There’s more to what I wanted from blogging when it was starting up in the 90s.
I envisioned user communities that would figure out where products needed to go by pooling their experiences. I got this idea from my own experience as a product developer, and one event that I’ll never forget.
Guy Kawasaki came to a Living Videotext party at the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Probably in 1987. He gave me a slip of paper with a list of feature requests from an Apple exec, his new boss, Jean-Louis Gassee.
I read over the list, handed it back to him, and said I wanted to meet Mr. Gassee. Why? I recognized the items. They were the top feature requests from users of the product. From that list I could tell that Gassee was using it, and was using it well and often.
Moral of the story: You only learn where a product needs improvement through serious long-term use. Users gain that kind of experience, but reviewers and pundits generally do not. Their observations tend to be superficial. That’s why reviews written after a few days using a product often miss the mark. The real greatness or lack of greatness in a product doesn’t show up for a few weeks or months. Sometimes even longer.
This was a secret of mine, because most of my competitors not only didn’t listen to their users, but they didn’t even use their own products. If you want to make great products, never mind the degree in finance or marketing, though those skills are certainly important to running a business. Be both a user and a developer. That way you understand users, and you can make their dreams come true, because they are your dreams too. The reward for that is success.
Once when I was giving this schpiel a very wise and smart man, Yochai Benkler, asked if a doctor had to have the disease to be able to treat a patient. He got me. Sort of. Comparing the use of a wonderful software product to a terrible disease misses the point. Of course the doctor doesn’t have to have the disease. On the other hand, why should you make a product that you don’t love? Find something you really care about. Can you imagine loving a movie from a director who didn’t love it first? (Yes, I just watched a documentary about the career of Woody Allen. He hated Manhattan, one of the greatest movies of all time. But he didn’t stop making movies, and if you asked him if he loved movies, if he said he didn’t, well, I think he’d be lying. Regardless, we love his movies, even if he doesn’t.)
So my hope for blogging was this. That users would write up their experiences with products, and good developers would study what they wrote. And if they didn’t some users would learn how to develop, and they would take over the markets, because user-driven products generally win out over ones that are not user-driven.
It’s why Twitter, for example, is in trouble — imho. Their execs are not serious users of the product. And they don’t do a great job of listening to users. That’s why they are drifting. Facebook, on the other hand, has a strength that Twitter doesn’t. Zuckerberg, whether you like him or not, does use his own product.
Also, I never liked the term “eating your own dogfood.” Yuck. What does that say about the users! So many of the ways businesses talk about their users are degrading and condescending. This goes back to Respect, which I wrote about yesterday. Respect comes from listening. A developer who does not listen to their users doesn’t have much of a future. And if you’re a user yourself, you’re the most powerful kind of developer there is.