Can you imagine if your favorite local store, restaurant or bar were to go through an overhaul each year? They might have the same items, but decide to change the entire layout of the place. Or, they maintain the design and change from a breakfast-all-day place to sandwiches only. Perhaps they decide that they will make people enter from a different location each time. Better yet, when you step up to the bar, you have to do a different set of hand gestures each time before ordering your second drink. Now, compound that with the idea that as each change comes, you become treated less as a regular and start to question whether you should go there in the first place. If such changes would surely hurt businesses in the real world, why are they becoming such a big part of our digital world? The largest example of the phenomenon is in Facebook effectively changing the seating arrangement, the menu and the ordering procedure through the coming weeks with their Timeline product.
Facebook’s shift to Timeline is a major one that will be mandatory. We’ve been waiting for it since the F8 conference a few months ago and now its hitting accounts. Some people have it and like it, while others have no sign of it in their account. Even the way they are rolling it out is different that their practices in the past as they usually just seemingly “press a button” every few weeks to push site changes live immediately. One has to imagine that they are doing a progressive rollout for a reason – could it be to help people prepare?
At this point, it is almost becoming more daunting to users the longer it takes to hit accounts. There’s huge issues raised about privacy and how the timeline features could affect users in both personal and professional matters. Having not received the update, I can’t even follow these directions for changing the Privacy Settings yet.
Even with the ability to change settings, there is a lot of concern voiced by users. The security firm Sophos polled over 4000 users to get their thoughts and the response is overwhelmingly cautious with 51% saying they are worried about Timeline, 32% even questioning why they are still on Facebook and less than 8% stating they like it.
The concerns run the gamut from worries about identity thieves more easily finding information to the fact that even we don’t remember everything we’ve put on Facebook. I know that I have been concerned about privacy since the get-go, but I am equally sure that I am likely to see some things I probably would not like to have had up there. Imagine what users who posted regularly as college students and now find themselves all grown up will see.
Add to this, the fact that users will have only seven days to change all of their settings once their sites are switched over – whenever that may be – and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of customer loss. If I’m no longer a regular visitor to my Facebook page recently, you better believe that I’m checking it out every day now to see if the switch has been flipped. Hell, it might actually up their user activity numbers in the coming weeks – which would look nice for their mythically pending IPO.
This is not to say that change should not occur, but consistency is key. With the advances in technology, the ability to constantly upgrade and change is exciting and enticing, but is it always best? We’ve found in traditional businesses, change takes a lot of preparation. More digital companies need to take that to heart.
One instance of a brick and mortar changing in a way that is similar to Facebook is hopefully not a sign of what’s to come for Facebook… A local family restaurant, Nichols, has been in Marina Del Rey, CA for decades. The menu contained everything you could want from a glorified greasy spoon diner and they were always filled. Last Spring, they closed for a couple of months to get a facelift – which made sense as the fittings were dated. There was a lot of excitement about the re-opening. As far as the customers knew, the only thing changing was the decor and the addition of “J.” before Nichols. When the place finally re-opened in December, the menu had completely changed, shortened and none of the old staff were there. Sadly, there is never a line to get in and you drive by to see the place empty. My only hope is that they figure things out and maybe add back a lot of the family friendly food that was on the old menu.
It’s not a bad thing to change, but it has to be done smartly. It is one thing to change a store or a restaurant that might have a total of 10,000 customers, but to change the confines of a community of over 800MM is another deal entirely. Even if the site or app reaches a much smaller community, the UI is not something that can be tweaked easily and often – regardless of the company’s technical prowess.
I don’t believe that Facebook is doing anything wrong by making this drastic change, per-se. It’s just that the online equivalent of one of our favorite high-street shops is changing itself considerably when there was already a questioning client base. It may end up being a source of lessons for other companies both traditional and digital when they look to make a whole change just because they can.