The Pitfalls of a Facebook Monopoly

posted by: Felix Desroches

In case you didn’t know, Facebook launched another redesign of its service a few days ago. Typical of The Book, it did it without warning, and shuffled things around just enough that everyone I know has something to say about it. If Zuck is looking for a galvanized public response, he definitely got it.

It’s interesting to see how Facebook being a monopoly is affecting how it approaches design. By all accounts, the good people on the design team are doing their best to be collaborative, with the implied hope that this will lead to collaborative — and, more importantly, effective — design. This hope is a false one, I’d wager, because collaborative design in a vacuum is still design within a vacuum. It might be fun for people on the inside, but it sure feels authoritarian for everyone else.

So anyway. I decided I’d put Facebook’s redesign approach in perspective with a very loose analogy:

Let’s take this scenario: You ride the same bus to work every day. When the bus service first came to your neighborhood, you were really excited to ride it every day, but now you appreciate it for being mostly on time and getting you where you need to go without any fuss. It also has what every bus should: functional aisle seating, windows that open, buttons to request a stop, and some nice features like ads on flatscreens to keep you entertained. Add to that the regulars with whom you like to chat every once in a while, and you’d say the overall bus experience is pretty good.

Then picture this: One day, as you’re stepping onto your usual bus, you have a strange feeling that something’s…different. For one, the seats are all shoved toward the back, making it really hard to sit down as you have to push past the throngs in the way. Second, you notice that while some windows still open, others don’t any more (and some are even missing). The bus request button has been replaced with a pull-down cable thingy, and you see that somebody decided to leave a pamphlet explaining the change. This wouldn’t ordinarily bother you, except that the pamphlet doesn’t say much, and it’s plastered every few inches along the cable (which makes it tough to actually call a stop).

Now you’re trapped. Trapped on a bus that was once familiar to you but is now different — and you’re feeling frustrated because there isn’t another bus service available that is as reliable or has as many friendly faces in it on a regular basis. You consider writing a note to the head of the bus company, but since you know he has a bad reputation when it comes to actually listening to his customers, you decide instead to resign yourself to your fate and find ways of tolerating this semi-new bus lest you go insane.

Trapping consumers is never acceptable. Facebook, are you listening?

One Response to “The Pitfalls of a Facebook Monopoly”

September 30th, 2011 at 6:07 pm

what’s interesting is the whole “users being trapped” by a monopoly blended with the “silicon valley innovative, throw-things-out-there” culture. Companies like Google & Facebook are so used to running their businesses in a way where they just throw a bunch of ideas out there and see what sticks. Historically this has worked really well for them. But when they start doing this to a user base who feels like they can’t leave the service, it turns into big problems a la Google Buzz.

Shawna Hein

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