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Maybe Facebook isn’t as smooth for mass communication as I once assumed – this is what I learned from Design Observer | DesignNotes by Michael Surtees

Maybe Facebook isn’t as smooth for mass communication as I once assumed – this is what I learned from Design Observer

Huh?

If you follow design online and have a Facebook account chances are pretty decent that you might have joined the Design Observer Facebook group. A majority of the Facebook groups that I’ve joined in the past haven’t been revisited that many times afterwards. However if something newsworthy was coming from a group I’d get an email to keep me in the loop which was fairly unobtrusive. But if you have a website it makes sense to have a Facebook group – I would never had thought this was a good idea, but from my experience w/ Ten15am has changed that. The Ten15am Facebook group has sent a decent amount of traffic to the regular site plus again it allows some informal communication. I’ll be honest that my opinion changed somewhat of Design Observer when they did start a group – it felt like they were trying to open up, being more inclusive. Maybe they were loosening up a bit.

I can’t think of another design site that is so polarizing as Design Observer – there’s the haters, the moderates and the suck up’s. One scenario is that no matter what Design Observer does, some will hate it and be happy to say so. Then there are those on the complete flip side that seem to have lost any sense of constructive rationality and would rather do nothing more than kiss some Design Observer arse. And then there are those that find themselves somewhere in between that – they find the site annoying some days and other days kind of interesting. I bring this all up b/c if you have a Facebook account and were a member of of the Design Observer Group you were getting a lot of urgent emails asking to vote for Design Observer for People’s Design Award yesterday. When I woke up yesterday morning to see the number of emails I got from them I was pretty pissed off. I don’t mind getting one or two messages asking for my vote (sorry but I had voted for twitter already), but it wasn’t intrusive. But when it got to five or six I thought wtf, they’re either ramming it down my throat that I should vote for them (which actually brings up another issue about online votes – can it really be democratic or whoever has the biggest email list wins) or there was some sort of error with it being sent out a lot. When it comes to online rage from designer’s the first thing to go is a sense of perspective.

At first I tried ignoring all the emails, but they kept coming. I had to put a stop to it so I sent an email asking what was up – I wanted to know if this was on purpose or not. The obvious thing would have been to go to the actual Design Observer Facebook page but I didn’t. I sent my email and left it at that, and then I got more emails which pushed me to actually going to the site to see what the hell was going on. Apparently I wasn’t the only one that was having some issues getting the mass spam. Part of me wanted to just quit that group and perhaps delete Design Observer from my bookmarks. But I didn’t b/c I wanted to see how the situation was going to be handled. If I quit the group I wouldn’t have been able to see how this wrong was going to be righted. To Bill’s credit he did return my email in a timely manner and I was satisfied w/ his response about the error. He also did mention what had happened a couple times to the wall of the group. If I’m reading the reasoning correctly, the mass of emails being sent was due to an error of the send button – Facebook couldn’t handle the scale so when the send button kept being hit it was returning as an error – which wasn’t true b/c the email did send. If you send an email to someone and it doesn’t work what do you do? You hit send again. What surprises me is that in this case Facebook failed big time. There was no recourse for the user which for this situation was Design Observer until people started screaming pretty loudly.

What’s worse – send out one more email explaining the mistake or just posting something on the wall trying to explain what had happened. Going back to my experience of being irritated and not bothering at first to go to the group I think one more email explaining what had happened might have helped. Online reputation is a huge thing that I think about, not so much personally but from a business perspective. There are so many things vying for my attention that if you don’t make a sign up useful or start abusing trust people just don’t come back. If you’ve had a bad experience people don’t forget – while it’s too soon I think Facebook really burned Design Observer quite badly. It also opens up a lot of questions about online voting that I mentioned above and why they were sending out. One friend wrote through email to me that they have “no shortage of work, no shortage of visibility, no shortage of opportunity, no shortage of awards.” While I can’t speak for that person I wonder if those issues would have been brought up if Design Observer had only sent one email during the whole campaign.

There’s a couple lessons that I take away from this whole Facebook spamming blow up. It’s best to have two mailing lists – one that has real email addresses and the other that is from Facebook accounts. When sending out a message it should be understood that people might be getting the same message twice – realize this and make sure you recognize somehow in the content that you realize that you might be giving the same message out twice. If you’re group is a couple thousand people and an error happens, maybe don’t keep hitting the send button. Give it a couple hours (if possible) before hitting the send button again. If you piss someone off and they send you an email about the spam issue – respond within a reasonable amount of time about what happened. If something really bad does happen, try to make it up somehow.

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  • http://www.printfetish.com Mr. McGinnis

    Design Observer is usually very LATE on developing design news, they are very out of touch. When they do actually post, they offer very little insight. I really don't get it at all. None of them are what I would call good designers OR writers. I guess I live in a very different design universe. I do not read Print Magazine – it's no good at all. Other than Steven Heller, I'm completely uninterested in anything they have to offer.

    Alice Twemlow, who supposedly teaches “Design Criticism” at SVA, has no grasp of critical theory at all. I'm surprised she is actually educated in England. It's mind blowing.

    Unless you are trying to kiss someone's butt so you can get into this (lame) in-crowd – what is the POINT?

  • http://tinkabell.wordpress.com Tess

    Hi Michael,

    Haven't read the details of your post – hope this hits some kind of relevant point (aiming with eyes wandering, a bit dangerous I suppose… but don't you love the feeling of firing a gun?):

    To me FB (like Hyves, which is really big here in Holland) falls into the “looks like fun, but ends up being a timewaster” category. Like a digital version of a highschool “friends” book – oooh, do you have that many friends?! How cool are you! A miserable substitute for real meaningful rdelationships, on- or offline. Admittedly, I too fall prey to wanting to be cool – but trying to check myself. FB and the like just oldschool thinking in a new, neat digital jacket.

    In terms of the Matt Jones' WebDogme (http://www.blackbeltjones.com/dogme.html): a violation of rule #5. ps @ #1: now I'll never be a real designer :'( Nice find that, though! esp. the Jakob's remark)

  • http://andyjacobson.com/ andyjacobson

    All Design Observer did was to remind us that it's not The People's Design Award, it's the Email Marketing Award.

  • jonsel

    I'm not a member of their Facebook page, so I didn't get any of those annoying emails. But I do visit the site fairly regularly, and it was clear they had an aggressive campaign to garner votes. It was all very unseemly to me. If you've got a good product or service, the votes should come, right? Did the eventual winner, those hearing aids, make a big push for votes? I'd be curious to hear about that.

    I have no real beef about DO. As you said, Michael, they can be both brilliant and insufferably self-involved. That's partially why they're interesting. Sometimes I enjoy the posts, sometimes not. But worthy of a People's Design Award? Surely they should realize there were more valid entries. I'm glad they lost.

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