Archive | March, 2009

What do Web services like Facebook & Twitter owe their users?

23 Mar

There’s been lots of noise recently around Web services and their relationships with their users. Facebook users were up in arms about the recent privacy policy changes (since rescinded), there’s increasing noise about the customer service (or lack thereof) from Twitter. Facebook’s redesign has caused an extraordinary backlash: you’d think some of these folks had been personally assaulted, such is their anger. Gmail  goes down for 15 minutes, and it’s like the world has ended.

Gmail, like the others above, is free for non-enterprise users.

That’s the key point when looking at these complaints: these services are all free.  So, just as users of Google’s free analytics product have much less right to complain than those of the higher end and more fully featured (but paid) Omniture Site Catalyst, the real question is whether  it’s reasonable to expect a certain level of service or % of uptime when you’re not paying for a product?

If you’re getting something for free you have to take it as it comes to some extent, but in truth it’s more complex than that.  Long term each of these services will look to generate revenue from their users in some capacity (some like Gmail already are); whether through subscriptions, advertising, sponsorship or some other stream.  To succeed, they need a happy and active user base. Ignoring their users’ complaints at this stage could damage them long term: the Web is littered with the carcasses of services that ignored their users.

You could reasonably argue that Twitter users have no right to complain about not getting a level of service they are not contractually entitled to, but in order for it  to succeed, they need to keep users happy so they don’t go elsewhere. The road to that success starts with listening to their users’  complaints. The customer is always right, even when it comes to free services.

Interesting thoughts on this over at the Social Media Club. It’s their question of the week. Where do you stand?  Are folks being reasonable in complaining, or does the fact they’re not paying for the service mean they have to accept whatever level of service they receive?