We all use Facebook on our phones–eventually we have to, it is Facebook, after all–but the experience has never totally made sense. If the desktop Facebook is cluttered, then everything wrong about Facebook is only amplified by mobiles, which squeezes the same content onto a 3.5-inch screen to simultaneously show too much and too little information at once, a long yet cramped feed with too many tiny buttons, a small room stuffed with way too many speakers turned way too loud.
Yet maybe the problem isn’t just Facebook. (C’mon haters, there’s a lot of great information in Facebook, or we wouldn’t all use it.) Maybe the problem is that Facebook is too worried about being Facebook to rethink its experience on mobiles.
Gabi certainly makes a case along those lines. It’s a $1 app that takes Facebook’s backend and reimagines it without the Feed–fueled by big pictures and cleverly sorted data rather than endless Spotify playlists–a Flipboard that’s focused as much on being clever as it is pretty.
Gabi builds its UI from a question, a question you can customize 100 times over in madlibs style. “Which” or “Who”… leads to “of my friends” or “of my videos” … ”are most” … ”liked” or “talked about.” That’s a bit confusing, I know, but with a few taps, it means that you can create questions like “Which of my status updates is most talked about?” or “Who are my single girlfriends?” (The latter of which was Gabi’s suggestion, not mine, honey!)
The answers to these questions form tiles that combine to form the core UI, which looks a lot like Microsoft’s Metro interface. With a click, I can see that 9 of 433 of my Facebook friends are single women. One result is my grandma. (Believe it or not, things could have gotten even creepier. Minors, thankfully, appear to have been filtered from the results.)
For the most part, Gabi is a pretty way to explore Facebook analytics, like whom amongst your friends likes most of your photos and status updates. But it doesn’t seem to concern itself with that day to day question–what are my friends up to now?–that Facebook answers so effectively at its core. So Gabi probably won’t be a runaway sensation. There’s just no reason to keep opening the app after the first few times.
That said, Gabi is a fascinating case study of what Facebook could do with their own backend, if only they had the boldness to leave their own UI ruts and focused as much on ingenuity as they do familiarity. We’ve already seen Facebook test the waters with their Instagram-clone photo app, but Facebook has so, so, so much information in their backend, that they can drive interaction models with a richness other services couldn’t begin to imagine. Facebook knows who I am, where I am, what I’m talking about, who I like, what I’m listening to and what I’m reading, and it knows the same things about everyone I know. I can’t say that I know what Facebook’s magical product of the future looks like, but apps like Gabi don’t feel so far off. There’s got to be more lurking under the surface than a new iteration of Like button.