Facebook: designs and divorces

September 22, 2011 · 16 comments

Everyone’s talking about it. Facebook have gone and done the unthinkable. They’ve changed the design of their homepage, played with the functionality and added a couple of features. How dare they change the way you communicate with your family and friends? How dare they change the way you see their updates? How dare they change the way you use their site? Forget the fact that users have never had to pay a penny for a service which has played a sizeable role in their recent lives, how dare they?

Up until now, it has been free. If you consider the cost to be a lack of privacy and your personal information being available to advertisers, why are you on there? Why are you sharing? We’ve never actually had to pay for something which has brought us many benefits. If these changes have caused such frustration and annoyance, why not jump ship? Google+ is waiting with open arms.

The reason most users probably won’t jump ship is because Facebook still provides a free and easy way to meet their online social needs. Design and user experience is important but it’s not at the heart of the matter – motivations and needs are. I’m not saying that a new design isn’t annoying at first, and that it may not be slightly harder to do what you did before, but it is not a big enough reason to leave. Heck, privacy isn’t a big enough reason for most people. To move, another service would need to allow you to meet these social needs significantly better. Not a little bit, significantly. And then you and your connections will all have to make that jump.

Many of your social foundations are built in the blue and white place. Yes, you may be building them in other places too, but there is definitely a reason why you keep going back. It’s where many of your conversations and experiences are shared with friends and loved ones, and where they have been shared in the past. Changes to design and user experience will probably not outweigh what you have already built there, one will always outweigh the other, and it won’t be long until the last ‘version’ of Facebook is forgotten ;-)

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” and “Facebook doesn’t listen to their users” are two common messages being posted at the moment. One of the main reasons Facebook has reached the stage that it has, and has dominated social networking, is because it has listened. Not just to the words of the vocal few, but to user behaviour over time. You keep using the site because they have listened, and so advertisers keep paying. Changes are not made to annoy you – they are made to meet your needs, to keep you using their site and to encourage you to keep laying these foundations. These changes keep working.

I may be a hypocrite. I may also get annoyed. I do tend to come around though and remember that Facebook are providing me with these benefits free of charge, that they know how I use their site better than I do, that they’re probably able to predict how I will want to use their site in the future better than I could, and that a few changes to design and functionality won’t cause us to go through a very painful divorce.

Will you go through a Facebook divorce?
Are you attracted to another service?
Are your family and friends moving too?
Do you think I’ve got it wrong and that this time, Facebook has finally gone too far?

(Within 24 hours of writing this post, Facebook announced the Timeline and Open Graph. Their methods of tracking your activity when you’re logged out has also been in the headline. Privacy is again the issue being discussed)

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  • http://twitter.com/ACJon Jon Anderson

    If you don’t innovate it’s over, the competition will copy and surpass you

  • http://www.robertpickstone.com Robert Pickstone

    I agree. If Facebook has stayed the way some users had wanted it to, those users may not be using the site now.

  • http://www.juusmedia.com/ Jason Stanley

    Great post and totally agree. I’ve never been a ‘hater’ of a new service or joined a “petition to keep Facebook the way it is”. I’ll admit I’ve had my frustrations and certainly made my views known on the site but I try to keep it either light-hearted or constructive. After all like you said, the service is free.

    So that said, I will not be divorcing Facebook for now.

    I am attracted to any new social media service, I’ve found out that one service can’t please me on it’s own! That’s the beauty of the internet (for now), you can pick and choose stay or leave and experiment with what works for you. I will admit it’s difficult juggling three major networks (Google+, Facebook and Twitter) but as long as there’s a conversation going on in each I will hang around.

    My family and friends haven’t indicated that they want to move and I’m not a believer in trying to convince someone to join a network. They have to want to join for their own reasons so unless there’s a big shift out of Facebook I’m not sure they will leave.

    And finally, no I don’t think Facebook has got it wrong. They’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way but those incidents seem more annoying than deal breakers in my opinion. Since releasing the new changes they’ve already tweaked a few things so I’m sure it’s just a case of seeing how the user base is responding to the changes and adjusting slightly to make a better experience.

    On a big plus, I’m loving the new look ‘Timeline Profiles’. The exisiting profiles are fairly stagnant as most of the focus is on the homepage with the news/top stories.

    I welcome change.

  • http://www.robertpickstone.com Robert Pickstone

    You missed out LinkedIn ;-) Only joking. I totally agree with what you’re saying.

    Despite the odd frustration, I haven’t moved, not many people I know have moved, and despite the moaning, not many people will back up their words and move over the next month or two. The moaning might be a British thing – I love to moan about all sorts!

    Juggling social networks can be tricky. Sometimes I forget about Google+. I don’t forget about Facebook or Twitter though because I have connections in these places and have built something there. Do you ever forget about Google+? Empire Avenue too – didn’t visit that site in about a month. Why? It has no real impact on my life.

    I’m with you on the Timeline Profiles. Looking forward to them. Let’s videochat each other again through Facebook sometime, and have another geek chat!

  • http://twitter.com/davidwrightuk david wright

    You are so right. I find it frustrating listening to people complain about a service which is given to them. And it’s always a loud tiny minority who demand and shout about how they are going to leave. Do they?

