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. OK.
    If the relationship is structured so that the user can determine when they want the information, I don’t see the ad noise problem. You have to give permission to be contacted (see Seth G’s book), that’s the only way businesses will work.

    Why can’t changes to a homepage design be appealing to the masses and follow a route to allow for businesses to contribute/connect? Give the user a choice to opt in, allow for classic interfaces, etc. On the flip side if some customers or businesses are constantly complaining, you probably are better off losing them in the long run.

    Is it really impossible to continually impress your customers by giving them more instead of less, while following your own business agenda?

    My analogy for the facebook redesign: They took a free comfortable shared limo ride, and turned it into a crammed subway. Some folks really enjoyed the former, why should they have to give that up? They could do this by allowing folks to customize the hell out of the interface for each user (with an open API).

    I’ve read that users of facebook have dropped a lot of friends in order to recreate that personal feel.

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  4. What you might not understand, big boy, is that a lot of people use Facebook for more than just information on where to next stuff their face with food or buy plus-size shoes.

  5. What you might not understand, big boy, is that a lot of people use Facebook for more than just information on where to next stuff their face with food or buy plus-size shoes.

  6. Odd that you all seem to think that the “social circle” is all that important. My facebook “friends” weren’t friends at all. Most of them were people I only had a passing interest in and had lost track of decades ago. When this change came along I found it very disruptive, very annoying and quite useless. The redesign took away the ability to filter by relevance and replaced it with meaningless drivel. After that, deleting my Facebook account was just as easy as throwing away a magazine I had lost interest in.

    Listening to your customers is important when they leave. And I for one, left.

  7. Odd that you all seem to think that the “social circle” is all that important. My facebook “friends” weren’t friends at all. Most of them were people I only had a passing interest in and had lost track of decades ago. When this change came along I found it very disruptive, very annoying and quite useless. The redesign took away the ability to filter by relevance and replaced it with meaningless drivel. After that, deleting my Facebook account was just as easy as throwing away a magazine I had lost interest in.

    Listening to your customers is important when they leave. And I for one, left.

  8. Robert, pull out before you cum all over Zuckerberg, ok? Although, I must say, congratulations on your bromance.

  9. Robert, pull out before you cum all over Zuckerberg, ok? Although, I must say, congratulations on your bromance.

  10. Seriously, who gives a crap about “the social graph”?

    It might be useful for data mining and selling ads (which we’ll ignore), but humans already keep their social graph in their heads.

  11. Seriously, who gives a crap about “the social graph”?

    It might be useful for data mining and selling ads (which we’ll ignore), but humans already keep their social graph in their heads.

  12. Here’s a story. Coca-Cola dominated the soft-drink market for years on end, then this other company, Pepsi-Cola, began consistently gaining market share, and they even ran taste tests that ‘showed’ that more people preferred the taste of Pepsi to to Coke. Coca-Cola responded by changing their recipe to make their drink taste more like Pepsi, because they were convinced that was what consumers wanted. As it turned out, people didn’t want that at all, and they had a very strong connection to the previous version of Coke, so much so that they hoarded away the old coke, and boycotted the new beverage. Facebook is making the same mistake that Coca-Cola made. Just like Pepsi, Twitter is not right for everybody, it is right for only a small-subset of the population. Facebook as the market numbers show, has a service that is far more appealing to the majority of users, if only out of habit alone. Facebook is removing the choice for people who prefer a social networking service that acts more like a world-wide phonebook, and don’t want /need a constantly updating feed of inane babble.

    The idea that a sushi restaurant would advertise through facebook and let the public control the advertising message is also off. What if you 80 of your friends hate that restaurant because it’s a total mess? Is the owner going to pay to drive prospective customers away through facebook? Of course not! Maybe he’d pay for advertising positive reviews, but that’s not really useful to you. You’d want the full range of opinions, and would most likely rather not eat there if 80 out of 100 people dislike it.

    This type of advertising would be equivalent to infomercial paid testimonials, and you’d much rather go on yelp or yahoo reviews to find out the real story. The true value to consumers is UNBIASED information on products and services and you only get that when money is not involved. When I shop for a car I don’t read automaker brochures, but look at consumer reports, magazine model comparisons, etc.

