Remember your users
If you want to make your product better, you have to learn how to listen to your users. Not who you think they are, but who they really are.
by Dave Winer Saturday, April 22, 2017

At the Perugia journalism conference they had a panel with a 10-year-old boy and several adult journalists. The goal, I guess, was to find out what the boy thought about the news. It was a noble idea, but imho it didn't work. Kids in the midst of adults will act more or less as they think the adults want them to act. I remember what it was like being a kid myself. Perhaps a panel of kids, with the adults in the audience, might have worked better. But I suspect they wouldn't have stuck to the topic.

It occurred to me much later that this is typical of developer conferences. They might have a panel where developers are on stage and the platform vendor employees are in the audience, but only heavily supervised developers, and ones not likely to rock the boat too much. Thus depriving everyone of what could potentially be a lively and useful discussion.

What if instead they had a panel with adult users of news, telling the professional journalists, in the audience, what frustrated them about the way the news was covered. There's a lot of potential in that. But news people, like the people who run big platform companies, seem reluctant to take the risk of letting their users speak freely in their presence. 

When I did my session at the Perugia conference I spoke as a technology developer who wanted to work with journalists. I saved my criticism in that session for other developers, so the journalists seem to enjoy it. I could just as easily have led a discussion about how journalism led us off a cliff in the 2016 elections, and how if we want to save what's left of democracy, it's going to a require radical transformation in how news works. I suspect if I had done that, the journalists would have walked out of the room.

I am experiencing this frustration watching some of the same people who were at Perugia, who I spoke with over meals and in the hallways about the dire state of news, tweeting about a journalism conference they're at in the US this weekend. As in Perugia, they talk about users of news the same way platform vendors talk about users of their platforms. In aggregate. Theoretical terms. And missing the point, imho. 

Bottom-line: Have the guts, if you're going to have a professional conference, of giving  substantial time to the users of your profession's products. It's a perspective that's often missing, a very important one. If you want quick productive change, it could be the most direct path.