“A camel is a horse designed by committee.” (source)
The camel/horse quote (no disparagement to camels meant, of course) perfectly captures the problem when too many people have input into a product. Seth Godin talks about how the Walkman would never have been built if Sony had asked its customers what they wanted (see Purple Cow). A few days ago Robert Scoble talked about how a Porsche would be a Volvo if they let their buyers decide on features: “if you asked a group of Porsche owners what they wanted they’d tell you things like “smoother ride, more trunk space, more leg room, etc.” He’d then say “well, they just designed a Volvo.””
The bottom line is, when you listen to your users, you get vanilla. feature creep. boring. It takes a dictator to create the iPhone and change the course of an entire industry. Imagine if Steve Jobs let other people add features to that device.
So I’m surprised that Facebook, which has stared down its users so many times in the past, is folding on the most recent redesign flareup and reverting back to some old features. Just because, oh, a million people demanded it.
Facebook has always pushed the envelope with users, and those users always hate it (the original News Feed was hated, now people are up in arms to keep it from changing). In an interview last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked with me about how users are willing to accept change over time, and that Facebook would continue to push things along. Suddenly, though, they surrender because a few users have a belly ache over a redesign.
If they wanted to make these changes anyway, they shouldn’t have titled their blog post “Responding to Your Feedback.” They should have just continued to ignore the ranting, and announced further changes. Showing that you’re listening to feedback just invites more of it.
Someday, if they’re not careful, someone is going to do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace, who in turn did it to Friendster. Making users happy is a suckers game. Pushing the envelope is what makes you a winner.