Man, I pine for the AOL days (not the Aol days, mind you) where every eighteen months brought you a whole new version of America’s favorite dial-up provider with a shiny, slightly larger version number along with slightly iterated graphics. Also: advertised everywhere. Yeah, boy! It seems strange that time is not kind to change as we’re still over a day away from Facebook’s annual f8 developer conference (where they traditionally unveil their biggest service changes) and somehow there are people already up in arms over the partial list of changes the social network will be implementing soon.
Those people are silly.
There’s two huge differences between the AOL of then and the Facebook of now that puts the latter into the hot seat every single time they tweak something:
– AOL peaked at 30 million subscribers and at most, they sent e-mails, used Instant Messenger, and perpetuated the bizarre fixture of the public chat room. Yeah, you remember those? Facebook, on the other hand, has 800+ million users exchanging infinitely more data. Zuckerberg’s network is a raging success because it’s personal and people are more than willing to share snapshots from their phones, additions to the family, and visit each other’s towns/restaurants/burning tire fires in very socially-embedded games. Meanwhile on AOL, I argued with people on forums about how the Sega Dreamcast would be a complete failure (and I was completely correct!).
The thing with having that much more data is in not only how to present it, but now to present it in a way that keeps you coming back. It’s impossible to display all that info, so you have to make choices. There was a time before the Facebook News Feed was added, aggregating your friends’ statuses and people were outraged. They literally thought Mark was turning people into stalkers by letting friends read their output in a central location. Now the Feed is the core part of Facebook and this is Zuckerberg’s justification for introducing ‘opt-out’ features – requiring people to “not want” the feature after it’s implemented – so that everyone’s on the same page and the implementation is ubiquitous. I doubt anything Facebook will do from here on out will be as controversial the News Feed or Beacon, but people will find a reason to complain, anyway.
– When AOL updated their client, and added features, you had to spend an hour (or longer!) downloading huge 10-30 megabyte (MEGAbyte!) files – OR – you could find one of the many CDs AOL sent out over their rise and fall to entice new subscribers and install it from there. When Facebook changes, they can do small, iterative tweaks because they can appear right before your very eyes because of how awesome the internet is now. This means they can change the entire dynamic of the network with a few flicked switches. The feedback is also just as bad. No one’s calling Facebook Customer Support on phones, they’re voicing their opinions on, uh, Facebook (or if you’re Robert Scoble and three others, Google+) which allows them to iterate quickly.
Now, I’m not going to say all the changes are perfect, that’s impossible, but people are against Facebook’s iterative changes on instinct.
And they’ll cry and life will go on.
The reality is that Facebook is smart and knows better on how to corral the data of nearly a billion people better than anyone — except maybe Google, but who cares about that?