Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Ask the Question

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

Facebook added a new “questions” feature to my profile today.

I guess that this will help you somehow by putting the squeeze on other “question” sites, but I don’t know. I never used those sites and was never going to, and I don’t plan to use this new feature on Facebook.

And apparently you don’t either, or you might have asked, “Hey…people! What features do YOU want to see on Facebook?”

See, if you asked that question, maybe you’d give me the service that I want to use – not the one that you want to deliver. And, based upon past history, the service that you want to deliver is often one that could benefit from a second opinion.

But if you did ask that question, I would answer. Here’s what I’d say:

Mark, make Facebook useful to me. Help me harness it to capture the intelligence and insight of my network of friends in the ways that  I want it.

Help me weight my friends by the value of their feeds so that I can see more of some people and less of others. I know that I can “hide” people, but what if I just want to turn them down? Or up? If I knew that posts from my most helfpful friends would stream onto my feed more efficiently, heck, I’d make more use of your service.

Let me put 5 stars on the stuff that I like and none on the stuff that I don’t, and use that info to filter and weight what I see on Facebook over time.

Help me see my friends’ updates on time. I was excited to have news pop up on my feed that my friend Gopal was having coffee just across the street from where I was. But – 00ps – he’d posted that update eight hours before it popped onto my screen. Glad I didn’t dash over…chances are he’d finished his latte in that time.

(An eight-hour-old update? In the age of Twitter and Gowalla and FourSquare? I have trouble wrapping my head around that concept.)

If my “stars” help you know who my favorite people are, you’d know that I want to hear from them pretty quickly, and – wa-la! – I’d have a whole new level of value on my feed.

Help me manage my friends without multiple clicks, links, and page refreshes. Right now, setting up my friend levels is a painful, time-consuming, one-by-one process that’s unparalleled in its slowness and lack of clarity. Set up a screen that displays multiple friends and let me radio-button or otherwise check the “level” of access I want them to have.

Make it easy for me to fine-tune and I’ll say “yes” to those friend requests that are waiting in my queue. I don’t want to accept them til I set up the right levels of access, and it’s so cumbersome and confusing that I don’t have time to do it. Ask me and I’ll show you services that do this really really well. Do it like they do and Facebook will be much more useful for me.

Give me back the control I had in 2007 and 2008 where I could “turn up” or “turn down” the types of content that streamed on my feed. If I didn’t want photos, or relationship updates, or who-friended-who, I could move levers around on a control panel and my feed would respond accordingly. I still don’t want to know who friended whom. But it shows up anyway, overriding posts and content that could actually offer me value. I – not you – should get to decide what streams on my feed. Long term, that makes me a more satisfied, active, and (thus) valuable user of your service.

And what’s with a product that’s actually more clunky in 2010 than it was in 2007?  Ooops, sorry: that was a question.

(Side note: A few years back, I frequently spoke at professional gatherings, business meetings, webinars and more on “The Business Value of Facebook,” helping professionals understand how to build and learn from the networks they built on your service. I also spoke on “Facebook for Parents,” encouraging moms and dads to relax about their kids’ use of Facebook and to sign up for accounts themselves. Sometimes 200, maybe 300 people in the audience would open Facebook accounts, real-time, during my talk. I loved it.

I stopped giving those talks because I just couldn’t convince myself (and ergo an audience) that there was any business value in using Facebook. The inability to fine-tune features and privacy and the movement to blare on the news feed made me eliminate those talks from my repertoire. Things just felt wrong on  a gut level; as it turns out, recent research says this was more than a feeling.)

Mark, make me feel like Facebook is a cool place where I want to share and preserve information for a very long time. Do that by taking everything I’ve said above and inverting it so that the people who care about me see my information, and see it on time. I recently posted news of a job change on my Facebook profile. One of my close friends, who logs onto Facebook 4 or more times a day never even saw this in his feed! What a lost opportunity for both of us.

