Facebook is Ignoring Core Issues. Is it time to leave?

Consistency is the key to sustainability. Not revenue made by advertising dollars.

When a company, blog or application grows exponentially in a short amount of time there will be growing pains. Even if the growth is rapid consistently over a long period of time. That is the nature of life. You focus on what needs to be done right now and often forget about smaller tasks that need fixing. Business is about maintaining relationships. Not just building them. In our personal life, when the other partner isn’t listening to the core issues and trying to divert attention to other things they are doing what do we do? Speak up. And if nothing changes over a longer course of time we go our separate ways. Is the inevitable breakup looming between Facebook and their users?

Trying to please everyone, but no one at the same time

Like a teenage girl they look at other companies and say “OMG, look at what they are doing. We totally need that so we don’t look unpopular.”

What happens when you continue to add exciting new features and redesign your website in an attempt to make everyone happy? You get Facebook. A social network with over 500 million active users. 50% of which sign in each day. Their numbers are increasing, profits are sky rocketing and brand awareness is at an all time high. But Facebook is ignoring the most important aspect to sustainability on the web. Usability. Providing consistency in how their core users interact with their system. It has been apparent that Facebook is working with a teenage mentality. Here and now. Like a teenage girl they look at other companies like Twitter or Foursquare and say “OMG, look at what they are doing. We totally need that so we don’t look unpopular.” And, as can be expected, we look at them like an unstable teenager.

Imagine if your cell phone changed the location of its keys every 6 months.

The immediate future is all that matters to them. Any problems that arise can be solved by throwing money at it and making more changes. If you ran your business with that mentality how long would you be able to maintain it? They have redesigned their website numerous times in the past 18 months. As soon as everyone gets used to the platform they shake the system like an etch-a-sketch and start over. Reorganize the placement of links and buttons. And expect all of their 500 million active users to shrug their shoulders and not bat an eye. Imagine if your cell phone changed the location of its keys every 6 months. Is that reasonable? Of course not.

For Facebook’s 5th anniversary, Mark Zuckerburg wrote:

“Since its founding, one of the constants of Facebook is that it has continuously evolved to make it easier to share. To give you a sense of how the site has changed, we dug up a few images of how Facebook used to look—you can see them here. Building and moving quickly for five years hasn’t been easy, and we aren’t finished. The challenge motivates us to keep innovating and pushing technical boundaries to produce better ways to share information.

After he published this, Facebook was redesigned 3 more times in 18 months. It has also been redesigned at least once every year since its inception in 2005.

Be careful in leaving room for your competition

Consistency is the key to sustainability. Not revenue made by advertising dollars. Your customers, paying or not, are the reason you have everything right now. Your popularity. Your big press events. Your fancy new partnerships to create Facebook Places and add more buzz word functionality to your system. If you don’t correct the core problems your brand has you are opening a large board room sized door for a competitor to overtake your business.

Remember MySpace? Facebook was sleaker. Sexier. Users switched platforms. And when your friends are only using one Social Media platform the other becomes useless. This could happen again if the issues are not addressed swiftly by Facebook. And with word of Google developing their own ‘Facebook Killer‘ they should be focused on fixing the holes in their armor.

Great features can bring new users in quickly but to keep them there it requires usability in your design.

11 Comments

  1. MegReplyAugust 19, 2010 at 5:46 pm 

    Regarding FB’s design: some people are more quick to adapt to change than others – keep that in consideration. There are some of us who really do shrug our shoulders and not bat an eye. Srsly. (Doesn’t mean it isn’t somewhat annoying, though!)

    Their changes haven’t necessarily been HUGE, but there have been a lot of them. The thing is, you don’t have to utilize all of them. The concept of “add…and redesign… in an attempt to make everyone happy” didn’t work so well for GM, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work with an online community. FB isn’t constructing cars/SUVs/vans/anyconceivablevehicletofiteveryone’sneeds, they’re constructing online options. As businesses, we can opt in or opt out of using those options.

    Consistency IS the key to sustainability, but consistency in WHAT? People get married, and then they experience more life circumstances that cause them to change over time. Does that mean every marriage is doomed, because no one will stay perfectly consistent with what they were like when they married? Not at all. The sustainability is built on *certain* consistencies, not on everything staying consistent.

    I think the key is figuring out those things YOU need to stay consistent. Only then can you have a good understanding of what is worth (to you) keeping or throwing away a relationship.

  2. AnonymousReplyAugust 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm 

    I literally could not agree more! Expressed my thoughts perfectly.

