More than a million Facebook users have voted against Facebook's latest redesign, which displays an unreadable spew of friends' status updates on the homepage. A flack says the company is "listening carefully." Yeah, right!
Facebook redesigns have always attracted an almost ludicrous amount of controversy, going back to its roots on protest-happy college campuses. But the outcry this time is different.
Rather than introduce new, unfamiliar features — as Facebook did in 2006 when it first introduced a "News Feed" to the site — in this latest revision, Facebook has removed or hidden functions users had grown used to. Useful features, like a calendar of events, are difficult to find. Many have noted that the new emphasis on status updates makes Facebook look more like Twitter, a service for broadcasting short text messages to friends on the Web and on cell phones. Facebook's redesign, however, managed to copy the worst aspect of Twitter — the unmanageable flood of incomprehensible trivia — without matching the virtue of its simplicity.
Here's the statement the Facebook flack issued to the BBC:
The new Facebook home page is one step in the continued evolution of the site, designed to give people more ways to share and filter all types of content, such as status updates, photos, videos, notes and more.
We are grateful to have 175 million people worldwide using Facebook to connect with the people and things they care about most, and we take their feedback very seriously.
We are listening carefully to what people are saying about the new home page through a variety of channels - including through a popular application, built by outside developers on our platform, that allows users to vote and express their opinion.
Also helpful have been the many comments we're reading on industry blogs, the Facebook company blog, Mark Zuckerberg's public profile, Facebook user groups, and through the link on the Facebook new home page tutorial.
We encourage people to send us constructive, detailed feedback and are committed to using it to inform how we build and improve the site for everyone.
Could it be any more obvious that Facebook is not listening to its customers? It's not a surprise that a flack would lie, but it is a surprise that one would contradict the boss so blatantly.
Last week, Valleywag revealed that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had sent an email to his staff dismissing the negative feedback and praising companies which don't listen to their customers as "smart." Listening to one's customers would lead to Facebook getting "disrupted" — that's Valleyspeak for "rendered irrelevant" — by an upstart like, say, Twitter.
So let's be clear: Zuckerberg is telling his PR people to issue statements that Facebook is attentively listening to user feedback, at the same time that he is instructing his employees to ignore it. Facebook is getting disrupted, alright. But it's getting disrupted by its CEO, whom we hear is ignoring feedback not only from customers but from his own employees as well.
Instead, he's apparently relying on advisors like former Facebook executive Matt Cohler, who left the company last year to join Benchmark Capital, a venture-capital firm which invested in Twitter last month. Or, who knows — perhaps he's following the advice of a guru he met in India last May? Or some fellow CEOs he met at Davos?
Whoever Zuckerberg's listening to, he's doing so at Facebook's peril. Compete.com, a Web-traffic research firm, shows a steady downward trend in time spent on Facebook since the rollout of the redesign a week ago:
It's early yet, and Compete's statistics are far from conclusive. But numbers on actual usage are by far the most important feedback users are giving — the silent majority who are merely clicking away, rather than posting their gripes. It's telling that nowhere in the company's statement are actual figures on how the redesign has boosted Facebook's traffic. If they were anything to brag about, don't you think Facebook would be sharing them?
(Photo by World Economic Forum)