Why Facebook has never listened and why it definitely won’t start now

My former boss, Jim Fawcette, used to say that if you asked a group of Porsche owners what they wanted they’d tell you things like “smoother ride, more trunk space, more leg room, etc.” He’d then say “well, they just designed a Volvo.”

His words were meant to get us out of letting the customers run our business mode we often found ourselves falling into.

Today, over on Techmeme, I see that the latest uproar is over Facebook’s new design and how Mark Zuckerberg is telling people that he won’t listen to customers. Or something like that.

Before we get deeper into this, remember that Facebook has always pissed off its users. First, you’ve gotta realize that in Facebook’s life it will go through at least seven phases. We are moving from phase four to phase five right now. In each phase change people have gotten pissed off.

Here’s the phases of Facebook:

Phase 1. Harvard only.
Phase 2. Harvard+Colleges only.
Phase 3. Harvard+Colleges+Geeks only.
Phase 4. All those above+All People (in the social graph).
Phase 5. All those above+People and businesses in the social graph.
Phase 6. All those above+People, businesses, and well-known objects in the social graph.
Phase 7. All people, businesses, objects in the social graph.

Phase 5 is known as when Facebook is really going to find its business model. This is why Mark Zuckerberg is absolutely correct to say he can’t listen to people who wants Facebook to get stuck in Phase Four. It was a nice phase, yes, when Facebook only had people in the social graph, but those days are over.

Don’t get distracted by the current design that looks sort of like Twitter. Twitter showed that businesses can co-exist on the social graph along with people. Zuckerberg is smart. He saw that Twitter was going to make a crapload of money (that’s why he tried to buy Twitter) and instead of being depressed by being turned down by @ev he decided to phase shift Facebook.

Zuckerberg is a real leader because he doesn’t care what anyone thinks. He’s going to do what he thinks is best for his business. I wish Silicon Valley had more like him.

Anyway, all those who are saying the new design sucks should NOT be listened to. Yeah, I know a lot of people are going to get mad at me for saying that. After all, how can a blogger say to not listen to the masses? Easy: I’ve seen the advice the masses are giving and most of it isn’t very good for Facebook’s business interests.

When Zuckerberg announced these changes a couple of weeks ago I told him he was brilliant and that his moves this month would be remembered for decades. Decades.

Here’s why:

Let’s say you’re walking down University Ave. in Palo Alto, California in a couple of years (or, really, any street in the world) and you’re hungry.

You pull out your iPhone or Palm Pre or Android or Blackberry or Windows Mobile doohickey and click open the Facebook application. Then you type “sushi near me.”

It answers back “within walking distance are two sushi restaurants that more than 20 of your friends have liked.”

Wait a second. “Friends have liked?”

Sounds like friendfeed. But, because Facebook has the users (it is growing the size of Twitter every 15 days or so because Facebook has about 180 million users while Twitter only has about 10 million. Facebook, at this point, is growing 200,000 to 700,000 users per day. Twitter is growing by far fewer users per day (although its percentage growth is faster).

But don’t worry about the friendfeed copying. Zuckerberg is so close to a gold mine that his metal detectors must be going crazy. All he has to do is figure out how to keep those pesky users from leaving the service.

Oh, wait, they aren’t leaving! How do I know that?

Because my wife Maryam is totally addicted to Facebook. She hasn’t left. She hasn’t slowed down. She just told me she didn’t like the new design and made some noises that she was only going to use the iPhone version (not true in my observations). So, if Zuckerberg didn’t lose Maryam and her friends, he’s safe. He SHOULD NOT LISTEN to those who are saying the new design sucks. It will keep him from getting to the promised land where we mix businesses and people.

Here’s what really is hanging out there for Facebook if Zuckerberg doesn’t listen: billions. Maybe even trillions.

Look at what we just announced to the world:

Maryam has an announcement!

Yes, we’re having another baby. But look at what did NOT happen on Twitter: not a single diaper company contacted us yet. Not a single maternity clothing company. Not a single car company (yes, we’re going to buy a new one soon). Not a single camera company (already bought a new one for this occassion). Not a single insurance company (I need more). Not a single bank (I need to start saving for another college student). Not a single stroller company (need a new one that can hold two). Not a single vitamin company (Maryam is going through her prenatal vitamins at a good clip). Not a single shoe company (Maryam needs new shoes for pregnancy, and Milan is growing fast too).

That will NOT last.

Imagine we’re on Facebook in a year. Now all of a sudden I can search for all these things and see which items and companies have gotten the most “likes.” Now do you get why Facebook is copying friendfeed?

Zuckerberg is not listening to you because you don’t get how Facebook is going to make billions.

Zuckerberg is right. He shouldn’t start listening to his users now.

