Commentary

What A Stew: The Recipe For The New Facebook

I've been watching the new Facebook stewing in the crockpot since yesterday morning, and have discovered the recipe for making it: To a base of existing Facebook friends and surfing habits, add three tablespoons of Google+ Circles along the left-hand margin, a pound of Flipboard to the News Feed, and a heavy dollop of Twitter along the right hand side. Then, add a raft of user complaints, simmer for a while, and behold: it's the hotly controversial new Facebook! What a stinky stew! 

The level of engagement with how awful the new Facebook allegedly tastes has been so high that it almost seems like a scheme to goose Facebook's already stratospheric time-spent statistics, but I digress. 

As I've been tracking this bumper crop of user complaints -- at least one of which even compared it to Netflix! -- I've been wondering if this is a recipe in search of people who want to consume it.  

Facebook had a simple enough way to explain the changes it unveiled yesterday, particularly the ones to the News Feed: "Now, News Feed will act more like your own personal newspaper. You won't have to worry about missing important stuff. All your news will be in a single stream with the most interesting stories featured at the top. If you haven't visited Facebook for a while, the first things you'll see are top photos and statuses posted while you've been away. They're marked with an easy-to-spot blue corner." 

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Users, per usual, don't like it -- even if the change sounds sensible enough -- but that's not the core concern. It isn't the first time that a folksy explanation about changes on the Facebook blog has unleashed outrage that once was reserved for real crimes like bank robbery, or murder.

The core concern - or maybe I'll just downgrade it to a sense of wonderment -- should be whether so much change, in such a short time, is even necessary. And I write this even before the earth trembles yet again with the changes to Facebook that will be announced later today at Facebook's F8 developer conference. These changes, which are said to revolve around sharing content, caused Mashable's Ben Parr, who was pre-briefed, to post earlier: "The Facebook you know and (don't) love will be forever transformed. The news that will come out of Facebook during the next few weeks will be the biggest things to come out of the company since the launch of the Facebook Platform."

Of course, many of the changes have to do with the fact that Facebook is a little too freaked out by Google+. Yes, Facebook is too freaked out about Google+!

But yesterday proved that Facebook seems to be freaked out for all the wrong reasons. Instead of being concerned about users departing for Google+ out of sheer frustration with Facebook's never-ending cascade of new features, it's entirely focused on the antithesis: on building out new features that mimic, or better, what can be found on Google+ -- even if it frustrates users to such an extent that they seek out a rival social network that treats its users a little more delicately. It's favoring product over people.

Now, there are smart people who pointed out yesterday that Facebook has to keep innovating. Said Edelman's Steve Rubel in a much commented-upon status update: "They have to keep advancing the product even if that means causing some to complain. If they stay still they won't continue to thrive. That's the lesson of the last 15 years of history and arguably the last 2000 years of commerce."

Which is true. But it's a matter of degrees and approach.  In less than two weeks Facebook will have launched Lists, a radical change to the News Feed, and a huge  change in how content is shared, -- not to mention other changes, like how to alter privacy settings, that have also come in recent months. 

It's a lot to digest, even for sophisticated users. So what's the problem with Facebook's approach in rolling these changes out? That there is none. Sometimes features are previewed, sometimes they are not. Sometimes the new changes -- such as the News Feed and the ticker -- are the default, sometimes (like Facebook's Lists) they're not. The result is user confusion and frustration. 

I don't think Google+ will overtake Facebook any time soon, if at all. Still, when a worthy threat comes along, the bigger threat to the hegemony of Facebook is not in how broad its menu of features is, but in whether it leaves users with a taste in their mouths that's bad enough for them to consider making a switch.  

(Editor's note; Check out the agenda for OMMA Social San Francisco, slated for Oct. 27 at the Marriott Union Square.)

3 comments about "What A Stew: The Recipe For The New Facebook ".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, September 22, 2011 at 3:56 p.m.

    Yesterday, two men were executed in the United States. Our local TV news brought in a "social media expert" to review and discuss the changes on Facebook, rather than discuss the application of the death penalty in the U.S.

    This disturbs me. This social media stuff is part of my job, but it's not nearly as big a deal as so many pundits would want to believe.

  2. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine, September 22, 2011 at 4:21 p.m.

    The new FaceBook changes are extremely alienating - and I'm in the business.

  3. Eric Scoles from brand cool marketing, September 22, 2011 at 4:45 p.m.

    "It's favoring product over people."

    Which is an interesting observation, considering that people -- or more precisely, potential consumers -- are Facebook's product.

    Or, really, better put: its _crop_. And they've been seeing some fluctuations in crop yield, lately.

    This is a company that demonstrably doesn't have a very scientific understanding of what causes its crop to grow.

    Of course WE all know that networks make networks grow, that they feed themselves, and we take it for granted that the folks at Facebook know that, too -- and I think at an intellectual level, they do know that. But at a gut level, the ethos of Facebook is pretty fundamentally feature-oriented, and to a man who can create features, everything looks like a feature-requirement.

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