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?
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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)?
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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 🙂