Facebook Increases Character Limit on Posts to 5000, Rolls Out Floating Navigation Bar and More Amid Unrest

Users part of the initial roll out of the news feed redesign announced yesterday are also receiving several other unannounced changes to Facebook’s interface. These include an expansion of the character limit on posts from 500 to 5,000, a rollout of the floating navigation bar we saw tested last week, the ability to edit bookmarks in the home page’s left navigation bar, and a more convenient way to leave birthday greetings. Over the last few days Facebook has also buried the poke button within a drop down menu, and removed the ability to accompany a friend request with a message.

By launching these interface alterations now rather than amongst other sweeping updates at the f8 developer conference on Thursday, Facebook may be able to reduce the shock to users. The timing will also help the site keep attention focused on Platform-related updates that directly impact developers. Unfortunately, the combination of so many changes with the prompts necessary to explain them gives the home page a foreign look that may turn off some users.

Any update to the core features of the site produces some backlash, and changing the news feed means changing a lot of people’s ingrained behaviors. Still, the merger of the Top News and Most Recent feeds and the addition of the Ticker may be inspiring more complaints than Facebook has seen since it abruptly changed user privacy controls in 2009.  Our commenters were highly critical of the Ticker’s design as Facebook tested it over the last few months, and AllFacebook reports that large volumes of complaints are now being publicly published by the site’s users.

Facebook’s strategy over the years has been to gradually test and roll out changes, but between the last week and f8 the service will have changed dramatically in a short period of time. Newer users already feeling overwhelmed with the site, such as older age groups, may give up if too many features suddenly change. Facebook might consider delaying any changes not directly tied into the major Platform announcements until users adjust.

Today, Facebook shows no signs of slowing down, though, as it has begun rollout of the following additional changes alongside the news feed redesign:

5,000 Character Limit on Posts

Previously, the maximum length for Facebook posts was 500 characters, which was appropriate for most social updates. However, it may have been limiting for those trying to use Facebook as a lightweight blogging platform — something encouraged by the Subscribe asymmetrical follow feature launched last week.

Now Facebook posts can be as long as 5,000 characters and comments have a maximum of 8,000 characters. This will allow deep discussions about complicated topics to take place within the site. If users reach the character limit while posting, Facebook allows them to instantly convert the update into a Note. In the news feed, long posts show just their first 1,200 or so characters.

The change takes another talking point away from Google+, which places no character limit on posts. Long posts could make the news feed look too dense or even boring, especially compared to Twitter’s stream of 140 character updates. Facebook may need to reduce the number of characters shown above the fold in news feed posts to keep the news feed easy to digest.

Floating Navigation Bar

The top navigation bar now floats and remains visible as users scroll down pages, as we saw tested last week. This gives users access to their notifications, Messages, requests, account and privacy settings, search bar, and a home page link at all times. We believe this will increase the average Facebook session time by making it easier for users to return to the news feed or check new notifications when they reach the bottom of a page and might have otherwise left the site.

Facebook has also slightly altered the appearance of the bar, replacing the “Profile” link with a user’s profile picture, and the “Account” link with a small arrow that opens the settings drop-down. This gives the top navigation bar a more minimalist design.

Edit Home Page Bookmarks

Hovering over a bookmark in the home page’s left sidebar now reveals a pencil icon that lets users edit that bookmark or the settings for the thing it represents. Here are the options users receive when clicking the edit icon on different types of bookmarks:

  • News feed – Manage who is hidden from the news feed
  • Messages and Events – Remove the bookmark from or rearrange its place within the Favorites bookmark section
  • Friend Lists – Add to Favorites or hide the bookmark
  • Apps – Edit app settings including permissions, add to Favorites, or delete the app
  • Groups – Edit Group settings including notifications, add to Favorites, leave Group
  • Pages – Add to Favorites

These changes will make it easier to unhide someone from the news feed, remove unwanted apps, and silence noisy Groups.

Streamlined Birthday Geetings

When users click on the birthdays section of the home page’s right sidebar, a popover is revealed with wall post entry fields for the profiles of all friends with birthdays that day. This allows users to quickly post “Happy Birthday” or a more personal greeting to each friend since they don’t have to visit their profiles individually.

Hidden Poke Button

As first spotted by AllFacebook, the Poke button on the profile is no longer visible by default. Instead, it has been buried in a drop-down menu in the top right of the profile along with options to video call, report/block, and suggest friends.

The poke is a relic of the earliest versions of Facebook, when users had few other means of communicating with friends or strangers. Since then, “poke wars” have become running jokes between friends. However, the feature is also often used by men to try to flirt with women they don’t know, which can create an offensive atmosphere for some women. Rather than suddenly removing the option, which could anger some users, Facebook appears to have chosen to make it less prominent in hopes of weening users off it.

No More Friend Request Messages

Previously, users could include some text when sending a friend request to greet a potential new friend and explain how they know each other. This option is no longer available, forcing users to send a separate Message. This might reduce the likelihood users will send an accompanying Message, which could increase the volume of rejected friend requests.

[Thanks to Dian Rosanti for the tip on birthdays]