When Facebook launched News Feed a decade ago, the reaction from users was to revolt.
Before News Feed, Facebook users had to click around on their friends’ profile pages, individually, to check out what they were sharing. Now that information was conveniently accessible in one place.
The web is now so flooded with news feeds, the idea seems like a no-brainer. Not at all in 2006. The day after launch, users threatened to boycott the service and protesters swarmed the Facebook offices, demanding the company reverse the change.
As for the man who built News Feed, Andrew “Boz” Bosworth? He was on vacation and completely off-grid for the following week, oblivious to what was going on.
“There’s a long tradition at Facebook of people going on vacation right after product launches”
Speaking to Business Insider after his keynote at the IAB’s Mixx conference in New York this week, Bosworth joked: “There’s a long tradition at Facebook of people going on vacation right after product launches. Usually we think: ‘Well, that product was supposed to launch earlier,’ so I set vacation for what seemed like a very distant point. So we ended up launching it [when we did] otherwise I was going to be on vacation.”
“When we launched Instagram Stories, Kevin Systrom [Instagram CEO] went on vacation. We just launched Stories, and he was on vacation for a while!”
Back to News Feed, Bosworth said Facebook was expecting it to be a “smash hit.” The teams had been using it internally and they were confident the product was solving a real problem people had: The ability to know what was going on in their world at any given moment.
So the team was “disappointed and sad” at the user reaction.
“But this also spurred us to urgency to act and to try to address all the shortcomings people had correctly identified with the product,” Bosworth said.
Users were angry but usage metrics “doubled overnight”
While users’ immediate vocal reactions were negative, the metrics were anything but.
Bosworth said: “The amount of time people were spending, the number of pages they visited, the frequency of return; those things all doubled overnight and they never came back down. So we had inkling we had created something valuable here, that it was worth continuing our investment, but we knew we had work to do.”
News Feed was one of Facebook’s biggest product launches and Bosworth said it taught the team to treat launches with a “degree of humility” and not expect everyone to love them on day one.
Bosworth recalls that News Feed was a concept that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team had already concocted when they interviewed him for the job in late 2005. Former Facebook designer Aaron Sittig had already come up with the name “News Feed.”
But the reason why Bosworth and his team have probably been credited with creating News Feed is that the company focuses on the people who built out the product, not just “the genesis of an idea.”
Facebook Messenger was a hackathon project that failed until its eighth attempt
Take Facebook Messenger, for example.
“Before Messenger, it was Facebook Chat, before Chat it was a hackathon project. People had built it seven or eight times and they had been unsuccessful in each attempt to convince Mark it was an idea worth investing in until the eighth time when he felt it was finally good enough to launch,” Bosworth said.
“Now there’s a billion people using that product, seven years in.”
A culture of humility in launching new products and supporting the product builders rather than just the original idea generators probably goes a long way to explain why Facebook-owned Instagram was so confident in launching Instagram Stories — a product almost identical to Snapchat Stories — in August this year. At the time, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told TechCrunch Snapchat “deserve [s] all the credit.”
Bosworth said: “Kevin did a great job of discussing [the similarities with Snapchat] at the Instagram Stories launch and I don’t think I can do it better than he did. These ideas don’t belong to anybody. We built the first news feed, but clearly feeds are an important part of lots of properties. That’s great. It’s a good design technique for publishing a certain type of goal and I’m glad people are using it.”
“What it really comes back to for us is: What are consumers trying to do? What problems are they trying to solve? And what tools are they using to solve them? If we can help them, we are going to.”
Bosworth was speaking to Business Insider after presenting a session about the history of innovation.
We asked him what he thinks “innovation” — which can often feel like a bit of a catch-all, intangible term — actually means.
He responded: “Innovation is an openness to new ideas and it’s not even the new ideas themselves, it’s the quality of being open to them. So if you’ve been doing business for the same way for 50 years and someone comes along with a better mousetrap, are you going to look at that and be curious? Or are you going to kind of bury your head in the sand and carry on the old way? So I think it is somewhat a buzzword and mysterious because people think it’s a magical property, when it fact it’s very simple: Are you open to new ideas, or are you not?”
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