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. Oh, Facebook. Dost thou need more popularity? I would say the motive behind this new design is profit maximization. Although Facebook already exceeds all other social networking sites and other Internet bosses like Google, Zuckerberg figures he could use some more Web traffic. A smart business man at least, his new design is another channel for bringing in the bucks. And what is a man to do? It seems the entire globe (except me…) has a Facebook account. My cousins overseas are the ones urging me to create a page, proving to me the worldwide spread of the site. Good decision, I’d say, to keep the site fresh so as not to bore addicted users, who probably constitute the majority of the demographic, and for the newbies and potential page-creaters likewise.

  2. So true. Every word. I have known so many people that gripe about the changes made, but oddly – use every new thing quite frequently. It’s interesting to watch the animals play at the zoo.

  3. So true. Every word. I have known so many people that gripe about the changes made, but oddly – use every new thing quite frequently. It’s interesting to watch the animals play at the zoo.

  4. It’s not that Zuckerberg needs to start listening to us; we don’t know what we want. Every change Facebook has ever made has been greeted with backlash – from opening it up outside college students to the addition of the News Feed. But for the most part, we’ve learned that we actually love the changes (aside from maybe Beacon and the ToS snafu.)

    So yeah, maybe Zuck does know best. BUT, what he fails miserably at is PR. Historically, his product launches have been accompanied by statements like “We really messed this one up,” and “We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them.” So WTF, why is it so hard for him to make people understand that they like the new site designs? I think a little legwork would go a long way in reducing his headaches in the time between launch and the point at which we realize that Zuck does know best.

  5. It’s not that Zuckerberg needs to start listening to us; we don’t know what we want. Every change Facebook has ever made has been greeted with backlash – from opening it up outside college students to the addition of the News Feed. But for the most part, we’ve learned that we actually love the changes (aside from maybe Beacon and the ToS snafu.)

    So yeah, maybe Zuck does know best. BUT, what he fails miserably at is PR. Historically, his product launches have been accompanied by statements like “We really messed this one up,” and “We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them.” So WTF, why is it so hard for him to make people understand that they like the new site designs? I think a little legwork would go a long way in reducing his headaches in the time between launch and the point at which we realize that Zuck does know best.

  6. Robert,

    As much as I love the well thought out logic of the argument, both you and Zuckerberg “like” and are “engaged in” technology and noodling with filters etc etc. Once they (or somebody?) perfects the social filter (your network filters your content through your simply knowing them) that does not need to be “configured” THAT is where the cash will be. I think that http://www.groupswim.com is close. So, IMHO ;) , it is about the SOCIAL and not the media. That is why FB, twitter,FF etc will all wash away when everybody really gets onto these sites…and that is SOON…the importance of FB content and connection will grow to the extent that people cannot do without it and THEN they will demand things their way…competitors are growing too.

    On another note, thanks for the rackspace red tshirt BTW ;) It attracts loads of comments/questions…I’m like a traveling PR machine for you some days ;)

  7. Robert,

    As much as I love the well thought out logic of the argument, both you and Zuckerberg “like” and are “engaged in” technology and noodling with filters etc etc. Once they (or somebody?) perfects the social filter (your network filters your content through your simply knowing them) that does not need to be “configured” THAT is where the cash will be. I think that http://www.groupswim.com is close. So, IMHO ;) , it is about the SOCIAL and not the media. That is why FB, twitter,FF etc will all wash away when everybody really gets onto these sites…and that is SOON…the importance of FB content and connection will grow to the extent that people cannot do without it and THEN they will demand things their way…competitors are growing too.

    On another note, thanks for the rackspace red tshirt BTW ;) It attracts loads of comments/questions…I’m like a traveling PR machine for you some days ;)

  8. I;m a big complainer about the new FB. I still use it. But I won’t be inviting more people to it like I did in the past. And I am having a hard time connecting with friends or keeping up with them (unless I want to read about all the f-ing quizzes they’ve taken – what a load of crap!)

    In an effort to get rid of the “highlights” section which pushes my events to the bottom of the page (loser move there!!!) I downloaded an add-in from Firefox to BLOCK ADS.

