Facebook said there were just big fixes in its 7.0 iOS update it released yesterday, but actually there’s a big new feature it’s testing called Highlights. Inside the People tab you’ll see Highlights including friends’ Life Events and people you’ve interacted with recently. If you’re bored of News Feed and want to know what do next, Highlights could lead the way. Or you might just never use it.
Also released yesterday was a 3.2 update to Facebook Messenger featuring a new integration with the core app for all users, despite the update’s What’s New listing just bug fixes. If you shortcut from Facebook to Messenger by tapping its icon in the tab bar, you’ll see a “Touch To Return To Facebook” notification bar at top that lets you instantly switch back. As Facebook moves towards more of an app suite strategy with companions like Messenger, allowing for seamless switching back and forth will be important. Another new messaging-related feature is the addition of a slide-out buddy list button in the top right of Facebook for iOS that pops people to Messenger to start a chat.
But the bigger deal is the new People tab, which is currently available to just a subset of iOS users. Previously, the Requests tab in the tab bar at the bottom of Facebook for iOS just opened up Friend Requests and People You May know. Now called “People”, the tab includes the subtabs Everyone, which displays all your friends in alphabetical order, and History, which shows a reverse chronological list of people you’ve interacted with through messaging, liking posts, and other actions. The latter is somewhere between a simplified Activity Log and a reminder of who you might want to continue conversations with.
But the first and default tab in People is Highlights. It starts with new Friend Requests up top, though it hides old ones you’ve left in limbo under a See More button. Next is a panel of Friends With Birthdays Today, a duplicate of what’s in the Events section of the app.
After that is the most interesting part of Highlights: a list of recent Life Events from friends such as a new romantic relationship, starting a job, moving, graduating, or anything posted through the Life Events creator. If you don’t care about seeing the BuzzFeed articles and random photos your friends fill the News Feed with, this part of Highlights could give you a quick way to catch up with important milestones in friends’ lives.
Beyond Life Events is Friends With Upcoming Birthdays so you can plan to actually send them a heartfelt message instead of a shallow “HBD!” wall post. Then there’s People You’ve Contacted, which is quite similar to the History tab. And finally there’s a seemingly endless list of People You May Know.
With so much overlap between the Highlights and History subtabs as well as the Events section, I’d expect some of this to be redesigned or cut before/if the People tab is rolled out to everyone. Still, Highlights is a fascinating alternative take on the News Feed that focuses on people, communication, and big moments instead of the day-to-day ephemera. As Facebook’s feed moves more towards news sharing and public-facing content, it’s good see a feature dedicated squarely to connecting us with our friends’ lives. After all, that was Facebook’s original mission.