To change or not to change? That is the question.

March 15, 2009

Facebook changed its layout once again this past week.

The concept of changing a website’s layout is nothing new. Every site does it, and it’s a necessary part of its life cycle. However, this “new Facebook” began yet another flood of complaints. It seems like whenever Facebook decides to “improve” (this is debateable) its interface, it generates a big uproar from its users. Just taking a quick glance at my feed, people are already protesting the new design by announcing it through their status or joining those “Bring-the-old-Facebook-back” groups.

I don’t understand why changes to the user interface (UI) always results in a backlash against the social-networking giant. Sure, there was the initial introduction of the News Feed which Mark Zuckerberg later apologized for. But, I’m talking about UI changes where the core functionality remains and only a small subset of features are altered. One could even argue that they were actually trying to improve usability =P! Yes that’s right, making it a better experience for us, the end-users.

I’m also not trying to justify the change by saying that all those protestors are wrong and the new Facebook is better. That is not my intention. I am just wondering if people are rejecting the change just because they are resistant to something different. It’s funny because if you look at all the groups that were created in the past, none of them were ever successful in convinging Facebook to revert back to an older layout. I guess people just accepted it or just got used to it? Maybe that’s the point, people like what they’re used to. Even if they had a negative first impression.

People may try something new, and initially they may not like it. But eventually since they are forced into using it, they find out how to get to the things they want, the way they want. A couple months later, another change is introduced. This means that the things that were once muscle memory, now require different steps. It’s not so much that the new way is bad, it’s just that people don’t want to give up familiarity.

Can I extend this beyond the world of Facebook?

The much anticipated Windows 7 has been receiving a lot of hype and positive reviews. However, comparing the general look and feel of the OS, it looks like Microsoft stuck to a similar design as Windows Vista… And we all know how well Vista was received. The biggest change in the UI (and functionality to some degree) department was really the new taskbar. Of course, there are already two camps weighing in on this matter. But, why did Microsoft decide to stick with Vista’s design knowing full well its negative reputation? Shouldn’t they be trying to completely eradicate all traces of Vista? Pretend that it never existed! Right?
Could I say that this was a well thought out decision? That they didn’t want to introduce another major change that would push people even further?

Face it. Windows is still the most widely supported and used OS in the world. This means that some people are using it because they have to. They are, in a sense, forced to learn how to use Vista and to get familiar with it. This familiarity shouldn’t be regarded lightly, instead it could be used in Microsoft’s favour! Most companies don’t have this luxury. Many companies that are trying to release new products have to start from scratch and hope that users will adopt their design. But, Microsoft can offer new, yet familiar. It seems like a contradiction, but really it’s a privilege that most companies dream for. And so far, for Microsoft, it’s working in their favour.

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