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Snapchat, Ignore the Haters: History Shows Freak-Outs Over Redesigns Subside

Snapchat is facing an epic user revolt over its major app overhaul. The company, for now, is sticking to its guns — which seems to be the smart move.

Quick refresher: Snap unveiled the biggest Snapchat redesign in three years last fall and began rolling it out broadly this month. The goals were to make the app simpler to use and to more cleanly delineate “social” interactions from “media” consumption. “Your friends aren’t content. They’re relationships,” Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said in a peppy marketing video last fall about the new app design.

But many Snapchatters are up in arms, complaining that it’s harder to find messages and friends on the new “dynamic” friends page. More than 1 million people have signed a Change.org petition demanding that Snap scrap the new design. “The new layout is horrid,” one user wrote in a one-star review on Google Play. “Consider the old layout or I may even delete the app. It’s such trash now.”

Spiegel, speaking Thursday at an investor conference, indicated Snap isn’t going to change course. “Some of the complaints we are seeing are reinforcing our philosophy,” he said. For instance, some Snapchat users complained that the celebrities they follow on the platform aren’t in their friend list anymore, about which Spiegel commented: “They’re not your friends.”

Yes, the jury is still out on whether the Snap decision on the resdesign was a serious miscalculation. It’s possible that millions of irritated users actually junk it. But if history is any guide, the brouhaha will fade.

The tech industry is rife with examples of design changes that prompted users to throw conniption fits, before the hubbub abated within a few months — and usage on each of the platforms continued to climb:

  • When Instagram changed its logo two years ago, many fans completely hated it: The New York Times dubbed it “The Great Instagram Logo Freakout of 2016.” Earlier that year, Instagram switched users’ feeds from chronological to algorithmically sorted presentation; that led to, yes, a Change.org petition to keep Instagram chronological signed by 343,000 people. Spoiler alert: Instagram didn’t go back to the old design.
  • A staunch contingent of Twitter purists fought against its move to expand from 140 to 280 characters, which went into effect for all users in November. The result? Twitter reported that average daily active users grew 12% year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2017.
  • Back in 2012, an eternity in internet time, Facebook (horrors!) switched from “Walls” to the now-established Timeline format. “It was basically the end of the world for a few weeks,” per a CNN report, citing a poll at the time that found less than 10% of Facebook users liked the change.
  • Let’s not forget one of the most disruptive changes in recent memory: Netflix’s decision in 2011 to split DVD rentals from its streaming service, which some believed was a monumental error. True, Netflix made some mistakes (remember Qwikster?) and saw heavy churn from what effectively was a price hike. But ripping off that Band-Aid was the right thing to do — and now Reed Hastings and crew are riding high, with a booming streaming business and DVD-by-mail sidecar that still throws off cash.

The list of tech product-design changes that have angered people could go on and on. Less than a year ago, Netflix eliminated the five-star content rating system, moving instead to thumbs up/thumbs down ratings. Many customers hated it. But the world has kept turning. Netflix has continued to grow.

Snapchat itself has been through hand-wringing over prior app tweaks.

In 2014, after it added the ability to send text and video chats, “Not only were teenagers saying they didn’t like the update; they also didn’t understand how it worked,” Business Insider wrote at the time. And two years ago, Snapchat merely changed its font — leading to a “meltdown online,” according to a Digiday story, citing an analysis of 3,000 internet comments that found 74% indicated negative sentiment.

And it’s worth pointing out that Spiegel and the rest of the Snapchat team fully anticipated a backlash over the latest redesign.

“There is a strong likelihood that the redesign of our application will be disruptive to our business in the short term, and we don’t yet know how the behavior of our community will change when they begin to use our updated application,” the CEO said in prepared remarks on the company’s Q3 2017 earnings call. But, he added, “We’re willing to take that risk for what we believe are substantial long-term benefits to our business.”

What benefits, exactly? Snapchat believes the new app puts it in a better position to monetize media content. Among the changes, the company says Snapchat Discover will become “uniquely personalized” for each user. And the company has said that it will bring top creators into the revenue-sharing pool — an incentive for influencers to produce more content for the right-hand (media) side of the app.

“This redesign, if it delivers on its promise to serve quality content in a targeted way, could be just what Snapchat needs to increase eyeball time on the app,” Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of social-analytics firm Socialbakers, commented after Snap showed off the new look last November.

In any event, chances are good that the current fuss over the Snapchat redesign will evaporate pretty soon — and no one will remember what the big deal was about.

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