Congrats for the milestone, Facebook. I think that it happens to all communities when they get big enough. In every online community, there are people who complain. In some cases, like Slashdot, they do it all the time. Running a community website is hard. Sure, users are basically creating all the content for you, but there are countless tough business and product decisions that need to be made to change and improve sites and people in general, hate change.
Yesterday, Facebook rolled out two new features that they seemed to be quite happy with. Here’s a description of the new features from the PM, Ruchi Sangvhi.
News Feed highlights what’s happening in your social circles on Facebook. It updates a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again.
Mini-Feed is similar, except that it centers around one person. Each person’s Mini-Feed shows what has changed recently in their profile and what content (notes, photos, etc.) they’ve added.
Now the problem is that many Facebook users like the privacy that they have on the site and weren’t too pleased to see these new features.
Here’s a quote from the Stop It Facebook manifesto on Middlesell.com
When we join facebook, we automatically give up a little bit of our privacy. To use Facebook has always been “socially-acceptable stalking.” Now, though, they’ve just gone too damned far. No one wants their girlfriend or boyfriend knowing when they’ve commented on a photo, written on a wall, or anything else. No one wants people to see that they’ve left a group; it could offend someone. No one really wants to see the change in status of someone’s love life.
And as a result of the member’s revolt, here is a bit of Facebook’s reaction from the CEO.
Weâ€™ve been getting a lot of feedback about Mini-Feed and News Feed. We think they are great products, but we know that many of you are not immediate fans, and have found them overwhelming and cluttered. Other people are concerned that non-friends can see too much about them. We are listening to all your suggestions about how to improve the product; itâ€™s brand new and still evolving.
Oh boy. There are whole slew of community lessons here.
First, don’t launch new features until you have the “leadership” of the community sign off on it. I don’t know a lot about Facebook, but as with all community sites, there are people who are their biggest users and usually that means they are your biggest fans.
These people should get previews of new features and other privileges. You need to treat these people like royalty because they are your front line both when you need to deliver a bitter pill and when you are delivering great news. Better yet, they should serve as a both a sounding board and a microcosm for the larger community.
Second, community websites aren’t a lot without any members. If all or a significant part of the user base takes their ball and goes home, it would be devastating for Facebook. Pete Cashmore over at Mashable said it best, “The revolt also underlines that with social networks, the users are in control.”
What Facebook does in the next few days is crucial to their survival. People will always remember this incident on the site and it will affect their perception going forward. 10-20k users out of 9 million protesting is not insubstantial number, especially for the amount of noise they are making. Fortunately, Facebook did react immediately with comments. Now they need to respond with action.
What should the do next?
If it were me, I’d roll the feature back. Issue a mea culpa. Go back to the drawing board. Listen to the users. Design the feature around their needs. At the very least, make the feature opt-in only. That would likely castrate the product, but I’d take this as a very valuable lesson and warning.