Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thanks to Facebook, my mom now understands software development [The future is here]

At this point, it's as part of the vernacular as "boy meets girl:" Facebook makes changes, Everyone is confused by changes, Everyone rails (utilizing the new features they are complaining about - how meta!), Everyone threatens to breakup with Facebook, nobody does.

The recent changes are a pretty major shift. I guess.

I say "I guess" because to my mind, these changes are part of The Book that is Face being The Book that is Face.

And I say "to my mind" because I am fully aware that because of what makes me tick, I look at The Book that is Face through a different lens than most.  The iterative process of making things or figuring things out - organizations, websites, new recipes, a home - is like oxygen to me. Dive in, engage, try things, test them, assess, adjust, repeat - discussing it ad nauseum all the while. This is how I see Facebook. It's a living piece of software, plugged into 500 million people who are using it, contributing to it and informing it from all over the world, 24/7.

That is hot.

So I don't so much care about the specifics of the changes. That they are happening at this scale at, I consider awesome. I enjoy sharing and connecting with people at the level and reach that the Facebook platform allows, so I'll figure out how to incorporate the changes in whatever way I need to to continue to get out of the platform what I desire. Simple.

But the super duper bonus point I see in all this is the way it is changing The User Experience. And I use title case there because I'm talking about the way people use all stuff.  People who cannot set an alarm clock use Facebook. The pressure to see photos of their grandkids or monitor their teen's activities or to keep in touch with friends when heading off to college or a new city was too great, and people who couldn't tell you what a social network is (and could care less) have signed up for and regularly use this living breathing pile of code that is Facebook. And they are along for this ride. They have free (in terms of cash out of their pocket) access to some of the most robust and powerful software in existence. Yes, Google is also as free and as (maybe more) powerful, but (so far) Google does not give them a smoothly integrated and polished window into every shared aspect of their friends and families lives. They are able to set preferences and privacy settings, give feedback and curate their own feeds. And not everyone becomes a super user, but when these upgrades happen and the cut and paste status updates on how to change x,y or z or event invitations to "bring back the old Facebook" outlining the changes in detail start flying, they learn and notice whether they want to or not. And this becomes a collective knowledge, conscious or not, about what technology makes possible. How flexible it can be. How our preferences and feedback can be incorporated. How things that we make don't have to be set in stone.

And that knowledge, that evolution of The User Experience, raises the bar throughout the Matrix (yeah, I said it). Apple - with iTunes, the iPad and the iPhone - has a major part in this collective learning as well. We want our cars to be smarter, our devices to be more integrated - it starts to be the way we expect things to be.

Those of us who create and distribute content would do well to recognize this shift. We've always had to remind ourselves to remember the user, but now, more than ever, it's key. The user is being trained, en masse, that they can control their own experience. And not just in a "have it your way" sort of way, in a very tactical, very personal, very human sort of way. That? Cannot be ignored.

Because, really.

Note: After publishing this, it occurred to me that my mother knows COBOL, so clearly. But if we think of our collective moms, I think the title still works :).

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