Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Software developers, give us tools so that we can use your applications as we wish

Tool Trader II by Meena Kadri (Meanest Indian) used under a Creative Commons License

I've previously discussed how I use Google Reader to view the entries in the lastfmfeeds FriendFeed room. This is a good example of how you can use various technology standards to view data in the format of your choice. In a June 2 post, Chris Brogan describes a more cumbersome way to view data in a style to your liking:

I want LinkedIn to improve its contact management. I have all kinds of contacts. I want to be able to slice and dice the information on-board. I don’t want to always have to export a CSV and then sort it myself.

More here.

In a comment to Brogan's post, Brad Schwarzenbach linked to a post at Tipping Point Labs that noted that frustrations with services can lead people to abandon the service altogether. The post, written by Andrew Davis, happens to reference Schwarzenbach's thoughts:

My friend Brad introduced me to what he calls the ‘What Now Factor.’ The What Now Factor is the length of time it takes the average user to join a new media channel, figure out the channel, then ask themselves: What Now?

For example, I joined MySpace. Nine months later I had tons of friends, a pretty active MySpace page, and I got bored. That’s when I asked myself: What Now? The answer: Facebook. In my world, I hit the What Now Factor in about nine months on MySpace.

While Davis mostly talks about Twitter (this was written after Her Oprahness joined the microblogging service), he mentions LinkedIn in passing:

How long do you think it will take you to get to the What Now factor on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?

While Davis suggests a three-point plan of (1) analyzing how users employ a service, (2) adjusting and adapting quickly, and (3) encouraging quality content creators, I think that a more basic answer to the problem can be found by providing people with the tools that they need to do what they want to do.

When Mark Zuckerberg began thinking about ways for college students to connect to their friends, he didn't envision that Leslie would want to put me in handcuffs and take me to Sydney, Australia. But as the Facebook platform evolved, it included capabilities that let others add their own applications to Facebook - applications such as Kidnap. (And I'm not even going to mention Mafia Wars. Whoops, I just did.)

I can cite all sorts of software industry examples in which software was robust enough to handle a new use case that the software developers never envisioned. In some cases, the software developers reacted negatively, stating that "our software was not intended for that pupose." In other cases, the software developers reacted positively, and their software reached dizzying heights of success that they never envisioned.

While it's good for software developers to examine their users and work to meet user needs, there are times when it's best for the software developers to just give the users the tools to meet their own needs. Now one can argue that LinkedIn effectively did this by allowing Brogan to capture contact data in CSV format. But LinkedIn could do a better job here, or else it will end up like Monster or the local newspaper classifieds.

P.S. Leslie, I'm sending you to Rio! Again.
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