  3. AnonymousReplyAugust 19, 2010 at 7:00 pm 

    You seem to be implying that Facebook *doesn’t* have the worst UI known to man which is borderline impossible to use, and in this area you are mistaken. It has nothing to do with user adaptation speeds!

  4. MegReplyAugust 19, 2010 at 7:52 pm 

    Well that’s not fair, John, of course you comment on the one tiny part of my post that didn’t sit well with you! ;) …that wasn’t even the main point… /grumble.

    I’ll admit upfront, I am not a designer of UIs. I’m the “user” in UIs. I’m not implying that Facebook has a great UI, but “…borderline impossible to use,” has nothing to do with user adaptation speeds? That doesn’t make much sense. Life doesn’t always throw us the most user-friendly version of itself, and those who adapt quickest are those who thrive, yes? A nice, clean, simple UI would be great, but as a reflection of real life, we’re lucky if we get that. So we adapt. Does that mean we stay content with crappiness, or that we don’t TRY to make better (or expect better)? Helz no! It’s 1) frustrating and 2) not incredibly lucrative. We set out to change it, so that more people can use it. But being able to adapt quickly in the face of the worst possible UIs is a necessary MUST! in the online world! ;)

    But my main point was, each person needs to decide for themselves what makes or breaks online user relationships. And that IS subjective to each person. You claim that FB’s UI is virtually “impossible to use,” whereas someone else may say it’s just… meh. Annoying. You’d break up with Facebook over that. Someone else wouldn’t.

    *And that’s ok.*

    IMHO! :D

  5. Joshua GarityReplyAugust 19, 2010 at 8:31 pm 

    “Life doesn’t always throw us the most user-friendly version of itself”

    True. But if you keep using systems, or staying in relationships, with problematic people/websites you aren’t the person I am speaking to in this article ;) They are the overly casual users that don’t let frustration dictate their interest required to get from A to B.

    We have become complacent in expectations because we know 6 months from now it will change. So we put up with the drama. We put up with the bad UI. But that isn’t right. Facebook is an abusive relationship that keeps telling us things will get better. And we want to believe them. Only to realize 18 months later things are the same. But oh look, shiny new jewelry. It’s ok now.

  6. MegReplyAugust 19, 2010 at 8:47 pm 

    People are different. :) I went through a marriage and divorce to really understand that. The point is not to make everyone and everything how we want them to be. The point is to find out what makes us tick, and then seek out other, like-minded people who compliment and support that. Figure out what’s Major and don’t compromise. Figure out what’s Minor and don’t dwell on them.

    The same principle is true here. What you call “problematic” is that to YOU, but it may not be to someone else. Who are you to tell your friend that they shouldn’t date so-n-so because she interrupts people all the time? Just because that would drive YOU up the wall (Major), doesn’t mean it matters that much to your friend (Minor).

    So… why did you start dating Facebook in the first place?

  7. Joshua GarityReplyAugust 19, 2010 at 9:11 pm 

    Agreed. I have formed my opinion on Facebook not being like-minded to my needs. The only reason I use it, is because that is where my friends and family are. It’s a choice I make on my own and have slowly pulled away from using it the past couple of months to refocus my available time (time bankruptcy!)

    I started dating Facebook because it looked sexy. Then it duped me. It had no purpose. No content. No personality. It just “was”. It’s a hub of information. The popular girl that looked fun but only talked about hair and makeup. Substance is key!

  8. MegReplyAugust 19, 2010 at 9:47 pm 

    Typical “guy” mistake. ;) We forgive you. (::runs for cover::)

  9. MegReplyAugust 19, 2010 at 9:47 pm 

    Typical “guy” mistake. ;) We forgive you. (::runs for cover::)

  10. Joshua GarityReplyAugust 19, 2010 at 10:37 pm 

    Facebook was a giant step up from Myspace though. Give me a little credit! :)

  11. SUPERGREENReplyAugust 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm 

    From what I’ve seen, Facebook’s biggest problem is a lack of a truly effective business model. Their best interest, monetizing user information in the form of targeted advertising, is often in direct opposition to their user’s security interest. Not that Facebook much cares, we all know that story. So if they can’t grow deeper (more targeted user info = bigger advertising $’s) they are forced to grow their user base by increasing the scope of what they do. So this leads to this ever evolving interface and ever increasing scope of services. You can’t solve the UI until you solve the underlying business issues.

    Down the road, I think we’ll see that Facebook was a cruddy model run by a crook, but succeeded in whetting our appetite for something much better. Anxious to see how Diaspora turns out: http://consumerist.com/2010/05/diaspora-the-facebook-killer-that-protects-your-privacy.html

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