Rumors that Twitter was going to use an algorithm to curate its timeline was met with outrage by longtime Twitter users.
Nevermind that sources from the company say it’s “strictly opt-in” and CEO Jack Dorsey clarified that real-time is here to stay. The backlash already took off and angry users made #RIPTwitter one of the top trends.
We’ve heard this before.
Here’s a quick search for hate + #newtwitter from the last five years.
Funny enough, you don’t hear a lot of people complaining about changes to Friendster or MySpace, which didn’t change fast enough to keep up with competition. And despite her proclamations in 2011, Perfect Queenie appears to still be on Twitter.
That’s just a small sampling. Try a search yourself for fun.
The outrage isn’t unique to Twitter. There’s universal outcry every time there’s a major update to Facebook, YouTube, Mac OS, iOS, etc.
In the big picture sense, we get that social networks need to change and evolve to continue being relevant. If that wasn’t the case, TheFacebook.com would only be available on college campuses and Twitter would still be a podcasting company.
But when it comes to actually changing — or even the rumor of change — what we’re used to, that’s when we resist. Why so much hate?
Margaret Gould Stewart, Facebook’s director of product design, examines the issues of designing for a huge scale of people in her Ted Talk.
For example, the designer who led the redesign of the like button spent over 280 hours over the course of months. Why?
“It’s because when you’re designing at scale, there’s no such thing as a small detail,” she said. “This innocent little button is seen on average 22 billion times a day and on over 7.5 million websites. It’s one of the single most viewed design elements ever created.”
And that’s just for a tiny change.
So what about introducing BIG changes? Why can’t designers and engineers just leave well enough alone?
“The fact is, people can become very efficient at using bad design,” Stewart said. “So even if the change is good for them in the long run, it’s still incredibly frustrating when it happens.”
She continues: “And this is particularly true with user-generated content platforms, because people can rightfully claim a sense of ownership. It is, after all, their content.”
This is what she means when you hear about changes to my Facebook or my Twitter.
But remember, social platforms need to consider tens of millions if not billions of people who use their products, all with different needs, abilities and access. That’s how Stewart finished her Ted Talk.
In San Francisco, we get a little miffed when we hit a dead cell zone because we can’t use our phones to navigate to the new hipster coffee shop. But what if you had to drive four hours to charge your phone because you had no reliable source of electricity? What if you had no access to public libraries? What if your country had no free press? What would these products start to mean to you? This is what Google, YouTube and Facebook look like to most of the world, and it’s what they’ll look like to most of the next five billion people to come online. Designing for low-end cell phones is not glamorous design work, but if you want to design for the whole world, you have to design for where people are, and not where you are.
Not all change works, of course. Sometimes progress zigs and zags or goes backward. At the same time, the status quo is not always the best way things could be.
So maybe this time #NewTwitter will suck and everyone will quit the service. Or maybe it will improve. Only time will tell.
But before you write off any changes — brace yourself— I’d invite you to pause in the middle of your angry tweetstorm and consider the following:
How might a change improve or open new possibilities to your experience once you get used to it? And who else besides yourself might benefit?
And maybe try it out first.