Targeting the wrong goal, writing lazy articles

business and consumers

I have no idea if the rank and file in other companies—say, Yahoo and Microsoft—start their day by scheming how to beat, conquer, overtake, pummel, or even “kill” other companies.  At least at the engineering and product management levels, I both hope and expect not.  I prefer to think that—like the folks I work with at Google—most individuals at other companies are dedicated to just making damn good stuff, and not particularly caring how this affects the competition.

But appallingly often it seems that what happens after stuff gets filtered through marketing, execs, journalists… well, it ain’t pretty.

Apparently, engineers and product managers don’t give a whit about users.  They care about beating the other guy.  Stealing their market share.  Even putting them out of business.  And, though as I’ve noted I’m confident that’s not an accurate depiction of what’s going on in the frontlines, I still need to emphatically call it like I see it: That attitude is wrong, it’s shortsighted, it’s counterproductive, and—more concisely—it’s absolute bullshit.

Let me give a clue to these folks who continue to moronically view—or at least portray—the exciting and complex world of technology as cross between WWF and rollerball:  At the end of the day, only the users matter.

No, I really mean it.  Stockholders are fickle, particularly American stockholders.  Competitors sometimes come and go, sometimes lose focus, sometimes totally drop the ball.  Forming business plans around their actions—whether from opportunity or fear—is just plain stupid.

But users?  They are the ones that actually, well, use your products.  Pay you money.  Tell their friends.  Convince their Fortune 500 IT manager.  They have a *need* to be productive, to learn, to feel secure, to have fun.  And there are a LOT of users… not just in America, but all over the world.  If you have 50% market share for a product, you’re probably going to make a lot of money.  If you have 3% of an sufficiently large market, you’re probably still going to make a lot of money.

There is no need to kill anything or anyone, dammit!!!  The pie is so large that a significant number of companies can have a slice (or a niche or whatever) and be perfectly happy, successful, and well-respected. 

People still watch TV.  They still use Microsoft Office.  They still even search for sites, images, music, and porn on a variety of search engines and that’s just fine.

I don’t know every single person at Google personally, nor do I have intimate knowledge of every single thing we’re working on.  But I can tell you this:  Not once (literally) have I heard someone talk about stealing marketshare, trouncing a competitor, replacing rather than augmenting something, and so on.  We ask “will people use this?” and “what could we do to get more people using it?” and “what could we do to make our users happier so they use the product(s) more and invite their friends?” 

So it deeply disturbs me to see headlines like “[blah blah blah] Microsoft killer?!” or “[blah blah blah] deadly threat to Google” and so on.  Trust me, I know that controversy and winner-takes-all stuff sells papers, gets people staying tuned to your [insert-network-here] broadcast and so on.  And perhaps others, even tech outsiders, view such hyperbole for the crap that it is. 

But what worries me is that this obscures the more important messages, the more interesting stuff:  how are products (by any company) expanding the pie?  how are they changing the way people work?  How are they affecting economic and other structures?  To what level do new products and UIs lead and alter vs. simply reflect user behaviors?

*  *  *

I’m not terribly optimistic about changing the habits of the “big folks” in journalism.  They’ve been around too long and gotten too accustomed to crafting the us-vs.-them story in their sleep (either David vs. Goliath or Goliath stomps David or Goliath #1 causes or will cause Goliath #2 to implode or whatever).

But I’m going to ask you fellow Bloggers out there to eschew the lazy path.  Quit framing things in terms of battles, in terms of winners and losers.  Savor the (useful) challenge of ridding your headline vocabulary of oft-negative absolutes and instead focus more on the big picture and on nuances.  What does a particular product or product change mean for users?  From a user-centric perspective, why might something have been done?  While products may seem superficially similar (Writely stuff next to Office), how are the goals and audiences targeted and how effective is this (again, from a user perspective, not from a stock price / competitive tweaking view)?

*  *  *

And perhaps, if I might be optimistic for a bit, if bloggers and journalists focus their writing on end-user issues rather than trumped-up corporate warfare, they might even find a more sizeable share of the audience pie themselves 🙂

8 comments… add one
  • Chris Mar 1, 2007

    This is your personal blog, but I don’t know a better place to ask this question:

    Where is the best place to report a technical problem with Froogle? The Froogle help site has no form to submit problem reports. There is no Froogle users group on Google Groups. So, what should I do?

  • Mitzi Mar 4, 2007

    There was an interesting article in The New Yorker that your post reminds me of.  It was basically looking at the competition between Xbox and PlaysStation to become the number 1 gaming platform, and how that’s not actually helping either the “winner” or the “loser”.  That because they’re so fancy-schmancy, each one is sold at a significant loss.  That Nintendo, which isn’t even reputed as a player anymore is turning a considerable profit partly because it’s avoiding the high-stakes competition.  Oh look, I found it online.

  • Adam Mar 6, 2007

    Chris, your best bet is:
    http://base.google.com/support/bin/topic.py?topic=2934
    or the Base support group:
    http://groups.google.com/group/base-help-discussion
    The Base folks can help you with Froogle things 🙂

    Mitzi, you’re very smart for a cat!  And I have firsthand experience with the gaming console issue you mentioned; I’m not much of a gamer and not impressed by fancy-schmancy specs and such… but the Nintendo Wii was just plain goofy fun 🙂

  • Chris Mar 23, 2007

    Adam,
    Thank you for your recommendation. I wasn’t able to resolve my problem. I made a post about it on my website.

  • Adam Apr 30, 2007

    JohnWeb, I never did think it was anything nefarious from the blogging world… more like lazy (or, as you aptly suggested, link-bait-related).

    The end result is the same, though; the conversation, IMHO, is dragged down, with people focusing on the negative (losers, force, damage, etc.) instead of the amazing positive stuff associated with lots of the tech products and tech companies that abound nowadays.

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