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Is new better?
Change confuses and frightens me

09/29/11
By John Andrews jandrews@hippopress.com



Once users get used to a service, it’s dangerous to futz around with how it works. Change too much too quickly and they’ll bolt. Being overwhelmingly dominant in your specific space can stem your losses, since there’s nowhere for people to go, but both Netflix and Facebook are finding out that evolution is a difficult process.

The change to Netflix’s pricing scheme took effect this month; users saw separate line items for streaming video and mailed DVDs on their billing date in September. For some, this change meant a 60-percent increase with no new features.

In an apparent attempt to justify or explain the change, Netflix’s CEO sent out an e-mail and updated the company’s blog in the wee hours of Sunday, Sept. 18. It wasn’t just that the two services would be billed separately; they would soon be two entirely different companies. Streaming would keep the Netflix name, while DVDs through the mail would be called Qwikster. The queues and user reviews would be entirely disassociated.

If Netflix was intent on making a stupid announcement, it could’ve picked a worse week. Just three days later, mere minutes from the end of Tuesday, Sept. 27, Facebook’s primary interface, the news feed, just went and changed. Suddenly no one was talking about Netflix anymore.

I’ve been glued to Facebook for the past few weeks, so I saw it refresh right at 11:30 p.m. Gone were the two links up top, “Top Stories” and “Most Recent,” which let you switch back and forth between the updates the site algorithmically determined you’d be most interested in and a purely chronological view. Now you had to scroll down to get past the Top Stories; the easy escape from the filter bubble was gone.

Less immediately noticeable, but even more significant, was the ticker that suddenly appeared in the upper right-hand corner. It was constantly updating, telling you every action your every friend was taking in real time. I can only imagine that people with more friends than me saw only a blur. (Pity, party of, what else, one!)
Before the ticker, you’d have to visit someone’s profile to see everything they’d done recently. And you certainly couldn’t see everyone’s activity as it happened.

The changes spawned their own repeated memes. Copied and pasted instructions on how to keep your activity from going into the ticker, or to keep friends’ comments on your activity from showing up. A captioned photo of a rapper that I’m not sure I could fully explain if I tried.

But even more changes were announced at Facebook’s annual conference, f8, last Thursday. The Timeline will be the new look of everyone’s profile as of Sept. 30, with a single center line stretching from the present all the way back to your birth date. You can jump to a year with ease and highlight major life events like getting married or changing jobs.

Since the line is in the middle of the page, with your posts sprouting off on both sides, it can be confusing to browse. If this is the future of the news feed, they have some serious design cleanup to do.

There’s also Facebook Music, which links to several online music services and clutters up your friends’ feeds with what you’re listening to, as if they care. Seriously, everybody’s taste but mine sucks, right?

For a site that never, ever changes and certainly never prompts user whining, visit twitter.com/CitizenjaQ .






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