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Doing some things wrong beats doing nothing

This past week I helped a a man old enough to be my father to figure out something about Facebook that was bugging him. He wasn’t getting any replies to most of his Facebook messages. His friends and family were complaining that he wasn’t responding. What the heck was going on? After some rough Time and Motion studies I found that due to a UI issue, his replies were going to noreply@facebook.com. Gah, I hate do not reply mailboxes. Still, I have to credit the guy. A lesser soul might have given up in disgust with this setback. Instead, he got a bit of how-to knowledge transfer then he carefully redirected each misdirected message. The social imperative of responding trumped any ego-centric notion of retreating from engagement.

Facebook, Inc.

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And then the very next day, Facebook tweaks its feeds (and its members), once again outraging the commenting public and causing a re-surge in interest in commentary on the last time Facebook horked its users, and spurred the creation of a lot of Facebook activity in reaction. Of course, all this new activity and focus is happening on Facebook, so I don’t really suppose the Facebook upper echelons are sweating it right now. I suspect instead that they might be limbering up their apology muscles, since it seems every few months they apologize for some change to Facebook.
What’s the deal? Well, in the time since their last snafu, Facebook has rolled out an improved iPhone app 3.0, a new gift store, even a new Gross National Happiness counter to serve their devoted econometrician members. These folks do a bunch of coding, and they do it daily. Once in a while they get it wrong, they apologize and get on with a fix. Kudos to them. That’s how it should be done.
Compare this–briefly–with the forlorn and ill-fated Geocities. I’d say that Geocities could make a fair claim to being the first social site–every type of person, cause, and organization was represented. Proto-bloggers hung their virtual shingles there and early online Romeos posted profiles before the dating services existed. But what has happened recently? Just a lights-on approach. Were they taking the risk of doing something wrong? No, they were doing nothing. But doing nothing isn’t right either. If you’re feeling sad, at least you can be comforted that Geocities is now out of its misery, and that some intrepid souls are trying to record its contents for posterity.
And we’ve got a pretty little case study handily demonstrating how do-it-wrong-quickly handily beats don’t-do-anything. Now excuse me, I’ve got someone calling who wants to know how to turn off farmville updates.

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