Facebook (the popular social networking site) made some changes to the home page recently. Sounds pretty routine – web pages and software applications are updated regularly and routinely. But these changes triggered an astonishing array of protests around the world.
My take on this is that to some degree, if you provide technology, software or web services to the public, you simply have to accept that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Technology, including user interfaces, needs to be upgraded on a regular basis to avoid becoming stale, dated and even less useful. But each upgrade will trigger a certain amount of dissatisfaction from those of the existing user base who are comfortable with the status quo – at the same time that it pleases and excites the other users. So how do you please as many people as possible, most of the time?
The key to managing changes, upgrades and facelifts is timely and effective communication. Here’s where perhaps Facebook fell short. While I am by no means a hard-core Facebook fanatic, I do visit my Facebook page multiple times per week, and I had no idea about the changes until after they took place. So whatever means they used to communicate the impending changes (if they did), having escaped my attention, no doubt was also missed by many (if not most) other users. They could, for example, have generated a pop-up screen on login, displayed a few days ahead of deployment, giving explicit information about the change with a hyperlink for more details and a video tutorial.
I’ve found during my career that clear and timely advance communication generally paves the way for early and easy acceptance of change – and that springing surprises on people usually provokes resistance and anger. I’ve also found that many in the technology industry simply don’t get it.