Facebook’s “Year in review” and how the business failed to understand the way its users interact with it

So, as we approached the charitable, loving, family oriented season of goodwill that is know as Christmas this year (2014), those clever bods at Facebook (‘Move fast, break things’) decided to treat us all to a flashback of some of the highlights of our year just passed.

As it turns out this wasn’t such a good idea and, in moving fast, they did break a few things – Users were complaining that some of their most personally tragic events from the previous year were being displayed in a fairly flippant and uncaring way surrounded by gaudy half-baked graphical nonsense (http://gu.com/p/44fgx/fb).

How did Facebook get this so wrong? They simply assumed that users view their application in the way it was designed. There’s not much wrong with that if your application is small and quite limited but Facebook is a huge vastly ranged …thing. There are so many users and the application has become so ubiquitous that for anyone to assume anything about the way it is used is dangerous.

Surely there’s a way we could check how people are using an application? Well, yes, but that comes with it’s own set of problems – You need to start by telling the system what you want it to look for and how to look for it, then you need to find the right way to interpret the results – with something as big as Facebook, that’s going to prove extremely difficult without automation… and automation doesn’t understand human behaviour.

These wonderful creative bods at Facebook think of their application as an entertaining diversion that gets lots of hits and generates lots of business (both for them and quite a few of their users). But it’s been running for so long now that there are users who don’t remember the internet before Facebook. There are users who don’t understand the entertaining diversion model – These are the users who maintain familial connections and carry out long distance relationships using Facebook as their medium of choice. These are the people who diarize their entire lives for only themselves to see – the Facebook comes along and blindly rumbles through their sensitive memories as though they were simple social interactions and jumbles them together in a cheaply gift-wrapped box.

The moral of the story here is that you should ALWAYS take the time to find out more about how your users interpret your application before you make assumptions about them based on your own interpretation.

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