Facebook and Netflix Test Appetite For Change


by Samuel Greengard

The chorus of moans you heard over the last two weeks was the sound of 800 million people coping with yet another round of changes on Facebook. It seems like every few months, Facebook rolls out an interface update or some new way of doing things and, on cue, users recoil in horror.

We live in an era of radical and ongoing change. Yesterday's cool, leading edge feature is tomorrow's yawner. Remember, dot matrix printers and 1200-baud modems were once big breakthroughs.

It isn't only Facebook dialing up changes. Mozilla, the producer of the Firefox browser, has embraced a rapid release program that has some developers and users revolting. Twitter and other sites continue to evolve at a rapid rate as well.

I'm willing to wager that if Facebook made a series of changes that led users right back to the starting point several months from now, people would squawk about the same version of the of site that they previously railed against changing. It's human nature to resist change. For most of us, it's hard-wired into our brains.

Yet it's crucial to differentiate between changes that drive a product forward and those that take a step backward. I honestly don't know if every change in Facebook or Twitter is a good thing but, in aggregate, they seem to improve the user experience. If these sites don't keep up--Facebook is now facing intense pressure from Google+--they eventually become creaky. Ask MySpace.

On the other hand, the jury is out on Netflix. I'm having a tough time understanding how dividing a company into two--one that sends DVDs by mail and the other that streams--is anything less than anti-innovation. My queues are now separate? My ratings are separate? I have to pay separately? Hard to see how all that works to my benefit.

But change is here to stay and today's digital technology ensures that the pace will further accelerate in the months and years ahead. Just keep telling yourself: An unwillingness to change and a desire to change for the sake of change lead to the same outcome: you risk falling behind the curve and becoming an asterisk.