The problem with being a social-networking site is that, when successful, it can become a part of people's daily routines. The growing backlash from Facebook users over the site's new interface shows some of the consequences of disrupting people's routines.
More than 640,000 comments have filled the Vote on the New Facebook Layout application offered by the company, and many are resoundingly negative. And about 1.7 million Facebook users have joined Petition Against the New Facebook, a new user group. But, as large as these numbers are, they represent only a fraction of the site's 175 million members.
'Improved News Feed'
"I dislike it thoroughly," writes user Cherie Hrynchyshyn in a comment posted Monday morning in the Vote section. "It gives you a lot less features than we used to have and takes much longer to find what you would like."
Antoni Corone wrote that he has "sooooo many 'FRIENDS' that I care very little about keeping up with on a minute-to-minute basis." And Ricardo Vila-Roger wrote that "it's not as fun anymore. If I wanted Twitter, I'd have joined it."
The interface changes were made earlier this month. On the company blog, Facebook's Peter X. Deng wrote that "we want you to be able to find out everything that is going on in the world around you at any given moment, or shape the stream of information most relevant to you."
Deng added that "the biggest part of the new home page is your improved News Feed, or the stream of content that's most relevant to you."
Competing with Twitter?
Many observers have commented that the changes were designed to capture the kind of immediacy offered by Twitter, with its constant stream of updates.
But Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said if Facebook feels "a need to compete with Twitter in the world of real-time communications," it could be a problem.
Many of its users have become accustomed to its earlier interface, Shimmin said, and any change to that is "going to feel disruptive." In fact, he noted, as a Facebook user he understands that resistance. But moving the site more in the direction of Twitter-like communicating, he said, is like "messing with the band in the middle of a tour."
One thing band management wouldn't want is a stream of rumors that the group doesn't care about its fans. That's basically what the widely-read Gawker Web site relayed Friday, citing "a tipster" inside Facebook who said that CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent an internal e-mail contending, in effect, that pioneering companies don't listen to their customers.
Shimmin noted that Facebook faces a "tightrope act" not unlike those of other public-facing sites. Like Apple's iTunes, he added, every change made by management finds some users disrupted from their familiar experiences, but management has the responsibility of making changes to maintain the site's growth.