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Facebook changes baffle users, and more are on the way

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Where's that dislike button when you need it?

Facebook's 750 million users awoke Wednesday morning to some dramatic changes on the social media site. And what did they do?

Immediately posted about just how much they despised every last bit of it.

"This is absolutely the worst of the many wrong-headed 'improvements' you have made, and that's quite a feat," a user named Franklin Habit wrote on the site's official Facebook page. "I think Facebook's usefulness to me has now been outstripped by its lack of ease in use."

Others, like Vincent Q. Nguyen boiled their frustration into a five-letter plea: "Fix it."

In Baltimore, blogger Meg Fairfax Fielding just wanted to turn back the clock — so her Facebook looked and behaved as it did the day before.

"Where did everything go?" she wanted to know. "It's annoying. All of a sudden it just changes. All of a sudden it's just completely different."

The biggest gripe — people used to choosing to see either "top news" or "most recent" items were forced to view what Facebook offered them, which was a seemingly arbitrary combination of both.

Another object of scorn was a scrolling rail on the right side of the page, a feature Facebook calls "The Ticker." Which is about right considering how much it ticked folks off.

Baltimore-based writer Jill Smokler, who relies on Facebook to interact with readers of her Scary Mommy blog, was likely speaking for thousands when just a few hours into the day she declared in her status, "I miss the old Facebook."

Those allergic to change might be in for a rocky ride this week. These "improvements" might be just the beginning.

Facebook is planning to launch other major changes and a new media platform at its annual developers conference in San Francisco.

As they scratched their heads over these supposed "top stories," Facebook users couldn't help but wonder what made them such big news. As Fielding put it: "I want the stories I choose, not what they choose."

The recipe for "top news" involves an algorithm that combines such factors as which friends you interact with most and which friends' posts have the most comments and "likes" on them.

In a post on the Facebook Blog, developer Mark Tonkelowitz said the idea is to help people who may not log in to the site all the time find the best content, not just the newest.

"Now, News Feed will act more like your own personal newspaper," he wrote. "You won't have to worry about missing important stuff. All your news will be in a single stream with the most interesting stories featured at the top."

If you check Facebook more frequently, he said, you'll see newer stories at the top of your feed.

And how does Facebook decide what you need? A network spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday: "Just as we aim to show you the most relevant updates in your News Feed today, we use a variety of signals to decide whether a story might be interesting or important. For example, this may include changes about your employer, school, relationship status or city, as well as things like the number of likes or comments on a post. For example, if a friend's post gets dozens of comments or likes, it's likely to be a top story."

As for the ever-moving ticker, Facebook users complained of seeing double — the ticker was more or less telling them what they had already noticed in their feed.

Tonkelowitz believes the Ticker plugs the gap in the time lag the News Feed sometimes experiences, letting users have more real-time interactions.

All of the hand-wringing and cursing came with a touch of irony.

That's because more than a few of the complainers are folks who had griped heartily last December when the last iteration was rolled out. And the one before that. And the one before that.

Baltimore's social media-savvy marketer Tom Rowe tut-tutted on Twitter: "Complaining about Facebook updates is like complaining about the weather. Nothing you can do and it's sure to change again soon enough."

Daniel Waldman, who runs Evolve Communications, a Baltimore-based public relations firm, posted a cartoon on his page that was making the rounds. By the Oatmeal, the joke was that people who were "OUTRAGED" by the changes would happily be using them 15 minutes later, having entirely forgotten the old way.

"It almost reminds me of that Burger King commercial where they decided they weren't going to serve the Whopper for a day. People got really upset," he said. "I think people will just get used to it."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

CNN's news service and The Washington Post contributed to this article.

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