Jul 052012

Zuckerberg checking email on mobile device. Image: Business Insider

CNET has a hard hitting article on Facebook’s Email Debacle after its recent move to change users’ email addresses. Users have been up in arms over lost emails and address books that were apparently overwritten. Facebook has encountered a series of failures in trying to resolve the issues but worst of all is the approach it has taken – blame the users.

Facebook responded to CNET’s original article documenting the problems by saying:

Regarding the “email loss” this may actually just be confusion around the Messages Inbox: By default, messages from friends or friends of friends go into your Inbox. Everything else goes to your Other folder. 

(If you click on Messages in your left hand navigation menu, you’ll see below it an Other folder that drops down.) That is likely where the messages are being sent from other people’s emails. Even if that person is friends with them on Facebook, if the friend doesn’t have that email on their Facebook account, the message could end up in the Other folder.

CNET’s Violet Blue goes on to point out that:

Rather than addressing the missing e-mail issue, Facebook seems fit to chalk up the e-mail interceptions as operator error: falling back on the notion that users either are not looking in the secondary inbox, or that users didn’t tell the Facebook Messages system it was OK to receive e-mails from non-Facebook contacts.

All of which could be blamed on user incompetence — if anyone had been aware that Facebook had changed their primary e-mails, made them public, and then Facebook changed individuals’ contact information outside of Facebook on their contact’s phones, devices, and computers (via the API’s synch).

You’ve crossed a line when you start to blame your users, but to then start changing information on their synced mobile devices without acknowledging the issue just adds to the anger. ReadWriteWeb sums up the mess that that 900 million member social network has created:

The problems first came to light on several blogs. Adobe employee Rachel Luxemburg, for example, noted that a co-worker had noticed his contact info for her had been updated with the @facebook.com address that was widely discussed early last week. But messages did not appear to be going through to her – perhaps, as Chin suggested, because they were being filed in the “Other” email folder.

“They’ve vanished into the ether,” Luxemburg wrote. “For all I know, I could be missing a lot more emails from friends, colleagues or family members, and never even know it.”

But the overwriting of contact information in people’s mobile devices may prove to be a bigger problem for Facebook. The company faced a backlash last week when it switched the default email address in people’s profiles to @facebook.com in an effort to jumpstart use of its email service, which has failed to live up to the “Gmail killer” status it was given when it first launched in 2010.

Facebook did not back down, but simply told users how they could switch their default contact info back to the email address of their choice. It was not clear if the fix for the updated contact info is a manual fix for each address in your device. 

We’ve all seen the meteoric rise of Facebook, though it has stumbled here and there – most visibly in its recent stock offering. But the blame there could be distributed across financial institutions, an incompetent NASDAQ, greedy investors and a host of villains. The current email issue Facebook has to own unless it wants to see that vast global user base bail out for another platform.

Time for some serious all-night hackathons, Mark.