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Facebook Wants to Copy Google? It Needs to Manage Change Better

Facebook continues to make it clear that it fears Google (GOOG). CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his management team keep changing the company's services and interface in an obvious reaction to the threat that Google+ could represent.

Increasingly, Facebook has looked like an old-style technology company trying to keep the Internet barbarians at bay. In short, Facebook begins to seem like it is playing Microsoft (MSFT) to Google's -- Google. And now in the latest adjustment, Facebook has redesigned another core feature -- the news feed -- in a move that has already angered users again. (Just check to see what people on your own account are saying.)

OK, what do I do now?
Managing change for users is tricky. It's one reason that software companies traditionally kept major shifts to large periodic releases. Google has learned how to continuously update its software in a non-traumatic way for users. That's vital. Have customers jump through too many hoops and they might jump to a competitor.

Even though All Facebook is right in saying that users have grumbled about and then finally accepted previous changes, when the work to keep up with new versions becomes too burdensome, consumers will consider alternatives -- like Google+.

Inside Facebook notes that there have been widely spread negative reactions from people who ran across the changes early on. Facebook says that the redesign received "positive reactions" from users, but that could well be because the company tested them among people who were told to expect the change. Consumer response would be very different if users were caught unawares.

Learning the real Google lesson
Over time, change is necessary in any product. But the trick in tech is to keep a generally fixed framework, within which you introduce what is new. That becomes even more critical with Web-delivered services, when the barriers to new releases fall down.

Google Chrome, for example, goes through more versions than a chicken has feathers. But even though it's in an almost continuous state of transmutation, the product still has the same look-and-feel. Google designed Google+ to allow expansion. The company has added many significant functional changes to the service in its first three months, all without significant complaints by users who found it different to figure out what was going on.

In the past, Facebook could make sudden shifts knowing that there wasn't a major alternative to its service. But if it doesn't quickly learn this particular lesson, Facebook could find that it knocks its own customers loose and gives them a reason to explore Google+.


Image: morgueFile user dave, site standard license.
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