Facebook Plays Hardball, and The First Victim Will Be Twitter
I used to manage a - at the time - pretty big social network around the year 2000 (we called it online community, these days). Our users were online 35 minutes per log-in in average, so their experience was pretty intense, and we found out that with every pixel you would change, users would start to complain. Their habits would be stronger than any excitement for a new feature or better design. But a few weeks later, just because they used the site so frequently, they wouldn't be able to remember what the site looked like before. I am often reminded of this when I use Facebook these days. Ever since the launch of Google+, Facebook keeps rolling out new features and product developments, and obviously there is even more to come. My initial, emotional reaction always is: "God no, how am i supposed to manage all this?". Facebook goes through that risk to annoy users for good reasons.
During the last few days, Facebook introduced a better list feature and a usage of them as noise control in my stream (left), and today I found an "activity feed" to the right, where not only news, but also likes, comments and other things that friends do are listed.
It seems as if the aim is to display the most relevant messages in what used to be the news stream, formely managable through "top news" and "recent news", and all the other stuff that happens in this activity stream to the right. All this is introduced to better control the "signal to noise" ratio in your stream, and this was absolutely necessary, because with subscriptions, the other new feature from a few days back, your news stream will very likely get a lot busier than it used to be (and to be honest, my news stream was busy enough before). Therefore, you can additionally mark a friends' activity as a "top story".
Facebook is going through all these changes because it believes this will improve the product, obviously. But in my eyes this is clearly also a reaction to the G+ launch and the inevitable realization that their growth and extraordinary position is not god-given. That even with 800 million users, you might become the Myspace of the future (they also had a head start, 150 million+ users). It seems to me that Facebook is playing hardball now. I wrote before that Facebook should go into a "modify-copy" mode, and this is what they did. "Subscriptions" are a following feature, something that G+ introduced to complex social networks - but that is the core mechanism of Twitter. What Twitter lacks is noise control: my Twitter feed is sorted by just one thing: Time. Therefore, I am a lot more likely to miss something relevant to me on Twitter than on Facebook.