Apple vs. Facebook

facebookDid you hear that sound yesterday?  The loud groaning one?  It was the sound of the 750 million active Facebook users groaning as they logged in to find out that the user interface had been changed. The news today is that those changes were small potatoes, even bigger changes are coming. That means there is more groaning yet to come. One of the common complaints of my friends was the question of why Facebook doesn’t perform user acceptance testing.  Why don’t they ask their users what they think about interface changes they are making before they make them? I can’t pretend that I know the inner workings of the Facebook release cycle to know that they are not.

Apple-logoOne company that I know that doesn’t do any user acceptance testing is Apple.  They are famously hush hush about their product releases and nobody NOBODY outside the company sees the items before launch.  Ok, nobody except the random people that find the items their employees who field test the items leave in Silicon Valley area bars and restaurants.

Now let’s thing through the differences between new releases from Facebook and new releases from Apple.  Facebook changes interface, users groaned and threaten revolt.  Apple changes interface and offers new items… users camp out in front of store to buy latest gadget.

So, what is the difference?  Well in some ways, this is an unfair comparison.  Apple is a device and Facebook is a website.  An Apple customer has more choice on whether to make the change than a Facebook user.  If an Apple user hates the new Apple offering they stay with what they have.  But even with that said, I strongly believe that we can learn from  comparing and contrasting the two.

Let me start by giving the similarity.  Both companies have a powerful CEO whose DNA infuses the entire organization.  [Ok, all of you reading are going to catch a technical mistake here.  The CEO in Apples case is no longer in place because Steve Jobs resigned recently to tend to his health.  BUT, the organization is still completely infused with his leadership so my point remains.] In the form of Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs (see not above), both organizations have a hands on boss that watches and handles all releases.

Now the difference… for Facebook, that vision has always been toward a world as Mark Zuckerburg sees it.  If you look at every at the history of the privacy issues users have had with Facebook time after time it has come down to the fundamental difference between the way the world sees privacy and the way Mark Zuckerberg sees privacy.  He led the company in the direction he believed was right…. not necessarily where his customers wanted to go.

For Apple, it is a different story.  Apple has always had a laser focus on what the customer wants and how new features will benefit the user. Even the explanation of features of apple products are always verbalized from a user perspective. So the question is, which approach works better?

I should mention that as I read this, I am watching coverage of the F8 conference where Facebook announces its latest changes.  My words above reflect the history before today.  Does today change it all?  Let’s see…