THE BLOG
03/11/2013 01:14 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2013

Facebook Finally Got a Clue: Listen to Users

Facebook's recent redesign announcement is being analyzed three ways from Sunday on what that means for the company. Some believe they are making images more prominent because an increasing percentage of updates are pictures and video. One popular story is that Facebook is making an effort to appeal to more advertisers in the hopes of driving revenue to get off Wall Street's bad boy list.

I would paint a different picture. Facebook's development team and its millions of users have been in a boxing match since the very beginning. Finally the users are winning.

For years Facebook's eventual demise has been brewing. Users protested that they wanted more privacy, but the company's developers felt privacy was a hindrance to the features they wanted to implement. Every time the website was redesigned, users protested against deaf ears. For developers, the grumblings of their users were a bump in the road in their mission to add every imaginable feature to the website -- as they worked toward turning it into the super, ultra, do-everything Swiss army knife of the Web.

It should be no surprise that Facebook's engineers got their way. CEOs tend to side with the department that corresponds best to their background and Zuckerberg is a developer through and through. So developers kept adding the features they wanted, ignored criticisms and focused on the product (website) instead of the user experience.

This put Facebook on a path to failure. From the users' perspective the site was getting worse and they weren't being heard. Privacy concerns have increased and the feature-laden website became unusable. Sixty-one percent of Facebook users took a sabbatical from the site and a study by the Pew Research Center found 20 percent of users had deactivated their account.

These stats get lost after years of hearing about 300 percent growth from Facebook, but this is crunch-time for them. Unless something changes the growing pace of user dissatisfaction and defection will turn Facebook into a distant memory like MySpace. If Facebook doesn't reinvent itself, all is lost. Their dreams, the opportunity, shareholder investments, Zuckerberg's wealth all will wither on the vine and fail if the company can't change the customer experience into one that this meaningful and valued -- by the users.

The redesign is a back-track to a simpler interface, but not only that, it's a victory for users who are finally getting things they wanted all along. It was silly for Facebook's developers to scoff, ignore and fight with users. The customer always wins; just like in a classic fairy-tale where the good guys struggle against impossible odds but always and predictably comes out on top.

For Facebook, it's comeback time and that will depend on their ability to reinvent themselves and build the skills (and patience) to listen and compete for users against Google+ and other incumbents. It's time to get their head in the game. It offers an interesting lesson for all of us, to let customer -- not developers or engineers -- guide your hand.