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Changes in Facebook – Thoughts about Social Media

Feb 11, 2010

The Face of Social MediaFor the umpteenth time since last year Facebook has changed its interface. (actually, it’s the second, I think) It seems a kind of petty thing to comment on, but given that 400 million people use Facebook, it is more interesting that you don’t see commentary on this kind of thing in the mainstream.

Facebook is free. Additionally, as a part of web 2.0, it is in a real sense ‘permanently broken’ or incomplete. Nobody really knows what we’re doing, and so things change and adapt quickly. However, a real question arises  – if it is true that for instance Facebook will be launching a gmail clone – will people begin to actually rely on it for vital communications? If this is so, what will a fairly moderate interface change mean? Given that people on the web are about as vocal every day as strikers are on the day of the ‘general strike’, can a service like Facebook ignore comments? What are they to do if a change removes key functionality (such as in this case, viewing updates from a specific application or status updates alone)?

It can easily be argued that Facebook is free, and therefore, you pay for what you get. But Facebook itself does not have that attitude; that’s a ‘screw you’ attitude that they’d never be caught uttering. Therefore we can assume that despite being free (on the front end, anyhow) Facebook wants to give its users the best experience possible, as though they were being paid for all of this. (They are, but not directly by us.)

What is interesting in all of this is that when I spoke to Ron, he mentioned that his iPhone app still had the same functionality. In other words, the same Facebook ‘data’ is sitting there, there is just a new ‘terminal’ we who are using the Web need to use. It makes me think that going forward we will see Facebook clients, much the way we see clients for Twitter. The difference is of course that Facebook is many times more complex! Imagine though, if you could get a Facebook client for 1.99 – Facebook gets a cut of that – over a possible group of 400 million folks?

And what about how widely used (and despised?) it is… I am reminded of everyone carping about Microsoft whenever they try to change something. Difference is, we have to accept the change on Facebook. With Microsoft at least there is a few years for us to adapt. And yet we keep using it!

Free, rich communication is valuable; just like a very generic & flexible operating system is. Maybe Facebook will give up trying to play nice and annoy us until we pay to stop the annoyance. I’ll bet they won’t lose people – where else will they go? Twitter?

Or maybe the value is like that of a huge fan page – everyone is there! How can you take credit for that?

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