The Facebook Flop

I’ll admit it: I’m rather enjoying the Facebook Home/First flop.

First off, it’s always fun to say “I told you so.” Specifically, pre-launch I questioned Mark Zuckerberg’s assertion that people, not apps were the center of our smartphone experience in Apps, People, and Jobs to be Done:

Apps aren’t the center of the world. But neither are people. [Jobs are.] The reason why smartphones rule the world is because they do more jobs for more people in more places than anything in the history of mankind. Facebook Home makes jobs harder to do, in effect demoting them to the folders on my third screen.

Second, this flop was in many ways a validation of what I want to accomplish with this blog: highlight all the factors beyond product features that go into the success or failure of a product. Things like brand, marketing, channel, distribution, strategic positioning, retail experience, etc. With regards to the Facebook Home, and the HTC First in particular:

This stuff matters just as much as the product itself (it’s why, for example, I think it doesn’t matter that the Galaxy S4 design stinks).

Third, this entire episode exposes the cavalier way too many in technology approach design. Look, I’m glad we all agree that “Design isn’t how it looks, it’s how it works.” But that’s not enough.

Design is about identifying, understanding, and ultimately feeling your end users’ needs, and then meeting those needs. Facebook Home, like countless SV startups, looks beautiful, works elegantly, and doesn’t meet any needs.

(Actually, that’s not strictly true: Facebook Home happens to perfectly align with Facebook’s business-model-driven need to monopolize user attention. User needs, not so much. An immediate red flag.)

There are really only two proven methods for building breakthrough consumer products:

  1. Build something to meet your own needs and find a market with the same needs
  2. Find a market, then do real, qualitative, ethnographic-driven research that lets you truly empathize with said market and understand their needs

Notably missing from this list is build something pretty for a platform you don’t even use.

Facebook didn’t realize just how important widgets, docks, and app folders were to Android users, and that leaving them out of Home was a huge mistake. That’s because some of the Facebookers who built and tested Home normally carry iPhones, I’ve confirmed. Lack of “droidfooding” has left Facebook scrambling to add these features, whose absence have led Home to just 1 million downloads since launching a month ago.

That’s not design; it’s a glorified art project.

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