  13. Here’s a story. Coca-Cola dominated the soft-drink market for years on end, then this other company, Pepsi-Cola, began consistently gaining market share, and they even ran taste tests that ‘showed’ that more people preferred the taste of Pepsi to to Coke. Coca-Cola responded by changing their recipe to make their drink taste more like Pepsi, because they were convinced that was what consumers wanted. As it turned out, people didn’t want that at all, and they had a very strong connection to the previous version of Coke, so much so that they hoarded away the old coke, and boycotted the new beverage. Facebook is making the same mistake that Coca-Cola made. Just like Pepsi, Twitter is not right for everybody, it is right for only a small-subset of the population. Facebook as the market numbers show, has a service that is far more appealing to the majority of users, if only out of habit alone. Facebook is removing the choice for people who prefer a social networking service that acts more like a world-wide phonebook, and don’t want /need a constantly updating feed of inane babble.

    The idea that a sushi restaurant would advertise through facebook and let the public control the advertising message is also off. What if you 80 of your friends hate that restaurant because it’s a total mess? Is the owner going to pay to drive prospective customers away through facebook? Of course not! Maybe he’d pay for advertising positive reviews, but that’s not really useful to you. You’d want the full range of opinions, and would most likely rather not eat there if 80 out of 100 people dislike it.

    This type of advertising would be equivalent to infomercial paid testimonials, and you’d much rather go on yelp or yahoo reviews to find out the real story. The true value to consumers is UNBIASED information on products and services and you only get that when money is not involved. When I shop for a car I don’t read automaker brochures, but look at consumer reports, magazine model comparisons, etc.

  14. Your vision of Facebook in one year may appeal to you, but if facebook want’s toi evolve, it cannot afford to loose the competion to another, witch means not loosing too much off is base.

  15. Your vision of Facebook in one year may appeal to you, but if facebook want’s toi evolve, it cannot afford to loose the competion to another, witch means not loosing too much off is base.

  16. Thank you! I have been sick of listening to my friends complain who have no understanding of the industry or the business model… but I have been too lazy to explain all the reasons why. Now I can just link them to this… it covers everything I wanted to say but couldn’t articulate.

  17. Thank you! I have been sick of listening to my friends complain who have no understanding of the industry or the business model… but I have been too lazy to explain all the reasons why. Now I can just link them to this… it covers everything I wanted to say but couldn’t articulate.

  18. For me, this was an odd post. But an interesting juxtaposition of your recent FIR interview.

    Before Milan was born, you made the same requests from on stage in Seattle – back then, though, I noted that your blog audience is not the right audience for such companies to reach out to. It’s not about you, but your audience.

    For example, if I know one of the editor’s of a PC magazine is about to have a baby, would I send goods to him or her as the PR person of a baby good’s company? No, not at all – not the right readership, not the right audience.

    Same goes for your blog.

    Congratulations on the impending new addition!

  19. For me, this was an odd post. But an interesting juxtaposition of your recent FIR interview.

    Before Milan was born, you made the same requests from on stage in Seattle – back then, though, I noted that your blog audience is not the right audience for such companies to reach out to. It’s not about you, but your audience.

    For example, if I know one of the editor’s of a PC magazine is about to have a baby, would I send goods to him or her as the PR person of a baby good’s company? No, not at all – not the right readership, not the right audience.

    Same goes for your blog.

    Congratulations on the impending new addition!

  20. Robert,
    Thank you for sharing your brilliant thoughts … here are my comments

    With Feature comes complexity, and with 180 Million People if there are no signs of mixed opinions its not a social network.

    Assume thats a lousy design, but with this design he is able to see the real dynamics of people gauging the impact of one small change in his platform making turbulance in the entire web2.0 there are blogs,tweets,IMs mails what not people are talking of Facebook period.

    As one of my friend mentioned, there is nothing called “Bad Publicity”, just publicity if you can create the movement later you can change it back if scenario is that bad ..

    let me give you another example, what happened when Facebook changed it terms and conditions ?? people blogged, created groups in the same platform , tweeted what not, then next day there appeared a small banner saying sorry , we did not want to do this and we are changing back to old version and all got cooled down .. now will any one speak ? so this I think is the best way to use the users for your advertisement.

    I am sure Facebook has a lot more to offer and people won’t leave facebook because of 1. Connectivity and other applications that are glued to the interface.

    Lets wait and watch …

  21. Robert,
    Thank you for sharing your brilliant thoughts … here are my comments

    With Feature comes complexity, and with 180 Million People if there are no signs of mixed opinions its not a social network.

