The Collapse of Facebook

When a builder sets out to construct a skyscraper, he does not simply bulldoze the land, dig some holes, and start building. He relies on architects, structural engineers, designers, and artists to provide him a complete set of blueprints. Ones that will ensure that the building doesn’t collapse 10, 20, or even 30 years after completion. The building is designed with beauty, stability, and purpose. If it lacks beauty, no one will want to look at it; if no stability, nobody will use it for fear of collapse; if no purpose, it may sit vacant and empty indefinitely.

So is a company. No corporate entity exists without a purpose, collapses in on itself without a good foundation and stable management, and is shunned if it provides no aesthetic potential in the eyes of its users. Yes, the title of this entry may be a bit sensational and rather unbelievable on the whole, but may I suggest that it is indeed a great possibility in the not-so-distant future. Maybe not next year or even five years, but without serious changes from within, I believe that Facebook will eventually experience a serious meltdown–a casualty of its own existence.

There’s no doubt that Facebook had one of the highest growth rates of any web company in the relatively recent past. Since its inception in 2004 as a sort of “online yearbook,” it grew from only a handful of users to more than 300 million. That’s a huge amount of growth for a company not even 6 years old. Growth that explosive must be carefully managed lest the company’s¬†infrastructure¬†grow so rapidly that you end up with a structure that looks more like spaghetti than an organizational hierarchy. I can’t comment directly on Facebook’s organizational charts, but I hypothesize that the company may be in need of some restructuring based on the following points.

Poor Design and Structure

Facebook’s design and website structure have degraded over the past two years. If you used Facebook around 2 years ago, you’ll recall a site structure that was easy to navigate, it was simple to find contact information, adjust privacy settings, keep track of happenings in your friends’ lives, etc. The type of information displayed in the news feed was easy to sort through and interact with. Since then we’ve been through at least two relatively major redesigns of the site. I still sometimes have to hunt through menus and buttons in order to find exactly what I’m looking for. Even the news feed update on Friday, October 23rd has caused more confusion than it has clarity. I honestly can’t figure out how it’s supposed to work (and I’ve read the general announcement).

I know that some people just hate change, and I promise that I’m not just another one of those naysayers. I generally welcome change when it improves the user experience and provides additional value; however, I think you’ll find that many of the site’s users will agree that the past two updates have accomplished neither. The site really does need a makeover, but until the company can bring in some experts in usability and Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and get things back on track, I fear that future updates may continue to add complexity and subject users to further confusion.

Substandard Customer Service

Honestly, I’m not sure where Facebook finds its philosophy on customer service, but I would submit them as an example of bad customer service. I can cite at least two poor experiences in interacting with Facebook staff. The first concerns the aforementioned design changes. I participated heavily in the beta program and also spoke loudly regarding the design choices along with many others. I saw a couple changes take place as a result before public release, but still most of the suggestions from many testers were largely ignored (or at least it seemed that way). Facebook just knows better than its customer base? I can’t understand why any company would take this tactic.

The second instance of a poor experience was the result of a recent job fair at my graduate institution. Facebook brought representatives to the fair and I stopped by to inquire about possible internships and/or future employment. After chatting briefly with a representative, I left the booth with the distinct feeling that I was of no interest to them. We hadn’t even gotten into talking about job qualifications and employment openings. I was simply handed a 4×5 card with some information on it and cold shouldered to the side. Bad move, guys.

Perhaps Facebook should consider the company Comcast, who uses its Twitter account to interact with customers, smooth over any potential problems, and answer questions. It seems that Facebook is more interested in simply talking about itself than it is interacting with customers. They need to be proactive about getting involved and calming dissatisfied users. Sure, maybe we aren’t paying anything to use their service, but that is absolutely no excuse to provide substandard customer support. If you operate a business, you assume the responsibility of keeping your customers happy whether they pay you or not.

Final Thoughts

Facebook isn’t dead…yet. Nor, really, are there too many up and coming contenders to its social network dominance; however, take a close look at MySpace. Even though their website interface and userbase were completely awful (and you’d be hard pressed to find many who disagreed), they were the #1 social network for quite sometime…before Facebook, which even in its current state is far more usable than MySpace ever was, overtook them. Social Networking is here to stay, but if companies like Facebook aren’t careful, they’ll end up like the now defunct car brand, Saturn: old and obsolete.

The strongest buildings have the best foundations provided by the best architects and engineers. Facebook revolutionized the social networking industry, but I sense a structural weakness within the corporation. Only time will tell whether it’s a fixable problem, or whether the structure will simply collapse under its own weight.

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