680 thoughts on “Why Facebook has never listened and why it definitely won’t start now

  1. The company I work for has become increasingly corporatised and globalised over the last few years, in very distinct ‘phase shifts’. On each occasion the high-ups have been very clear on how this is better for ‘the business’, primarily because it will open up new markets and make more money.

    The problem is, a) I simply don’t believe that the only, or even the best, motive in life is to make more money. I’d much rather have as a business goal a company that made the same amount of money as before (in real terms) but changed to provide an environment that appeared to give a d*mn about me as an employee.
    b) who is the money being made for? The high-ups. Pay rises at ground level are currently frozen, so where on earth is all this new money we’re coining in going to? Ultimately the idea is that we will all work just as hard at jobs we now enjoy less, because this will make more money for faceless people on the other side of the world.

    On a comparable ethical theme, if the primary aim of Facebook is to make money then the phase changes are a good thing, for the high-ups but not for the ground levels. I’m annoyed because I hoped Facebook rated user enjoyment a little higher than it clearly does. Yes, ignore a massive negative reaction from users; it’s a good change because someone high up will make more money; and for the people who actually make it what it is, things get a little duller and more corporatised for no personal benefit.

  2. i have no problems with being marketed to, however they need to hire a graphic design or a user interface consultant because it’s obvious it’s just some web nerds with no sense of design throwing things together. i’ll take crappy new services if they are well integrated and not thrown on a page. This article is kind of pretentious, to say the least. should they have to change? no, of course not. but with every new version it loses any touch with user interaction.

  3. i have no problems with being marketed to, however they need to hire a graphic design or a user interface consultant because it’s obvious it’s just some web nerds with no sense of design throwing things together. i’ll take crappy new services if they are well integrated and not thrown on a page. This article is kind of pretentious, to say the least. should they have to change? no, of course not. but with every new version it loses any touch with user interaction.

  4. I find it astonishing and troubling that you think that companies should ignore the wishes of their customers “because they don’t know any better”. Your condescension for “the little people” is really the theme of this post. Who cares what the users want, huh? Let them eat cake!

    Shame on you.

  5. I find it astonishing and troubling that you think that companies should ignore the wishes of their customers “because they don’t know any better”. Your condescension for “the little people” is really the theme of this post. Who cares what the users want, huh? Let them eat cake!

    Shame on you.

  6. What you fail to realize is that the design and usability of the service has absolutely NOTHING to do with anything you’ve said here. People aren’t afraid of the “phase shift” – if it adds more utility and zing then great, it will be a good change. The only problem with the current “redesign” is that it took away so much without adding anything useful. It wasn’t a phase shift at all, it was a petty redesign toward an image. Twitter’s image, to be exact.

    Everything you’ve said here is bull and doesn’t recognize the lack of connection between your insights about the social network, and the change that has actually taken place. You’re in fantasyland trying to explain the genius of Zuckerburg without any context. Why didn’t you just write a post about him and how awesomely cool and visionary and handsome he is? Unfortunately there’s evidence to the contrary; he hasn’t proven himself yet, and apparently is willing to walk over us lower class normal people to get to the top. He gets zero respect for that.

  7. What you fail to realize is that the design and usability of the service has absolutely NOTHING to do with anything you’ve said here. People aren’t afraid of the “phase shift” – if it adds more utility and zing then great, it will be a good change. The only problem with the current “redesign” is that it took away so much without adding anything useful. It wasn’t a phase shift at all, it was a petty redesign toward an image. Twitter’s image, to be exact.

    Everything you’ve said here is bull and doesn’t recognize the lack of connection between your insights about the social network, and the change that has actually taken place. You’re in fantasyland trying to explain the genius of Zuckerburg without any context. Why didn’t you just write a post about him and how awesomely cool and visionary and handsome he is? Unfortunately there’s evidence to the contrary; he hasn’t proven himself yet, and apparently is willing to walk over us lower class normal people to get to the top. He gets zero respect for that.

  8. I had not thought of Facebook catching up on the Twitter model, but what you say is very true. Zuckerberg always seems to know what he’s doing.

  9. I had not thought of Facebook catching up on the Twitter model, but what you say is very true. Zuckerberg always seems to know what he’s doing.

  10. I was really not looking to read a blog about Facebook and truth is I found so much more in your post here! They say, when you are ready to hear the lesson will appear and funny it appeared for me in your post!

    I own a business in which the model is evolving and yes it involved alot of people however many have voiced their opinions and said they dont like the model and are ticked at us for changing – just like Facebook!! Ironic that this would happen at the same time – I think not!

    Thank you for showing me as a CEO of a company that I must continue on my path to implement the change and those that will still need our solution will be there and those that wont – well my motto is NEXT!!!!!!!!!!

