How to Piss off an Online Community – 4 Recent Examples

SMS Text

People are resistant to change.  We find solace in our daily routines.  And because social media sites have become a part of that routine (for better or worse) even small changes to those services can effect us.    So while not every change is bad, and most (if not all) will have their naysayers, some changes are just harder to swallow than others.  Here are 4 recent (and very public) examples of changes that caused the respective communities to lash out.

Betray your users’ trust

Example: Facebook’s Privacy Settings

It’s no secret that Facebook privacy policy is complicated.  In fact, it’s longer than the US constitution.    Late last year, however, Facebook rolled out a privacy settings update that made users (previously private) friends lists public, and gave no ability to make it private again.  Gawker called this ‘Facebook’s Great Betrayal’.

While this wasn’t the first time Facebook was under fire for its privacy policies, it is arguably the worst example by the social media giant.  Outraged bloggers became concerned news outlets which eventually evolved into a main stream media fire storm of concerns over Facebook & privacy.  A storm that is still going strong today.

Create a feature that people want, but ruin it

Example: Twitter’s Re-tweet Button

In retrospect, the addition of a one-touch retweet button made a lot of sense.  The format RT @username: became such common use, that to NOT add a button seemed more of a slight than to screw it up.  Well screw it up they did…

The problem with what Twitter released last year wasn’t about functionality, but rather the format. Instead of simply adding “RT @username” before the tweet as your own, the re-tweet would instead show up in your followers’ feeds as it originally looked, avatar and all.  Additionally, the button didn’t allow for users to amend the original tweet in any way.

While this wasn’t the worst thing that Twitter could do, it was widely criticized by the community.  Almost a year later, people continue to use the original format and manually RT instead of using the button.  In fact, in my own twitter feed, I had to go 3 pages deep and pass over 10 manual re-tweets before finding a Twitter generated re-tweet.

The lesson here: if you’re going to add a feature based on common user activity, keep it as similar to that activity as possible.  Twitter still hasn’t listened.

Take away core features

Example: Sphinn announces they’re removing voting

In case you hadn’t heard, just a few days ago, Sphinn announced it was doing away with user voting.  The social media news site for the SEO and Internet Marketing community will now be completely editor hand picked content.  The decision came just a couple weeks after the announcement of a more strict editorial policing of content to prevent sub-par submissions from reaching the front page through group voting.

It’s not hard to imagine why people would be upset by this news.  No longer will the community have the power to vote on what content is featured on the main page.  Criticism that Sphinn will become more of an “old boys club” and that editors will only promote content by their peers are wide spread and (perhaps) valid.  Danny Sullivan himself even admitted the site would no longer be a “social media” news site.

While it is yet to be seen if the decision will pay off in the long-run, many loyal users are upset by this prospect and don’t see why they would continue to participate in the site.  So even if this improves the quality of the content on Sphinn, the backlash will likely carry a price in the short term.

Completely change the entire way the site works (including breaking it)

Example: Digg v. 4

Just over a week ago Digg made major changes reflective of a new era for the social media news giant.  The problem is: nobody likes it.  There have been enough articles about what changes people hate the most and what features that are no longer available users are missing the most, so I won’t go into the gory details.  In order to truly appreciate the differences between the two versions you simply needed to experience it.  In short: the site practically stopped being Digg and became a whole new idea altogether.

If change is bad, then Digg just committed a mortal sin.  At least that’s the feeling when you talk to some power users about it.  Many are begging for features to come back and (even as I write this) conducting boycotts of the service to make their points heard.

What’s worse: the service seems to be completely unreliable as of late showing a “broken axle” (Digg’s “fail ox”) for sometimes hours at a time.  And even when it is working, angered users (in protest) have promoted popular stories that point to the competing (and growing) reddit instead of the original article making for a very poor user experience.

Digg’s creator and former CEO (who stepped down this week) Kevin Rose promised that they were working to bring back many of the removed features, but the damage has been done.  The site has lost over 1/3 of it’s traffic and devout users have already started migrating elsewhere.  What will become of Digg?  It’s anyone’s guess.

Todd Heim

Todd Heim

Todd Heim is CEO, co-founder, and SEO manager of Essential Internet Marketing, LLC, an SEM and Social Media Marketing company based in Albany, NY.
Subscribe to SEJ!
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!
  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    Another recent example I can think of is Blizzard’s recent implementation of their Real ID, a system to univocally recognize users of their games by their email and real first and last name.
    When they announced this would eventually spread to their user forums as well, and consequentially everyone would have been forced to post under their real name and last name (consider we’re talking about online gaming), the user base rioted in several hundreds forum pages of complaining posts and Blizzard was eventually forced to call back the change.

