Originally posted at Harvard Business Review
Privacy. It's the key word in most Facebook-related headlines these days. But it's not the key idea. I believe that what's really being tested here is not the limits of privacy but the notion of agility — the ability of an organization to implement rapid iterations in their products and services for better and/or worse.
Since its inception, Facebook has been a poster child of agility, demonstrating practices often associated with the agile software design movement. Agile software isn't new, but the idea of a business as hugely influential as Facebook applying agile principles to its platform (and maybe to its business model) is new.
Facebook's pattern has become nearly cyclical. This recent privacy kerfuffle is in some ways just a repeat of Facebook Beacon which was introduced then quickly killed due to privacy concerns. Nevertheless, the platform grows. Facebook has produced a highly addictive and constantly evolving social platform that keeps users coming back for more despite regular complaints about not just privacy, but the user experience itself. If Facebook were a city, it might be my hometown of Chicago, where they say "if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes." If you don't like the latest Facebook feature, wait 5 minutes, or days or weeks but not much more than that, for some type of significant tweak or new feature rollout.
The product itself (the platform) evolves nearly in real time. It changes so fast it feels as if everything is "beta." One day you'll log-in and notice a different layout, a new button, a new feature or some entirely new integration. The next day the company changes the entire social ecosystem by opening up its social graph to third parties.
The company's becoming an agility case study worth watching. As Facebook tends to push aggressively, then scale back based on user feedback the larger question is do we as human beings want this type of non-stop cyclical change? The answer usually lies in the experience itself. How many versions of software and hardware has Apple pushed out? Why is a BlackBerry product (disclaimer, Edelman client) endearingly referred to as a CrackBerry?
If Facebook can keep the experience addictive, we as users are likely to happily follow their rapid iteration. Facebook's agility is directly tied to our addiction. Where platforms such as MySpace evolved more slowly, Facebook evolves in real time and we've rewarded them for this by signing up by the millions. Is working this way sustainable in the long term? We're about to find out.