    All the best with your new arrival.
    Tina Dezsi, CEO Power of Women Exchange, Author The Power of Women United.

  11. I was really not looking to read a blog about Facebook and truth is I found so much more in your post here! They say, when you are ready to hear the lesson will appear and funny it appeared for me in your post!

    I own a business in which the model is evolving and yes it involved alot of people however many have voiced their opinions and said they dont like the model and are ticked at us for changing – just like Facebook!! Ironic that this would happen at the same time – I think not!

    Thank you for showing me as a CEO of a company that I must continue on my path to implement the change and those that will still need our solution will be there and those that wont – well my motto is NEXT!!!!!!!!!!

    All the best with your new arrival.
    Tina Dezsi, CEO Power of Women Exchange, Author The Power of Women United.

  12. Although there has been tons of grumbling from users about the new design Facebook is using, corporations are certainly opening up to it – with one caveat: there needs to be an easier way to find company pages. One way Facebook is making that easy for big partners, is by giving them their Facebook “home page” with a simple “slash.” Check out http://www.facebook.com/Microsoft or http://www.facebook.com/jeep. These easily identifiable and search-able pages will be in high demand as more marketers move to the “new” Facebook.

  13. Although there has been tons of grumbling from users about the new design Facebook is using, corporations are certainly opening up to it – with one caveat: there needs to be an easier way to find company pages. One way Facebook is making that easy for big partners, is by giving them their Facebook “home page” with a simple “slash.” Check out http://www.facebook.com/Microsoft or http://www.facebook.com/jeep. These easily identifiable and search-able pages will be in high demand as more marketers move to the “new” Facebook.

  14. @ Scoble : Nice Post !!

    FB could not and would not be persuaded, no matter what the users would prefer ! Its organically growing and evolving at a rapid rate ! At this stage listening to customer/user needs would be far down in the list as long as it does not affect the “Business” !! For the heck of it, I would probably take the “Who Is your Soulmate?” quiz and wouldnt mind the result on public display, but “Which Female Celebritys Underwear would you like to be?” Quiz result is not something that would amuse my wife.

    Cheers !

  15. @ Scoble : Nice Post !!

    FB could not and would not be persuaded, no matter what the users would prefer ! Its organically growing and evolving at a rapid rate ! At this stage listening to customer/user needs would be far down in the list as long as it does not affect the “Business” !! For the heck of it, I would probably take the “Who Is your Soulmate?” quiz and wouldnt mind the result on public display, but “Which Female Celebritys Underwear would you like to be?” Quiz result is not something that would amuse my wife.

    Cheers !

  16. Not to mention that his users have about a 30-second attention span. “I’m leaving Facebook” groups pop up about every five days or so, and then people forget all about it.

    And there are enough options for the old school users to avoid real problems. For instance, when Facebook expanded, it also introduced the option to limit how many networks you were visible on (having joined as a college student, I made use of this, so I’m basically unsearchable).

    I find the redesign annoying and useless…but I’ve never liked News Feed anyway, and it hasn’t stopped me from using Facebook.

    Also, congrats.

  17. Not to mention that his users have about a 30-second attention span. “I’m leaving Facebook” groups pop up about every five days or so, and then people forget all about it.

    And there are enough options for the old school users to avoid real problems. For instance, when Facebook expanded, it also introduced the option to limit how many networks you were visible on (having joined as a college student, I made use of this, so I’m basically unsearchable).

    I find the redesign annoying and useless…but I’ve never liked News Feed anyway, and it hasn’t stopped me from using Facebook.

    Also, congrats.

  18. Innovator’s Dilemma? I subscribe to that programmer-cult rant posing as a book, about as much as the Cluetrain Manifesto, which is to say none.

    Listening to your customers is a good idea. ALWAYS. Now in terms of strategy, many complex factors at work, some customers might be edge-cases, hence focusing on some customers over all customers can kill, customers now might not be customers then. This is complicated stuff, that most often lends itself to the absurd. But customers that don’t feel you are listening, go elsewhere. So even if you aren’t listening, you have to appear to be, but you can only fake it for so long. Don’t boil this down to a cutesy book or a MBA recipe, it’s not rational nor quantifiable. Listening, means listening, strategy is something wholly differing, something that changes second by second.

  19. Innovator’s Dilemma? I subscribe to that programmer-cult rant posing as a book, about as much as the Cluetrain Manifesto, which is to say none.

