Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Twitter, Facebook, Google+: What's With All the Change?

I'm not going to be the hater who hates on Twitter's new redesign; just like I didn't have negative things to say about the Facebook ticker that lets you "Facebook while you Facebook," or any other bizarre and new features added to social networks this year. I will continue to use the big three—Twitter, Google+, and Facebook—regardless of the constant tinkering that causes those service to get a new look or otherwise change drastically every few weeks.

Recently facebook made another updation with facebook timeline.

But I will say I am getting tired of it.

2011 has been a year of constant costume changes for social networks. Redesigns, feature adds, feature deletions, privacy changes, opt-ins, opt-outs, new tools for businesses, new apps, changes to apps, and on and on. I can literally name at least one noticeable change to Twitter and Facebook for every month of the year, and in the case of Google+, for every month since it launched in June. I made a list. It's legit. Well, to be fair, Twitter in November was a struggle, but plenty occurred in October and December to make up for it.

(For a broader look at social networks have changed, see the slideshow, which has some selected images from 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.)

Change in the social-networking sphere is happening at an unsustainable pace, for the companies and users. Facebook fatigue is real. Altering a brand's look and feel or functionality too often is a disruption, and not the good kind. Facebook long ago proved the point that too much change is more than simply annoying. It frustrates people to be introduced to a whole new arena without much warning (made worse when privacy policies are changed without warning, as well). And when people are frustrated, they are not happily losing themselves in the experience.

When I get social-networking fatigue, I frankly let things slip. I spend less time on the sites and pay less attention to the new features because I'm caught up trying to do the things I had planned to do when I logged in. And now, I might have to re-learn how to do even simple tasks. In small doses, I can handle it. Give me one new thing to absorb over several weeks or months, and we have no problem at all. Or roll out a huge change once every two years—fine. But for me, and probably many others, spicing things up too frequently without any sort of grand plan has the reverse effect of what was intended. I'm not interested in what's new because I'm frustrated that I can't do (or am slowed down or distracted from doing) what I wanted to do in the first place.

Some people, out of curiosity or fear of being left behind socially, will explore the new features and will actually spend more, not less, time on the sites when a new bell, whistle, or bright shiny object jangles in front them. If these technophiles (or networkphiles?) don't see a new toy every two weeks, however, they won't go stir crazy. They might actually spend more time generating content, like links to sites they've found elsewhere or great videos and images from around the Web, to post to their profiles and keep their friends and followers entertained. It always circles back to the social network anyway.

Or better, let's see some real beta tester groups of the most active users, trying out new features, designs, and ideas in a way that doesn't affect the rest of us (which can be tough in a social "network" because people are inherently connected).

Competition drives innovation—yes. Unquestionably. And for the most part, it's to the benefit of the users. But when pushed to innovate and create new features or ways of interacting with content, social-networking companies don't have to shovel the new features as soon as they're ready. My suggestion is that it's better to have a plan for releasing these changes that also takes into consideration how much change users are being asked to swallow in any given time period.

In 2011, too much changed. Next year, oh beloved keepers of the big three social networks, please find a more manageable pace and strategy for releasing updates. The way it's happening now can't last.


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