Facebook Feb. 4 celebrated its sixth birthday in style, revamping its search engine and making several navigational changes to its valuable homepage.
The changes, designed to improve the social network's usability, will roll out gradually to all users and could spark an outcry from people who have gotten comfortable since the company's last major homepage change in October 2009.
The search bar, currently to the right for the majority of the site's users, is being moved to the center of the page, sitting above the News Feed in the top menu. When users type in friend names, the search bar will auto-complete names for people who are the closest to you them according to the people you share the most mutual friends with.
Users will see their newest notifications, requests and messages in the top menu. When users receive a Facebook notification a red bubble will appear in the left-hand corner near the search bar. When users click on the icon, they'll see a drop-down menu with their most recent notifications. See the pictures here.
The Friends dashboard in the left menu lets users find friends, see which friends have recently updated their profiles and filter their News Feed by Friend Lists. Facebook Chat now offers a partial list of friends with whom users frequently communicate in the left menu. To see all of their Chat friends, users may still open the Chat bar in the bottom right-hand corner or click "See All" at the bottom of the left menu.
The Photos dashboard lets users browse recent photos of your friends, while the Events dashboard lists upcoming events, with events friends are attending. Home and Profile links will be moved to the top-right corner with peoples' Account menu, which includes privacy settings.
Facebook wants more users to use its thousands of applications, including games, so new Applications and Games dashboards are now accessible via the Applications and Games links in the left menu homepage. Previously, users access these links at the bottom of the homepage.
"The dashboards will surface the applications you've interacted with most recently as well as your most recent application activity and your friends' activity," Facebook engineer Jing Chen wrote in a blog post. "You will also start to see counters next to the applications you have bookmarked on your home page. Counters will notify you when you have a specific action to take, so that you never miss your turn in a game or an update from a friend in an application."
Users will be able to bookmark their favorite Facebookapps using the Add Bookmark button in an application, enjoying one-click access to them from the left menu beneath the Applications and Games dashboards. News items will also now appear alongside applications in the dashboards.
Chen said these features are launching with a new privacy setting, so that if users do not wish others to see their application activity in the dashboards they may change this in their Privacy settings. Facebook encouraged it developers to read more about these changes in a blog post here.
Facebook unveiled the changes, which began rolling out to 80 million of the site's now 400 million users, at its sixth birthday party at its Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters Thursday night. CEO Mark Zuckerberg honored the company he launched from his Harvard University dorm room.
It will be interesting to see whether the majority of users honor Facebook's homepage changes. Facebook upset many users when it began allowing users to toggle back and forth between a regular News Feed and a Live Feed Oct. 23.
Users clearly got over their initial alarm, as the site notched 300 million users in September and ascended from 350 million users Dec. 1 before topping the 400 friend mark this week.
Moreover, comScore said the site more than doubled its U.S. audience, from 54.5 million users in December 2008 to 111.9 million users in December 2009.