Untangling Web 2.0

An aspiring information professional shedding light on the Web 2.0 phenomenon

Why Facebook keeps reinventing itself

on May 1, 2013

The sixth pattern of Web 2.0 as outlined by Tim O’ Reilly, concerns perpetual beta and Facebook is all about perpetual beta.

My definition of beta (in terms of software development) is the not-quite-there-yet prototype that is being tweaked constantly with the promise of a finished version. Perpetual beta, in my mind is a different concept – software developers constantly striving for that perfect version knowing that it will never eventuate, and providing users with the opportunity to guide them on how to keep changing and improving the service. This is important because with all the new and varied social media applications available out there, applications like Facebook need to keep things fresh.

When Facebook updated recently, I used the ‘Messages’ function, and was surprised to see that the face of the friend I had just messaged was hanging in mid-air in a circle. I admit that it was a bit thrilling to see something new. So updates can be exciting, but also downright unwelcome – if my friends’ opinions of the new Microsoft Outlook are anything to go by!

You won’t be able to make everyone happy but to avoid making the majority unhappy, Facebook has integrated some of these best practices.

1) Release early and release often

New features have been seamlessly integrated across Facebook’s many versions. Examples of changes are the ways photos are displayed, amalgamating the ‘Chat’ and ‘Messages’ feature as one, and the introduction of Facebook Timeline.

(2) Engage users as co-developers and real-time testers

The original Facebook Timeline was made available for testing in September 2011 before being released to Facebook users and now that Facebook is changing Timeline again, it is testing it in New Zealand before releasing it to the rest of the world, as can be seen in the YouTube clip below.


As outlined in the video, ‘Facebook will collect user feedback and data from the tests and use that to tweak the design before making the change official’.

Allow users to voice their opinion

Allow users to voice their opinion

Facebook Stamp [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/wynnie/5525677854/

Many people I know detest Facebook Timeline so it does make me wonder how effective the testing actually is. In the initial stage when Timeline was being introduce to individuals’ accounts gradually, going on someone’s computer when they weren’t around and signing them up to Timeline voluntarily was a great way to annoy them!

3) Instrument your product

Facebook monitors how users utilise certain features, and tests proposed changes.

As part of the effort to improve Chat, we’ve been testing an interface without the ‘clear chat history’ link prominently displayed, since only a small number of people use it.

Based on the tests, we’ve decided to keep the ‘clear chat history’ link and to optimize it’s placement within the Chat interface. Given its low usage, we are placing it at the top of the Chat scroll ― where it is still easily accessible without cluttering UI space throughout the course of the chat. We believe this solution strikes a good balance between the many different interests of the millions of people on Facebook Chat.’

Touching base with your users is paramount in this day and age.

(4) Incrementally create new products

Facebook is forever creating new products such as the Facebook phone, Facebook Home and Facebook’s Translation Tool, ensuring that the brand permeates the world of social media.

(5) Make operations a core competency

Careers available at Facebook in design, user experience and product management  show that operations are just as important as the application.

(6) Use dynamic tools and languages

Facebook uses a range of complex languages and tools such as Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, C+++, Javascript, Python and XHTML.

Due to an update somewhere along the line, I cannot prevent people who are not Facebook friends from messaging me! New versions sometimes make me uneasy because I am not sure if an important privacy feature has been taken away in exchange for a new and exciting feature. It has made me realise that with certain apps – we need to keep up with them as much as they need to keep up with us.

Has anyone had a negative or positive experience as a result of changes and/or improvements to your favourite application?

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8 responses to “Why Facebook keeps reinventing itself

  1. Hey,

    You mentioned you were surprised to suddenly see your friends chat in the bubble, and you seemly have reacted positively to it. Imagine if you hated it, how does a company such as Facebook who continually changes reduce the blow back from such a change? Outside of the best practices you listed above.

    • evecrithary says:

      That’s an interesting question Blake and I think in all honesty, that Facebook knows we will eventually get used to it, so if they really want to keep it they will – I feel as if that’s what happened with Timeline. Sometimes, as my post discusses with regards to Facebook’s Chat feature, they will compromise.

      To reduce any possible blow-back I personally would provide lots of help associated with the change. With the chat bubble, I got annoyed when many bubbles popped up and it wasn’t clear to me how to get rid of them. I figured it out myself but would have liked some help. Maybe we should be told explicitly when we log in- ‘here is a new feature and here is how to work it’. I know people who would hate that – I guess you can’t please everyone!

  2. Adriana says:

    Hi Eve!
    I didn’t realise that features like Timeline are given to whole countries to test before we all get them. I thought that these companies do what they want and we just have to take it!
    p.s love the way you write!

    • evecrithary says:

      Thanks so much Adriana and thanks for reading! I thought the same thing as you until this subject. I thought ‘if one person leaves Facebook, what does Facebook care?’ Turns out if enough people don’t like something, something will be done about it.

  3. monique says:

    Great post, Eve!
    I’ve actually had discussions about Facebook’s incremental releases with friends before (not sure why), we noticed…whenever there was a big, everyone -received, change there tended to be a big up roar. However, now things are (even more) incrementally released and so when you go to talk (or complain) to a friend about it, they are likely to not have any idea about what you’re talking about. When they finally get the update, they’re excited because they’ve been waiting to see what you were talking about, but also, you’ve already become used to new look, so you no longer have any complaints. Because the issue was that people don’t like change and need some time to get used it. Do you agree?

    • evecrithary says:

      I absolutely agree Monique! I also feel that for minor changes, no matter how inconvenient, people are willing to forgive Facebook for almost anything; simply because those that notice the changes are the ones that love Facebook and don’t want to leave! Thanks for the comments!

  4. ebracadabra says:

    In my opinion, I think perpetual Beta is giving the support to help building most applications software and avoiding any issues that might accrue. Delicious is a perfect example to explain more about Perpetual Beta which can satisfy users’ needs.

    Thx a lot Eve for this great post 🙂

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