the past, these photos were hidden behind a link on the profile page, so now they are made visible, typically “above the fold”.

Featured Friends

This is one of the most interesting and in my mind, controversial new features. Each person will be able to designate a small number of people to feature as friends. This isn’t necessarily a “top friends” feature, but one where you can specify special relationships, such as family, colleagues, or if you’re a believe that you are defined by who your friends are, celebrity friends.

This introduces a whole new social dynamic into Facebook. Why did you pick Friend A and not Friend B to be featured? What does it mean when you remove someone – did something happen?

But this area also adds greater nuance to friends and relationships within Facebook. Currently, the only designation of a different weight to friends is in the “relationship” field, where you can show that you are in a relationship with one other person. But now I can have a group called “Family” or “College” or “Work” or “Girlfriends” to designate not only the importance of a relationship but also the nature of that relationship.

This becomes valuable meta data to understand who is important in my life – and hence, how influential someone is, or how influential I might be to someone. And a person who is featured on many profiles can be seen as far more influential and thus earn a higher “friend rank” weight than someone who is featured less frequently. Again, this is all valuable information — if not actively used today, then potentially in the future.

Interface Changes

There are several interface changes that will feel disruptive at first, mostly because the information you normally would find in one place are either gone or moved to another place. Case in point: the tabs that appeared at the top of the page are now links on the left hand side.

But I believe those types of navigational changes will be quickly and easily accepted. There will be a backlash at first, but the fact that Facebook is not forcing the changes on to people means that adoption will come because people are seeing the changes on other people’s profiles first.

One of the biggest pull to shift people to the new profiles will be the richness available in the Work profiles and interests. Anything associated with your workplace, such as updates by colleagues, chats, Likes, will appear. Again, you can opt out of having these features show up in your profile, but it will have to be a setting that you control.

In addition, images will usually accompany your stated interests, making it much more visually appealing to browse. For example, my favorite artists, movies, and books will all have images associated with them.

But by far the most valuable and entrancing feature to be added is the Infinite Scroll. Rather than have to click on a link to see “more” photos, friends, and wall posts, I’ll be able to just keep scrolling down and down – and the page will automatically load more information.

Overall, an update to the profile page is long overdue and I personally like a lot of the new features — and this is coming from someone who detests having to update my page. I have basically left it the same since I joined Facebook years ago…until today. What remains to be seen is if by making it more visible, accessible, and feature oriented if I will be motivated to update it as often. I do expect there to be significant push back from Facebook members, both because of the interface changes as well as the new social dynamics that will need to be gotten used to. And of course, privacy will always remain a valid and pressing concern.

But Facebook remains committed to relentless change, something that I greatly admire. But there’s a greater sense of maturity in how it pushes through the changes as well, an acknowledgement and maturing of the organization as it takes into account the fact that rapid changes and advances aren’t always appreciated by the now-mainstream audience that’s on Facebook.

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