Facebook: Innovative yet Conceited

Ellen Lee did a great wrap-up article over at SFGate on Facebook in 2007, she called me up for my opinion on the company over the last year. I suggested that Facebook is very innovative (the first to lead an application platform, and to do social based ads) yet remains very arrogant. (twice not including customers to make decisions over their very own privacy of the newspage and beacon).

Having betrayed the trust of it’s users twice, a third time is going to result in mutiny, and users will start leaving, it wont be hard for some users to organize and move.

What could Facebook do better? Involve it’s customers members (Update: See Doc Searls comment) in testing and decision making. I would advise them to bring customers members closer and involve them in the testing and decision making process. Create a small private group of members that really understand the program and involve them in the decision maker process. This group would be empowered to talk to the product team, test out new features, and provide honest and thoughtful research. You can reward them with insider knowledge (they won’t need to be paid) and many of them will become advocates and help promote (and sometimes defend) the feature releases and the brand in general.

To Facebook’s defense, I’ll bet they didn’t know the full ramifications of their innovative actions (or didn’t think it all the way through), and as a result, were learning about it from reading blogs.

With Facebook being a community or “social utility” it will be nice to see them living some of these values we hold dear before they release their next feature.

Get closer to members, and be more successful, a social network is only as good as the collective of it’s members.

Please chime in with your suggestions for Facebook.

  • Facebook’s user communities are not homogeneous. There are lots of teens, a fair number of arts institutions and a few business users. I would prefer to have one platform for social networking, but I end up using LinkedIn.com for business because it’s not cluttered with all the social applications. Facebook should find a way for it’s communities to filter out the noise they don’t want to see.

  • Hi Jeremiah,
    I will be honest. I see Facebook as that glint in our eye. The cool new thing at the time. Like Friendster, MySpace, etc. It will only be cool till the next cool thing. And yes they did a lot of damage in a lot of “early adopter”/web savvy peoples eye with Beacon.
    I dont like Facebook all that much. I wrote a post about the ROI between Twiiter and Facebook http://tinyurl.com/2qzjwc
    and decided that for a small investment Twitter gave us much more.
    Anyway, my 2 cents.
    Happy Holidays

  • Bill the largest growth segment is 35+ and a lot of educated office workers.

    Jimmy, agreed, we’re all looking to see how social graph will open up and let us migrate freely between networks. THEN the need to build best of breed social platforms will be needed.

    Let’s hope FB gets ahead of the curve, involves customers to start that process now.

  • I am looking for a social networking platform I can use to do business, with the seriousness of LinkedIn and some of the look and feel of Facebook. Is that possible? It’s hard now. I’m lucky that the few young people who are in my network (real friends in life) are not bombarding me endlessly with stupid apps, so it really depends on who you include and the lines you draw.
    That said, I really get the impression that the makers of Facebook are playing with it (and with us). They should grow a little, if they are in for serious business.

  • Nadine

    LinkedIn recently opened it’s platform up for Business Related applications to be developed on it’s site. Watch for that.

    My analysis here:

  • jamie

    I think you are underestimating facebook. Do you honestly believe that they did not know the privacy ramifications for beacon? Or what the initial reaction would be?

    And your first point is essentially a
    focus group. Lets hope they DONT go this route. Users generally do not know what they want until its given to them. Thoughts like this would have halted facebook development years ago. Photo tagging would have been stopped. News feed never implemented etc. I trust the fb team more than analysts and focus groups to implement the right features

  • Jamie

    Good stuff. It doesn’t appear that Facebook did know the ramifications, as they deployed it, customers pulled out, members decreed mutiny, and they had to apologize and scale back. That’s a lot of unnecessary effort they didn’t need to take (had they known)

    Ok, here’s some clarification on what I meant, it’s not a focus group but instead a smaller group of users thats part of the ongoing process.

    A focus group, on the other hand, is used once (usually once a product is about to be released) and then disbanded.

    I’m suggesting that a team of members be put together that will be present for an ongoing period of time.

    In my research, I found out that Microsoft and Lego leaned on these long term ‘advocate groups’ and they worked. In summary, I’m suggesting customers be involved in the development process –no need for innovation to be slowed down, just made more efficient.

  • jamie

    While I applaud the work microsoft is doing to open up, they are not a
    company I would use as a benchmark for putting the consumer first. Compare them to apple and ask who comes up with the best consumer experiences.

  • Agreed. But Apple is an anomaly. Apple being so insular, it’s amazing how they really drives innovation and puts customers experiences first.

    Few companies are able to replicate this, although many try, it’s clearly the perfect mix of leadership, culture, and mindset.

    But at the same time, every win they’ve had there’s been dozens of products that have failed that we’ve forgotten about.

    List here of some flops

    Back on topic…How can Facebook best apply these techniques to build a better experience?

