The Facebook Facelift
When Facebook users logged into their accounts a day before the F8 Conference on 22nd September, they were surprised to see an unexpected facelift. While the users were still trying to figure out the new layout, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg formally announced the design overhaul at the company’s Annual Developers Conference. According to some industry experts, this was Facebook’s response to Google+, while the skeptics felt that the changes were uncalled for and could raise security issues. However, Zuckerberg thought otherwise. According to the CEO, the new Timeline and Open Graph features can radically change how users display their information and the way they discover new content. Nevertheless, the changes baffled the networking behemoth’s users. Some threatened to quit Facebook, while others simply ‘tweeted’ their displeasure. This is not the first time Facebook has made changes. In 2009, the network revamped its page, eliciting similar reactions from users who were not too happy with the changes. However, Zuckerberg preferred not to revert to the ‘old Facebook’ format despite the demands from fans, and stuck to his decision. Critics were sure to see a dip in the networking giant’s then 175 million user count. Considering Facebook’s dominance in the networking world and the obvious lack of competitors, the company’s user count has crossed a healthy 800 million today; that was until Google+ was launched. Let us look at the how Google’s networking new-kid-on-the-block and Facebook have played out so far:
- Late June 2011: Google announces the launch of Google+, creating a stir in the tech world.
- Early July: Google+ allows limited users to register through invites (similar to its Gmail launch).
- Almost simultaneously Facebook announces plans to introduce its video calling option, in partnership with Skype.
- Early August: After going from ‘invitation-only’ to ‘open-access’ Google’s latest attempt at going ‘social’ amasses +20 million registered users.
- September was clearly a busy month for both; A few hours after Google+ announced a host of new features, Facebook responded by unveiling their redesign.
The Facebook community does not seem too happy with these changes. Also, Facebook’s latest batch of online sharing technology has raised privacy concerns from critics and privacy groups. According to Internet security software developer Bitdefender, Facebook’s changes may expose users to targeted attacks from cybercriminals, spambot infestations like the ones that plague Twitter, interactive scams, and other unwelcome threats. While the critics and privacy groups continue to debate about the network’s advantages and restrictions, let us look at how the users reacted.
Changes Spark Online Reactions
The Brand Monitor Team at Position² analyzed the social media buzz surrounding Facebook’s design overhaul (for the time period between 11th September 2011 and 11th October 2011). Unsurprisingly, the conversation volumes for Facebook spiked significantly after 21st September (4,855), with baffled users discussing the change, exchanging opinions, and complaining about the unexpected move. With more and more people joining the conversation, the volumes peaked on 28th September 2011, at 6,942.
Overall Sentiment Analysis and Top Media Breakdown
- Although the subject of discussion was ‘New Facebook’ or ‘Facebook Changes’, it was Twitter that registered the maximum buzz at 51%.
- Facebook, interestingly, accounted for the least buzz, at just 9%.
- Blogs and discussion forums recorded 21% and 12% conversation volumes respectively.
- One of the reasons why Twitter could have registered the highest volumes could be because it is a microblogging platform, while Facebook is a networking tool. Twitter, with its retweet option, accelerates how conversations travel, thereby increasing the possibility of reaching a larger audience.
- 50% of the networking community did not welcome the change (negative sentiment). While some users felt that this was an invasion of privacy, others openly expressed their dislike and asked Zuckerberg to fix the changes.
- The conversations that were neutral in tonality, at 43%, were mostly news feeds and discussions on how to use the new Facebook features.
- A small percentage (7%) said that change was good. The conversations that were positive in tonality included posts that called the new revamp ‘cool’ and said that it only took a little ‘getting used to’.
- The changes or revamp was talked about the most in the USA, at 52%.
- This was followed by Australia and the UK at 16% and 14% respectively.
- Countries like India (2%), Singapore (2%) and New Zealand (1%), which incidentally account for the a large percentage of Facebook users, recorded negligible buzz.
- The gender breakdown shows that the male population was more concerned about the changes (at 57%), when compared to women (43%).
- As expected, the 20-35 age bracket was most active (40%) in discussions pertaining to ‘New Facebook.
- The +65 age group was relatively unconcerned about the revamp and decided to remain silent (0%).
- The <22 age bracket accounted for 22% of the buzz.
Contrary to what the skeptics and critics expected, the recent revamp has hardly seen a drop in Facebook’s user count. Although the announcement was not well received, with unhappy fans threatening to quit Facebook, few have actually gone ahead with it. With over +800 million users worldwide, the networking giant is showing no signs of slowing down. After all, if Facebook was a country, it would be the third largest in the world. If these figures are anything to go by, it appears that the 2011 overhaul will be a repeat of the 2009 episode, when Facebook did something similar.
According to social media gurus, Facebook’s decision to get itself a facelift, almost at the same time as Google made changes to its newbie, Google+, is no coincidence. With both Facebook and Google+ looking to oust each other, it will be interesting to watch what happens next. Moreover, the recent drop in Google+s active user base by a massive 60% is all the more reason for Google to rethink their social media strategy.
With people accustomed to doing things in a certain way, it comes as no surprise to see a spike in negative conversations. What did surprise us was when people took to Twitter to vent their displeasure about the new Facebook layout. As discussed earlier, some of countries that are highly active on Facebook, either accepted the change without resistance or were not as vocal about what they felt, unlike those in the US and Australia. Nevertheless, we are eager to see if this is simply the case of people being slow to adapt to change or if Facebook will actually lose loyal users. As the poster boy of the social media world sticks to its ‘change is good’ formula, those in the networking world wonder if this could be the a turning point in the race for supremacy between Facebook and Google?