Atrocious timing by Facebook

September 27, 2011

Yes, we all know that the world cringes at Facebook interface changes. We also know that over the long run changes will always be necessary. Most importantly, we know that after about a month has past, the dust over the uproar settles and the world will be happily embedded in the new Facebook.

But I can’t help thinking that the timing of these latest Facebook tweaks were atrocious, and driven by fear rather than strategy. In this crowded social space one of Facebook’s greatest strengths is surely that they’ve pretty much already got the world tied in and familiar with the product. And the World, despite what tech companies assume about it, comprises a heck of a lot of people that are struggling to learn the ropes of this new digital lifestyle and keep up with the tech-savvy, and are not necessarily obsessed with daily new interface “improvements”. The way I see it, the biggest obstacle (read “Advantage” for Facebook) to the majority of people already on Facebook (aka the world) abandoning and signing up with Google+, is that they have already gone through the Facebook learning curve and couldn’t be botherered, or have the time to, learn a whole new social network interface from scratch.

But by introducing some fairly complex interface changes to the Facebook interface at exactly the same time as Google+ is going on an aggressive launch, Facebook has just reduced the “Obstacle Cost” of trying out Google+ incredibly. Daunted by yet another learning curve,  a lot of Facebook users could have given the G+ thing a huge berth, reasoning:  “Oh no, not another new learning curve, I just don’t have time for this! Stick with what we’re comfortable with”. But now they are not so comfortable anymore and if you have to go back to school to learn the new Facebook, hey, why not give G+ a whirl too.

I can only think of two things that were behind this crazy timing. Firstly, like Google employees, Facebook employees assume that the world is champing at the bit for new shiny tweaks every day. Wrong. Maybe a large and vocal segment are, but the majority of “the World” is not, and if you’re trying to get your product mainstream “the World” is your market.

Secondly, and the main reason I believe, is simple garden-variety insecurity. As in “Whoa, our competitor is launching a shiny new product with major bells and whistles, we better do the same. And quick!” You see this features-race mentality all the time. Google launches half ready knee-jerk products all the time driven by this same fear.

Its the old case of  “If its not broken don’t fix it” – anathema to the techie mindset. Yes, innovation must continue, yes over the long run the feature set must evolve, but slow down dudes – relax, take a deep breath before you dive into feature-set panic.

Proviso: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Google+ is going to be a major threat to Facebook anytime soon. Probably precisely because Google’s social asspirations also seem to be driven by fear and insecurity more than anything else. And in the interests of a non-monopolised web, I, for one, am hoping it stays that way.

 

 

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