Yesterday, I became aware of some changes that Facebook is going to be making in the next few weeks. The changes are annoying to me (and probably everyone else who develops applications on Facebook) because it means I have to go redesign and refactor some stuff to fit the changes. It got me thinking, though, about how normal Facebook users will react. I'm approaching five years of working at Six Apart**, ten years of being a social network user, and I've been a Facebook user since the early days. If there's one thing I know about this upcoming change, it's that people are going to rage.
You, for example. I'll bet that as you read that last paragraph, the thing that started getting you worked up was not that your pal Steve is going to have to do a whole bunch of work really quickly for nothing. I'm guessing that as soon as you got to "some changes that Facebook is going to be making" your brain immediately went straight to "I hate this new layout. Those fucking bastards!" It's an almost pavlovian response.
I've felt this rage many times in the past. Every time we moved stuff around in Vox, or changed the layout, and pretty much any time we did anything with LiveJournal while it was run by Six Apart, the hate mail would pour in: "You moved this feature that only I use to a different page and now I have to click one extra time to get to it. I'LL KILL AND EAT YOUR CHILDREN!"
People will whine and whine. Some will construct lengthy arguments about why the new way is worse for everyone, using weird and awkward sentence structures and word combinations that, while sometimes grammatically correct, tend to make one sound like an idiot who is trying to sound like a lawyer... which, by the way, is idiotic. People will cite imaginary rules and contractual obligations that their panicked brains have conjured and that they've convinced themselves exist between themselves and the owners of the free to them and extremely expensive to the maintain website they're using: "We have a right to review and approve of any changes you want to make to the site EVER." Yes, I believe we put that in the Terms and Conditions as a way to prevent ourselves from ever having to do any work.
My favorite is the online petition: "We, the undersigned, do hereby on this eleventh date of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten demand the immediate restoration of news feed's original format, and relocation of the OK button back to its previous location. If these changes are not made by midnight, on the thirteenth day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, we, the undersigned shall cease using the site forever! XOXO"
Those petitions are usually delivered to the office by a team of laywers, retained by The Internet, with metal briefcases and Bluetooth headsets in BOTH EARS. You can't argue at all, because they eat people like us for breakfast. I wish I could say that the reaction is something like, "Yay! Life is going to be so much easier when the insane and irrational vocal minority defects," but we all know that nobody is going anywhere. At least not en masse. That's not to say that people won't trickle out over time if your site is genuinely bad, but cooler heads generally prevail when it's time for the mass exodus over change of sidebar content to happen.
Another of my favorite moves is "I can't believe you're wasting all this time fucking around with stupid shit like security and database integrity, when you STILL haven't implemented that feature that I made up and asked for, and which nobody has ever acknowledged was even a feasible idea!"
This can be stressful. I've seen a lot of people look at the mailbox the day after a release and either panic because they think everyone hates us, or lose their shit because they take all the insults and death threats personally. Eventually, your skin thickens and hardens and it goes from being scary and awful to almost kind of amusing. I say that as someone who is fascinated by people and how they act. Someone getting so worked up over something that, in the grand scheme of things, is so insignificant is simply amazing to me. I mean, come on.. the color of a button changed and you're spending half your day rallying a posse, writing letters, and planning a sit-in. What's your reaction to real injustice, like your President waging war against a country that hasn't threatened your country? Oh right... sitting on your ass and writing a blog post on the free website that provides you an outlet for your rage at such things.
I think if I ever have my own wildly popular social network, I will do things a little differently with regard to updates. One week before the update, I will make a post explaining what's changing and why. I will point out that I understand and regret that it's not going to be the best thing for every single person, and I will show how I arrived at the conclusion that it's best for the majority of users and for the site overall. I will ask the users who don't like the change to consider the entire user base in evaluating their acceptance of the change, rather than just themselves or themselves plus their like-minded friends.
Then I will put a little thermometer type meter in the upper right corner of the site. At the bottom of the thermometer will be a zero, and at the top will be a number that represents one half of one percent of the entire active user base. Every time an email comes in, it will be scanned by a script similar to those used to analyze email for spam, except this script will analyze for content along the lines of "I hate what you're doing. Fuck you guys." For every one of those emails that the script finds, the thermometer will go up a point. When it gets to the top, the site fucking shuts down for twelve full hours and you motherfuckers can find something else to do with your (company's) time for a while.
Maybe I'll even make the front page a huge interstitial ad until the real site comes back. You bitches will hate that, won't you?
**Thoughts, opinions, contempt, and diabolical revenge plans are very much my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Six Apart, LiveJournal, Facebook, or any other entity other than Steve's Bitchin' Social Network ExXxtreme, and should not be taken as such. I really mean it, because I totally do NOT want to get fired or sued, or both.