I think most people that follow the same news feeds that I read probably have heard about this whole Facebook login thing, so I won’t summarize too much. Basically, the blog ReadWriteWeb posted an arcticle about Facebook. The article subsequently got ranked as a very high search result for “Facebook login” on Google. The content of the article itself is irrelevant to the issue at hand (although the article itself is interesting). Pay special attention to the comments (or at least the first 100 or so).
The typical nerd response to this has been laughing and pointing. Now, I have to admit, that was my first response as well. But, after I stopped laughing and shaking my head (well, actually I’m still shaking my head), I started thinking of all of the crazy things that I’ve seen people do in the last 5+ years I’ve spent working in computer support. While I find this whole thing rather amusing, I can’t say that I’m actually surprised. I have witnessed someone physically lift a mouse into the air when asked to “move the mouse up”.
I think the biggest difference between developers (or nerds) and normal people, is that normal people don’t want to know how a computer or the internet work. They don’t care. They don’t want to learn. I’ve never really gotten over this because it’s something that I find terribly disappointing about working in computer support. I can watch a person do the same thing over an over again knowing that there is a better way to do it, but they don’t care. They don’t want to understand. They don’t want me to teach them how to understand why something works a certain way. They just want to get the result they need.
I still have yet to decide the which angle of this attitude is the more important one. Is it an indication that a certain population of people will always be lagging behind because they refuse to adapt to a quickly changing world that requires them to understand certain aspects of technology? Or perhaps is it an indication that technology (and the people who develop it) simply hasn’t evolved enough to adapt to “real people” who do not “need” to understand black box in order to use it?
The Wider Debate
Much has been written in regard to the Facebook login fiasco, and quite a controversy has been sparked in the development community about what this really means, and whose “fault” it is. First, check out some of these articles which highlight very interesting points for both sides of the debate.
On Whether Or Not Google Got It Wrong
I guess this really depends on how far exactly the RWW article made it up the search rankings. I’d say that it’s an entirely different debate depending on whether the search result was first or fifth. I thought originally the result was first, but Stratton claims it never made it to number one. I don’t see any reason why that RWW article should not reach a high rank on the search term “facebook login” since that is what the article is about. It’s a popular blog and presumably the article was popular as well.
A number one search result is another matter though. I agree with the camp that says it would be impossible for Google (or any other search engine) to always know what a person meant. But seriously, isn’t that what Google is always trying to do? It just doesn’t sit right to me that an article about a website as huge as Facebook would ever be a more popular search intention that the site itself.
The search “facebook login” seems to clearly indicate a search for the login page itself. That seems fairly intuitive. In fact, substitute facebook for most major web apps and I think it’s the same. However, if the search changes slightly to something like “facebook changes login”, it’s now an entirely different issue.
Perhaps the artificial intelligence of search algorithms just isn’t sophisticated enough to parse nuances of language that seem so obvious to humans. Then again, perhaps they are and that’s why the RWW page never made it to the number one spot for the “facebook login” search. In that case, I really think this whole debate about whether or not Google got it wrong is really a non issue.
On The Users Themselves
Moving past the whole Google question, there are a couple of things that really baffle me about this entire fiasco. First of all, it’s clear that these users have no idea what a URL is. Both because they are using Google Search to find a URL like facebook.com and also (and more importantly) because they did not realize that the RWW URL bears absolutely no resemblance to any Facebook URL, and therefore cannot possible be the Facebook website.
How is it that these users who have to most superficial understanding of what a website is and how the internet works, are also capable of writing comments to the RWW page? They are baffled about how to log in to a site that’s not the Facebook site they’re used to (and in fact bears absolutely no resemblance to it). But they still can use the comment form in order to voice their disapproval of the perceived redesign.
Okay so, maybe typing into a comment form is no big deal. Even people that think the entire internet is just Google/Facebook/YouTube can figure out a comment form. What about using Facebook itself? It’s not like Facebook is that simple to use. This isn’t a slam on Facebook user interface, it’s just that Facebook is huge, and there are a lot of things that you can do on it. How can these people figure out how to use Facebook?
Perhaps this is an issue of normal people realizing that they want to use Facebook enough to spend time learning about friend networks, walls, how to upload photos in the little snazzy uploader. Why is it that they deem it important enough to figure out how to use websites like Facebook, but at the same time don’t care to understand what a web address is? I think I just fail to understand why someone would not care about that kind of stuff because I am so interested in it myself.
Is It Actually a Facebook Problem?
I logged on to Facebook for the first time in several weeks today. I don’t find myself doing this too much these days because I often either don’t look at Facebook at all or only look at it through the Facebook iPhone app. Much to my surprise, Facebook looked quite a bit different than the last time I saw it. I started thinking about how often I have to do what Steve Krug calls “muddling through” when I’m using Facebook. I know what I can do on Facebook, it just usually takes me a couple of tries to figure it out.
Why is this? Well, when I think about it, the Facebook website changes quite a bit. They’ve made several large and small changes to the website in recent years (or less?). Compare this to something like the Google home page which has changed very little since it’s inception.
Perhaps Facebook users have come to expect over time, and through personal experience, that the Facebook website will change, and sometimes change dramatically. They expect this because it has happened. Perhaps it wasn’t so far fetched after all to believe that the RWW page was simply just the newest reiteration of a Facebook design.
Now, I know this is a stretch, but perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch. Has Facebook changed its pages so much that users are now willing to accept that a complete makeover, such as the RWW page being a new Facebook design, is a real possibility? Does Facebook redesign too often? Has Facebook unwittingly trained it’s users to expect this?
One Last Only Slightly Related Thought
Anyone like me (aka: nerd, developer, gamer, general computer enthusiast) who thinks that the iPad is stupid and going to be a flop is not seeing the big picture. The iPad is designed for exactly the type of people commenting on the RWW website. Both Mike Rundle and Fraser Speirs are dead on (along with some other smart people as well). I think that most people will love the iPad. I think the iPad is going to revolutionize the netbook/eReader market just like the iPhone revolutionized the mobile phone market. Will the iPad be as successful a device as the iPhone? I don’t know. But I guarantee that it will change the game.