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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Crowdsourced consumption and product development

We are all consumers. We choose what to consume. But we also choose how we consume it.

This may be completely different to how the inventor anticipated, or expected, usage. It is the law of unintended consequences.

Contrary actions may prevent a product or service succeeding. But equally, an innovative use that builds on the original concept can be game changing. As Cory Doctorow points out in the article, unintended consequences include such inventions as

Even in a planned economy, inventors can’t dictate how their product or service is used. The community decides. No matter how tightly controlled a campaign is, the product owner cannot dictate outputs.

Similarly, companies cannot dictate perceptions or experiences. Products facilitate actions, but the consumer decides what these actions are. Faris Yakob argues that “A brand is a collective perception in the minds of consumers” while Justin Porter says that “Designers do not create experiences, they create artifacts to experience”

The internet and social networks may enable individual customisation and organic social constructs but these aren’t new phenomena. The community has always had power.

To jump on the bandwagon, I’ll use Twitter as an example. Media coverage of Twitter concentrates on either celebrity uptake, or its position within breaking news stories. These are popular expressions of Twitter use, but were they anticipated?

One of Twitter‘s co-founders says that it was initially conceived as a text dispatch service. Did they foresee that Twitter could be used for, among other things

  • Microblogging
  • Socialising publicly
  • Socialising privately
  • Linking
  • Echoing
  • Syndicating
  • Following
  • Polling
  • Tracking
  • Searching
  • Reporting
  • Announcing
  • Promoting

I suspect that some of these actions would have been considered. But not all of them.

Friend or Follow is a simple tool that can highlight the different ways that people use Twitter. Promoters will have more followers, followers will be fans of more people, and socialisers will have a high proportion of friends. Each person will use Twitter in a slightly different way.

The Twitter founders accepted and embraced this. And took it a step further. Recognising that business development is constrained by their own imaginations (among more prosaic factors such as finance), they opened up their API to outside developers and effectively told them to “go wild”. Individual consumption is supplemented by devolved development.

These tools may have contributed to the growth in popularity as those not convinced by the core offering may be sold by a new application. Some of these – such as Summize – have even been incorporated into the core offering.

This movement takes the concept of community power to the next stage. Product development has joined consumption, perception and experience in being co-opted by the crowd.

But the consequences aren’t wholly positive. Twitter had to buy Summize. With a closed API, they could have introduced a search function organically with minimal cost. A multitude of functions could create a paradox of choice, or confuse the core offering (while perceptions are individual, a company needs a core offering as an anchor). Not to mention the Firefox levels of bloat that could ultimately occur.

By effectively trusting the masses to create Twitter apps, the company also leaves itself open to nefarious or incompatible activity. This could be fake services phishing passwords, or a service that – for example – could promote fascist behaviour.

This makes the path of product evolution far more unpredictable than within a tightly controlled environment such as Apple (though their iPhone apps store does partially relinquish this). How can Twitter remain confident in their product experience. Is some level of control necessary to ensure a coherent thrust, or can the community be relied upon to promote the positive innovations and marginalise the negative?

I don’t know the answer to this, but it also poses some questions regarding usability testing. Is the only way to facilitate this in real-time through public beta testing, rather than closed-shop research initiatives? A balance between organic, crowd-sourced improvement and publicly known missteps need to be found.

To conclude this wildly incoherent post, I remain fascinated by the ability to appropriate not only imagery but functionality. Whether Twitter, or the burgeoning RFID-enabled internet of things, it is an area producing a myriad of innovative activity.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/heyyu/

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Links – 22nd December 2008

This post is part 1 of 2, and they will effectively be my only link updates for December. A shame considering I kept the updates fairly consistent beforehand, but December isn’t the easiest month to keep on top of things – particularly with ATP and illness.

Anyway…

Social media

  • I’ve been using Twitter a lot more recently – I think the main reason is the use of Tweetdeck, which has useful filter features within a great interface. This has allowed me to distinguish signal from noise to a greater degree – something that concerns me with social media. Two posts on the subject resonated with me – Inquisitr’s “Is Social Media Becoming A Social Mess” and The Tumbling Cod’s “I’m Pretty Sure Tumblr Makes You Stupid
  • Most people reading will be familiar with the furore over Chris Brogan’s sponsored post. For those unaware, Jeremiah Owyang has a comprehensive overview of the situation. I think Chris Brogan defended his position well (for the record, I have no problem with it so long as it is disclosed. If it happens more frequently than I’d like, like others I would unsubscribe) while Dirk Singer wrote the best opinion piece on the matter that I read.
  • E-Consultancy looks at social media’s metric problems. A while back, I wondered how best to measure the online sphere in general. I don’t envisage a universal answer being forthcoming anytime soon.
  • JP Rangaswami has a thought-provoking post on the nature of asymmetric networks and conversations within the social media sphere, while James Governor also gives his thoughts on the asymmetric follow
  • Paul Carr has a typically humorous post on his experiences at LeWeb, and the fallout from the less than perfect proceedings
  • Bubble Comment is  a new tool that lets you overlay video comments onto websites. I’m not sure whether this constitutes fair use, so it may not be around for all that long in its current form, but worth a look.

The Internet

  • Merlin Mann responds to the productivity/advice blog genre that has eaten itself. His contention is that it is wrong for people to look for quick tips and lifehacks – the best way to improve is to follow a cohesive and comprehensive plan. We should concentrate on doing, rather than living vicariously.
  • Cory Doctorow puts forward a persuasive argument for not extending the copyright privileges of recording artists

Research and data

  • The latest Trend Blend map is available. Download it along with previous editions here
  • Dataopedia is a brilliant, free resource pulling together all the publicly available stats for different websites.

A pretty huge list. So, for those that don’t have a lot of spare time over the Xmas period I would particularly recommend Jeremiah on the Izea brouhaha, JP on asymmetric networks,  Hugh on why social objects are the future of marketing, Guardian’s top 100 websites and the latest trend blend map

sk

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Links – 10th April 2008

Blog-related

Random

In particular, I would recommend:

Blog-related: When hypertext linking is a bad thing , How ISPs throttle legitimate Internet users and How to be creative

Random: Plausible deniability in America (not) advocating torture, A game theory look at doping in athletics and The fate of the semi-colon

sk