Why do Facebook users hate change?

Summary:Facebook, as a social phenomenon, a greater oddity exists when the site changes its layout or features. Why do Facebook users hate change, or is it a wider societal problem?

There is a hate in the air that cannot be ignored.

It's ironic that enough people have turned to the 'fallback' social network to lambaste Facebook by tweeting about it, to the point where anger is so clear, the #NewFacebook hashtag is trending worldwide.

With nearly 800 million around the world using Facebook on a regular basis, there is widespread anger over changes to the 'news feed' -- the stream of information collated on the front page of every Facebook profile -- and the overall profile changes.

Gallery To see the brand new Facebook profile layout (no, not the one you've already seen, but the one that will replace the already new one released only this week), then head on over here. Prepare for a shock.

The changes itself are not radical in that all the statuses and profile updates are still displayed in the right hand column. The 'ticker', that keeps the user abreast of photos, updates, links posted and other Page related content, has changed location but it still performs the same function.

But others are questioning whether we are even 'allowed' to complain. It's a free service, on the face of it. We are allowed to sign up and use the service in exchange of our personal information, and do so free of charge. Are we consumers, customers or something else entirely?

People generally do not like change. It is as simple as that. But why?

(Source: Flickr)

The immediate reaction, as you would expect, has been all but negative. But I would argue that younger people are more adaptive to change than their older counterparts.

Re-learning process

While many will be used to the changes in the next couple of weeks, the initial change means a re-learning process, something in which images of primary and secondary schooling are conjured back up.

The Generation Y are more adaptable to change, with many embracing anything new and exciting. But for the older Generation X, our parents, while new things can be equally exciting, the re-learning process comes at a cost.

For too many people even today, the association of learning is still met with difficulty. For decades, the Generation X have been without compulsory schooling and formal education. To jump back into the habit of needing to re-learn something from scratch can bring back up regressive feelings of a negative schooling experience.

The younger lot, still fresh from school and more comfortable with the formal learning process, are more adept to change.

Where technology meets psychology

Even in technology, especially in technology, people feel insecure. People pick their brands and hold them close to their chest. Technology may be a neutral force for good or evil, but people feel more secure knowing they can be connected to others at a moment's notice.

People need reassurances. Just as we like to explore new things, we are just as cautious as we have ever been, seeing most new things as a threat to our long-term stability. Though, of course, some people are more adaptable to change, it seems to wain as the generational divide shifts.

When a radical change is made to something 'already useful', but does not fundamentally change the experience, people rebel -- and they rebel quickly.

Take the microwave, for one. It can heat up food in two minutes rather than twenty. People were terrified of it at first; this 'alien' technology could have long-term health effects and other untold consequences. But the benefits from accepting new things can often outweigh the apparent negatives.

Why Facebook is changing

Facebook is changing because it needs parity with Google+, the new social network on the scene. Facebook needs to be seen as progressive; otherwise it could be demonised or fall into the trap of 'being the next MySpace'.

Users by very nature do not want to learn how to use a product every six months.

Remember when Office 2007 transformed the menu to the 'Ribbon'? The user backlash was tremendous, but Microsoft stuck it out and somehow it succeeded. But users needed to write documents and create spreadsheets, and the functionality was there; seemingly hidden by a necessary new learning experience.

Though Facebook is hardly forthcoming with its user statistics, I can all but bet that nearly a quarter of the 800 million users of Facebook use their mobile phone or smartphone either just as much, or more than the desktop version.

Update: This says it all, really.

Because if this theory stands, as Facebook does not update their mobile applications half as much as they do on the desktop, it offers users greater stability and fewer opportunities to feel negative about the changes.

Related:

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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