Demystifying the Facebook Email Hysteria

by Jordan Richardson on June 27, 2012

Facebook has long strived to present itself as a sort of one-stop shop for communications on the Web. It took another step over this past weekend, changing the default email addresses of each of its 900 million members to an address.

Other default email addresses, like those linked to Gmail or Hotmail accounts, were subsequently hidden to friends visiting Facebook pages.

The email addresses serve as email addresses for Facebook messages, essentially. Addresses were chosen from usernames.

The change is simple enough, albeit somewhat galling for those who have to go through the small process to re-default their respective Gmail or Hotmail addresses, but that didn’t stop the seemingly mandatory blaze of displeasure from swelling up all across the user base.

As with most changes Facebook has made, the immediate reactions were to overreact. Users bellyached about not knowing what the email addresses were or how they got signed up for them, while others threatened to remove themselves from the Facebook universe (again). It was reminiscent of the recent Timeline debacle, which found many of the social networking site’s users up in proverbial arms.

The hullabaloo over Facebook changes comes with the territory in today’s Internet culture.

Tech and web designers have long done battle with users more than happy with the status quo. The truism that “there’s no pleasing everyone” appears to be augmented for today as “there’s no pleasing anyone.” The amount of controversy that springs up over Facebook or Google changes appears more significant than the outrage over global poverty or income inequality.

When Facebook rolled out its Timeline feature a few months ago, 44,000 people jumped in a “Timeline Sucks” group (thousands joined other groups with the exact same name). Over 38,000 users joined “I Hate Timeline,” while 31,000 users are in the “Undo Timeline” group. A CBC poll turned up the fact that the vast majority of Facebook users would either “quit” or “consider quitting” the site if they were “forced” to use Timeline.

The now-accepted News Feed faced a stronger revolt, however, with a whopping 750,000 users joining “Students Against Facebook News Feed.” The US version of the Amnesty International page, by comparison, has just over 415,000 “likes.”

Facebook has routinely been put through the paces due to privacy concerns, design issues and other matters. Some of the reproach has been justified, but much of it has been overblown. The Facebook email change fits snugly in the latter category. For a website in which its free users are the product, change is an inevitable component.

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