Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Social sites

1005333_electric_cablesFacebook, Livejournal, Stumble, Last.fm, Twitter… the list goes on and on. Each person online is a member of at least one of these, most of us belong to many. And each of us have our own experiences with these sites, and our own expectations of these sites.

And when our favourite sites change anything, quite often we have different reactions.

I know when Livejournal started making changes last year, the community was in uproar, and many users either switched to different blogging sites, or refused to renew their paid accounts, opting to make use of free accounts instead.

Similarly, after Last.fm revealed their new look over the past week-end, no less than 10 000 (yes, ten thousand) users went up in arms.

Ultimately, however, these social sites, as fun as they are, have to operate like businesses. This means they need to make a profit, and adhere to certain regulations. Of course, it may not be obvious to the loyal user base how a site like Last.fm could possibly make money, and those who have paid for accounts feel a sense of entitlement – they are paying for a service, and feel they should have some say in how the service is delivered.

If we applied this principle to real life, how would it turn out?

Let’s use the example of a gym membership. I, like every other member, pay my fees on a monthly basis, and, in return, the gym allows me to make use of their facilities. Some gyms have different packages, typically the cheaper ones offering less than the more expensive ones. The gym, presumably, uses the money it collects from its members to maintain the equipment, pay the staff, and improve the service. It has to look at the requirements of most of the members when making changes to the service, and it has to keep economic climates and lifestyle trends in mind. There is no point for a gym to build 10 yoga studios, if it consistently only fills one class with 5 students once a week, but has queues up to the wazzoo at the weights. And, of course, it needs to make a profit somewhere along the line – because that is how businesses stay in business for extended periods of time.

I agree, there is a difference between an online business and the bricks-and-mortar type, but these differences are no longer as vast as they were a couple of years ago.

But, if your gym decides to move the equipment around, because they want to either make space for more equipment, or to improve the flow through the gym, will you be so upset that you will either picket outside or stop going completely? I doubt it. Should they remove your favourite equipment, and can your favourite classes – sure.

If your favourite restaurant changes their menu, will you at least try out the new dishes before you get upset? I believe you would.

Then why is it that users get so incredibly emotional when these web sites make these changes? Is it because they still see these web sites as start-ups funded by the users, or is there a different set of rules for our interaction with on-line businesses compared with the ones we interact with in real life?

Or is it maybe because most of us have become so consumed with the on-line life that this has become our real life?

 

* picture from stock.xchng

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