By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 6:32 pm
Do stuff. Make mistakes. Listen. Learn. Fix. That’s a corporate culture that just about any company would be pleased to claim as its own, but Facebook really lives it. And since the whole point of Facebook is to help millions of people express themselves, it it makes its mistakes in public in a way that few companies do. Fortunately, it also does its listening and learning in the open, too.
I kind of like Facebook’s new, more Twitteresque home page-or at least am willing to give it a chance–but evidence seems to suggest I’m in the minority. And Christopher Cox, the company’s director of product has posted about changes that Facebook is making based on user feedback. He mentions lots of them, most of which involve providing more control over the content that gets displayed and/or making it easier to find important stuff. (And maybe the new design does obscure some significant items: I just noticed that I had a backlog of eleven friend requests, because they no longer occupied prime real estate at the top of the right-hand column where they were easy to spot.)
Anyone who’s ever redesigned anything used by more than a handful of people knows that change is hard. We certainly heard immediately from unhappy campers every time we gave PC World an online or print makeover during my time there. The best you can do is listen hard, be good at distinguishing between things that are unpopular because they’re new and those that are unpopular because they’re bad, and be careful about assuming that one or two extremely agitated users represent the view the majority of your users. (Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.)
I once had a smart boss who, when I asked him for money for a PC World redesign, asked whether changing things that are already successful was an inherently bad idea. The answer, of course, is that it’s far better to change something that’s successful before the world passes it by than to play catchup later. (I told him that, and we came up with the dough.) But it’s fair to say that change is inherently risky–but that the Web mitigates some of the risk, since you get immediate feedback and can just keep on changing until you get things right. With print magazines, it’s possible to make changes that readers despise, and not even know until months later when you find that they stayed away from an issue at the newsstand in droves.
I can’t think of another company in tech that’s better at handling change than Facebook. Kudos to it for having the right attitude, and I hope that Facebook fans, no matter how irate they may get, give the site credit for trying to do the right thing. Even when it takes multiple attempts.