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What the New Facebook Says about Web 2.0

Old Facebook was charming. It was simple. It did a job nothing else had done. I liked the odd tidbit updates from friends and colleagues, the new form of autobiography, the passionate grouping of wing nuts and dilettantes alike. Mostly, I liked that it was, in its own words, “a social utility.” It was helpful, and it performed.

It also didn’t make money, and efforts to do so (like the much ballyhooed and booed Beacon bombshell ) fell short. Along came Microsoft with a huge infusion of cash and, it seems, clunky PC-world inefficiency and “more is better” ideology. Who has better models of things we don’t need than the goons in Redmond? (See all editions of Word post 1995; see Vista; see increasing conversions to Apple).
So now we have the “ New Facebook.” A fix without a problem. A mousetrap with no rodent. And, I would suggest, a business model without a business.
Why do we have it? Because the new (dys)functionality creates new real estate to sell. The New Facebook takes and breaks what was simple, elegant and useful and replaces it with a variety of tabs that hide, disassemble and confuse the carefully crafted narratives and preferences that millions and millions of users chose with purpose. There is about 400 percent more advertising space on the New Facebook. Um, yay? Did we want that?
Can Facebook track user experience in a more precise way now? Yes. Can they gather more precise data? Yes. Can they target more precise ads? Yes. That would be awesome, if they wanted to become the next AOL , stellar example of Web savvy it is.
Can they keep a user base now that they have erased the utilitarian efficiency and quaintness of Facebook? I doubt it. This suggests very bad things for other “Web 2.0” efforts. The key to success will not be changing the product to get the sale, but to get the sale with the product people want. Facebook has just forced a massive bait and switch on its user base. We signed up for one thing; now we get another. It is a very good thing Facebook doesn’t charge for its “utility.”

If you think that these types of design changes don’t have a big impact on businesses, growth or valuation, please go take a peek at Google’s unadulterated, unchanged, utilitarian interface. Then click on over to the mess that is now Yahoo — in terms of design, business and board in-fighting. Or, see the fairly high and stable prices on Macs, compared to the falling prices at Dell . Simplicity matters. The marketplace despises confusion, and Facebook has dealt up a big plate of it.

Good luck, Facebook. I’d post a message there if it were still easy to do so.



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