    Jamie, you suggested that you trust completely in the Facebook product team above all else, why? Shouldn’t product teams be looking outward to gather product requirements?

  • jamie

    no, I am a firm believer of product driven innovation over market driven. Facebook has taken many risks when it comes to the privacy in the sake of innovation. They will invariably get some things wrong.just as apple has. But that’s what makes them what they are and they should be celebrated as such.

    Let’s say 4 years ago microsoft proposed a social network where peoples real names and profiles would be used, photo tagging would be opt out, real contact details would be used and a stream of all your friends activity was displayed in a big brother way. And then imagine them letting bloggers and the community dictate whether that proposal went forward. You would receive nothing but a negative reaction. Let facebook do their thing. If they get it wrong the market will decide

  • I like the idea of a test group as a feedback loop before they launch new products (pages, beacon, etc.). This would help them have a feedback loop from power users before they roll new stuff public.

    They could easily do this with minimal slowing of rapid deployment and innovation. It is my belief that they could be moving this way.

    A recent example is the payment system that is forthcoming. They have reached out to the developer community for beta testers (who must remain under full NDA). This is a good start in that direction.

    I know that several times the feedback that I have provided has actually been enacted upon by their product team.

    The real challenge is to balance true innovation (which always pushes the boundaries) and mere improvements.

    Whatever they decide to do; I think we are seeing a company that is starting to learn from it’s past mistakes.


    Rodney Rumford
    Publisher: http://www.FaceReviews.com

  • It’s very true. Facebook had not thought everything through. I think they are distancing themselves from the core group of us that have been there awhile.

  • Testing & Validation is an essential phase in all product development efforts that MUST be carried out. It’s actually best to obtain some type of feedback before building a business case (to know it’s worthwhile), and during the development phase as well, so that any rework and its costs (time to market, people, money) are minimized.

    Too often, firms are swift to judge their reasoning as valid and will release their products early because of a push by management to cut time and further resources, and just ‘get it out there’. This is often influenced by a deadline (company self-imposed, anticipated trade show release, competitors’ actions).

    Facebook doesn’t seem to be reasonably affected by these concerns. They’re still private, and their platform faces no credible competitive threats. While trying to grow their business model and increase cash-flow to support operations, Facebook is acting a bit arrogant because they feel entitled to make changes to a free platform product. What they’ve taken for granted is the goodwill of its users. And that is a risky scenario for the future of the FB brand.

  • It seems that you are very apologetic towards Facebook regarding Beacon.

    I would be hard pressed to believe that Facebook wasn’t fully aware of what they were doing. The only thing that was underestimated was the public outcry.

    And from my perspective they are still banking on the majority of users that will unknowingly attribute to the growing volume of touchpoint data that will be mined at some point in time. To Facebook’s benefit.

  • William


    Not really. The core Facebook users do not seem to care too much about Beacon. Its the Web2.0/technorati crowd who jumped on board in June who were pissed.

  • William

    I agree, the total amount of folks who were concerned with Facebook was far less than 1%. But this group is influential enough to start a movement –they can’t be completely ignored.

  • I don’t know if they necessarily need a focus group as much as they need to discuss and explain their products to their users more before they implement them.

    As it has been said before with any company trying to innovate, it will difficult for them to really make moves without upsetting some of their user base.

    Facebook should make more efforts to fully explain all their products and the implications of them to their users rather than just concentrating on explaining them to businesses and advertisers. The users are what make them all possible.

  • and FB needs to improve customer support/service (or is that an entirely different discussion?)

  • sorry, i think you’re off base here jeremiah…. and making predictions with your cluetrain-blogger heart rather than your forrester-analyst head.

    while i’d agree FB could do a better job on customer feedback & testing, there’s no empirical evidence of any significance to point towards a future “mutiny”. in fact, quite the opposite.

    if anything, statistically-speaking the customer reaction to Beacon was even more muted than it was to the initial News Feed launch. Facebook is more likely insured against than vulnerable to future customer revolt.

    not that i’m advocating it, however from a pure business perspective they might easily decide to take more risk, not less.

    show me the numbers, and i’ll believe it. until then, i still think Beacon was a minor mis-step, not a grass-roots revolution.

  • Dave

    We both agree on the moveon.org numbers being a very small amount compared to the user base (I stated that above)

    I’m talking about the ramifications of a third incident –will likely trigger influencers to find alternatives. My point is this, why risk another incident, involve a small number of pro users to guide and shape.

    And this can be done without losing innovation…or speed to market

  • William

    100% agree with Jacob. Communicate the idea better to users, not necessarily get them involved pre launch.

