What Facebook Should Learn From George Lucas

Facebook's latest tweaks are reminiscent of the Star Wars creator's continued changes to his iconic films: No one asked for--or wanted--them.

Tom LaSusa

September 21, 2011

3 Min Read
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I was seven years old, visiting my Aunt in Pennsylvania, when my Dad first took me to see "Star Wars." Needless to say, I was forever entranced by lightsabers, breathing-challenged villains, and walking carpets.

Like the rest of the Star Wars fans, I wasn't terribly impressed with the prequels. However, George Lucas' re-releases of the original three movies with some tweaks and updates weren't all that bad. I got it: When he first filmed the movies, special effects technology wasn't capable of making his vision into reality. Now he had the opportunity go back and make the vison truly complete.

But then, the years went by and George kept tinkering, making updates that seemed unnecessary, and in some cases, outright wrong (i.e. HAN SOLO SHOOTS FIRST!) There was an outcry from the public (not unlike the voices screaming from Alderaan), but the protests fell on deaf ears. Lucas continued--and continues--to make changes to all the Star Wars films to this day, ignoring two very important rules of business: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," and "Always give the customer options."

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Last night, I received an email from Facebook, extolling a new feature that would reduce the number of notification emails. Admittedly, I almost never get around to deleting the notifications: My inbox is a vast ocean of messages from Facebook, with a couple of personal emails and spam here and there. "Wow," I thought, "for once, here's a change I can get behind."

And then I woke up this morning and discovered that wasn't the only change that Facebook made.

My friends' most recent status updates were now shoved to a thin column on the right, while in the middle, I was getting a news feed based on what the Facebook algorithms, artificial intelligence, or Imperial Guard determined I wanted to read...even if it wasn't.

We all know that this isn't the first time Facebook has made changes supposedly in the customer's best interests. We've seen our share of security updates and other design tweaks that left members, in some cases, shrugging their shoulders, and in others, threatening mass abandonment of the social network.

Reaction this time however has been swift and furious. Personal status comments, posts to Facebook's own fan page, and Twitter updates Wednesday have all echoed the same sentiment: This sucks!

Like George, Facebook fails to remember those two simple rules I mentioned above.

First, there was nothing wrong with the previous format. We already had the option to switch between "Top Stories" and "Recent Updates," and that was fine. In other words, we were perfectly happy with the way things were. Sure, a tweak to font size or the number of emails we get isn't so bad, but the constant, abrupt, and often unannounced changes have done nothing but alienate and infuriate Facebook nation.

The other thing that both George and Facebook have a bad habit of doing is not offering alternatives. Fans have been crying out for years to get the untampered versions of the original trilogy released, with no luck. Similarly, there's no reason why Facebook couldn't offer a "Classic Facebook Format" option.

Ultimately, both Mr. Lucas and Facebook have forgotten the biggest rule of all: They made these products for us--not for themselves. As users, we're left wondering if they simply don't care what we think or want. It's presumptuous to assume that we'll just buy the latest boxed set, or keep logging on to Facebook. And if I'm not mistaken, those kind of emotions lead to the dark side.

For now, sales of the Star Wars Blu-Ray set are doing well, which means many of you are completely crazy...er...I mean...certain people are willing to accept the changes. I'm sure the same will prove true for these latest Facebook updates. But sooner or later, the Facebook corporate offices--and the Skywalker Ranch--may find themselves surrounded by a very angry rebellion.

But first we'll have to run over to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters.

Tom LaSusa is Community Manager for InformationWeek.

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