Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Learning from the Facebook Mini-Feed Disaster

Don't let UI failure sneak-up on you ...

"Imagine this scenario: Your team works hard on a new feature - something that you think will bring your design to a completely new level. Launch day arrives and you wait with anticipation to hear the rave reviews of the millions of existing users.

However, instead of kudos, you immediately hear complaints. The users are upset. They are so upset that they band together and start a petition to have you remove the new feature. The petition itself gains attention as the list of names grows and, suddenly, major newspapers are reporting how users are complaining about this feature you thought was so great. All of this happens in just a few days.

This is exactly the scenario that Facebook, the social networking site, found itself in a few months ago. They created a grand feature: the mini feed. The feature is neat: instead of requiring users to visit the pages of all their friends, the feed reports on changes immediately. It's an immediate way to keep track of what's up with your friends.

Unfortunately, this cool feature wasn't well received at all. Upon its initial rollout, users suddenly found their familiar home page replaced with a listing of random people doing random things. Many people initially assumed their own actions were now transmitted to people they didn't know.

As is common on Facebook, several users started groups to protest the new feature. Ironically, it was the mini feed itself that announced that friends were signing up for the protest groups. As more people joined the groups, an increasing number of users became aware of the protests. Within 24 hours, one protest group had grown to 750,000 members.

The Facebook team was caught by surprise by the sudden, massive backlash to their design. They posted a blog entry that said, "Calm down, breathe. We hear you." Unfortunately, their reaction added flames to the fire, making the protesters only angrier about the sudden changes to the site.

Bloggers picked up the story, and then the mainstream media started reporting it. Within days, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both had prominently placed stories talking about how hundreds of thousands of Facebook users were revolting against the new features."    (Continued via UIE)    [Usability Resources]

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