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Facebook rolls out new design and expands dating feature

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent

Facebook (FB) on Tuesday announced a revamped desktop website and smartphone app that puts its Groups feature at the center of the social network’s experience.

The updated version of Facebook for mobile and desktop, referred to as “FB5,” will be simpler, faster and emphasizes users’ communities, or Groups on the app and website, according to Facebook, which unveiled the new website and app designs at its annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California. Facebook also announced a number of other features on Tuesday, including the ability to meet new friends on Facebook and the expansion of Facebook’s long-awaited Dating feature to 14 new countries.

Facebook’s latest round of updates and improvements announced on Tuesday arrive roughly two months after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published his vision for “privacy-focused” messaging and social networking in a blog post. In the post, Facebook’s chief executive highlighted groups, private messaging, and ephemeral stories as the fastest growing areas of online communication.

Putting Groups front-and-center

As Facebook has evolved, it’s become a platform that lets users do any number of things: watch videos, sign up for events and shop on Marketplace. But as Zuckerberg wrote in early March, arguing for increased privacy on Facebook’s platforms, one of the social network’s fastest growing areas is small groups. Indeed, according to Facebook, over 400 million people on Facebook now belong to a Group.

‘We regularly hear from people who tell us that Groups are now a central part of their Facebook experience,” a Facebook spokesperson told Yahoo Finance. “They are an everyday resource for people to connect over things they care about — a place to exchange new recipes, learn what's happening in their neighborhood or simply bond over a love of dogs. And they are also a place where people who share life events, like moving, parenthood or new careers, get support and encouragement. We want to give more people the opportunity to find a meaningful group that will add value to their lives.”

The redesigned Facebook desktop experienced, called FB5, rolls out later htis year. Source: Facebook

To that end, FB5 now emphasizes Facebook Groups on both desktop and mobile, moving the Groups tab closer to the center of the desktop website and mobile app. The new Groups tab will also display a customized feed of activity across all the user’s groups. Meanwhile, a new discovery tool will suggest groups you might be interested in. And Facebook is currently working to weave in Group across the rest of the social network in sections such as Marketplace, the Gaming tab and Facebook Watch.

The revamped Facebook mobile app, dubbed FB5. Source: Facebook

According to Facebook, users will start seeing these changes in the Facebook app starting Tuesday, with the desktop update coming some time in the next coming month.

Expanded dating

Facebook continues to explore dating as a feature, even as the social network moves towards increased privacy across its different properties.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced it planned to expand the Dating feature from five markets — Colombia, Thailand, Canada, Argentina, and Mexico — to 14 new countries including Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guyana, and Suriname. Expect Facebook Dating to finally arrive in the U.S. by the end of 2019, Facebook says.

Last September, Facebook began rolling its Dating feature to select international markets. To avoid potential privacy issues, Dating users create an all-new new dating profile separate from their main Facebook profile. (The only information imported over from Facebook proper is the user’s first name and age, as well as Facebook Groups and Events.) It’s unclear how exactly Facebook Dating is performing — the social network does not share user numbers for the feature — especially given the data privacy concerns Facebook has faced over the last 18 months. But results from early testing must be promising enough to eventually bring the feature to the U.S.

Another interesting twist: a new feature called Secret Crush, rolling out on Tuesday, which lets Facebook users select up to nine of their Facebook friends who they want to express interest in. If their crush has also opted into Facebook Dating, they will get a notification saying that someone has a crush on them. And if their crush adds you to their Secret Crush list, it's a match.

Meeting new friends

Facebook's new upcoming feature, Meet New Friends. Source: Facebook

The social network is also testing a new feature in Vietnam and Colombia called Meet New Friends, which Facebook says will help people start friendships with new people from their school, workplace, or city. Users can choose to opt in, so they will only see other people who are open to meeting new friends, and vice versa. The long-term plan is to eventually integrate Meet New Friends in Facebook Groups, so users can meet new friends in their “most meaningful” communities on Facebook.

As Zuckerberg pushed towards increased privacy, it will be interesting to see how some of Facebook’s announced features on Tuesday play a role in that strategy. Encouraging users to meet new friends (or even date) on the social network seems to contradict the Facebook chief executive’s new mandate. But perhaps F8 will shed more light on Zuckerberg’s larger vision — one that hopefully gels and makes sense.

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