  • jsinkeywest

    Cool posts and as someone who runs a blogging community I know people can be your friend one minute and ..
    What I didn't like about Diggs move and maybe this is Karma is they say we are making a change and then say we will send out invites to the SOMEBODYS so they can get tons of followers and then we will let the nobodies in I hate when sites do that. I read their advertising page and basically they are saying PAY us and SPAM DIGG submit your feeds etc I never liked Digg anyway it's no friend of bloggers.
    I read about the Sphinn I don't use that site as I found it to be SNOBBED up but read the whole debate the sad thing is to see the editors Chirping in to defend the removal of the VOTE button basically that site is DONE 🙂 Karma is a MOFO sometimes
    as far as Facebook I don't care about that site it's lame and useless, Now if twitter can get the @ to work on there like FB it would be a rap 🙂
    The bottom line is that sites that think they are slick and PUSH it to far in their favor with toolbars NO FOLLOW links Snobs are DONE 🙂
    Nice post Stumbled

  • SteveE

    I'll give you one more – Linkedin changed the way their Groups functionality works, by doing away with the NEWS tab where people would post articles. News articles are now mixed in with the DISCUSSIONS which has, for many groups, pretty much cut off discussion because people don't want to wade through all the News items to find a Discussion. While I have come across one manager of a large group who likes what they have done, the overwhelming majority of the “SuperGroups” community (groups with thousands of members) hate the redesigned site. (Myself included). Despite a lot of feedback they have gotten from the group managers, so far Linkedin has done nothing to go back to the way Groups originally worked. The number of group discussions according to some managers is way off because of this.

  • dannysullivan

    Todd, many “loyal” users at Sphinn are not upset by the removal of voting. Consider that the site gets about 2,000 or so visitors per day. Practically no one complained about the voting announcement.

    The article on Sphinn announcing the change has 49 people who Sphunn “for” it versus 10 who Desphunn it. First, that tells you practically no one out of the daily visitor to Sphinn vote, which is a primary reason for removing voting. Of the tiny number that does, most were in favor of it.

    There's an “anti” article about the changes that also got submitted. In that case, it has drawn 36 votes for it. That's still less than the 49 who voted for the article about voting being removed. And 36 votes — that's what you've got as evidence that many are upset? Thousands of visitors per week, and all of 36 people complained about the change?

    Heck, if we were a store that made a major change, with thousands of shoppers per day, getting only 36 complaints would be seen as successful.

    Most people don't vote on stories at Sphinn. As a result, the tiny pool of votes is easily polluted by any “old boys” network that wants to push content from a particular site or company, even if that content isn't exceptional in nature. That's what the announcement was a few weeks ago, by the way — not a change but a reminder to vote and submit for exceptional content, as we'd always asked.

    We've had far more complaints over the past year about why some so-so content from a particular site seems to be allowed to go hot, complaints that some particular site might have a vote gang network to push anything hot, or some site “gets away with it” because the editors clearly must love them, or you name it.

    Dropping voting does away with all this. Sure, editors will have their decisions come under criticism. But that's nothing new for editorial sites, nor does it mean that editorial sites can't offer value.

    • toddheim


      Thanks for the comment. My evidence wasn't from Sphinn itself, but from personal conversations, blog posts & comments, and tweets about the decision.

      I don't doubt that the voting system was flawed. This type of voting model seems too easy to game at the scale it's at. But to remove it after so long will hardly be met with open arms from those who participated in it. And yes -> ESPECIALLY those who were the ones gaming it in the first place…

      I personally don't think the decision was the wrong one. (even if I'd have tried something else first?) People are simply resistant to change, and this is a BIG change for the community. But if it succeeds in what it attempts to do, then people will get over it, and they'll be back…just like the rest of the examples.

  • WebHosting Guru

    Those are real examples of how to piss off your user base. But for Facebook, it was unfazed by that event as more and more people are joining Facebook. With secure or unsecure private information, users learned that you just cannot trust anyone thus they just don’t put their true info on their profile or they just leave it blank.

  • Facebook Messages

    It's very hard to build up goodwill with an online user base, yet incredibly easy to destroy that good will. Regarding Digg, I'm surprised that they didn't have more robust testing procedures, I understand that software testing is an absolutely nightmare I do it myself – it is however, a necessary evil.

  • Patricia

    Good grief. Haven't any of these organizations heard of focus grojps? Market research? Usability assessments? BETA TESTING? Sheesh. They should be ashamed to consider themselves tech companies.

  • Jennifer Mattern

    The Facebook privacy issues have almost become amusing at this point. The fact that there have been concerns about it for years and little done to put users' privacy at the forefront is either disturbing or hilarious for the simple fact that people respect their own privacy so little that many can complain while continuing to use it.

    The Twitter issue is the only one that really affected me directly. While I don't mind the RT button and frequently use it, I definitely see the problems. There are often times where I want to add commentary and can't without stretching something into another tweet or mixing things up using both RT options (and I'd prefer a bit more consistency, so I usually choose the former option). It's quick. And that's nice. But I do have to admit it's a turn-off seeing a bunch of unfamiliar faces in my Twitter stream — makes me less likely to look at what they had to say. So apparently people in my circle caved into using it more than those in yours. But as long as the old version of RTing is still an option, I can't go so far as to say it “pisses me off.” And I can be fairly easy to piss off when it comes to stupid business decisions. 😉

  • asset protection

    Gosh, sounds like Google Instant…how many people are ticked off about that?

  • Jarret

    The only thing I ever found useful about Sphinn was that it functioned like a multi-site feed aggregator for Ann Smarty's articles. 🙂
    I'm already following her on Twitter anyway, so I guess it's superfluous.