Facebook user satisfaction 'abysmal'

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

While Facebook is expected to announce this week that it's 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, which partnered with ACSI, LLC. on the e-business survey.

"At the same time, 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 non-profit 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.

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 site was not rated because so many users access the site through a third-party application and not directly through Twitter.com, the report noted.

Dan Olds, an analyst for The Gabriel Consulting Group, said this is tough news for Facebook, which has been dealing with users frustrated over the site's 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."

Also, with Google said to be to developing a social networking service, rumored to be called Google Me , which would take on Facebook and grab chunks of its disgruntled users -- and a hefty piece of its revenue -- signs of Facebook user dissatisfaction could be good news for it.

"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's would take a lot of effort and a serious sum of money, plus some inspired marketing too."

And in the portals and search engine category, the ACSI report noted that while Google remained strong with a rating of 80, the company has slipped 6 points from last year. This year's rating is the lowest since 2002, when Google was first indexed, according to ACSI.

The good news for Google is that it still edged out its main search rival, Microsoft's Bing , which had a rating of 77. Yahoo , which is in second place in the search market, 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 totally dominates 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," Old 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 @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

Read more about web 2.0 and web apps in Computerworld's Web 2.0 and Web Apps Topic Center.

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Sharon Gaudin

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