Really BIG numbers of people

A lot seems to be made in the media about user reactions to changes in services like Facebook. There’s a certain amount of spiteful glee with which these stories are reported. Facebook is being “forced to backpedal”, or “driven into a u-turn” by “user revolt” over changes in its UI/homepage. The media peddles this perception that Facebook just can’t seem to get it right. That every time they make any change there’s this huge uprising and backlash of user opinion against them.

However, last time I checked Facebook had over 180 million users. If it was a country it would be the 6th largest country in the world, between Brazil and Pakistan. So, let’s face it, if Facebook were simply to change the colour of their page header to a slightly lighter blue then just statistically they would be likely to piss off around 20 million people and confuse another 30 million. Firstly, people don’t like change. Secondly, everyone is either an expert about what Facebook should be like or a critic of how it is. Finally, as Mr Gladwell has explained, you can’t trust people’s opinions about what they like or what they want anyway. The vast majority of the these millions of users didn’t even know they wanted Facebook until Zuckerberg and Co. presented it to them. Every time there’s a change at Facebook a dozen or more groups will be formed called things like “Give us back our old Facebook!”. These groups will generally contain all the people who joined the same groups last time there was a change. So, which is it people ? Do you want your old Facebook back ? Or your old, old Facebook? Or how about your old, old, old Facebook ? Or how about you just go back to MySpace where you get to make all the design decisions, because I remember how good you all were at it. Those MySpace pages were just beautiful. Billions of lines of centred, 18pt, bold Comic Sans in neon yellow on black.

So, you think Facebook have problems ? If Microsoft Office were a country it would be the 3rd largest country in the world, right there after China and India. Close to 500 million users and that’s just the people who’ve bought licenses. It’s also a commercial application which people pay for and on which they depend for their productivity. There are vast communities of “professional” powers users. Hoards of people who use Microsoft Excel for a living. The 5 extra seconds it takes to find one single menu item that’s been moved multiplied by half a billion users means about 100,000 man days of productivity are lost on just the first day a new version of office is released – yeah, yeah, I know. It doesn’t quite work like that, but you get my point.

Showing your face at Amazon

Web 2.0 and “Social Influence” marketing gurus Razorfish produced an interesting slide deck recently about the implications of über-stores like Amazon implementing or integrating with ID providers like Facebook Connect or Google’s Friend Connect.

Basically this means that by logging into Amazon with your Facebook ID you are gaining single sign-on authentication in exchange for sharing your Facebook profile with Amazon.

Your Facebook profile has become what Razorfish call a Portable Social Graph. It means that any web site can now enable itself with the power of social context by borrowing that context from Facebook. This goes way beyond the simple publishing of news feed items about your activities back to Facebook or presenting lists of items that your peers also bought.

A web site enabled with Facebook Connect can instantly tell a number key things about you. Most obviously about your preferences, likes, dislikes etc either explicit or based on your peer group. Remember that your Facebook profile is very rich. But more subtly its about how connected you are and who you are connected to.

Imagine this as the final fruition of (or at least the next big evolution in) social marketing schemes that began many years ago aimed at identifying the “Alpha Kids” in a given group and using them to spread viral marketing because they were the most “contagious”. Companies that had a cool new product would go into a “neighbourhood” and just start asking, “who’s the coolest kid you know?” Then they would ask that kid the same question and so on. Eventually they would home in on the kid who answered “me”. They would give that kid the product for free and so the viral marketing would begin. Now imagine the same kind of scheme but where a company could judge your “coolness” as a function of how connected you are and who you are connected to in an instant as you log on and then target offers and discounts at you accordingly…the mind boggles.

The truth is any community or peer group of buyers has its “Alpha” members, not just the kids and their video games. Whether its consoles, cars, cardigans or carpet slippers someone is the “go to guy” for a whole load of people when they need the skinny on which lawnmower to buy and social context can help vendors identify those people.

Now, just for a second, imagine that your competitors are doing this and you aren’t…

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