April 24th, 2009
Don’t Blame Facebook
User backlash has become a predictable reaction to redesigns of Facebook. Polls show that 94% of people disapprove of recent changes to the site layout, rejecting the stream and filter system.
It seems, as Robert Scoble puts it, that Facebook has pissed off its users with each reinvention it undertakes. Back in 2006, the introduction of a newsfeed sparked major outcry, with users petitioning and boycotting the changes. Today, people are just as furious: a disgruntled mob one million strong has pressured Facebook into bringing back some old design and user experience features.
Why are people so upset?
Popular opinion suggests that Facebook isnt listening to its customers that it pursues revenue over the needs of its users. The digital community has spent much time listing out the problems with the new layout and scolding Facebook for not delivering on their promise to create a product that helps people learn about and share with others around them. The news feed, for example, has lost a key algorithm that regulates what and how much of your friends activity you receive. Now, you get everything and its up to you to filter it. This added responsibility and influx of information is, according to feedback, overwhelming.
Its easy to get caught up in, and agree with, all the criticism thrown at Facebook. You cant ignore the sheer volume of negative comments and expansive reasoning behind each design flaw. Or can you?
In 2002, Princetons Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel prize for discovering that people are impacted more by the loss of familiar product experiences than the benefits presented by new, unfamiliar innovations. Regardless of improvements, people are inclined to stick to what they know. This insight and its not just a theory readily explains the anxiety that users feel at every announcement of redesign, the roar of disapproval at implementation and the warming to new features as time passes.
The feud between Facebook and its users conforms to a trend of status-quo bias. Tech Crunchs Michael Arrington already touched on the idea, warning that making users happy is a suckers game because you wont be pushing the envelope. The lesson in Arringtons comment: consumers are generally conservative when it comes to new product innovation. In fact, its well documented that the majority approximately 84% of the population are slow adopters.
Consider that a change to Facebook affects all users. The 84% of people that would rather go at their own pace, taking their time to adopt if they adopt at all are forced into new territory. This majority is not proactive about change and are more receptive to persuasion from trusted peers. Think about the times youve had to convince someone that Twitter wasnt pointless or that Netflix is a good alternative to the video store. Once convinced to change, people will develop a new status quo. A new habit to hang onto.
The success of Facebook redesigns should not be measured solely on user backlash. Its a necessary and common psychological reaction to change. A reaction worth monitoring but something that shouldnt hinder innovation assuming your organization is innovation-led.