Why did Facebook and Google forget their users?

Recently Facebook did a major UI upgrade that caused an uproar in the user community. People screamed because the new Facebook UI was just awful and made the user experience terrible.

Google last week brought out the new iGoogle UI and it is awful. To make matters worse, they did not tell anyone, one day you login, the UI is different and it has a terrible user experience, with no way to go back to the one you were quite happy with.

If you check Google’s discussion forum there is a ton of activity on how many users hate it. So why did Google make this mistake? Did they not usability test this with real users? Given how backward it is, what was the problem they were trying to solve? I am left to wonder.

Facebook was even arrogant where they asked the userbase to get 5 million signatures on their online petition before they would consider giving the users the ability to switch between the two versions. Facebook, you created the problem by releasing a less usable UI and you now want the users to do the work before you would listen?

Yes, it is very difficult to make UI changes that are pleasing to everyone – but I don’t think these companies will have a tough time justifying that the new changes are liked by a whole lot of people.

What do you think? Why do you think companies fall into this trap?

7 thoughts on “Why did Facebook and Google forget their users?”

  1. I use iGoogle for my start page, and I was incredibly angry when they made the change without warning or choice. I had organized RSS feeds for the industries I follow — one industry per tab — so that I could quickly scan headlines for content that’s relevant to me. The new UI made it useless for this, because it took up so much more screen real estate.

    Luckily, I found a backdoor to the old UI: http://www.google.ie/ig

    I just hope they don’t take that down when they realize that a lot of users are avoiding the new site.

  2. JP,

    Here are the main reasons I hate the new iGoogle – the tabs that are now the tree wastes precious horizontal real estate which means all my gadgets are squished which requires me to scroll more to see the same amount of content.

    Gmail does not recognize hyperlinks any more when messages are read from the gadget and then it is unclear when you are in the gadget and when you are in gmail.

    These to me are just glaring UI issues that I am very surprised that Google (otherwise know for its simplicity and usability) did not catch or test. To me here is the first example of Google who invented the concept of perpetual Beta and also the concept of Labs would not put this through the labs first before turning it on all users without any warning whatsoever.

    It appears that these companies thought they knew what the users want – a big mistake companies often make – I just did not expect Google to make such a mistake – I don’t enough about Facebook’s culture to say one way or the other.


  3. Funny, I actually like the new iGoogle interface better. I find it easier to navigate larger amounts of content.

    Facebook, I agree, is a dud.

  4. Perhaps it’s a case of getting too big for their boots? It’s seems a trap for growing companies to get too caught up in what’s going on inside the business and fail to look outward. Perhaps there is the need to keep “improving” in our environment of constant change, which in these cases seems to be finding something simple and easy and making it less so. I wonder if Facebook’s new UI is impacting their usage rates? I seem to see less stuff going on there, but don’t know whether it’s because their new UI is bad or my facebook friends have shied away from the new UI.

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