    Assume thats a lousy design, but with this design he is able to see the real dynamics of people gauging the impact of one small change in his platform making turbulance in the entire web2.0 there are blogs,tweets,IMs mails what not people are talking of Facebook period.

    As one of my friend mentioned, there is nothing called “Bad Publicity”, just publicity if you can create the movement later you can change it back if scenario is that bad ..

    let me give you another example, what happened when Facebook changed it terms and conditions ?? people blogged, created groups in the same platform , tweeted what not, then next day there appeared a small banner saying sorry , we did not want to do this and we are changing back to old version and all got cooled down .. now will any one speak ? so this I think is the best way to use the users for your advertisement.

    I am sure Facebook has a lot more to offer and people won’t leave facebook because of 1. Connectivity and other applications that are glued to the interface.

    Lets wait and watch …

  22. I’m sorry, but please connect this:

    “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.”

    …with this:

    “They just designed a Twitter.”

    What facebook staf made was the same that would happen if they would have listen to users. And then, we the same users would have sayed that the design looks like Twitter.

    They changed from Porcshe to Volvo without the people council.
    Now they need to hear the secon part of the counsil:

    “you designed a Volvo and I want a Porsche.”

  23. I’m sorry, but please connect this:

    “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.”

    …with this:

    “They just designed a Twitter.”

    What facebook staf made was the same that would happen if they would have listen to users. And then, we the same users would have sayed that the design looks like Twitter.

    They changed from Porcshe to Volvo without the people council.
    Now they need to hear the secon part of the counsil:

    “you designed a Volvo and I want a Porsche.”

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  26. I can’t say I enjoyed the new look of Facebook, but since I appreciated Twitter, I enjoyed what it was becoming. Twitter, but a Twitter that my friends used. BUT Facebook didn’t do it right. I already want it to be what it will become. Right now it’s this weird mix of what Facebook used to be and this weird expanding presence.

    My number one complaint is clutter and redundancy: The profiles themselves are still trying to be communicative (the wall) when they don’t need to be (because we have inboxes). And entirely too much information (without white-space) is forced upon us at every screen including advertisements.

    No, Facebook won’t ever entirely listen, but they did relegate applications to an “opt in” nature when they forced them into tabs in the new design. And when Facebook attempted to own our opinions and reviews, great eyes watching out in the terms of use saw to it that they at least had to ask us first.

    I just want Facebook to be a service that I want to use again. I use it right now, but only reluctantly as everyone else uses it. The power of community is great and Zuckerberg has definitely harnessed it. Maybe one day the begrudging can become enough to cause change… or maybe they can just re-earn their place in my life.

  27. I can’t say I enjoyed the new look of Facebook, but since I appreciated Twitter, I enjoyed what it was becoming. Twitter, but a Twitter that my friends used. BUT Facebook didn’t do it right. I already want it to be what it will become. Right now it’s this weird mix of what Facebook used to be and this weird expanding presence.

    My number one complaint is clutter and redundancy: The profiles themselves are still trying to be communicative (the wall) when they don’t need to be (because we have inboxes). And entirely too much information (without white-space) is forced upon us at every screen including advertisements.

    No, Facebook won’t ever entirely listen, but they did relegate applications to an “opt in” nature when they forced them into tabs in the new design. And when Facebook attempted to own our opinions and reviews, great eyes watching out in the terms of use saw to it that they at least had to ask us first.

    I just want Facebook to be a service that I want to use again. I use it right now, but only reluctantly as everyone else uses it. The power of community is great and Zuckerberg has definitely harnessed it. Maybe one day the begrudging can become enough to cause change… or maybe they can just re-earn their place in my life.

  28. I think there is some confusion here in comments between listening to your customers and allowing them to have their way with your brand. Of course it’s essential for marketers (or Facebook) to understand their customers needs and open communication channels. But asking them to redesign the site themselves (ie the Porsche example) cannot end happily.

    Look for the video that details how consumers in a focus group would redesign the infamous 1984 ad that launched Macintosh. Let’s just say it ends with babies. And monkeys.

  29. I think there is some confusion here in comments between listening to your customers and allowing them to have their way with your brand. Of course it’s essential for marketers (or Facebook) to understand their customers needs and open communication channels. But asking them to redesign the site themselves (ie the Porsche example) cannot end happily.

    Look for the video that details how consumers in a focus group would redesign the infamous 1984 ad that launched Macintosh. Let’s just say it ends with babies. And monkeys.

  30. 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.

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