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3/17/2011
02:41 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Facebook for BlackBerry 2.0 Gets Facelift, More Features

For the Facebook fiends, RIM has added several enhancements that let users take more Facebook actions (like Chat, for instance), more notification options and a refreshed user experience.

I'm not what you'd call a Facebook power user, and I use the mobile version on my BlackBerry as a simple way to keep up with what my friends and family are doing (and shouldn't be doing) and thinking. At most, I will occasionally post photos I take from my BlackBerry's camera. So it's difficult for me to say whether Research In Motion's new Facebook for Blackberry 2.0 (now in beta 1) was actually necessary, but the redesigned user experience and added features do seem to be an improvement, at least for those who use the app regularly. OK, I did find a couple fun things to "like."

For example, there's now a Facebook notifications bar. It's modeled after the BlackBerry 6 notifications bar (here, when you tap the bar from the home screen you get a quick view of all your messages and social feeds); tap it once andyou get all of your Facebook notifications (and new ones are highlighted. This includes actual notifications, messages, friend requests. It's certainly a more BlackBerry 6 way of doing things, but is it that big of a deal? Similarly, Facebook push notifications land in your BlackBerry universal inbox.

Better, you get access to more of Facebook's options from the Facebook menu bar within the app (the Navigation Grid). Tap it, and everything from the News Feed to Photos to Profile pop up for easy, and more complete access. In the Friends option, you can send your friends a message, write on their wall, poke them (which, I swear, I've never done), or see their profile. However, while you can select and view your profile, you can't edit it.There's even an option to chat now (and you can get notifications of new chats, even when the app isn't open). I did have some problems with this -- sometimes it just didn't want to appear for me, but then when I changed the BlackBerry's orientation, it suddenly appeared. RIM told me this is the first they've seen of this problem, and is investigating it. Remember, this is Beta 1.

RIM says in its overview documentation that you can now upload BlackBerry photos directly to Facebook, but I'm not clear on how that's different. Using the BlackBerry camera, when I hit "send" in the old version, it gave me Facebook as an option. In the app overview, RIM says: "Facebook for BlackBerry smartphones is the only Facebook app where you can link to a profile that appears in a friend's relationship status." I'm not even sure what that means, but there you have it ... you sick people.

Notifications Bar
Notifications Bar

Other additions include a "more" button that lets you "like" or comment on someone's status updates and other posts. For some reason, this seems a step backwards from a user experience standpoint: in the old version, you could just click on the hyperlinked "comment" or "like" text to do the same thing; one less step. Tom Goguen, RIM's VP of Collaboration and Social Networking said that this is an area of active user experience investigation, primarily because there have been complaints that in the present version it is too easy to hit "like" by mistake. Fair point, but this does add a step.

One particularly useful feature is the ability to tie Facebook to your BlackBerry contact list. The idea here is that in the contact list, you'll be able to see any recent Facebook activity with that person. For corporate users (like me), this is set to default and must be configured by the BES administrator. I'm looking forward to this most, though, because it adds to the already tight integration between BlackBerry apps and Contacts -- today, your BBMs, texts and other interactions show up in the context of a contact.

BlackBerry Facebook Chat
BlackBerry Facebook Chat

Now, if there's a match of phone number or e-mail address (as entered in a user's Facebook account), you'll get the person's profile picture as the contact picture and their Facebook name is added. From within your contact, you can initiate a Facebook message or a poke (again, I don't recommend that, but that's just me). It also appends any recent status updates for that person. Perhaps there will be more (like messages and other notifications) in the future.

BlackBerry Facebook can also sync your Facebook calendar with the BlackBerry calendar. I don't use the Facebook calendar, but Sean Hungerford, RIM's Manager for Consumer Social Networking Product Management told me this can be used to add a Facebook event, for example. You can also set up audible alerts for Facebook messages of various kinds -- posts on your wall, messages, etc. I really liked this.

BlackBerry Facebook Navigation Grid
BlackBerry Facebook Navigation Grid

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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