    I have divorced facebook but not for the design reasons. My family/family I can see in real life. I was never a numbers collector.

    Different networks seem to attract different types of people. Facebook is more family and friend oriented whereas  Google+ seems to attract more professionals and tech people.

    I am still waiting for Diaspora to become a reality which will put your data in your own hands. Then you can choose your platform that suits your needs.

  • http://www.robertpickstone.com Robert Pickstone

    Hi David,

    Thanks for stopping by! I had a discussion with someone about privacy last night. He was saying that people can care about animals but still eat meat. In my opinion, one outweighs the other. For many, social needs are more important than privacy. Their actions back this up.

    If many of my friends and family were not on Facebook, I would have done the same as you. I can definitely see why you left if you didn’t have a reason to be there.

    Ah – Diaspora. To be continued…

    Thanks again

    Rob

  • http://www.sophiedennis.co.uk sophiedennis

    Based on my friends’ reactions I the changes have not been properly  user-tested. The main reaction is confusion and disorientation. People don’t know why they are seeing posts in different place. And just as when they introduced the News Feed way back when, people have been alarmed by being exposed to how Facebook shares their stuff in ways they didn’t realise (for example, that if I am friends with someone, I can see comments they make on *anyones* wall, group etc…). 

    Good user testing – or rolling the changes out to people gradually, like they did with “New Profile” – would have exposed this and enabled Facebook to understand where people’s pain points where going to be, and then communicate the changes better.Are people going through a Facebook divorce? Several people are talking about leaving, but the real problem is that a lot of my regular friends are now giving Google+ a go. These are the “ordinary” users Google has failed to attract in large numbers to date, and it’s given them exactly the kind of incentive to switch that Google+ needed. What Facebook may have intended as a defensive move against Google+ may be about to spectacularly backfire.

  • Ann

    Interesting post Rob. You are looking at it from a consumer point of view, however, FB is actually looking at it from a predominate brand point of view. As you know a commercial company (especially one going for an IPO next year) will always look at shareholder value first before its consumers. Just look at our experience with FTSE 100 companies. What I am hearing amongst my community is this: 

    1. The origins of FB have changed and so have its values. Its not a social network but ad channel nowadays.
    2. People are seeing straight through the changes. That it is about ad revenue not conversations and improving user experience.
    3. Navigation, changes etc are not the issue, suggestions, broadcast marketing and privacy are bigger things FB should be dealing with.
    4. People have not jumped ship yet as they are biding their time. Some are jumping to Path and others are waiting for the competition to arrive, if it ever does.
    5. FB is obviously terrified of Google+. This is a good thing for us consumers.And, its not free. We always imply that free is about money, its not. Its about freedom of privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of information etc. We are all paying a price for being on FB. Its only a prediction, but I believe that FB will be dead in the water in five years time. Its playing out the same game a lot of game changers have done in the past, only to sink in the tsunami it created!

    And you know, it perhaps doesn’t matter. As long as we look at things beneath the surface and understand that, its okay. As Douglas Rushkoff has said “Program or be programmed.” Lets be under no illusion, FB is programming us!

    Hope this contributes to the debate! :)

  • http://www.robertpickstone.com Robert Pickstone

    Hi Sophie,

    I agree that the changes are a little confusing at first. I think it won’t be long until users are used to them though. As you rightly point out, the communication around the changes was pretty poor, but the reasons for the changes are based on how people use the site and how they will use the site in the future, based on trends of user behaviour.

    Maybe the user testing was not strong and it should be easier to understand at first, but Facebook were aways going to push what they considered to be important, and what we cosider to be important based on our actions.

    I personally don’t know many people who use Google+ on a regular basis. Most of my geeky friends are already bored with it and can’t see a reason to spend their time there, and most of my non geeky friends have either not heard of it or can’t see the point in switching. Many are only just signing up to Twitter. That’s just my experience though – the numbers won’t lie in time.

    In a year’s time, will masses of users have switched because of Facebook’s recent actions? I personally don’t think so. That comment could come back to haunt me!

    Thanks for sharing your views, Sophie. It’s a really hot topic at the moment. Everyone’s talking about it ;-)

    Thanks

    Rob

  • http://www.robertpickstone.com Robert Pickstone

    Hi Ann,

    Your comment definitely contributes to the debate! Thank you so much for sharing your views on something you are thinking and writing about.

    The best way that Facebook can keep shareholders happy is to keep users talking and sharing on the site. The data created by this will drive further revenue from advertisers. Facebook has always (pretty much) had a strong ad focus and will continue to do so. Focusing on users leads to happy advertisers, as mentioned above. Up until now, it has been an extremely effective approach and I honestly don’t think they are making huge changes to it.

