Mobile Technology News & Mobile Fun

Trapped in ‘Facebook purgatory’: new design pushed to accidental testers months ago

When Facebook rolled out its new layout late Tuesday, like past redesigns it was met with a good deal of acrimony from users.

However, for some like Regina Shade, a self-described “Facebook challenged” mother of two, they had been dealing with the reworked popular social networking site for at least three months if not longer.

“It was like Facebook purgatory,” she mused. Shade told Betanews that since June, she had seen the future of Facebook but didn’t realize she was essentially a guinea pig for the social networking site’s future plans. “I have hated this since about the middle of the summer. Oh, you ain’t seen half of what I have seen over the last several months.”

Unwilling Participants

Ms. Shade and others — possibly as many as 30,000 to 40,000 — have a similar story: changes to layout and functionality almost daily, features disappearing and reappearing, and absolutely no communication from Facebook on what was happening all without their knowledge or consent.

“We thought our accounts were broken,” advertising executive Susan Leverentz recounted of her own experience. “At first you couldn’t see anything that wasn’t a top story.” Things only got worse as time went on say those Betanews spoke to.

The issues ranged from the merely annoying — the once often-malfunctioning (and now much maligned) ticker was moved around to several places on the page before finally working as it does now about a week ago — to the downright bizarre.

“I had music coming from no where a couple of times when I only had Facebook open,” Jen Robison, another one of Facebook’s accidental testers said. “One time I was hearing a commercial for Purina One.” The only way Robison could get it to stop was to close out Facebook outright.

These testers also reported seeing other wacky changes to their Facebook pages, including old statuses (sometimes several years old) appearing in their feeds, times where the news feed listed “no posts at this time” yet the ticker showed current activity, and content from people they weren’t friends with showing up as “top stories” in their feeds.

Changes Made Facebook Nearly Unusable

With Facebook changing so frequently, some decided to close their accounts and re-register for the service. This was for naught: according to posts on several groups that were created by those affected, some actually saw their accounts morph back to the test design.

Enterprising users frustrated by the redesign then turned to workarounds to get their old profiles back. While these worked for the time being, Leverentz and others told Betanews that Facebook would typically close those holes within a matter of days or weeks.

“They treated us with absolute disregard,” Leverentz argued. “We bitched for the past three months non-stop and they still did this?”

She also offered the only possible solution that may explain how Facebook users were selected. At some point in the past, she had agreed to beta test new Facebook features. After the changes begun to frustrate her and inhibit her usage of the site, she attempted to opt-out of beta testing, but the option had disappeared.

Others that Betanews had spoken to did not recall ever consenting to become part of any test, although they may have done so accidentally. Either way, it only deepens the mystery of how these people were chosen, and better yet why they weren’t informed of what was happening.

Facebook so far is staying mum on its procedures surrounding the test, as well as whether these users did indeed give consent. The company has not responded to requests for comment on this report.

Frustration, But Is There A Solution?

“The monster is starting to show his true colors,” Axel Traut said of the move on one of the “support” groups. “I am afraid it’s either love it, hate it, limit your action on Facebook or quit altogether.”

Moving away from Facebook is what some may now consider, and a few of these testers already have. Ironically, on the same day the social networking site began switching all users over to the new layout, the Google+ social networking service opened itself up to the public.

There’s one issue, though. As some have already pointed out, Google+ still has a very long way to go before it becomes a useful alternative. Leverentz knows: she depends on Facebook not only to keep tabs on her friends, but also for her professional life in advertising.

“A lot of people are still so dependent on Facebook,” she lamented. Leverentz has made the move to Google+ herself, but acknowledged its adoption issues. “For me, Facebook has stumbled so many times. They don’t communicate up front, and jack with your stuff.”

Shade seemed to agree. “Why wouldn’t they want to let us know what they were doing; what they were trying to achieve?” she asked. “We could have given them feedback, either positive or negative, but without any idea of where they were going, [it was] all negative.”

The simple fact that Facebook has become so ubiquitous in the social networking fabric of the internet makes complaining about it and threatening to quit practically a lesson in futility.

The company makes it fairly difficult to completely remove yourself from the social network, and has in the past asserted claims to ownership of content posted on Facebook. In the end, it seems as the argument may now center around whether or not the social networking site has a responsibility to its users.

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