Monday, October 11, 2010

Groupthink

The new Facebook Groups is a miserable failure.

Quietly, amidst the opening of that movie where Zuck is played by a guy who looks like Michael Cera only more serious, Facebook rolled out a new version of Groups. The new Groups combines the function of the old Groups and the function of Lists, which I (and apparently only I) like and use a great deal. It's been touted and announced on a ton of news outlets and techblogs. Read Farhad Manjoo's syrupy article in Slate. Zuck, I hope you already have a date to prom.

Personally, I think the new Groups is at best a major tactical error after a few quiet months. (As you'll recall, there were a number of concerns over the privacy control changes in May.) At worst, it signals a Microsoft-like disconnect with the user base, which will lead to a Microsoft-like end of relevance. Here are the problems:

First, it was rolled out without any real announcement. I heard it on the tech blogs, and have still never seen any notifications on the site. That's pretty major. I have been known to miss the forest for the trees, but I haven't even seen a sapling of notice.

Second, the FAQ doesn't really differentiate it from Lists, and doesn't address the question of why it was implemented (other than "We are continually looking for ways to enhance overall user experience"). It does give a basic overview of the new features, but they seem a lot like things that you already have access to if you use any Google products.

Third, any friend can add anyone, and Facebook gives the added user no notification, even when added to public groups. And there's the spam.

Some have compared the new Groups to Google Wave (apologies for the third TC link—they just did a good job this time) and while the functionality is somewhat similar, it appears that new Groups is the latest in a series of missteps. Wave was simply a gigantic error in judgment, an aberrant faux pas. No, the better comparison here is Microsoft's gradual decline. In no way is new Groups Facebook's Vista, but it does show that to Team Facebook, features are more important than utility, which means irrelevance is inevitable.

Diaspora kids, take your chance soon—you won't get another.

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