Ourview | Online version of a lovers’ tiff

Ourview | Online version of a lovers’ tiff

If a married couple find their relationship beginning to grow stale, a piece of pop psychology advice often given to them is to “fall in love all over again". It is a thematic gimmick that has been portrayed in many romantic comedies, novels and advertisements (usually for some kind of age-defying lotion).

The husband and wife meet again in a bar or a restaurant, role-playing as strangers. And then they try to woo each other all over again.

A more global, digital version of this repetitive courtship exercise seems to happen every time the social network Facebook makes a change to its wildly popular website.

The most recent raft of changes include additions of a real-time ticker showing posts and updates by friends, an option to subscribe to updates by anybody including non-friends, and a particularly controversial algorithm-based Top Stories section. The last has many users fuming. Why should Facebook decide who or what is important to them, they rant and rave?

But this is just the latest “controversy". Facebook is well aware that when it comes to online services, supremacy and market leadership can be a fleeting concept. Before Facebook rose to the top, MySpace.com was the undisputed leader of social networks. In 2005 the founders of the site sold it to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation for a cool $580 million.

Six years later, the social network, that had by then been entirely upstaged by Facebook, was disposed of for just $35 million.

More recently Google has launched its Google+ social network that has just opened to the public earlier this week. Twitter, meanwhile, continues to grow by leaps and bounds in numbers and social relevance.

Facebook’s frequent series of changes and updates are in response to these threats. It knows that online users are hard to please and prone to migration. The benefit Facebook has is that users won’t leave unless all their friends do too. So they do have the freedom to make people a little upset without serious repercussions. This is why, despite any uproar, Facebook rarely rolls back changes, and most criticism evaporates in weeks.

For sure, in a few weeks from now, the insecure company will again clash against its immovable client base. And sparks will fly. Briefly.

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