Edo the Reliable

Could UI Add-Ons Save Facebook From Its “Redesign Revolt”?

In $1M ideas, CMS-Blogs-Wikis, Social Networks on March 26, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Facebook Rebellion

Could Facebook applications be extended to deliver a selection of UIs, like some media players?

The recent furor and mass protests over Facebook’s new layout is the second major user revolt in the past 6 months – Microsoft backed off from a Hotmail redesign in December 2008, an indication that consumers have become interface-savvy in this Age of Interaction. EBay was luckier with its own Web 2.0 redesign (completed 1/09 after a 10/09 launch and a 5/08 “preview”). But Facebook was less fortunate – months after the Facebook “beta”  launch (10/08) users scream and shout and threaten to read their EULAs. What a nightmare it must be for Christopher Cox, Facebook’s Director of Product, whose current task is to roll out an upgrade to a platform serving 150 million users – 1.7 million of which, counted PC World on March 23, are staging a “redesign revolt“. Three days later, I find about 2.5 million. Could they be stopped? While a small percentage (~1.5%) of Facebook users, marketing professionals enter damage control mode when 2% of the customer base is screaming murder. Imagine that 2% of 2009 Ford car owners would publicly demand a recall of their cars and a 2008 downgrade.

It took less than two percent of Facebook’s customers to force some revisions to Facebook’s roadmap, but look at the half-full glass: 2 million customers are also a valid market for a competitor, or in Facebook’s “application platform” model, a developer. Facebook is abundant with applications that only excel in being casual, but what if a Facebook application would aim to deliver the old UI (or  better)? What if we had several UIs to choose from? Such mix-and-match, or mash-up UI is commonly found in current media player software (I believe Foobar2000 even has a drag-and-drop UI mash-up component). How about Facebook UI skin, or add-on?

Now, a start-up going in this direction will probably face some political difficulties in promoting such ideas, and will need to face some technical difficulties guarding said political interests. But consider the incentive: 2.5 million potential customers practically begging and signing petitions for the product; viral marketing knocking on your door with a sledgehammer; the product is completely specified; in fact, the entrepreneur in me itches to spec and order the whole thing from Chennai. Monetizing 2.5 million customers on week one!

(Update: mainstream embraces concept!)

Follow me for one more step down this road. Consider Artistshare.com, where fans of musicians sign up to pre-order CDs before they are recorded – and so to finance the very recording of said CDs. We had group purchase in the old world, right, but freeing it from geographic constraints by online connectivity and Web 2.0 community trends could help build a purchase-driven-production model.

Wait, was that the sound of a paradigm change? Market-research is so 1995! Turn the production-and-marketing paradigm on its head. Sufficiently advanced surveys should be indistinguishable fro pre-orders for products that don’t yet exist. We need one of those paradigm-changing deep thought books with short, catchy titles – how about  BACK ORDER, or FRONT ORDER, or PREORDER MOB? Draft for appropriately overinflated jacket notes:

PREDORDER MOB is the web 3.o’s way to leverage the future without risk. PREORDER MOB is what lies on the other end of the bell curve from “long tail”, and perhaps should be called “long nose”. PREORDER MOB is a way to create fresh, healthy credit in an economy suffocated by credit crunch.

But I digress.

Your protest is on back-order

Now, what if we extend this PREORDER MOB concept into another field obsessed with surveying customers – the social/political field. For example, instead of boycotting a product, why not collect signatures of people who merely commit to boycott the product at a later (socially optimized) date? Instead of organizing a demonstration (using propaganda, radio interviews, posters, flyers, YouTube films and one-way whatnot), why not patiently collect commitments (as a side benefit, it defuses a lot of anger). You can collect commitments not just to stop buying toxic foods, but also to simple actions such as buying less pizza, with intersting results once you reach a certain degree of aggregation.

Obviously I’m inspired by “flash mobbing” here, but I’m suggesting a practical application with benefits that extend beyond causing social disruption or surrealistic fun,important as these may be. Instead of, say, organizing a million people to march on Washington, wouldn’t it be easier to have a million people merely commit to march? You could optimize the exact date of the march by using sophisticated social tools, but perhaps, once you have recruited your army of committed individuals, you don’t actually need to make the march happen – you already have manifested your power and are in a negotiating position. You are, right then and there, in a position to sell franchises to TV stations, or negotiate the cancellation of the march in return to some political concessions to your organization.

More later.

  1. […] a previous March 26 post, I suggested that the millions of Facebook users who are angry about the new Facebook UI are an […]

  2. […] Facebook lines up its millions of users on the start line of a race instead of […]

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