Set things up so that my “Limited Profile” is all people can see when we’re not connected – again, like you did up until 2009. Did you know that when a person I’ve put on Limited Profile “unfriends” me that, poof, suddenly they can see my entire public profile? They see more as a stranger than they do as a friend! Concept #2 that I just can’t get my head around.

Don’t shove the same stuff into my feed again and again if I don’t respond to it. I didn’t watch “Jane Austen’s Fight Club” when it showed up this morning and I’m not going to watch it now. In the meantime, my friend John Hagel has posted an article about neuroscience that’s right up my alley…but, ironically, nowhere on my feed.

Give me back local. I loved seeing what was happening in and around my hometown; it connected me to things I might have otherwise missed and now look for on Meetup and Twitter.

Make ads relevant to me. Really! Who has more information about my likes and dislikes than you, Mark? Who knows the type of friends I hang out with, the things I click on when they post, even what my conversations and status updates suggest about my love life? And yet you serve me (wait, let me look) something about a PPC search network? I wish that your Irrelevant/Uninteresting/Repetitive choices when I “X” out ads had an “All of the Above.” I’m never going to click on that, and if you paid attention to that, over time you might attract some advertisers I’d actually respond to.

Mark, there’s more, but this is enough for now. I’ve come so close to pushing that “deactivate” button, but I gotta confess: you have me over a barrel. My kids are there, my sisters and brothers, my co-workers, my adorable Uncle Harvey and my high school friends and people I’ve met in my travels; they’re all there. Some of them also see Facebook as the online application we most hate to love; I’m right there with all of those folks who are highly dissatisfied but can’t bear to log off.

I’m just one of your 500 million users, but somehow I think there are a few others who think like me – and maybe we’re the people you should be listening to.

But I could be wrong. I’d like to know. So…what do you say? Ask the question, Mark. And then give us the service our answers describe.


Ellen (a Facebook user since 2007)

21 thoughts on “Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Ask the Question”

  1. When I receive a friend request I want to know as much as i can about the person who invited me, so why is it that I CANNOT see their profile but as soon as I send someone a friend request I can see their entire feed? Isn’t that backwards of how it should be? If I have requested them it means I already have a clue about them and why should I be seeing their private feed without their permission? I want to know as much as i can about someone who sends me a request and most of them have their privacy levels so high I have to add them just to find out what they are interested in.
    It would be helpful to have a sticky note where we can give our adding criteria, ie, “‘I only add peple I know IRL so don’t bother asking” or “I only add if you send me a message saying WHY you want to add me” or “Please unlock your profile so I have a clue about you before adding you and finding out you are a teabagger or worse”

    1. Thank you. I’ve seen a lot of flurry about your second point – that sticky note – in the last few days; may the wisdom of crowds pervail!

      And agree: the friend thing IS so backwards. It’s odd. When people put me on Limited Profile, I remove them as friends (unless there’s real value in my following them), and, poof, like magic, suddenly I see their full profile. Makes no sense! This is a recent “feature,” btw, part of the new “privacy” set-up. It took some work to make Limited Profile the default for non-friends before those changes, but, hey, at least you could do it.

      Thank you for the comment; I appreciate it. Ellen

  2. Good post, Ellen. I share just about all of your sentiments here, but I did watch Jane Austen’s Fight Club and it was funny. I think I’d like to read that neuroscience paper, too.

    I especially miss local stuff. I wander if their Hot Potato attempts will get them hyperlocal content? Right now local is seriously wanting.

    I think the thing that Facebook has done that makes it work best is build massive scale. Everyone seems to be on it. When someone I know isn’t I think they are the Geico Caveman, but even he’s on Fb!

    1. Thanks, Clay. Local (back in the day) offered potential beyond anything that’s available now. Even on an advertising basis, it could have been a goldmine for local vendors (I would have clicked on a Blue Bottle ad/offer any old time, or been lured to a new wine garden in Napa), but who knows: perhaps it will return. The disparity between the potential of Facebook and the reality is what gets to me. It could be my primary entry point to a very full web experience, but these experiments and meanderings on top of a less-than-satisfying foundation make the experience feel wasteful to me.

