In middle March 09 Facebook underwent major changes in its layout. While they make changes on a regular basis, the recent change is currently under sharp criticism. Instead of running on tabs like the previous version, the newsfeed is now divided into your contacts list groups – for example work, friends etc. While the "organizational" fundamental idea is fine, users are having major problems navigating the new design. It is fundamentally a twitter clone in that the newsfeed is a basically made up of status messages.

There is currently a app on facebook that enables users to vote whether they like the new design, and so far more than 624,000 comments have been made against the site. The first challenge is that the status message bar does not quite make sense – they changed the name “whats on your mind”, which is again very similiar twitter’s “what are you doing?”

The sad fact of the matter is that twitter is successful, but not making money. It is currently running on venture capital, and is it is one giant sink hole for funds. Facebook is taking the best elements of twitter while still trying to make it a sustainable network.

In a recent policy change (in which Facebook basically insinuated that whatever data you enter into facebook will belong to them, and not be deleted if you delete your account), the public were outraged (many users closed their account). This prompted Facebook to quickly change back their policies, with Facebook proclaiming “the customer is king”. So if users are king, and facebook respects their opinion, why keep the “stupid” new design?

There is the opinion that once a site becomes part of many people’s lives, they should perhaps listen to its users. After all, they will know best right?

Wrong. Facebook has gone out of its way to keep up to new trends in social networks. What is it that makes twitter so successful is its news feed that is constantly updating, which prompts users to retweet or reply, which keeps a conversation busy. Facebook is typically not a very "conversation" friendly platform - true, it supports chat, but chats do not make money. It is for this very reason that facebook is suddenly giving you choices like “I like this” or “comment on this” much more prominently than before on the news feed. After all, the more opinions there are on a post, the more interaction it promotes which – wait for it – has the potential to make more money out of you. So actually, the average Facebook user’s opinion is not listened to at all when it comes to user interface. Harsh, but (rightly so) fair.

Twitter really needs to address its money issues, and they need to be creative in the way they do it. While it is currently not ad-supported or asking subscription fees, the sad truth is that is eventually it has to something. A well placed, context sensitive ad that pops in every few minutes might actually not harm the user experience at all. Google can of course buy Twitter (they already bought it's main rival, Jaiku) and it can be one very beneficial tool for both parties with Google gaining massive ad revenue from a very popular social network.

Because after all, which business is going to succeed? The money-slurping media darling or the one that actually keeps making money (which in turn keeps on improving the product hopefully?)

Update: Seems that Defamer, of all sites, has a pretty good read on this issue. They also mention the following:

A tipster tells us that Zuckerberg sent an email to Facebook staff reacting to criticism of the changes: "He said something like 'the most disruptive companies don't listen to their customers.'" Another tipster who has seen the email says Zuckerberg implied that companies were "stupid" for "listening to their customers." The anti-customer diktat has many Facebook employees up in arms, we hear.

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I am a R&D Analyst in Stellenbosch South Africa who has a immense passion for all things tech related. I embrace technology, open source and web standards, and I participate and contribute to the social web.