    Sorry, but I think the last change FB made was very mild to this one. They TOOK AWAY features, not just change the way it looks. It seems to me that you would know this if you used FB like your wife does.

    PS Congrats on the addition.

  9. I;m a big complainer about the new FB. I still use it. But I won’t be inviting more people to it like I did in the past. And I am having a hard time connecting with friends or keeping up with them (unless I want to read about all the f-ing quizzes they’ve taken – what a load of crap!)

    In an effort to get rid of the “highlights” section which pushes my events to the bottom of the page (loser move there!!!) I downloaded an add-in from Firefox to BLOCK ADS.

    Sorry, but I think the last change FB made was very mild to this one. They TOOK AWAY features, not just change the way it looks. It seems to me that you would know this if you used FB like your wife does.

    PS Congrats on the addition.

  10. I was always told, and firmly believe that the customer’s wishes are to be respected. That said, if facebook wants to turn its base away and become another twitter, that’s fine, but let me out of it, give the people more options as to what they want on their page – it’s not that hard.

  11. I was always told, and firmly believe that the customer’s wishes are to be respected. That said, if facebook wants to turn its base away and become another twitter, that’s fine, but let me out of it, give the people more options as to what they want on their page – it’s not that hard.

  12. First of all, congratulations!

    Second, I’ve been a facebook user for over 4 years now (I was in school during Phase 2, lucky me). I’ve seen pretty much every redesign they’ve done. As a web designer, I much preferred the last revision to the new one, not because I was used to it, but to me personally, the user interface seemed easier to follow. It could be just me.

    I think if Zuckerberg wants to retain his usership and keep a continual and steady growth, he needs to pay a bit more attention to the user experience. Its safe to say that the core audience of facebook is of the 13-25 year old demographic, but this is changing as it becomes a force in the social media world. More boomers (my dear mother included) are jumping on the facebook bandwagon to see what all the fuss is about, reconnecting with people they haven’t seen in DECADES (the process amazes me when my mom i like “shit, i went to school with her in 1963!”)

    And to grow in a demographic that isn’t as tech savvy, the user interface becomes a very important part to the business plan.

    So I guess what I’m saying, is that he can refuse to listen to people griping about the new layouts, but he shouldn’t dismiss the layout as an integral part to the growth of his site.

  13. First of all, congratulations!

    Second, I’ve been a facebook user for over 4 years now (I was in school during Phase 2, lucky me). I’ve seen pretty much every redesign they’ve done. As a web designer, I much preferred the last revision to the new one, not because I was used to it, but to me personally, the user interface seemed easier to follow. It could be just me.

    I think if Zuckerberg wants to retain his usership and keep a continual and steady growth, he needs to pay a bit more attention to the user experience. Its safe to say that the core audience of facebook is of the 13-25 year old demographic, but this is changing as it becomes a force in the social media world. More boomers (my dear mother included) are jumping on the facebook bandwagon to see what all the fuss is about, reconnecting with people they haven’t seen in DECADES (the process amazes me when my mom i like “shit, i went to school with her in 1963!”)

    And to grow in a demographic that isn’t as tech savvy, the user interface becomes a very important part to the business plan.

    So I guess what I’m saying, is that he can refuse to listen to people griping about the new layouts, but he shouldn’t dismiss the layout as an integral part to the growth of his site.

  14. Robert, I believe that is progress (well, depending on your thoughts about the design). I didn’t expect Facebook to backtrack and restore the previous design but I was hoping Facebook would add the features users have been asking for like the live stream and so on.

  15. Robert, I believe that is progress (well, depending on your thoughts about the design). I didn’t expect Facebook to backtrack and restore the previous design but I was hoping Facebook would add the features users have been asking for like the live stream and so on.

  16. Orbis: Facebook has NOT reversed the changes. Get a clue. They have changed some things to make the new design better in response to user feedback. Christopher: Zuckerberg didn’t listen totally. He hasn’t reversed course. He’s done this several times now. Push into a new phase, then fix some of the worst issues.

  17. Orbis: Facebook has NOT reversed the changes. Get a clue. They have changed some things to make the new design better in response to user feedback. Christopher: Zuckerberg didn’t listen totally. He hasn’t reversed course. He’s done this several times now. Push into a new phase, then fix some of the worst issues.

