Sunday, February 07, 2010

Facebook Revises Format; World Thrown Into Chaos

Well, maybe not. Not quite. Not yet.

I haven't been hit with the February 2010 revision yet, but I know it's coming. And lots of people I'm friends with have gotten it already. And none of them are singing its praises. Many of them are actively cursing it out.

I don't know why Facebook revises its format every few months. It's a business decision, of course; and for a business that gives its services to users for free, such decisions must lean towards pragmatic considerations of increasing revenue while at least maintaining market share by not alienating users to the point that they begin looking around for some other forum that provides the same or similar services without subjecting users to things they find objectionable.

So on the one hand, you want to make more money from advertisers and applications developers. On the other hand, you don't want to piss people off too much.

But on the gripping hand, people don't like change.

Since I joined Facebook about a year and a half ago I have seen several changes to the interface format. Based on the earliest comments I saw from my friends, one had just happened a short while before I came on board. As for the others, it seems like they've kicked in just as soon as everyone got used to the previous changes.

Is this perhaps an intentional effort by Facebook to keep things fresh by never allowing users to get too set in the ways of a given revision? Is it part of a master plan to nudge Facebook toward something else? Or is it just a series of really bad decisions?

I hope Facebook knows the cautionary tale of SiteMeter.

SiteMeter was - is - one of the most popular visitor tracking applications out there. How popular, most people didn't realize until one fateful weekend starting on the very last day of July, 2008, when something happened that allowed an untested modification to the program to be unleashed on users - an untested modification that shut down a significant portion of the Internet.

Another Monkey: SiteMeter causing site errors in Internet Explorer

It took the better part of the weekend for SiteMeter to resolve this issue, a late summer weekend when the people doing the resolving had probably already made plans to do other things. It left the company with a black eye and a lot of angry users, particularly the paying users who found their sites inaccessible to customers for much of the weekend.

But that was just the dress rehearsal for what was to come. SiteMeter had been investing considerable time that year into a revision to their program, something that would be a dramatic change for the better. But what was released in the middle of September 2008...wasn't.

Another Monkey: The NEW & IMPROVED SiteMeter: ummmm.....

The reaction was overwhelming. SiteMeter heard and responded. They rolled back the revised program to the previous version. And that is the same version that is still being used a year and a half later.

SiteMeter hasn't had much to say since then. At all. Their blog, if you can find it,* is pretty sparse, and the posts referring to the two fiascoes of 2008 are gone. I get an impression that as a company, they never recovered from the massive loss of user confidence spawned by these debacles.

Facebook has never suffered such a loss, and has never rolled back a revision. Perhaps this is because, from a social networking point of view, they are the biggest gorilla in the room. Where are angry Facebook users going to go? MySpace? LinkedIn?

Maybe Facebook doesn't care. Users will keep on using Facebook, and will get used to any changes, and will keep attracting advertisers and application designers and their money.

Or maybe Facebook really and truly doesn't know. Maybe they think everything is fine.

There exists an official Facebook blog. On it members of the Facebook staff have been posting about the ongoing changes. This entry, for example, details the changes to the interface, while this one deals with changes to the way photos are uploaded. These posts serve as a critical source of information, but also provide an opportunity, through the comments, for users to provide feedback to Facebook itself.

Are the changes really all that bad? Honestly, I have no idea. I haven't experienced them myself. I expect that there will be some things I will like, and some things that make no sense whatsoever.

But no matter how bad these changes are, one thing is certain with Facebook: more revisions are just down the road!

*If you follow the link to the SiteMeter Knowledge Center and then click on the New/Announcements button, you go to a dead page. It took some doing to find the actual blog. And the blog itself has not been without its problems.

1 comment:

Ashley said...

I haven't had any problems yet. *Knock on wood*
I don't really mind the new layout, it's different but I can still figure out where everything is at.