The "new" Facebook and Product Management

August 20, 2008

As a part-time product manager (and a true fan of products, marketing and advertising in general) – I have to mention the phenomenon that is the “New” Facebook.  Quite frankly, I could give a crap.  Like almost any UI or system – we will adapt and the new users that come after us will not know the difference.  I have gone from Mosaic to Netscape to IE to Firefox – it’s all about change.  So who cares.  facebook_vs_comm

If you are product manager – you should.

There are two main factors which make this switch for Facebook so interesting:

1.) Facebook’s delivery model is similar to that of a SaaS

2.) Facebook presents an interesting collaboration model which allows customer’s voices to be heard (sort of)

Product Management in a SaaS model

Lets take the fist portion of this – SaaS (or Software as a Service).  The “Service” that Facebook provides here is simple – communication.  We can use this platform to communicate easily with people we know and to a certain extent – don’t know.  Applications are making it easy and fun to do things like track our movie and music tastes to posting photos and videos of our latest adventures – all on the same server. 

Which means that when Facebook wants to make a change it is instantaneous – they just post the change.  In traditional software – or non SaaS models (like ours) the change is more gradual and does not effect the entire customer base.  You post a patch or a hot fix – those people affected (or brave enough to try it) download it and the change is made.  Rarely, do you hit more than 20% of your users at a time.

The “New” Facebook was available to anyone by simply adding “new” into their URL like: http://www.NEW.facebook.com.  Although, most people didn’t know this – the changes were visible immediately.  All your friends, their updates, your updates, your applications – instantaneous.  Sweet.

As a product manager of a more traditional software environment I envy the SaaS model.  Deployment on a single platform has these added benefits:

  • Simple delivery model with a known platform
  • Coordinated testing with pre-defined groups (e.g. these users get the new Facebook while these other users get the old)
  • Instant feedback
  • Soft launch
  • Controlled roll-out

There are some other advantages to this type of model but I want to focus on a more important benefit that Facebook has when it comes to Product Management.  User feedback.

Like or not – you CAN NOT please everyone.  I can not repeat that enough.  However, without upgrades designed specifically to address user feedback your product can and will alienate your customer base.

If you search for the term “New Facebook” using the Facebook Search and you click on Groups you will find over 500 groups with that term in its name or description.  Dig through those results and you will find groups like these:

  • People against the New Facebook System (47,294 members)
  • The New Facebook Layout SUCKS! (9,188 members)
  • I HATE the New Facebook (3,683 members)
  • The New Facebook Sucks (2,113 members)
  • I hate the new facebook – change it back! (2,588 members)
  • i HATE THE NEW FACEBOOK (obviously group names are case sensitive) – (2,320 members)
  • The NEW Facebook SUCKKKKSS – Change it BACKKKK (2,233 members)

Managing Customer Feedback

When your customer base becomes contributors – the results are amazing.  These groups don’t mean that new Facebook sucks especially if you compare the size of these groups against the number of facebook users as a whole – more than 60 million active users as of the beginning of 2008 (source).

[As I write this – Facebook is down – hee hee]

However, what you do have is the best collection of user feedback that a Product Manager could ever ask for – without having to lift a finger.  They didn’t have to do anything. Nothing. Nada.

Just build the new software – put it out there so people could see/use it and wait.  Surely digging through the feedback is tough.  The “People against the New Facebook System” has over 1,700 wall posts and 55 Threaded discussions.  Mixed in this garbage of useless responses and posts like “Facebook sucks” and “Bring back the old Facebook” are some truly genuine criticisms like:

Jonathan M. Cajigas wroteon Aug 12, 2008 at 10:57 PM

Since I have no idea how to program anything but an alarm clock, I’m curious if anyone in this group with programming knowledge could comment on the feasibility of writing a Gresemonkey script or Firefox Add-On that would let Firefox users keep using the old Facebook, even after the eventual switch.

Robert Heller (Springfield, MA) replied to Jo’s post on Aug 6, 2008 at 11:16 AM

9) It seems to want a wider browser window. The old facebook fit on my 800 pixel wide browser window (yes, I have a 1024×768 pixel screen and no, I *DON’T* (and won’t) maximize my windows).
10) Seems to want flash player. I don’t have flash player installed and no I *DON’T* want to install flash player — I avoid sites that depend on flash player for navigation. Flash is seriously bad news as fas as I am concerned. If flash player becomes *required* for facebook, I am likely to quit facebook.

Jennifer Hale (Uni. Southampton) wrote on Aug 11, 2008 at 12:43 AM

Since the left hand navigation bar has gone, to get anywhere you have to go back to the home page and start again. I liked the fact that I could just jump from one page to another.
I will have to go back into the new Facebook (sighs and pulls face) just to find and list all the things that are now more awkward to use.
I liked the fact that the page was narrower before. It means you never had a problem viewing the page whatever resolution screen you had. The old Facebook just seemed cleaner and tidier to use. Yes some people’s profiles were so application filled that you couldn’t find the wall to send them a message, but that is their choice. I do have a few applications, but I always ensured that most of them were closed (minimised) or below my wall so people could access it easily.

My only criticism that I can see is that Facebook hasn’t made it public that it is listening to its customers.  I am sure that they have reasons but with all of this feedback (and some of it good) it would be interesting to see some interaction with Facebook Product Managers and/or developers.

Conclusion

The new application framework models (like SaaS) present some interesting benefits for Product Management and customer relations.  Additionally, the social media aspect of Product Management today is an improvement on old style customer relations.

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3 Responses to “The "new" Facebook and Product Management”

  1. ichalif Says:

    This issue is a good example for any product change, but specifically for those changes that affect the user experience. No matter what you do from release to release, there will always be users in the “Love It” camp and the “Hate It” camp. Some of it has to do with individual user preferences. But through that noise, the PM has to find the nuggets; the pieces of gold that their users are handing to them.

    This is the kind of feedback that Product Managers dream about (at least, I do). Real users (not CEOs, executive sponsors, engineers, etc) are saying what they like and don’t like and why. In some cases, they are even providing new ideas on how to make the service more valuable to them. Those are the nuggets.

    One thing to note about the Facebook change is that they give users the option to go back to the old Facebook UI, if they want (at least for a short period of time), but unfortunately, they are not inter-operable. If you use the new UI for a while and decide to go back to the old one, you will lose all of the changes that you made in the new UI. That’s not really ideal, especially since as a Service, Facebook doesn’t let users decide when to make the UI change in the first place. A better option would be to have some option at login to use the old or new UI and to make them co-exist. Obviously, new features wouldn’t be available in the old version, but why do you have to lose everything if you like the old way better?

    Ivan Chalif
    http://theproductologist.com


  2. […] The “new” Facebook and Product Management [NotronWest] […]


  3. […] that you want to reach into.   Facebook has groups that you can join and access members, a great feature for Product Mangers.  Take my Prospect example above – I searched Facebook for “Information Security” and […]


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