    Listening to your customers is a good idea. ALWAYS. Now in terms of strategy, many complex factors at work, some customers might be edge-cases, hence focusing on some customers over all customers can kill, customers now might not be customers then. This is complicated stuff, that most often lends itself to the absurd. But customers that don’t feel you are listening, go elsewhere. So even if you aren’t listening, you have to appear to be, but you can only fake it for so long. Don’t boil this down to a cutesy book or a MBA recipe, it’s not rational nor quantifiable. Listening, means listening, strategy is something wholly differing, something that changes second by second.

  20. they haven’t heard that Porsche is coming out with a new roomier, smoother four-door Porsche.

    Good catch. But I heard, subtle jab. Sarcasm is lost on Scoble and Cult half the time. Heh. ;)

  21. they haven’t heard that Porsche is coming out with a new roomier, smoother four-door Porsche.

    Good catch. But I heard, subtle jab. Sarcasm is lost on Scoble and Cult half the time. Heh. ;)

  22. agreeing with you… and as someone who has found business, hired people, rediscovered forgotten networks… i’m going to choose not to bite the hand… good post.

  23. agreeing with you… and as someone who has found business, hired people, rediscovered forgotten networks… i’m going to choose not to bite the hand… good post.

  24. Scoble,

    This was a remarkably stupid post.

    There is nothing about the monetization of FB that required the new design. All of what you discuss could have been achieved with minimal change.

    The new look was and is about trying to head off Twitter – nothing more.

    FB was previously somewhat useful. Now its just a stream of noise.

  25. Scoble,

    This was a remarkably stupid post.

    There is nothing about the monetization of FB that required the new design. All of what you discuss could have been achieved with minimal change.

    The new look was and is about trying to head off Twitter – nothing more.

    FB was previously somewhat useful. Now its just a stream of noise.

  26. Plus that analogy is so flawed, a smoother ride Porsche, with more legroom, doesn’t feature-transform itself into a Volvo. It’s just a roomier, smoother Porsche,

    I guess everyone’s so busy twittering and FB-ing that they haven’t heard that Porsche is coming out with a new roomier, smoother four-door Porsche.

    Hmm … I wondered if they started listening to Volvo S80 owners or sumpin’ …

  27. Plus that analogy is so flawed, a smoother ride Porsche, with more legroom, doesn’t feature-transform itself into a Volvo. It’s just a roomier, smoother Porsche,

    I guess everyone’s so busy twittering and FB-ing that they haven’t heard that Porsche is coming out with a new roomier, smoother four-door Porsche.

    Hmm … I wondered if they started listening to Volvo S80 owners or sumpin’ …

  28. If your wife continues to give personal information to a company that hired Ted Ullyot, she deserves whatever she gets, addicted or not.

  29. If your wife continues to give personal information to a company that hired Ted Ullyot, she deserves whatever she gets, addicted or not.

  30. Yeah Facebook most certainly is not listening to its customers, it makes sense…to see a company that IS listening to its customers, and the needs of the masses of underpriviledged workers in industrializing nations, check this out! AN AUTOMOBILE WILL BE OFFERED FOR SALE FOR LESS THAN 2,000 DOLLARS!

  31. Yeah Facebook most certainly is not listening to its customers, it makes sense…to see a company that IS listening to its customers, and the needs of the masses of underpriviledged workers in industrializing nations, check this out! AN AUTOMOBILE WILL BE OFFERED FOR SALE FOR LESS THAN 2,000 DOLLARS!

  32. How people can respond to this article with a straight face, let alone agree with it is absolutely hilarious. Facebook achieved its success because people found it to be useful tool to socialize with hence the service being defined as a “social networking website.” Zuckerberg made it perfectly clear early on in his patented internal memos, that increased advertising was being done to maintain Facebook as a free entity, it wasn’t until later that the urge to bank in on the millions of people swarming to his website became irresistible.

    Now, making money is not inherently bad, hell, I’d love to have a piece of Mark’s fortune, but not through the means of exploitation. Yes, I said it. Facebook exploits its users because of their attachment to its services. Good business model or not, Zuckerberg is making money on a service that was originally designed for college kids to get together to be college kids. I used to be one of those college kids, and I loved the fact that we had a site that acted like a club of sorts, where our parents and little siblings couldn’t invade, leaving them to wallow in the depths that is Myspace. Is this a bit elitist? Of course it is, but no one outside of current college students and alumni knows what life is like in college. Can you imagine if an African American or Jewish networking site all of a sudden opened up to the public for anyone and everyone to flock to? I’d think that might instill a bit of resentment in their original demographic.

    Mark sold out those who made Facebook what it is today, and now those original users have graduated and are abandoning the once useful college networking tool making the service a shell of its former self. Getting friend requests from grandparents and little brothers is not what I’d call a positive transition. But oh wait, it doesn’t matter because Mark is going to make more money; screw those who he once called peers.

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