Are you ready to rejoin a “We hate the new Facebook!” group?
Some users of the massive social network were predictably upset this week when they discovered Facebook is changing contact information on profile pages to display new facebook.com e-mail addresses, while hiding the Gmail, Yahoo, or other addresses users previously listed.
The move is the latest in a series of unilateral changes to the site’s look, interface, and privacy settings that have provoked backlash from users, but not much action.
“On one hand, what Facebook did was crude and forceful and created a bad user experience,” Forrester Research analyst Nate Elliott said of the e-mail switch. “But on the other hand, user whining is just that: whining.”
In a statement, Facebook said the e-mail change was announced in April and shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“We’ve been updating addresses on Facebook to make them consistent across our site,” the company said. “In addition to everyone receiving an address, we’re also rolling out a new setting that gives people the choice to decide which addresses they want to show on their timelines.”
Users can easily hide the Facebook address and restore the original contact information by editing their profile.
The company’s apparent lack of concern about user backlash over tweaks to the social network stems from the “foundational” experience of introducing its news feed in 2006, Elliott said. The feature, which automatically displays updates from a user’s friends, was initially panned by some as invasive and unnecessary, leading some to predict an exodus from the site. Six years later, Facebook is hurtling toward a billion users and the news feed is a central part of its popularity.
“The lesson they learned . . . was that everyone complains pretty much every time Facebook does anything,” Elliott said, but they keep using the site.
Other recent changes that have drawn criticism include the discovery last year of a “hidden” folder of messages few users knew to check, and the gradual but mandatory rollout of the new Timeline profile, which makes it easier for people to find friends’ old (and potentially embarrassing) status updates.
The new e-mail addresses are part of a broader revamp of the Facebook messaging system, aimed at creating a “unified inbox” that organizes texts, e-mails, and online chats on a single page. Facebook unveiled the strategy in 2011 and some early adopters were already using the new addresses, but others said Tuesday that they were surprised to find their profile addresses had been revised.
“I didn’t realize Facebook had changed it until I saw the news stories about it coming out,” said Matt Soleyn, an IT project manager from New Hampshire. “I was like, oh, great, now I have to go into Facebook and change it back. It’s kind of an inconvenience.”
Soleyn said that Facebook has an obligation to better promote changes to the site before they are implemented.
“They should make it so people are easily aware of how to change it,” he said.
David Gerzof Richard, a social media professor at Emerson College in Boston, said that while the e-mail change is aggravating, it’s an opportunity for Facebook users to double-check their privacy settings.
“You need to really get a firm understanding on what the new changes mean and go into your privacy settings and adjust them,” Richard said. “There’s a good chance Facebook will default to: Everyone can look you up, everyone can e-mail you. And that’s not how most people work.”
While some analysts, including Elliott, believe unified inboxes are the way of the future, Richard said Facebook is straying from its core purpose.
“Facebook should stick to what they’re really good at,” he said. “This whole e-mail business . . . no one’s going to want to use that.”
But there seems to be little disagreement among analysts on one point: They say Facebook could stand to learn some manners.
“So much of what they do is so valuable,” Elliott said, “but they’re so, so bad at rolling it out.”