How to Piss off an Online Community

People are resistant to change.  We find solace in our daily routines.  And because social media sites have become a part of that routine (for better or worse) even small changes to those services can effect us.    So while not every change is bad, and most (if not all) will have their naysayers, some changes are just harder to swallow than others.  Here are 4 recent (and very public) examples of changes that caused the respective communities to lash out.

Betray your users’ trust

Example: Facebook’s Privacy Settings

It’s no secret that Facebook privacy policy is complicated.  In fact, it’s longer than the US constitution.    Late last year, however, Facebook rolled out a privacy settings update that made users (previously private) friends lists public, and gave no ability to make it private again.  Gawker called this ‘Facebook’s Great Betrayal’.

While this wasn’t the first time Facebook was under fire for its privacy policies, it is arguably the worst example by the social media giant.  Outraged bloggers became concerned news outlets which eventually evolved into a main stream media fire storm of concerns over Facebook & privacy.  A storm that is still going strong today.

Create a feature that people want, but ruin it

Example: Twitter’s Re-tweet Button

In retrospect, the addition of a one-touch retweet button made a lot of sense.  The format RT @username: became such common use, that to NOT add a button seemed more of a slight than to screw it up.  Well screw it up they did…

The problem with what Twitter released last year wasn’t about functionality, but rather the format. Instead of simply adding “RT @username” before the tweet as your own, the re-tweet would instead show up in your followers’ feeds as it originally looked, avatar and all.  Additionally, the button didn’t allow for users to amend the original tweet in any way.

While this wasn’t the worst thing that Twitter could do, it was widely criticized by the community.  Almost a year later, people continue to use the original format and manually RT instead of using the button.  In fact, in my own twitter feed, I had to go 3 pages deep and pass over 10 manual re-tweets before finding a Twitter generated re-tweet.

The lesson here: if you’re going to add a feature based on common user activity, keep it as similar to that activity as possible.  Twitter still hasn’t listened.

Take away core features

Example: Sphinn announces they’re removing voting

In case you hadn’t heard, just a few days ago, Sphinn announced it was doing away with user voting.  The social media news site for the SEO and Internet Marketing community will now be completely editor hand picked content.  The decision came just a couple weeks after the announcement of a more strict editorial policing of content to prevent sub-par submissions from reaching the front page through group voting.

It’s not hard to imagine why people would be upset by this news.  No longer will the community have the power to vote on what content is featured on the main page.  Criticism that Sphinn will become more of an “old boys club” and that editors will only promote content by their peers are wide spread and (perhaps) valid.  Danny Sullivan himself even admitted the site would no longer be a “social media” news site.

While it is yet to be seen if the decision will pay off in the long-run, many loyal users are upset by this prospect and don’t see why they would continue to participate in the site.  So even if this improves the quality of the content on Sphinn, the backlash will likely carry a price in the short term.

Completely change the entire way the site works (including breaking it)

Example: Digg v. 4

Just over a week ago Digg made major changes reflective of a new era for the social media news giant.  The problem is: nobody likes it.  There have been enough articles about what changes people hate the most and what features that are no longer available users are missing the most, so I won’t go into the gory details.  In order to truly appreciate the differences between the two versions you simply needed to experience it.  In short: the site practically stopped being Digg and became a whole new idea altogether.

If change is bad, then Digg just committed a mortal sin.  At least that’s the feeling when you talk to some power users about it.  Many are begging for features to come back and (even as I write this) conducting boycotts of the service to make their points heard.

What’s worse: the service seems to be completely unreliable as of late showing a “broken axle” (Digg’s “fail ox”) for sometimes hours at a time.  And even when it is working, angered users (in protest) have promoted popular stories that point to the competing (and growing) reddit instead of the original article making for a very poor user experience.

Digg’s creator and former CEO (who stepped down this week) Kevin Rose promised that they were working to bring back many of the removed features, but the damage has been done.  The site has lost over 1/3 of it’s traffic and devout users have already started migrating elsewhere.  What will become of Digg?  It’s anyone’s guess.