Facebook is no stranger to user controversy. For years, members have shown themselves to be very vocal about changes to the site. In late 2007, when Facebook announced the launch of Beacon, its targeted advertising platform, the backlash was fast and furious -- and Facebook rescinded. When Facebook changed its Terms of Service in early 2009, there was another quick round of complaints, and Facebook reverted to its previous Terms. Now, there is a new campaign to get Facebook to go back to its old design, and users are just waiting to see if they can again bully Facebook into making a change. (Do you think they'll be successful? Cast your vote about whether you think Facebook will announce design changes in our Prediction Market poll.)
Facebook's social platform allows people to easily get together and complain about things that they don't like. And since the only thing that every person who uses Facebook has in common is, well, Facebook, it's not surprising that some of the biggest and most vocal campaigns on the site are about the site.
But this facility to foster complaints and dissent also gives Facebook an incredible competitive advantage. It has an active population of members the size of a large country that's giving it feedback in real-time. This user experience testing lets Facebook quickly push new features to the market, test response and iterate much faster than most companies its size are able to.
When Beacon sparked privacy concerns, it was removed, but the company was able to figure out the limits of behavior-based advertising data that its users were comfortable with. When the Terms of Service were changed and then quickly reverted back, Facebook gained insight into what it can and can't get away with in terms of its users' data.
The current design backlash is only going to make Facebook a stronger platform with a better design. By taking the best innovations in social networking and incorporating them into its design and feature set -- in this case, adopting more of a "stream-like" layout and format to capitalize on something that Twitter created -- the site resists getting stale or falling behind. The Facebook design team now has an opportunity to review all the comments and iterate quickly. Facebook will eventually "give in" to its users and launch a revised design that's different than the new design (maybe incorporating some of the features of the old design that people miss the most), but whatever changes it makes will still be ahead of the old layout. Without this new design launch, Facebook would never have gotten such valuable feedback from users.
It isn't a failure for Facebook when it launches something new and its customers complain. The only failure would be if its users stopped caring. And this doesn't seem like it will happen anytime soon.
Melissa Chang (@mchang16) is the president of Pure Incubation, and her blog can be found at www.16thletter.com. Chang writes about The Industry Standard Prediction Market as part of an ongoing series. She's betting that Facebook will make some changes to its new design, but that the changes won't be as extensive as the haters hope.
This story, "Why Complaining Facebook Users Are an Advantage" was originally published by thestandard.com.