Facebook users have been up in arms about the recent changes that have been implemented on the popular social-networking site. Apparently, there are even more changes to come. This begs two questions: Does Facebook really care about what their users want? And aren't there bigger problems in the world to be worrying about?
It is a fact that most people hate change. Well, at least they do at first. Over time, almost everyone will get used to the new Facebook news feed, and maybe even grow to like it. But they'll complain again the next time there is a change. We are currently in the infancy stage of what social media can do and how it can really change the world as a whole, but the system is evolving rapidly.
It's almost like a game of chess, with one player always trying to outmaneuver and out-strategize the other. If you want to play, you have to make sure you learn the rules of the game. But that goes for both players -- both Facebook and its users. You can't be a social-networking website and expect your users not to complain. At the same time, users can't effectively fight change on a free website they had no obligation to sign up for. (I do, however, have a feeling I know who is going to win this game -- and, no, I'm not telling.)
In my article last week, I wrote about how businesses need to fall on the sword (so to speak) and realize that they are no longer in charge of their brand. Their customers are. This applies to Facebook as well. Social media is social. So, wouldn't it make sense for Facebook to consult with users before they make changes to the site? Apparently, the company thinks not. Facebook users are not taking this lightly. They are using Facebook's own website/platform to voice opinions and exchange information that's critical of Facebook. Essentially, they're using a weapon against its own creator. This is interesting...
The recent changes on Facebook are superficial, and not substantive. People can still post on others' walls, comment on pictures, receive their friends' updates via the news feed, and chat. So what exactly are these new changes that have prompted a storm of furious status updates? Let's take a look:
• Previously, the home screen had a status update box. Now, there is a button you have to click in order to type in a status update. One user said, "I hate that I have to click something to update my status when before there was just a type box open already." In other words, there is now an extra step users have to take to update their statuses. (So much for ease of use.)
• In addition to the existing news feed in the center of the home page, there is now a mini feed on the right side that informs users of what their friends are up to. Literally, every update is now visible. (Wait, this doesn't sound right, does it? Why did Facebook just make a mini version of something they already have?) One user says, "It's EXTRA creepy and takes up too much space on the home screen."
• Previously, users were able to choose whose updates they wanted to see (and whose they wanted to see more frequently, etc.). Now, users see updates for all of their friends, prompting one user to comment, "It's annoying to see what EVERY SINGLE FRIEND is doing at all times. It's too 'Twitter-like' and FB should be more original. It's also invasive... it makes you feel as though everyone is watching you all the time." (Is Facebook trying too hard to be like everyone else? Facebook was around before Twitter, so why would the company now be making changes to the site to make it more like Twitter? Something is odd here.
• Facebook appears to be trying to be like Google+. Facebook now allows users to put their friends into different groups, i.e., "college friends," "NY friends," etc. Thus, the site controls who sees what posts based on how a user groups their friends. While this certainly makes sense for efficiency and helps users organize their friends, it seems to require way too much work. Who wants to organize all of their Facebook friends into categories? Facebook is not a part-time job. It's a social network. Shouldn't the company be spending more time encouraging users to socialize rather than encouraging them to create a bunch of lists?
It seems that Facebook is trying to make things more efficient, and allow users to take control of both their social connections and who sees what information they put out there. But why didn't the company ask users what they thought before they changed things all of a sudden?
To be fair to Facebook, people are getting fired up over something that really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things -- at all. Perhaps that is what makes social media so unique. It gives people a forum where they can complain about the smallest, silliest things, such as some additions to the functionality of a website. Users signed up for this free website and voluntarily provide information -- no one forced them to use Facebook. It's only because they feel it necessary to connect with others who use Facebook that they use it at all. To be fair to Facebook users, maybe the company should have asked them if they wanted to opt in or opt out of these changes, rather than implementing the changes so quickly and without notice.
Yesterday, CEO and Co-Founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg said that he wanted to "change the world and make it a better place by allowing transparency." He also mentioned that there is an old saying that "when you go to heaven, you see all of your friends and family and you make heaven what you want it to be." Well, that all sounds nice, but the core of Facebook is its ease of use and simplicity. Isn't that what users want from a social-networking site? Basically, Zuckerberg is saying he wants users to enjoy Facebook and make it what they want, but that he will tell them what that will be. Am I missing something?
There are a lot more questions than answers. We are just hitting the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social media. These types of questions are great to debate, but I think Facebook drew the shorter straw this time. You can't claim transparency, yet not involve others in the decision-making process and not invite engagement. It breaks the unspoken contract. It's like asking someone to marry you, putting a ring on their finger, and then not telling them that you never had any intention of actually setting a date.
As Cyndi Lauper sings, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Come on, Facebook, join the party, don't be a drag. Give the people what they want.
Follow Eric Yaverbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RealYaverbaum