Facebook's latest redesign which has been clearly inspired Twitter's real-time stream of status updates has had a ton of detractors from all corners. One of the biggest places where the outcry has centralized is the Facebook Layout vote application which currently has had over a million votes from Face book users with over 94% against the new changes and almost 600,000 comments, most of which seem to be negative if the hundred or so I read were a representative sample.
One thing I've wondered is how the folks at Facebook are taking this feedback. On the one hand, people don't like changes and the more disruptive the change the more they fight it. It's almost comical to go back and read the Time magazine article about the backlash against the news feed from back in 2006 given how much the feature has not only ended up defining Facebook but how significantly it has impacted the social software landscape at large. On the other hand, sometimes people have a good reason to protest such as the outcry against the privacy destroying Facebook Beacon which eventually inspired a mea culpa from Zuckerburg himself.
Owen Thomas from Valleywag has an article entitled Even Facebook Employees Hate the Redesign which contains the following excerpt
The feedback on Facebook's new look, which emphasizes a stream of Twitter-like status updates, is almost universally, howlingly negative. Why isn't CEO Mark Zuckerberg listening to users? Because he doesn't have to, he's told employees.
A tipster tells us that Zuckerberg sent an email to Facebook staff reacting to criticism of the changes: "He said something like 'the most disruptive companies don't listen to their customers.'" Another tipster who has seen the email says Zuckerberg implied that companies were "stupid" for "listening to their customers." The anti-customer diktat has many Facebook employees up in arms, we hear.
When your application becomes an integral part of your customers lives and identities, it is almost expected that they protest any major changes to the user experience. The problem is that you may eventually become jaded about negative feedback because you assume that for the most part the protests are simply people's natural resistance to change.
I tend to agree that disruptive companies don't listen to their customers in the narrow sense of using them as a barometer to decide what products or features to build. Customer feature requests aren't the source of input that would spawn a Netflix in a world that had Blockbuster & Hollywood video. Such disruptive products are spawned from understanding the customers better than they understand themselves. If you had simply "listened" to Blockbuster's customers you'd think the best way to compete with them would be to have cheaper late fees or a bigger selection in your store. Netflix actually went a step further and understood the underlying customer problems (e.g. even going to a video store is a hassle which is why you end up with late fees in the first place) and created a product that was truly disruptive.
Using that model of "disruptive companies" the question then is whether the new Facebook is an example of understanding your customers better than they understand themselves or is truly a mistake? For my take on the answer I'll first point out a comment on Valleywag on the redesign
Here's the problem with the redesign. Twitter is a micro-blog. The 140 character Livejournal.
Facebook is not a blog. In its old form it was a really great PHONEBOOK. A phonebook that not only updated your acquaintance's (most FB friends are not friends) contact info, but also gave you a general summary of their life. It was a big picture kind of thing: Where they are, who they're dating, what school or job they have, and how to contact them. It was never about "sharing" your daily thoughts on how great your panini was or omg gossip girl is back! The livejournal twit-blog crap is messing up the phonebook interface.
This is the crux of the problem with the Facebook redesign. The expectations around how user relationships were created on Twitter are totally different from how they were on Facebook. On Twitter, users explicitly decide as part of following someone that they want all of the person's tweets in their stream. In fact, this is the only feature of the relationship on Twitter. On Facebook, you have relationships with people that attempt to mirror your real life so you have your boss, coworkers, school friends and acquaintances all trying to be part of your social graph because FB is really a kind of "rolodex" in the sky.
The fact that you got a news feed was kind of a side effect of filling out your virtual rolodex but it was cool because you got the highlights of what were going on in the lives of your friends and family. There is a legitimate problem that you weren't getting the full gist of everything your 120 contacts (average number of Facebook friends) were doing online but it would clearly lead to information overload to get up to the minute updates about the breakfast habits of some guy who sat next to you in middle school.
Somewhere along the line, it seems the folks at Facebook didn't internalize this fundamental difference in the social context that differentiates user to user relationships on Twitter versus Facebook. This to me is a big mistake.
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