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Update: Facebook user satisfaction 'abysmal'

Google slips and Bing comes on strong, but Facebook's flop was most notable in user satisfaction survey

July 20, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - While Facebook is expected to announce this week that it has grabbed its 500 millionth user, a new study shows that not everyone is so happy with the social networking site.

Facebook scored a 64 on a user satisfaction scale of zero to 100, according to the 2010 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). A rating of 64 might not sound so bad, until you consider that sites for filing tax forms electronically to the IRS scored better.

The ACSI report measured 30 online companies. Facebook and MySpace, which came in just below its rival with a rating of 63, were the two lowest-scoring sites out of all of them. The report noted that both sites showed "abysmal performance."

The big winner in the social media Web site category was Wikipedia, which had a satisfaction rating of 77. YouTube came in second with a 73. This is the first year that ACSI rated social media sites.

"Facebook is a phenomenal success, so we were not expecting to see it score so poorly with consumers," said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based research firm that partnered with ACSI LLC to conduct the e-business survey.

"Our research shows that privacy concerns, frequent changes to the Web site, and commercialization and advertising adversely affect the consumer experience," Freed said.

"Compare that to Wikipedia, which is a nonprofit that has had the same user interface for years, and it's clear that while innovation is critical, sometimes consumers prefer evolution to revolution," he said.

"We haven't reviewed the survey methodology in detail, but clearly we have room to improve," said Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook, in an email to Computerworld." Building a simple, useful service is the best way to earn and sustain the trust people put in us. That's why we spend so much of our time and energy focused on improving the products we offer and introducing new ones. We look forward to the next survey."

When asked what they didn't like about Facebook, users reported privacy concerns, advertising, interface changes, navigation problems and constant notifications about "annoying" applications.

"There is no shortage of complaints about Facebook," the report noted.

Twitter, the highly popular microblogging service was not rated because so many users access Twitter through third-party applications and not directly through Twitter.com, the report noted.

Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., said this is tough news for Facebook Inc., which has been dealing with users frustrated over its privacy policies and controls.

However, the results also seem to fly in the face of the fact that Facebook is expecting to grab its 500 millionth user this week, making it the most popular social networking site in the world.

"Facebook is the dominant social network," Olds said. "The site definitely has been hurt by the turmoil surrounding their privacy policies but there really isn't a strong alternative right now. So even though their customer satisfaction scores suck, users are going to continue to flock there because Facebook is where their friends are."

Signs of Facebook user dissatisfaction could be good news for Google Inc., which is said to be to developing a social networking service (rumored to be called Google Me) that would take on Facebook and grab chunks of its disgruntled users -- plus a hefty piece of its revenue.

"Some will definitely see these ratings as an opportunity to come up with something better that could unseat Facebook," Olds said. "But this wouldn't be an easy task. It would take a lot of effort and a serious sum of money, plus some inspired marketing."

Meanwhile, in the portals and search engine category of the ACSI ratings report, Google remained strong, with a rating of 80, but it slipped 6 points from last year. This year's rating is Google's lowest since 2002, when the search site was first indexed, according to ACSI.

The good news for Google is that it still edged out Microsoft Corp.'s Bing, which had a rating of 77. Yahoo Inc., which runs the No. 2 search engine, had a rating of 76.

"Google may be suffering from trying to be too many things to too many people," the report noted. "In fact, when asked what they like least about Google, survey respondents commonly mentioned issues like advertising, overwhelming search results, privacy concerns, and too many special features (like maps and shopping.)"

Olds said it's interesting that Google barely edged out Bing in the satisfaction survey, even though it maintains an overwhelming lead over Bing in the search market.

"It's interesting that all of the search engines and portals have satisfaction scores that are fairly close together," he added.

"It shows that customers either don't see a lot of difference between them or they are firmly committed to whatever they use and don't want to change," Olds said. "Google still has way more users, but it looks like the folks who are using other search engines are pretty happy with their choices."

The ACSI report noted that Google has the most loyal following, with 80% of its users citing it as their primary search engine.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index is a national indicator of customer satisfaction with products and services. About 70,000 people are surveyed every year to measure their satisfaction with 225 companies in 45 industries. The Index was founded at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at Twitter @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed Gaudin RSS. Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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