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Facebook becomes the target of protest -- again

October 3, 2008 |  7:30 am

Facebook's new design has led to a widespread protestTwo days without Facebook?

That's the plan hatched by millions of disgruntled Facebook users who are threatening to boycott the popular social networking site on Oct. 18 and 19.

The slogan of the boycott is "It's only ONE weekend, we can all do it!" And of course the organizers are using Facebook to spread the word. The Facebook protest page reads:

By 11:59 PM (in your region) on 17 October -- be sure to log off. Do not log back in no matter how tempting until 12:00 AM (in your region) 20 October.

On 20 October we all log back in and see if there has been a response of any kind. A blog, a post.... anything. If not, we repeat the process...

The protesters are unhappy about the site's new design and have gained quite a following. About 4 million or so have joined groups such as "I hate the new Facebook." (It's not clear how much overlap there is between the various groups.)

The "1,000,000 against the new Facebook layout" group, which is sponsoring the boycott, has already exceeded its own ambitions by netting more than 2.7 million members.

One of the group's leaders, Jessica Fishbein, a 37-year-old high school English teacher from Miami, says she hopes people can "break their addiction for the weekend."

"The members of our group want action," she said. "They want to take a stand to make a statement to show that we are still on Facebook, we are not leaving necessarily, but Facebook really needs to listen to our feedback and make some adjustments."

Boycotting Facebook won't send the same kind of powerful message that leaving Facebook would. But Facebook has "everyone between a rock and a hard place, and they know it," Fishbein said. "People are invested in Facebook. They have all their friends there. So they won't be quick to go."

Facebook owes quite a bit to its more than 100 million active users who have turned the site into one of the world's most heavily trafficked.

A Facebook spokeswoman issued the following statement: "We're flattered to have such passionate users provide feedback on the new site design, and we're pleased to see them sharing their views, which is what Facebook is all about. We are still working on the site and are committed to making Facebook better for all users."

She added that Facebook has been gathering feedback from users over the past several months, continues to monitor groups for feedback and has contacted some of the administrators of some of the larger protest groups.

Some Facebook users are joining groups to protest the site's new designTo its credit, Facebook tried to get it right this time. It has faced large-scale protests in the past for launching the News Feed, an activity feed feature that users complained violated their privacy by broadcasting their every move to all their friends, and for creating an advertising feature that broadcast their purchases to all their friends. Facebook, of course, is a social network designed to broadcast what you're doing to friends. But users apparently feel there are limits and Facebook crossed them.

With the redesign, Facebook kept members informed of its plans months in advance and solicited their feedback. It unveiled the new design, which is supposed to reclaim the site's uncluttered, spartan aesthetic, in July but gave members time to get used to it before forcing them to switch to the new format a few weeks ago.

In a blog post last month, Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said "it's tempting to say that we should just support both designs, but this isn't as simple as it sounds. Supporting two versions is a huge amount of work for our small team, and it would mean that going forward we would have to build everything twice. If we did that then neither version would get our full attention."

"That said, Facebook is a work in progress," he said. "We constantly try to improve things and we understand that our work isn't perfect. Even if you're joining a group to express things you don't like about the new design, you're giving us important feedback and you're sharing your voice, which is what Facebook is all about."

Indeed, Facebook is a powerful vehicle to mobilize behind a cause. So, it's not surprising that Facebook has discovered that some of its best customers can quickly become its most vocal critics. And that dialogue is taking place on and off Facebook. Check the point/counterpoint here, for example.

In other news, Facebook next month plans to let former and current employees sell some of their shares even though the company is still private. Former and current employees can cash out 20% of their vested shares or up to $900,000, whichever is less. That's one way to pacify the troops in a moribund IPO market.

A Facebook spokeswoman e-mailed the following statement: "To provide employees with a financial cushion while we continue to build the company, Facebook has designed a one-time program to enable employees to realize some liquidity."

-- Jessica Guynn

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