A “Year in Review” Review

Published 2 years, 2 months ago

A year ago today, I went onto Facebook and was shocked by what I saw.  After a few moments, I started thinking through what had happened, and why, and decided to quickly blog about it.  Before a week had gone by, that post had become a news story covered around the world, showing up in newsprint and on web sites, leading to interviews and more.  There was a moment where I was sitting in my office with my daughter when she looked over, took in my expression, and asked me if I was okay.  I couldn’t speak for a minute.  The story had just hit TIME Magazine and the New York Times.  It was a truly surreal experience.

From out of that experience, a lot of things grew.  I realized that “Designing for Crisis” was one piece of a larger topic, started to get a handle on that topic, and teamed up with Sara Wachter-Boettcher to create a book which we just finished writing, title to be announced shortly, and expect to be on shelves within a few months.

In parallel to that, I was asked to talk with the design and content teams at Facebook, which I did in the spring of 2015.  It was an incredibly productive and honest discussion, entirely because the team at Facebook was truly concerned and open to change.  You can see how this has evolved over time in On This Day, whose messaging has become more human and sensitive to the possibility of harm.  And you can especially see it in the 2015 edition of Year in Review.

Year in Review’s timeline ad for 2015.

Whereas last year, the YiR feature was clearly designed around awesome years and happy people, this year’s is a lot more respectful and careful.  It isn’t as dynamic, but when it comes to memories, this seems entirely appropriate.  As Sara and I say in our book, this is “what it looks like when an organization embeds caring into its product, and is willing to own up to mistakes”.

I know the Facebook copy “we care about you and the memories you share” has been derided in some quarters, because people reflexively assume that no company (least of all Facebook) actually cares about you as anything more than a sales unit.  Maybe that’s true of some parts of Facebook—it’s a very large company, after all, with a lot of competing fiefdoms—but the design and content teams were writing from the heart.  They honestly do care about the people who use their products, and they care very much about how their work affects people.  They know they’ll stumble sometimes, but they’re committed to trying anyway and learning from their stumbles.  For that alone, they have my deepest respect.  To forge ahead in front of an audience of well over a billion people takes an incredible amount of courage.

Year in Review will be a part of the talk I’ll be giving in 2016 at An Event Apart, just as it was of Sara’s and my forthcoming book.  In brief, the assessment that you’ll find in both places: Year in Review 2015 is a significant step forward, a great example of compassionate design at scale.  I applaud Facebook for forging a path forward.

  1. Eric, I’m sorry to say that I’m one of the many who reacted with outrage to last year’s event, thinking I was doing so on your behalf. I thought so because it was through the filters of the shock and pain I would have felt that I read your response to having seen Rebecca’s face featured in Facebook’s version of your year in review. I’m grateful to you for all you did to reframe the issue for us. Because you did, Facebook’s content and design teams aren’t the only ones to have learned to be more thoughtful and caring before acting online. In August, I was fortunately able to go to the Design and Content Conference, where I saw Sara’s excellent presentation about building a more empathic Web. Although I don’t believe she mentioned your experience with Facebook, she certainly made the same general points you had. I’m really glad to hear that you and she have written a book. I’ll be one of the first to read it. Thanks again for all you’ve done to remind us that it’s up to each of us to make the Web as considerate and supportive as possible.

  2. A beautiful and fitting series of outcomes to your sincere and loving efforts. We continue to be so very lucky to be recipients of your vision and truth-telling. Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2016.

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