      Do me a favor and tweet this one out; I would love to see the conversation grow – and who knows? Maybe someone will pay attention 🙂

      all the best, e.

  3. Great post, Ellen. I found it only because it showed up on my feed by way of John Hagel so there is some value in the feed. I agree, however, each “improvement” in FB seems to make it harder and less fun to use.

    The feed on my computer is so much better than on my phone however, as I get many more from NPR, NYT, etc. and fewer from my actual friends. I have no idea how to control that.

    It seems clear to me that the intention of FB changes is to drive up quantity rather than quality of interactions in order to drive page/ad views. The suggestions you make would increase quantity and quality and I’m baffled as to why the FB crew can’t seem to grasp how to do both.

    The Jane Austen Fight Club was funny for about 45 seconds.

    1. I actually forwarded the Fight Club to a young friend (a drama/comedy/lit student) cuz I knew she’d like it, so wink-wink nudge-nudge on kvetching about seeing it in my feed. But you get the point. For example, I saw that a casual acquaintance liked her bbq ribs 6 hours after she posted…then 9 hours…and then again today, 18 hours later. Whoo hoo. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t quite hit the “value” button for me.

      Facebook formerly had a feature where you could “disappear” a post if it showed up on your feed and you didn’t like it. You just hit the “x” (maybe it was a “thumbs down;” don’t recall) and, poof, it went away. I want that back; it left my feed neatly curated and full of good information. Like the stuff I see from Hagel, for example, from whom all things are good :-).

      Thanks for the comment, Eric. Cheers, Ellen

  4. I read the help section every day in addition to mapping and sharing pattern activity!! A lot of answers/questions there. We need new ways to ask questions and make discoveries in life nature with people experts and be able to absorb/integrate listening and showing as well as telling… (plus all the stuff I’ve invested months career/expertise/life risk ip been sharing on my page and in the kidclouds page that includes the views and posts of others I have spent months/hours tracking) Please feel free to incorporate and connect in an way.

  5. One reason that you may feel like you’re not being listened to is that it’s not completely apparent that you’re the Facebook customer. At the end of the day, the bills get paid by the advertisers. And generally that means their needs rise to the top. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but you’re the product, not the customer.

  6. Wow! You are on a roll, Ellen . . . Love how you gave it to HIM 🙂

    Seriously, that is one sharp post you wrote. Now, let’s see if all those smart kids at Facebook listen to you!

    It has been interesting for me to notice the difference in my level of engagement at Twitter vs. blog. vs. Facebook. Facebook is a distant third, a place I go to because all my ‘friends’ are there, but that’s about it. Kind of like being provided with a meeting place but no caring hostess to make you feel at ease. When I think of Facebook, and I look inside my heart, I find nothing. So much unrealized potential there. Facebook needs women like you, to breathe in some feminine relatedness, and warmth, and genuine caring, into their site.

    1. In honesty, I didn’t mean to “give it” to anyone. But I want online entities like Facebook and others to give it (the good stuff) to us. Open Source itself demonstrates the value of collaborative creation. Who would know better how to help Facebook deliver real utility than the people who use it?

      Many online entities – not just Facebook – are on a constant quest for the next shiny object, regardless of how that fits into a larger experience or the real needs of an audience. I’m experiencing first-hand the limitations of differentiating what I put on to my Facebook profile, which ultimately feeds my Feed, today. It will change the way I post. Which will limit the value of what my friends can see/learn in my Feed. Which reduces the relevance of the service. Multiply that over a huge base of users, or even among the 10% who are most active, and how is that building value for Facebook over time?

