Are Facebook’s Timeline and Other New Changes Adding Value?

A lot has been written and said in the past 2 weeks about Facebook.

First, it was a lot of bad stuff as people were getting grumpy about the Ticker functionality and the new status update field. Then, the sentiment turned all wishy-washy positive when internet gurus and other journalists started praising Facebook’s forward-thinking changes as announced at the f8 conference. All the techie writers and bloggers seemed to be in awe with the prospect of “seamlessly sharing” everything they do and presenting their lives in a cool-looking timeline (click here and here for a few examples). Then, suddenly, real people started complaining. And, yet, other real people started dismissing those complaints saying the new changes heralded relentless innovation and that Facebook was not a paid platform – therefore, people had to suck it up and just use the new changes.

Take a look at the Positive/Negative Sentiment graph that returns for my query on “Facebook or Google+” in the past 14 days. (Green is positive; Red is negative). You can clearly see there is a lot more momentum for Facebook than Google+, but there are almost no negative comments about Google+, unlike in the case of Facebook. As the old saying goes, sometimes no news is the best news. For those who were lazy to follow the link above, I’ve pasted a snapshot of the graph here – it is worth seeing.

FB vs Google+

To everyone who keeps repeating the party line about the necessity to innovate, and how this has led us humans out of the Stone Age – here is a reminder: innovation is meaningless unless it resolves a real problem. In other words, a valuable innovation does one or more of the following prerequisites: 1) Creates a new benefit; 2) Increases an existing benefit; 3) Reduces an existing pain point; or 4) Eliminates an existing pain point. So what I am trying to figure out is which of these four prerequisites have Facebook’s new changes really addressed? Has it created/increased any benefit? (I don’t think so!) Has it reduced/eliminated a pain point? (I actually think it has increased the privacy pain point!)

The only tangible benefits that the new changes have created are targeting online marketers and social media advertisers. People’s activities and previous experiences have been turned into a product, which is packaged and sold to marketers who then use that product to sell their own products to the same people. Now that is a benefit, but ironically not to us – the users.

Now, to those who say people should not complain about a service that is free. Yes, in theory, I agree with the argument. However, a service does not look so “free” anymore when there are high costs of defection – such as all the content one has already posted on Facebook, and all the friends one has there.

I believe many people will eventually defect to other networks. The argument that Facebook had introduced unpopular changes in the past and everyone had learned how to live with those changes does not really hold any more. There was no serious alternative to Facebook in previous iterations (sorry but I don’t think Twitter covers the full gamut of a Facebook-like social network). Nowadays, there is Google+.

It may take time for people to get out of the habit of logging into Facebook and instead going to Google+, but this will eventually happen. Especially, once the media picks up on a case of something bad happening to a Facebook user due to the diminished privacy of the new sharing and Timeline features. Such a case will take place some day – it is only a matter of time. And Google will use all its internet might to publicize when such a case happens. And the internet search giant will make the learnings of such a case ingrained in every single user’s mind. Then, sit back and watch the Big Exodus from Facebook.

Of course, that may not happen at all. Perhaps Facebook will listen to people and actually revise some of its more obtrusive new changes. I surely hope so – because I still like to use Facebook (and hope not to be “encouraged” to stop using it in the near future).

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