How Github destroyed two years of work with a new favicon

Let me first get one thing straight.

I love Github.

I love how they allow me to collaborate with others, I love their simple functional interface, I love their 404 Page and I love, love, the cute Octocat.  They have done source code hosting right, so right that I find myself annoyed when a library I want to use isn't hosted there, because I know that if I want to tweak it a bit, submitting those changes back will be a bit more painful.

In short, I want to marry Github and raise our cute adorable Octocat children into our twilight years.

But this weekend, they drove me a bit bonkers.  I was coding about on some new SMS apps, hooking in my housemate's Kinyaranda dictionary for on the go lookups, and I kept finding myself hunting for my Github tab.

See, Github changed their favicon a few days ago, and my brain still hasn't adjusted.  So everytime I wanted to hop back to Github to read some code in a library I was using, or do a quick search, I got stuck.  I sat there staring at my tabs for a few seconds, looking in vain for the little 'git' beacon.

Don't believe me?  Take the test yourself, try to find the git tab here:

Nice work, you found that quick!  

Ok, now what what about this one?

Took you a tad longer didn't it?

I use Github daily, a ton, and I still haven't totally adjusted to the new Octocat icon.  It just isn't as distinctive as the old icon and my eye doesn't catch it.  I'm sure I will adapt, of course I will adapt, but in the meantime I'm going to waste a second or two every time I'm looking for that damn 'git' tab.

Which got me thinking, just how much time is going to be gobbled up by this innocuous change?

Getting traffic numbers for a website is an imprecise science.  Quancast claims that Github get's 1M unique visitors a month, while Compete says something like 500k a day.  For the sake of simplicity, let's just go with 1M, since I'm mostly interested in how long each user will take to adapt.

So let's say each of those visitors is like me, and gets just a tiny bit confused by the new icon.  Let's say that over the course of the few days it takes to adapt, they waste 15 seconds on Github tab hunts.  Using everybody's favorite method of multiplying small things by big things we get:

15 seconds * 1,000,000 = 15 million seconds

15 M seconds / 3600 seconds =~ 4166 hours

4166 hours / (40 hours * 50 weeks) =~ 2 years

Holy crap!  Github just ate two years of productivity with a favicon change!  Someone ring the alarms!

Ok, so ya, this is all pretty ridiculous.  All sorts of things steal our time every day, let's not even get into how many person years of productivity Facebook has eaten.  ("one billion years!" pinky on lip)  But what it does illustrate is both how integral a part of our work day Github has become for so many of us, and how once a site becomes that integral, then tiny things can make big differences.

That's a lot of responsibility, and something kind of unique about web apps in general.  We don't get to pick when to upgrade to the new favicon.  It gets pushed out, and we adapt, or if the change is bad enough, we leave.  But we don't get to say, no, this is good enough, I'm not upgrading to the Octocat favicon.

Imagine if tomorrow Google decided that Gmail should be served in Esperanto only, because they've decided that Esperanto is the one true language.  What could we do except complain?  We don't get to choose to keep the old native language Gmail, we are forced forward.  And yes, of course even if such a ridiculous scenario happened, the market would adjust and somebody would figure out a workaround, but think of the productivity lost in the process.

That is the double edged sword with our growing dependence on web apps, we get instant updates that we love, and we get instant updates that we hate, all without lifting a finger.  That is a compromise I'm comfortable with, the sites I really rely upon understand that power and exercise caution.  

I trust Github and Google to make good decisions, I trust them to change things out from under me because more often than not those changes are improvements.  But our vulnerability is complete, we show our soft underbelly to these sites every single day, giving them permission to do as they will, only asking that they be gentle.

So it's a good thing Octocats are so cute, otherwise I might never forgive them for the two years of work they just erased from history.

3 responses
:) Nice observation Nic!
It's not easy being famous and being able to satisfy everyone. Github/Facebook should ask us before changing something or at least give us an option to come back to the old design like google and their beta logos.
That's what we have to hand over to the websites that we use every day to get stuff done: trust.

We trust that these sites use our information properly (privacy policies and settings help), that they make good changes, and that they know how to listen to their users.

I do think that the current favicon for GitHub could improve a lot, but ultimately it's up to them and as the above commenter stated: "It's not easy being famous and being able to satisfy everyone."

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