Earlier in February, Snapchat changed its design, and users hated it. A million people signed a Change.org petition to roll back those changes.
Even minor tweaks to any social network: from Twitter to Facebook and Instagram, and beyond, prompts discussion and often instant dislike.
But either days, weeks, or months later, users get over it and apps see their usage go up The platform updates fade into the background and becomes the norm, as apps see their design choices validated with usage growth.
So why the outcry? Is it just human nature to overreact to change, or does this tell us more about our overdependence on social media than we’d like to admit?
We looked into some cases of social platform updates to see what we can learn about how users behave online.
Snapchat: a redesign gone south
Snapchat’s update was dropped unannounced in early February 2018. This was unusual, particularly as there hadn’t been many significant updates to the design of the platform preceding it. The update also broke several users ‘streaks’ of sending and receiving snaps with friends and even prompted users to create a hack to restore the old design temporarily. This prompted an inevitable outcry.
Snapchat users are overwhelmingly in the under-20 bracket, and teens are an expressive audience. Many Snapchat users have grown up online, and don’t remember a world before living your social life on apps. Changing the foundations of the platforms they use to express themselves is a fundamental re-adjustment of the spaces in which they spend most of their time and energy.
Will the furore die down? A week later, Snapchat released a new version of the app, taking into account some complaints, but by no means reversing any.
It’s incredibly unlikely it will ultimately drive users from the platform, and this dependence on the social networks is what is key to people ‘getting over’ these updates, but it may have shaken teens’ trust in Snapchat.
Twitter: from 140 to 280
Twitter’s decision to increase the character limit on Tweets to 280 in September 2017 prompted a similar response: mostly dismay. But since Twitter has a history of evolving as a product –often incorporating into the product user behavior that it observed on the platform, like retweets or @ replies– the acrimony died down quickly.
Twitter was built on the idea of short updates. This limit has been inflated in the past, with links and images being excluded from the character limit – for the focus on what users are saying, but the one thing users knew about Twitter was that they had to get their messages across in 140 characters. So when it was announced this would be doubled, users were up in arms. The thinkpieces came in droves, from worrying that undesirable users would be talking more, to criticising Twitter for not addressing more pressing problems first.
But even amidst the outrage, many still wanted to be the first to get 280. And by the time the update was rolled out, people adjusted.
Instagram: dropping the chronological feed
In 2016, Instagram – now owned by Facebook – announced it would be moving to an algorithmically-run feed, showing what it believed users would enjoy the most based on what they’d been looking at and liking.
As in the two other cases, there was an instant uproar. This continued when the platform updates actually rolled out, and perhaps is the one that they never got away with. A whole two years later, users are still unhappy about a feed that provides them with a groundhog-Valentine’s day mash up that means they’re still content that was ‘in the moment’ days ago. Instagram also got a petition (although a lot fewer people signed it) and while the feedback isn’t visible on Instagram itself because it’s hard to illustrate with an image, many users have taken to Twitter.
But the new algorithm doesn’t seem to have driven people away, with Instagram users growing by several hundred million in the last couple of years. In the end, it does seem like social platforms know what they are doing.