• 03/02/2012
    1:37 PM
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Facebook Page Welcome Tabs: Big Loss Or Good Riddance?

Facebook's latest update is causing redesign pain among businesses promoting themselves on the service, but some developers and designers see the upside.

The main timeline page also provides space for a dominant new photo or other image at the top of the page, which can help with branding, Ware noted--although Facebook's guidelines specify that it should not include hard-sell elements such as "like this page for your $5 coupon."

Still, the abrupt disappearance of welcome tabs doesn't really make sense to Ware. "I think it's heavy-handed. I don't understand why they did it, from a logical point of view," he said.

I suggested it might be Facebook's way of shifting more of the service's promotional opportunities to paid advertising, a popular interpretation given the pre-IPO timing. Ware thought that sounded about right.

Now, for the promised disclosure: prior to getting a full-time gig with the BrainYard, I earned part of my living as a Web consultant. About a year ago, I released a plugin for WordPress that blog owners can use to create and update posts to be displayed in a Facebook page tab. It includes some basic Like gate functionality and has often been used to produce welcome tabs--tabs that are about to become obsolete. Because this is free software, and I've only indirectly made money off it, I don't see this as a big conflict of interest, but you can make your own judgement.

One of the users of that plugin is Keith Tharp, who runs a photography business in Londonderry, N.H., that he promotes through Facebook. He also does a bit of Web consulting and site administration. Tharp wrote to me to protest Facebook's callousness toward "people/businesses who have invested a good amount of time, money and effort" into a Facebook design, only to be told that it will be obsolete in 30 days. "They can only get away with saying 'we are the great and almighty FB! that's why' for so long before people will stop playing," he added.

The concern here is partly about scale. If you're Wal-Mart, redesigning page tabs and adjusting marketing strategy in response to Facebook's latest changes is a trivial expense and effort. For a small business that just launched a beautiful new welcome tab the day before Facebook made its announcement, the wasted time, effort, and money is a lot more significant. Many consultants catering to small businesses are also furious because they worry their clients will blame them when their welcome tabs stop working.

When I got Tharp on the phone this morning, he pointed out that it's only been about a year since Facebook shifted to an integration methodology based on HTML iframes that opened up a whole world of new possibilities for page tabs. Now, the question for a small business trying to adjust to Facebook's latest design is "how much money do you invest in that if you're afraid Facebook is going to pull the carpet under from you again in 14 months," he said. "It won't take too many instances of that behavior for people to start abandoning the platform."

Maybe so, but Facebook rebellions are famous for being short-lived, Ware pointed out. "Every time there's a big rollout, a big change, people get up in arms saying, 'I'm leaving Facebook!' Well, nobody leaves Facebook. Leaving Facebook is like leaving your home country, almost. All people can really do is deal with it," he said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

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