  • Paul Roberts

    I would like to see Facebook

    1. Get rid of those horrible brightly coloured flashing tacky ads (Do we just get them in Mexico? Like companies exporting products to the so-called less developed countries because they have been banned in their own country)

    2. Get rid of those horrible ads that make noise. Again something called ‘Nipper’ is being heavily promoted in Mexico, which grinds out its own name every 30 seconds even when you change tab in Firefox. As an aside there must be away to turn it off, apart from turning the sound down on my computer, but I have yet to find it

    Interesting that many of the critiques of Facebook are about privacy, because I think both these types of Ads are an intrusion, the first visually and the second through sound

  • It’s hard to imagine in this day, that after all the research and everything we know, that a sustaining and product centric approach is still followed.

    The idea that users don’t know what they want and have nothing to offer at the early stages of development is not one that will yield great returns.

    Referring to customer driven design as a focus group just shows me what a long way we have to go.

  • First, I like your analyses around Facebook, Jeremiah. My one quibble is with calling Facebook’s users “customers”. They’re not. Facebook’s customers are its advertisers. This split between users and customers is one that has troubled all commercial media for the duration. It’s one big reason for the social failures of commercial radio and television. It is also at the heart that “arrogance” you speak about at Facebook. The company’s desire to make money, and to start the “next 100 years” of advertising (or whatever they called it when they announced Beacon), has caused them to cast blind eyes toward their users. This was a an extra huge mistake, because social networks are not comprised of mute viewers or listeners to whom commercial media have in the past been accountable only through ratings statistics. They are dozens of millions of human beings, exposing their lives and trusting Facebook to do Right Things by them.

    But Facebook is a young company. Perhaps they’ll learn.

    Second, in respect to the distinction between “market driven” and “innovative” companies (or strategies), technological progress has always been driven by both, which reduce to these two strategies:

    1) Necessity mother inventions

    2) Inventions mother necessity

    The latter one gets less attention. Yet it’s why, when we see something we didn’t realize we needed, we suddenly have to have it.

    The most forward and innovative companies do both, and at this Apple is a shining exemplar. Yet, as you point out, it’s an anomaly and cannot be copied.

    That’s because it takes a very unique and creative corporate nature to constantly invent devices that mother necessities. And that nature is Steve Jobs’. That dude is an Xtreme original, and you can’t copy him.

    More than ten years ago I wrote an email to Dave Winer dumping my brain on the subject. Dave published it here:


    It was something I just tossed off; but I’m surprise how well it’s held up.

  • Thanks Doc, you’re right on many accounts. I’ve updated my post to indicate the difference between members and customers.

  • Hi Jeremiah,
    I think the fact that a network host CAN ignore the community is one of the things that makes a network successful. That may sound strange but it’s true. Thank goodness, Mark Zuckerberg ignored the concerns around NewsFeed – the most succesful, viral tool that Facebook has today. A bank or media company would never have the guts to do that and consequently would’ve failed in trying to appease too many people with no clear vision of what the a Facebook network would look like. Sometimes you just have to know that people hate change, implement it, and see if it grows on ’em, once the shouting is over…

    And frankly, I didn’t see this “exodus” from Facebook. Certainly – and I run the numbers on Australian subscribers – we’ve seen no slowing up here. Who has the research that shows this ‘exodus’?

    Beacon could’ve been sold to us better – almost no one writes up the usefulness of it as a tool – but it was the Echo Chamber or Career Bloggers that didn’t like it. And influenced the ever-impressionable press About 60,000 normal members out of 45 million signed up to a handful of groups protesting Beacon; nowhere near the 750,000 out of 3.5 million that signed up in 48 hours to protest our now-much-loved Newsfeed.

    I do see a difference between bloggers and social networks hosts. Bloggers – who use blogs as a one-to-many social media distribution channel and PR mechanism have a poor grasp of many-to-many social networking tools. And hosts of social networks rarely have time to explain it to them properly. Such a shame.

  • Jeremiah, Always good stuff here. Social networking’s future will be a consolidation into mainstream bricks-n-mortar business. As integrated devices and systems come to life, a truly integrated web will form. Attention profiles, VRM, SemWeb, and Agents are the future. Companies such as Facebook, MySpace, and the other 2.0 companies will either open up or die. Users will own their data. This will happen technically and legally. The service cost will drop to zero, the value will derive via actioned attention. Businesses pay for quality attention. They will fund the network, users will get it free and only get what they want and when they want it. This is the future. Free doesn’t mean giving up “privacy” or freedom.

  • @TedC

    Excellent points. Absolutely agree!! Things will quickly grow beyond FB et al if they aren’t careful.

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  • Bill the largest growth segment is 35+ and a lot of educated office workers.

    Jimmy, agreed, we're all looking to see how social graph will open up and let us migrate freely between networks. THEN the need to build best of breed social platforms will be needed.

    Let's hope FB gets ahead of the curve, involves customers to start that process now.

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