Are Social Media Websites Listening to Their Users?
Social media apps try to keep their users interested with fancy new features and exciting updates – but sometimes those updates just don’t make sense. These four recent updates to social media sites have us scratching our heads.
People who use social media regularly have strong opinions about how it should look and perform – and they definitely aren’t silent about it. One would think that this kind of instant feedback on features would give developers a wealth of information to draw from so that they could release nothing but perfect fixes.
Instead, sometimes it seems like the developers are completely ignoring the user base and adding new features based on the position of the sun in the sky, the temperature of the Adriatic sea, and whether their coffee had cream in it that morning.
While you certainly can’t please everyone (and trying to is a guaranteed recipe for disaster), the last couple weeks have left users with some questions:
Why do Tumblr users need instant messaging? Why isn’t Reddit’s homepage algorithm working? Why has Facebook decided that a post-breakup feature should be a priority? And, most importantly, why do Twitter users need to “like” things instead of “favoriting” them?
Instant Messaging on Tumblr
What’s Happening: Many Tumblr users who signed in over the last week or so have been greeted by an explosion of confetti and the message “Congratulations! You’ve got Instant Messaging!” on their screen.
If it hasn’t happened to you yet, trust me, it will soon – it’s a rolling update, with full availability expected by early next month.
What Users Wanted: Tumblr users have wanted improvements to the site’s messaging system for ages. Before this update, there were four methods of communication on Tumblr:
- Reblogging a post with your own commentary (great for running jokes, poor for private conversations)
- Replying to a post (the post wouldn’t end up on your blog, but your comment was still visible to the public)
- Fan Mail (you could send a message to another blogger and they could respond privately, after which it would disappear from their inbox)
- Asks (you could send a message to another blogger and they could reply either publicly or privately, after which both your response and their ask would disappear from your inbox)
The messaging system was definitely broken, and Tumblr users wanted it fixed.
What They Got: Instead of simplifying the messaging system, Tumblr removed the reply feature (arguably one of the most useful of the above options) without any explanation, and then began offering a private instant messaging system.
Yes, you read that right. You can now send someone a fan mail, an ask, OR an instant message, but you cannot reply publicly to someone’s post without reblogging it to your own blog.
“Why does there need to be an arbitrary distinction between these three types of private messaging?” you call from the back.
I have no idea, and neither do any of Tumblr’s users.
Static Algorithms on Reddit
What’s Happening: Reddit advertises itself as “the front page of the Internet” has a seriously out-of-date algorithm that determines what posts are visible on its front page. When large-scale events happen, Reddit is now often one of the last social media sites to highlight current events on its main page.
Reddit used to fill a niche that no other social media website did, and it really was the best place to learn about current events (and kitten GIFs, and less savory content ) for a very long time. However as other sites like Twitter and Facebook have evolved to include trending hashtags and suggested news stories, Reddit is either going to have to step up its game or change its focus completely.
What Users Wanted: Reddit users want to see revisions to the front page algorithm that allow controversial topics (such as tragic stories in the news) to reach the front page. While this has historically been effective, a recent surge in visitors has left Reddit with a broader user base, many of whom use upvotes and downvotes as “likes” and “dislikes” instead of indications of whether or not a link has added something valuable to the website’s ongoing conversation (John Bonazzo offers a more in-depth explanation of this phenomenon here).
What They Got: Well, nothing yet. Initial responses from Marty Weiner (Reddit’s chief technology officer) were defensive, and insinuated that there was nothing wrong with the site’s algorithm because “nothing has changed.”
He has promised to look into changing the algorithm, but as of this writing nothing has been done, and with each trending current event, Reddit’s credibility as a site for breaking news is going downhill.
Breakups on Facebook
What’s Happening: Breakups are complicated, and Facebook has decided that it should be the one to help you through this difficult time. An update just released in the United States offers a step-by-step process called “Take a Break” that can help you hide updates from your ex without notifying them, keep your ex from seeing your posts, and un-tag you from old photos.
What Users Wanted: Speaking very generally, I think what most casual Facebook users want are easy ways to control who sees their posts and to limit how much Facebook knows about them.
In some cases that might be because of a breakup, but users are just as likely to want to hide check-ins during a “sick” day from their bosses, photos of a wild night out from their grandparents, and upsetting life updates from casual acquaintances.
While Facebook does have very customizable privacy settings, they can be unwieldy to navigate (especially on a person-by-person basis), and often lead to more confusion than clarity. Basically since its inception, users have been asking Facebook for a simple process that will let them know with certainty who is (and isn’t) able to see their photos and posts.
What They Got: Facebook’s Take a Break wizard isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, it’s just incredibly limited in its scope. While it is helpful for the end of a relationship (it’s triggered by you changing your relationship status, so you won’t be able to use it on friendships that have recently ended), it doesn’t actually introduce any new features and has left the rest of the available privacy settings on Facebook as confusing as ever.
Love on Twitter
What’s Happening: Twitter updated its user interface so that instead of “favoriting” another person’s tweet by pressing a star icon, you now “like” it by pressing a heart icon.
What Users Wanted: Twitter users have a lot of changes that they would love to see – updates that would improve Twitter’s functionality, ease-of-use, and aesthetic design. None of these users were especially bothered by the fact that they were pressing a little star icon, and none of them were insisting that what would really improve their user experience would be if they could press a little heart icon instead.
What They Got: Twitter changed the little star into a heart. Users lost their minds.
On one hand, it’s easy to see this as a silly reaction to an arguably tiny change to how Twitter works.
However, in the nuanced language of social media, there have actually been several legitimate arguments made about the connotations implicit in “liking” something that aren’t present when “favoriting” something. Favoriting is seen as a non-emotional statement that can range in meaning from “This is excellent commentary” to “I disagree with this, but it’s a valid point” to “I’m noticing this ironically.” Liking something, however, is rarely an unemotional comment and is almost impossible to interpret as anything other than enthusiastic agreement.
There’s also some indication Twitter might be testing an emoji response system – a move that would definitely allow for nuanced responses, but would simultaneously remove a lot of Twitter’s streamlined design.
Social Media Design Theory
You just have to wonder — with all the research, money, and time that goes into every update on social media , how are these the priorities that social media websites choose to focus on?
What are the updates that you actually want to see on your preferred social media platform? Let me know in the comments!
Image Credit: businessmen are shouting by 6kor3dos via Shutterstock