Thursday, March 19

Facebook: Freeware Going Nowhere

Well, at least Facebook is consistent. Consistently pissing off its users with design and functionality overhauls again.

The recent changes are no exception. Big ones like rearranging the homepage out of a knee-jerk panic attack to be more like Twitter. And smaller ones like reformatting Fan Pages to look like standard user profiles.

Current users hate it. The mass amounts of new users signing up daily won't even notice. Training your eyes to reuse the site is one thing. Training your brain is another:

This is the user experience equivalent of a product recall letter. Their Head of IA needs to be publicly flogged via webcam.

The Fan Page reformatting actually has me the most worried, since this is where brand marketers have placed their bets. A few months ago Fbook screwed around with the location of widgets, moving them off a user's main profile page and burying them under a subtab. Branded widget impressions/interactions instantly plunged. Now they are taking the same liberties with the branded pages themselves.

Reformatting them to match user profiles has resulted in a loss of uniqueness. They just don't feel special anymore. Worse -- from what I heard -- Fbook didn't even notify the owners (brand managers, ad agencies, interns) until a few days before the pages were scheduled to change. Resulting in mad scrambling to assess them and relearn how to maintain the pages.

In general, Internet change is good. Sites that continue to innovate are the ones that survive and grow. Those that don't lose visitors and money to the pesky start ups with nothing to lose.

Hence the problem with Fbook. They got nuthin' to lose. Not revenue, not users. No matter what changes they make, people are not going to leave. They have too much time and emotion invested in their Fbook doppelganger. And brands/marketers? Hard to complain when you ain't paying a dime.

Fbook is the ultimate Freeware. No one gets charged for using it, not even marketers. Unlike Myspace, who charges wayyyyy to much for a branded "mascot page"; any brand can create a fan page for free. Distribute their widgets on the site for free. Send messages to their 50,000 "fans" for free.

Wikipedia defines Freeware as a free for all free-for-all:
The only criterion for being classified as freeware is that the software must be fully functional for an unlimited time with no cost, monetary or otherwise. The software license may impose restrictions on the type of use including personal use, individual use, non-profit use, non-commercial use, academic use, commercial use or any combination of these.
Screensavers, limited games, basic software applications. Freeware is as old as the WWW.

You download them, use them, and if you don't like them? Screw you, it was free! What more do you want?

Fbook carte blanche to do whatever they want with marketers. It's their site. Don't like it? Go ahead and leave. There isn't a media sales rep sitting in a cube sweating his ass off because you might.

This is their largest weakness -- acting like a freeware distributor. Offering tons of free stuff, hoping to sell a few ads on the side. Not really concerned if you delete the app 15 minutes after downloading it.

They are stuck in a loop of rapid prototypes, see if it sticks to the wall additions, and general controlled chaos. Which is fine if you are a 15 person shop trying to take down the big guys. But when you are the big guy, then you have to start acting like it.

Usability studies on new changes would be a good first start. Listening to marketers, the ones who will eventually support you financially (as soon as you get a rate card put together), is a necessity. At some point we will stop tolerating this 500 lb gorilla baby.

[Thanks to the guys at Colossal Squid for pointing out Fbook's similarity to the software industry]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Smart stuff, Stephen. I predict Facebook will go the way of Friendster if they don't start thinking of themselves as less of a software company and more an experience company - with appropriate consideration given to users, vendors, suppliers, marketers, etc.