    1 – I’m not so sure that their values have changed dramatically. Facebook want you to use their service as part of your daily life. They will make money from this. Privacy is your responsibility.
    2 – I don’t think everyone is seeing through the changes. Many people have different reactions and opinions.
    3 – Privacy has always been a hot topic but users keep sharing their lives through the site. Actions speak louder than words in my opinion. Social needs are more important to most than privacy. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but it is happening and is backed up by their actions.
    4 – People could jump ship if they wanted to. Google+ has apparently solved many of the privacy issues that are always talked about, has no banner ads and is very simple to use. People should be jumping ship but are not. A major part of my post is focused on why.
    5 – Yes – I agree! The competiton between Google+ and Facebook is great fun to watch! It will keep us talking, that’s for sure.

    Facebook may well be programming us but we actually quite enjoy it and keep going back for more ;-)

    Thanks for sharing your views, Ann. I really appreciate it – it wasn’t exactly a quick comment. I also hope that the latest Random Exeter went really well.

    Thanks

    Rob

  • Ann

    Hi Rob

    Yep RANDOM went very well thanks. Only time will tell on this one, but my main point is that Facebook is just another TV channel/newspaper just with real time conversations going on. It is behaving very much like businesses before it (offline and online) and I just see it committing the same mistakes that other companies have made. 

    I guess what I’m looking at isn’t the detail of the changes, I really don’t care about that, but the corporate strategy of running a business. One that is losing touch with its consumers, tweaking product in the wrong areas and actually only focused on making money. Facebook is not a game changer anymore, I just wish we would realise this. Privacy is not just the responsibility of the individual, it is the responsibility of everybody including the state. I really don’t think many of us are looking at this deeply enough, the implications and the consequences. That’s all! :)

  • http://www.robertpickstone.com Robert Pickstone

    I’m glad that RANDOM went well. The next time I’m back home, I will check to see if another one is taking place on the same week :-)

    I can’t really argue against the fact that Facebook is losing touch with it’s customers, other than to say the stats tell one story and the voices of the users tell another. The number of people using the site, sharing items and taking part in conversations is increasing all the time, but the number of people who are vocal about their negative experiences is also increasing. As long as people vote with their feet (or mouses in this case) rather than their words, then Facebook will continue to make money.

    In 20 years time, what will be the consequences of us all sharing these details about our actions and views online? What will be the consequences of other people being able to do this on our behalf? We are definitely facing something that has not been faced before.

    Thanks and speak soon! :-)

    Rob

  • Anonymous

    To be perfectly honest Rob, I really can’t see what all the fuss is about. Everything changes. Change is not new. Heraclitus (the man who believed one cannot step into the same river twice) pointed this out over 2,500 years ago http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Heraclitus – slightly before the invention of the internet :-)

    Yeah, so they’ve made some changes but it’s no more distressing than when your supermarket suddenly decides to relocate the baked bean shelf.

    On a scale of change, it’s pretty damn trivial. Being made redundant and having your life turned upside down; now that’s change!

  • http://www.robertpickstone.com Robert Pickstone

    Spot on, Dale. Having a different type of Facebook News Feed isn’t really the be all and end all. A new Profile Timeline is angering some users due to privacy concerns. They don’t have to share their information with Facebook. Again, a bit of a non-starter to me.

    Although I use Facebook most days, and it plays a major role in my job, a change to my transport or office opening hours would affect me far more. A change to the circumstances of family and friends, even more so.

    I hope you’ve been well. The next time I’m in Plymouth, it would be nice to discuss some important changes over an ale or two ;-)

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  • Andrew

    People always moan about a bit of disruptive change. “It’s confusing”,
    “They’ve sold out!”, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”, etc etc.

    Unquestionably there’s a interest in further monetising the site with an element of the changes, but I think it’s a little cynical to assume – at least some of – the changes cannot also simply reflect a desire to facilitate better sharing of information. You post an interesting set of ideas, Ann (I’m simply a layman on all matters social network), but I do think proclamations of Facebook’s demise are surely a facetious joust. There’s less buzz already about Google+, and it’s lacking anything to drag the critical mass towards it, IMO. To your average punter, what compelling reason is there to shift and create yet another social identity. Facebook can become our de facto online legacy for our kids, their kids, etc. Facebook unquestionably thinks long-term. At this point, it’s really only self-anointed techies (who are essentially comic book fanboys/fangirls (yes, I believe in equality :P )) who are championing Google’s baby. RE: Privacy; both Google and Facebook can be questioned on this topic. To my mind, there’s an element of fear mongering bordering on conspiratorial with the privacy accusations.

    As with anything, there are always a set of ‘early adopters’ who self-identify with a more pure vision; be that movies, music, theatre, tech, social networks, etc. These people seem to want Facebook to fail. As a social utility, Facebook is a free service that yields benefits for a large number of people. There are the inevitable consumerist tendencies you have to put up with, but a free dinner is a free dinner for good reason. Facebook has become a victim of its own success. Some of its moves (namely the Spotify add in, and also the on demand movie service) are desirable for consumers, but also for content providers who need receipts at the backend.

    Final note on the changes: the company has proved itself to be malleable to making changes based on discontent before. They’re an incredibly bright company who have shown themselves to be humble enough to listen. As I said at the top, disruptive change will incur a little wrath but it’s also a two-way learning process, and Facebook has shown itself intelligent enough to be aware of this.

    But yeah, those are my views :) It’s an interesting discussion.

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