How to fix Facebook: Social Fixer

16 May 2013
Facebook

Davey Winder reveals how to make Facebook nicer to use

Facebook has been badly broken for some time, and, since it appears Mark Zuckerberg can’t be bothered to fix it, we’ll have to do it ourselves.

What exactly do I mean by "broken"? That will prompt a different answer depending on who you ask. Everyone has a problem with some aspect of Facebook, whether it’s the recently imposed Timeline feature, the way sponsored posts and adverts clutter up the available screen estate, or the way the posts themselves are filtered and sorted.

You might expect I’d put privacy and security issues at the head of my complaints list, but no – I’ve ridden that particular hobby horse quite enough for the moment. Instead, I’m taking on good old-fashioned usability. Facebook, for me, had begun to be really difficult to use, even verging on unusable.

Why so? Just to pick on one rather annoying feature of its UI, there’s the small matter that whenever you type something into a comment box and hit Enter, it prematurely submits whatever you’ve just typed, rather than giving you a line break as you’d expect.

Facebook, for me, had begun to be really difficult to use, even verging on unusable

To make matters worse, there’s no option to edit a root post you’ve created, although you can edit any comments. There are plenty of other examples of nasty behaviour, but this is the ones that always stuck in my craw – until I discovered Social Fixer, which dealt with that issue, and other cracks in the UI, without fuss.

Social Fixer

Social Fixer is a JavaScript program that runs inside your browser – I use it with Chrome, but it works with Firefox just as well; there’s no support for Internet Explorer. It works by processing the information stream it pulls down from Facebook and presenting it in the way you want within your browser.

No information on Facebook itself ever gets changed, nor does the way information appears to other Facebook users: it’s a local solution for local people. If you hate the Timeline, you can tweak it by viewing your posts in a single column and hiding the Friends box and so on.

A well-thought-out setup wizard lets you install Social Fixer with all the most popular tweaks already in place, or in a “minimalist” option, which keeps most tweaks switched off and the Facebook UI much the same as normal.

If you select the latter route, as I did, you can go through its configuration options manually. The setup wizard does, however, walk you through a number of the most commonly used options, such as giving game and app posts their own tabs as part of the tabbed newsfeed, changing the way chat feeds are presented, and using an image-viewing pop-up when hovering over a thumbnail.

Most importantly for me, however, it gets rid of the stupid “Enter means submit” problem. While Social Fixer can’t actually turn back the Facebook clock by restoring the Comment button of old, it does force Enter to put in a new line, and employs Tab+Enter to submit instead.

Fiddling with Facebook

Once Social Fixer is installed, you’ll want to start fiddling, and you can do so happy in the knowledge that nothing you do can break Facebook or affect your data.

You can safely select any option and refresh the page, then go back and deselect it if you don’t like what you see. I can’t see why you wouldn’t like its tabbed newsfeed, though, which classifies posts for easier reading.

Feed filters that bring some semblance of control to the posts you see, or hide, are welcome too. Once you start playing with the filtering rules, you’ll find you’re able to define them to move posts onto separate tabs that are more logically grouped, and to do so with a decent level of granularity.

If you want to hide a specific post type, you can, but you can also specify posts made by a particular user or users, and keywords used by that user or users. The ability to hide posts you’ve already read is also nice, especially if you have a large and prolific network of friends. Mark a post as read and you’ll see only new comments, unless you want to mute all further comments. It’s even possible to set a comment threshold and have threads die after that number is reached.

Trending features

What else do I like about Social Fixer? Well, there’s its ability to hide “trending” stuff, friends’ inane game notifications and duplicate stories, to force the newsfeed to switch to recent stories first, oh, and to hide the ticker feed of friends’ activity.

I don’t have much time for its themes, but then I’ve never been into skinning user interfaces for no apparent reason. Perhaps if someone came up with a workable "low-vision, high-contrast" theme I might change my mind. That said, there’s an option to set the size of the posting and comment fonts to pretty much whatever you like – which I use to increase them to something more readable.

I’m not really that big a fan of the friend-tracker Social Fixer introduces, which can alert you when someone unfriends you and provide a link to their profile. To be honest, I don’t care enough. However, since this is introduced as a widget, it can be removed easily.

Give it a try. Seriously, you might start to love Facebook again if you do.