There’s been quite a reaction in the blogosphere to the recent changes in Facebook’s user interface. Some articles like the one BBC recently published report that while many users don’t like the new interface, Facebook is listening to customers in an effort to improve things. Still, others like the folks at Valleywag are making the case that Facebook has no intention of listening to customer feedback about the redesign. Robert Scoble weighed in recently with a post that argues Facebook should not listen to users who are complaining about the redesign.
Part of his argument is that Facebook’s long-term strategy is to create a place where businesses mix with individuals. And Justin Smith was the first blogger who argued that the new Facebook changes would be good for brands and businesses. To me, that's what these changes are about… making Facebook a place for both.
In the past, I personally was skeptical that businesses had a place within Facebook. But some of our experiences with our Social Media for Small Business page and more recently our main Dell Facebook page (that was recently called out in a post from KD Paine based on research from Tina McCorkindale who analyzed Facebook pages of Fortune 50 companies) are a step in the right direction. Both pages have attracted around 30,000 fans. Beyond that, our Consumer team supports our Dell Deals page to give fans a heads-up to upcoming Dell offers and most recently launched a Dell Lounge page on Facebook. While it's still early, those seem like steps in the right direction.
Change within Facebook almost always causes churn among its users, so I'm not surprised here. My initial reaction (and some others here at Dell) was not a positive one. But even if you don't like the redesign, if you look at it from a long-term perspective, I tend to agree with Scoble… these changes are just an intermediate step to something bigger. It's hard to argue with Facebook's growth, which has resulted in about 175 million users.
Continuing to grow its user base is obviously important. So is continuing innovation. Facebook Connect is one example of innovation that Facebook is bringing to the web. It does two things: makes it much easier to comment on blogs and websites by authenticating your user details through Facebook, and it makes it easy to share that information back into Facebook. Since it's been introduced, it has been implemented on several thousand websites so far. Dave Morin recently discussed Facebook Connect and more at his panel at SXSW. Netflix is a good recent example of Facebook Connect integration—it allows Netflix subscribers to share movie reviews within Facebook.
And other companies are doing some pretty cool stuff in Facebook as well. Palm’s Matt Crowley is a great example on that front. He blogged that he would be in a Facebook discussion thread for a week to answer user questions about the Palm Pre after it took CES 2009 by storm. If you’re a Palm Pre fan, there’s lots of good details from many of Matt’s posts and good questions from readers who took part. Kudos to Palm for bringing the conversation to Facebook. I hope those kinds of discussions will be more common in the future.
So what I’m saying is this… I think we’re all just beginning to understand where brands fit within Facebook. Creating an environment where brands and individuals can coexist does seem to make sense as a long-term strategy for Facebook. Doubtless there will continue to be bumps in the road, but time will tell.