Friday, September 08, 2006

Life Maps and Unraveled Launches

He comes undone.
Says he's lost the map his life was on,
Says everything is unraveling.
"Had a Dream" - Bird York [Web site ; myspace ; Wikipedia entry]

Bird York’s album, Wicked Little High, I discovered and purchased at Portland’s impressive Music Millennium store (home of great music and interesting t-shirts) during a trip to the Pacific Northwest some months ago (see IAG entry). The experience of being in the store and walking around Portland’s delightfully eclectic Nob Hill area pleasantly reminded me of my college days long past, a time when – as my teenage nieces believe – dinosaurs really ruled the Earth (well, I remember them mostly ruling the roads...).

Back in such primitive days, social networking was face-to-face at the record store, cafeteria, keg party, or, even, shudder, the library. The telephone was our electronic network. Ah, those vinyl disc, hardwired everything, halcyon 20th century days of low tech, high touch. I miss the parties, but I’m happy to have traded up from typewriters.

Today, it’s a portable device-enabled, networked, instantly, virtually social world where few college students are not on myspace or facebook or some other also-ran electronic social spot. Student’s lives and experiences meander seamlessly between the Net and the physical world, and their social networks ebb and flow at light speed. High tech, low touch, medium caffeine. And the world sees your party pictures.

So it comes as no surprise that when some critical platform in this en masse virtual life takes a wrong turn, angry voices rise swiftly...and virtually. Case in point: with little warning facebook (Wikipedia article) rolled out new show-my-activities-to-my-social-network features to all of their user’s accounts this week. The good folks at facebook stood back, waiting for the adulation of the masses for this upgrade (after all, every previous rollout got kudos), and instead, staggered in suprize from a great back blast as the roar of user discontent rolled over facebook and the Net. Users nicknamed facebook, “stalkerbook.” Protest groups were formed. Petitions were circulated. The blogs buzzed.

Facebook management initially was a bit defensive and tried to convince users they would really like the features with time. Wrong. Don’t trifle with digital natives on their home turf. Social space is sacred – spoil it and the natives will grow restless, and loud.

So it was not entirely surprising when I logged into facebook today to find an open letter from Mark Zuckerberg fessing up to a major mea culpa:

We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I'd like to try to correct those errors now.

The open letter along with the rapid development and release of privacy options today – options which allow users to defang the new privacy-hostile features – makes facebook’s one of the faster recoveries I’ve seen. Fault them for the initial rollout, maybe, but not the ultimate response.

I have mixed reactions about the new features (I’ve turned most of them off), but I appreciate: 1. that facebook is philosophically disposed to social disclosure, and the new features were a logical progression for advancing disclosure, 2. they listened to their users, and 3. facebook did their best to respond to their users’ concerns smartly and swiftly. Still, one is left to wonder if this major disconnect with user preferences was readily avoidable – even minimal usability testing or focus group work previews surely would have surfaced harbingers of discontent to come.

So, gentle readers, unravel this: Is it better to release fast and recover swiftly, or do your homework and be a bit later out of the gate?

1 comment:

K.G. Schneider said...

"Is it better to release fast and recover swiftly, or do your homework and be a bit later out of the gate?" Isn't this a bit too dichotomous? Other options include soft launches, launches to specific communities, etc.

Facebook surprised people in a bad way. Movable Type made that error a couple of years ago. That to me is the real question--not the speed of your launch but how to build buy-in.

Not that I have that down pat... just that when we've done it right, it is a big help.