Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Facebook Riots

It happened on a Monday morning. September 5th. Labor day.

The day the riots began.

All across the country, college students, most a day away from beginning their fall semester, were waking up and logging on to the popular social networking site, Facebook. Since it's inception in 2004, Facebook has grown to 9 millions members across 40,000 different college and regional networks. In that time, the service had remained virtually unchanged from the blue and white, simple layout it was born with. Unlike MySpace and other social networks, Facebook added new features slowly and quietly, features that mainly focused on improving search capabilities and adding photo albums.

But on September 5th, everything changed.

"You've probably noticed that Facebook looks different today," Facebook developer Ruchi Sanghvi wrote on Facebook's blog. "We've added two cool features: News Feed, which appears on your homepage, and Mini-Feed, which appears in each person's profile."

"News Feed highlights what's happening in your social circles on Facebook," Sanghvi explained. "It updates a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you'll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again. Now, whenever you log in, you'll get the latest headlines generated by the activity of your friends and social groups."

The backlash against the News Feed and Mini Feed system was swift. Half past noon on the 5th, the "Students Against Facebook News Feed" group was started on the site. By noon Thursday the group had swelled to 571,970 members, who had posted nearly 3,000 discussions about the new system and more than 35,000 "wall postings" critiquing Facebook's decision. Today more than 150 groups have popped up on the social networking site, protesting the "New Facebook." (Full Disclosure: Including mine).

Zuckerberg defended the move on the Facebook blog. "We think they are great products," he wrote. "We are listening to all your suggestions about how to improve the product; it’s brand new and still evolving."

Apparently, that doesn't placate some people. Zuckerberg's personal phone number was posted on several Facebook message boards.

Comments left by users range from "Why does Facebook insist upon FREAKIN ME OUT!" to "WTF, facebook has officially gone stalker crazy n it needs to stoppp!" Many have questioned why Facebook didn't simply ask them what they wanted.

Facebook user Matt B posted his complaints on the "Students Against Facebook News Feed." discussion board. "You feed us shit from Corporate donations, im assaulted by generated adds [sic] by allposter, and now you add this gargage [sick] without asking? how about a poll that the nonvoting demographics would actually vote in next time. WHO'S IDEA WAS THIS?"

There are people who think the changes are a good thing.

Dan G., a facebook user, commented on the blog Marc's Voice. "Personally, I like the changes. However, my friends list is small - it really is only my friends, and so to me everything in the feed is interesting. The people who have huge friend lists have suddenly realised that they’re broadcasting to the masses."

"I can’t believe none of this picked up in testing though. They did test it, didn’t they??"

That question remains to be answered. Was product testing done? Is this simply a "New Coke" style debacle that Facebook's creators will learn from and then revert back to status quo?

More to come.

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