The feedback on Facebook's new look, which emphasizes a stream of Twitter-like status updates, is almost universally, howlingly negative. Why isn't CEO Mark Zuckerberg listening to users? Because he doesn't have to, he's told employees.
A tipster tells us that Zuckerberg sent an email to Facebook staff reacting to criticism of the changes: "He said something like 'the most disruptive companies don't listen to their customers.'" Another tipster who has seen the email says Zuckerberg implied that companies were "stupid" for "listening to their customers." The anti-customer diktat has many Facebook employees up in arms, we hear. (Anyone care to send us the full memo?)
"Disruptive" is a good description for the changes Facebook made. Unlike past changes, like the controversial introduction of Facebook's News Feed — a summary of friends' activities on the site, including status updates — or the tweaks Facebook made last fall, Facebook's new "Stream" takes away far more than it adds. No wonder even Silicon Valley insiders, normally the biggest champions of anything and everything brand new, hate it.
Damn the critics, full speed ahead! That's what Zuckerberg seems to be saying. if our tipster is right, Zuckerberg would rather Facebook be "disruptive" than, say, popular, useful, or successful.
What's a good example of a disruptive company? Why, Twitter, which Zuckerberg tried to buy for $500 million in cash and stock. Having failed to grab Twitter, Zuckerberg has redesigned his website in its image — a steady stream of real-time updates which are impossible to follow unless you stay on the website all day long. Which sounds great, unless you have a job, a family, or a life.
The notion that Facebook should not listen to its customers contradicts what Zuckerberg was saying just a month ago when he was reacting to a groundswell of criticism over Facebook's new terms of service, which seemed to imply Facebook could keep publishing users' text and photos even after they deleted their accounts. At the time, Zuckerberg took listening to feedback to a loopy extreme, promising the online equivalent of a constitutional convention for Facebook users to decide how the site's legalese should read.
There's no such user convention promised over Facebook's design, however. But who would expect a 24-year-old to be anything but fickle and inconsistent?
Here's the question: If Zuckerberg is no longer listening to Facebook's users, who is he listening to? We hear that Facebook's top executives are furious over Zuckerberg's close personal ties to former Facebook executive Matt Cohler (pictured to Zuckerberg's left, above).
Cohler, an early Facebook employee who helped direct the company's strategy, left last fall to join Benchmark Capital, a prominent Silicon Valley venture-capital firm best known for backing eBay. But he has remained, to this day, on Facebook's payroll as a special advisor to Zuckerberg.
Last June, that seemed untroubling. But last month, Benchmark invested in Twitter at an eye-popping $230 million valuation. And Zuckerberg's conscious, obvious mimicking of Twitter is the best endorsement he could have given the startup.