Facebook Updates: Why People Get So Upset and How To Improve Them

Today, with the noticeable numerous UX changes on Facebook, many people I’m directly connected to or read about via 3rd party social media news websites seem to be more upset about those changes than others in the past. I think I might know why.

Dealing with Change

Last night I was watching What Not to Wear with my wife and noticed a connection between two pretty disparate things. If you’re not familiar with the show, an individual is “nominated” by their “friends” to participate because the poor soul has a horrific wardrobe and can’t/won’t/doesn’t realize she needs to change. The participant then agrees to bring her full wardrobe to NYC for an on-camera evaluation by 2 stylists. The evaluation ALWAYS ends the same: with a large trash can full of the entire wardrobe after a funny yet somewhat harsh review of the clothes and the participant’s verbal explanation/rationale for dressing the way she did. Sometimes people cry when their clothes are thrown in the can. Others get mad. A very small number of these people are genuinely happy and prepared for the journey ahead.

From a logical point of view, getting $5,000 for an entirely new wardrobe with the help of professional stylists sounds amazing, right? Emotionally, people’s identities are being thrown in that can. They’re being ridiculed; made into fodder for us to laugh at and say “What was she thinking?” The emotional bond all people have with their curated physical identity (their clothes) is very similar to the digital identity they’ve created: their curation of friendships and ways of navigating the Facebook environment.

It’s In the Delivery

Software companies like to update their products. On the iOS platform (iPhone/iPad), it’s usually a “good thing.” People are excited to see an update. They’re generally happy with fixes, are easy to install, and ultimately feel better off for doing so. On a bigger scale, the Mac OS updates have historically had more hoopla. More of an explanation of the changes that are about to occur, and most importantly, the litany of benefits to be had by the user. The biggest thing to note about an iOS update is that it’s optional. Theoretically, a user never has to update an app if they don’t want to. They can continue to use it as is for eternity because they enjoy the benefits the features and user experience (UX) affords them.

Facebook isn’t like that at all.

Facebook changes happen overnight. They happen with no warning, and they also happen with no backward path to the experience you had before. It’s very darwinian, and to me, would measure very low on an emotional intelligence scale.

Emotional Intelligence?

Of the numerous similarities between a computer’s operating system and the Facebook UX, one stands out to me today. It involves the handling of a user’s personal data. I’m not talking about privacy settings. I’m talking about the general user experience one has with the pieces of information they’ve either created or accrued over time. That data tends to be irreplaceable. Just ask anyone who’s suffered from a hard disk failure.

It seems to me that Facebook might not fully grasp, or at least heavily factor into it’s decision making process, the type of data they’re addressing when making these changes. (I’m sure if someone from Facebook reads this, they’ll dispute it. To which I will say, let me sit in on a meeting and we’ll see…)

I think Facebook should try to incorporate a new way of feeling about UX.

To me, Facebook needs to understand that their UX decisions are directly connected to a person’s emotional understanding and organization of their social network. People spend time in Facebook making sure they see what they want to and who they don’t. They’re not doing this to “streamline their UX,” but to help recreate the mental image and feelings they have about the people they know.

Should Facebook be more open about it’s plans? I think we have enough examples of this “launch and don’t look back” approach to say yes. A simple heads up and potential for a backwards path or delayed upgrade will help users understand where things are headed. It will also help calm the regular threats of defection to Google+ or outright calls for mass “Facebook suicides.” Those options are not in their brand’s best interest.

Maybe an Apple-like presentation about the upcoming changes would be good to introduce them. Walk people through the rationale behind the updates and how it’s better. After the show, there could be this interesting dialogue where not only users could discuss them but Facebook could LISTEN and LEARN from those comments. Maybe expand this conversation online? Somewhere these people already are…where they could feel safe and like they’re being heard….Surely there has to be a place for this, right?