      I want Facebook to be great. No other service out there has the potential that it has to be “the one” that I go to as my single point of entry to an online experience. The apparant lack of insight into real user wants, however, limits that potential and slows the progress I believe that Facebook could make in building shared value for all who are connected to/through it.

      And free? Nothing is free. We invest our time, our content, our recommendations, and ultimately our trust. There is no doubt that mutual benefit is there for the enjoying, but only if the progress

  7. A great post! And I agree with so much of what you say here – if Facebook were smart, it would leverage the understanding and interests of the hundreds of millions of people that use its service every day. No other company has such a compelling focus group through which to get and give feedback, ask questions and find results. And, I would bet that if the community had a role in shaping the “new Facebook” they’d be much more apt to talk about it, find ways to get others critiquing and questioning, and develop positive iterations towards a better social community. No site is currently doing that and the one that does will be truly social…


    1. As a related thought (you can tell you got me thinking!) I see much that goes on at Facebook every day that is indicative of a “closed culture” where individual experiences are cast aside (things like the overt linking of profiles to individual fan pages for interests that I want to associate with my profile, etc). Not only is it a drain on the functionality and utility of this far-reaching social tool, but also an increasingly offensive attempt by a large company to control and direct our social media behavior and associations. I’ve found myself getting pretty miffed at times at how Facebook operates  (of course, there are also these unique “ah-ha” moments where Facebook is very effective at bringing people together and fostering some interesting relationships, whether personal or for business). In any case, an ongoing dialogue, but I’d be interested to see if any of this finds its way back to the core of Facebook to be acted on.

  8. To add to your collection of thoughts, I have been collecting 5 months of observations from other people’s pages if you’d like to pass on in your efforts as well.
    Here’s my take:
    Almost every source of technology we are using is based on cognitive science and learning and nature (if even applied in design, old). We are making a huge mistake designing technology for business/marketing (no learning/invention/lt-business happening) versus for nature and real human needs (NOT in our institutions r…ight now). We exist together here outside our institutions and can open and connect them by redesigning our technologies together around learning/ecology/kids/experts/life for the Universe and this will heal business/government/schools/entertainment/nature/etc.

    We are making a huge mistake designing technology for technology/business/marketing (no learning/invention/lt-business happening) versus for nature and real human needs (NOT in our institutions right now, so feeding them with these designs does not fix the problem). We exist together here outside our institutions and can open and connect them by redesigning our technologies together around learning/ecology/kids/experts/life for the Universe and this will heal business/government/education/school/entertainment/nature/etc.

  9. I’m asking for tech industries/community to redesign around invention/learning for the purpose of discovery together with other industries, building invention, supporting future inventors, reducing waste/redundancy and following nature… We need the industries to connect to do this.

  10. If we want to get into nitty gritty of basic design issues- with this design, need better representation that allows for connectivity outside of threads and lines and individuals and doesn’t force all streams in unknowns. The system needs to be designed to learn, and some basics are all in the help section… tons of requests re privacy settings, edit to comment cutton, etc. But I think it’s a bigger macrodesign issue around purpose and if we connect to a higher purpose we can fulfill the goals many in technology have had for a long time.

  11. The new suggested friend tool finder is also somewhat invasive in that one does not know why one is getting request from an unknown person… Does not increase netork, rather increase suspicion. Building around natural connections, as you discuss, the way to go… In life!!

  12. The friend thing is bang (as is most of it actually) surely if someone asks me to be their friend I should be able to see their profile until I make a decision.

    A very good blog post


  13. Great post and great insights. You’d think that FB would have people who actually use the product and feel the frustration the rest of us do.

    I think Facebook is one of the most clunky, confusing, and unintuitive entities ever created. I have avoided using it, but, I recently have been pulled back in. I still can’t figure out most of what it does, er, um, is supposed to do for me.

  14. What a great reflection and gift for the facebook team. If facebook wants a successful ipo then fb team needs to listen. This is such a moment in time that can make fb signifcant vs just a flash of success.

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