  18. So, since Facebook has caved to the 2 million dissatisfied users and reversed the changes, will you be posting an update to this?

    Bartlett’s comment about New Coke is spot on. “New Facebook” was like going to a familiar restaurant and getting a bowl of barf.

  19. So, since Facebook has caved to the 2 million dissatisfied users and reversed the changes, will you be posting an update to this?

    Bartlett’s comment about New Coke is spot on. “New Facebook” was like going to a familiar restaurant and getting a bowl of barf.

  20. After more than two million members join a Facebook group opposed to its recent, Twitter-esque redesign, the social networking site agrees to requested modifications. – NBR

    Man, amazing, you are the best reverse trend predictor ever.

    Scoble: Steve Jobs is well, yogurt guy said so. Next week Jobs checks out.
    Scoble: Facebook won’t listen, “definitely won’t start now”. Next week: They do.

  21. After more than two million members join a Facebook group opposed to its recent, Twitter-esque redesign, the social networking site agrees to requested modifications. – NBR

    Man, amazing, you are the best reverse trend predictor ever.

    Scoble: Steve Jobs is well, yogurt guy said so. Next week Jobs checks out.
    Scoble: Facebook won’t listen, “definitely won’t start now”. Next week: They do.

  22. Hi Scoble,

    Porche DID listen to their customers, they always did, by the way – don’t you have the SUV Porsche Cayenne in the US? Where did that product come from? A mad-original-i-don’t-care-about-my-customers designer? No, they indeed made a Volvo, named it a Porsche Cayenne and at that time the sales went through the roof. On all categories by the way.

    Coolness from Zuckerberg won’t make facebook any money as dismissed users might vote with their feet the second they can make an easy shift to another network where their eyeballs and feedback is appreciated.

    But let’s see what the future brings.

    User is King!

    Nobody’s going to change that no matter what you do. Useocracy in motion, full steam.

    Well, my personal take anyway.

  23. Hi Scoble,

    Porche DID listen to their customers, they always did, by the way – don’t you have the SUV Porsche Cayenne in the US? Where did that product come from? A mad-original-i-don’t-care-about-my-customers designer? No, they indeed made a Volvo, named it a Porsche Cayenne and at that time the sales went through the roof. On all categories by the way.

    Coolness from Zuckerberg won’t make facebook any money as dismissed users might vote with their feet the second they can make an easy shift to another network where their eyeballs and feedback is appreciated.

    But let’s see what the future brings.

    User is King!

    Nobody’s going to change that no matter what you do. Useocracy in motion, full steam.

    Well, my personal take anyway.

  24. You know, I’ve been thinking about your point here.

    Depending on the circumstances there’s either a gap or a tension between what a community wants, what the business model actually supplies, and how both evolve together. Is it necessary for the gap to be bridged? Probably not in the way most people think.

    But then I read this post and realize how you nailed it, “…the promised land where we mix businesses and people.” It is all in the mixology.

    -Julia

    Most important note is in the P.S.: And a big congratulations on the baby!

  25. You know, I’ve been thinking about your point here.

    Depending on the circumstances there’s either a gap or a tension between what a community wants, what the business model actually supplies, and how both evolve together. Is it necessary for the gap to be bridged? Probably not in the way most people think.

    But then I read this post and realize how you nailed it, “…the promised land where we mix businesses and people.” It is all in the mixology.

    -Julia

    Most important note is in the P.S.: And a big congratulations on the baby!

  26. “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.”

    Clueless. Absolutely clueless.

    REAL leaders listen to others. They understand the big picture beyond themselves. Zuckerberg and Scobleizer are too wrapped up in making love to themselves in the mirror. Both have an arrogant sense of entitlement and are overdue for a reality check.

    The customer is KING. Start listening or you will be in the scrap heap of failures.

  27. “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.”

    Clueless. Absolutely clueless.

    REAL leaders listen to others. They understand the big picture beyond themselves. Zuckerberg and Scobleizer are too wrapped up in making love to themselves in the mirror. Both have an arrogant sense of entitlement and are overdue for a reality check.

    The customer is KING. Start listening or you will be in the scrap heap of failures.

  28. 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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