Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher
 

Facebook Minus

Is the appearance of Google+ the “next thing” or is it merely an expression of how we need a little less of our current social networks? Here’s the case for Facebook Minus.

Social networks are growing up: Let’s say they’re in their awkward teenager stage, and a lot is changing. Just in the last two weeks, Facebook integrated Skype into its chat tool, the Twitter founders quit to restart their original startup, and Google launched Google Plus, quickly accumulating 10 million beta users. It’s a social media growth spurt!

The belle of the ball is Google Plus (Google+): Will it be popular? Can it unseat Facebook’s dominance? Is it better, stronger, faster? Nobody knows, and I’m not sure anybody should really care. As I argued when it launched, Google+ isn’t a major leap forward in technology. It has many similar features as Facebook and Skype – a few more bells, some slightly different whistles. And it’s still in beta, so we can cut it some slack for lack of “Wow!” out of the box. The real question is whether most of us who will probably connect with the same people we are already connected to in Facebook, will want/need/care to adopt it. The initial offering really doesn’t make that compelling argument – but it could. So let’s make it for them.

Google+ represents what we’d like less of from Facebook.
Google+ is really a desire for Facebook Minus.

Facebook, the gigantic $100 billion network, still can’t seem to listen to its users. Multiple privacy control stumbles, inconsistent changes to the UI, and a stolid sense of uncaring (such as upgrading the UI capriciously) add up to little but constant annoyances to users. So it seems to me that what most people want – and what might attract them to Google+ is simply Facebook minus a few of it’s dumbest things. Here’s a short list that comes to mind:

  1. Users want less “noise” in the news feed. I simply don’t care that “so and so is now friends with so and so.” Yes, you can filter the news from “most recent” to “status updates” but it switches back once you leave the news page.  For a network that can figure out the right ads for each one of us, must we constantly adjust our settings to make the main features friendly?
  2. Facebook’s mobile experience really sucks. Up until recently, you couldn’t delete a comment using the app. Page owners can’t act as a Page from their mobiles; and other little annoyances continue to plague the mobile experience. Astonishingly, a company with 500 developers still does not have an iPad app (as of June 2011). Facebook Minus would have a less limited mobile experience.
  3. Less clicks. Today’s average user expects a streamlined interface. That’s why they buy iPads and shop Amazon Prime. Yet Facebook still requires too many clicks for common tasks, like accepting friends and placing them into lists. Facebook Minus would give us more outcome for less effort.
  4. Less confusion about privacy. Facebook Minus would make privacy so simple, it would be handled on one short screen, not a Privacy Policy with nine sections. Most users still can’t understand who can see what on whose wall.
  5. Less intrusion. While Facebook hopes you’ll share your personal life online, it needs to learn how to be less intrusive encouraging it. So Facebook Minus would eliminate silly features, like permitting friends to randomly add us to groups we’d normally never join. It would shelve Orwellian things like “face recognition” and advertisements based upon our comments (conversations). Facebook Minus would stop playing with our privates, even when they’re public.
These are just a few sentiments I hear form ordinary people that have made it possible for Google+ to make a play for our attention. Facebook has had five years to get these things right; but instead of acting like a teenager heading into adulthood, it’s too often still like a toddler. Laziness will cause many people never to leave Facebook, and the privacy freaks have already deleted their accounts. But Google isn’t playing for them either. It’s the soft, savvy middle consumer base that’s in play – the ones that defect from Honda to Toyota, from Saks to Nordstroms, from Blackberry to iPhone when the little annoyances add up.

 

In the 1960s, behavioral psychologist Ernest Dicter noted how loyal consumers wanted to know that their brands were truly interested in their well-being, without bias. Loyalty didn’t come from gimmicks, even free ones. Word of mouth is about loyalty-turned-advocacy for someone we believe has our best interests at heart. Social networks are all about advocacy. Isn’t that what liking and sharing what we’ve liked means?

 

Google didn’t release Google+ without sensing a market for potential defectors from the existing dominant brand. It’s technical strategy starts with small bites into little things people don’t like about their current network. It offers the first viable alternative, not to what works well, but what works poorly, in Facebook. So it didn’t matter that Facebook “added” Skype to its network, when users were hoping they would instead be “removing” some things that have long bugged them.

 

To keep its users from defecting to Google Plus, Facebook needs to heed its users’ hopes for Facebook Minus.
  • I didn’t realize that’s what I wanted…but it IS!  I don’t want MORE networks, I just want one that works for me.  Thank you for your excellent articulation – I hope someone’s listening!