Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Gradual Feature Rollouts Can Generate Positive Press Coverage Despite Little Real-World Availability

Brian Feldman, New York magazine:

The feature “rollout” is a staple of tech launches. A feature technically goes live, but when it will actually reach all users is left vague. Dashboards tabulating screen time rolled out last year, making their way to users over the course of weeks. Instagram’s anti-bullying tools rolled out a couple of months ago. A year ago, a feature to unsend messages in Messenger went live … in Bolivia, Colombia, Lithuania, and Poland, until eventually making its way to everyone else. This rollout tactic gives major tech platforms a way to create the illusion that they are for everyone. Tech companies get outlets to write up press releases about features going live, even if the features are not, in many cases, actually live.

A cautionary approach to rolling out new features by testing and refining them in smaller markets is not a problem. The problem is that these features are often announced in press releases and news stores as though they are widely available when they aren’t. In the New York Times’ coverage of Facebook’s new tool to control data collection across the web, it isn’t mentioned until the very last paragraph that it is only available in Ireland, South Korea, and Spain, with no timeline for U.S. or worldwide access. There’s no sign that Facebook is restricting the feature to these markets for licensing, translation, or legal reasons; it is a strategic decision to test how it works for users, and how much it impacts the company’s data gathering. Reporters should reserve praise and more accurately describe these soft launches for what they are: tests in specific markets.