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The Customer is Very Smart

Friday, September 1, 1995 by Dave Winer.

Who is Sylvia? Permalink to Who is Sylvia?

My friend Sylvia Paull, whoissylvia@aol.com, has a funny email address. She's reading Microserfs and loves it. And she's a new Windows 95 user.

She writes: "Unbeknownst to me, while I was sleeping, my companion and well-meaning nerd lover installed Windows 95 on my personal PC, as well as on all four of the PCs in our house. I went down to check my email this morning and found my screen crawling with caterpillars. Ughh! Frantically, I hit a key. The caterpillars disappeared and up reared the ugly icons of Windows 95 with dorky Mr Rogers-like names like My Computer and The Neighborhood. Pressing these icons opened up mysterious stuff."

"Then, thanks to the Rolling Stones, I noticed the Start sign on the bottom of the screen. So I do the start thing and find my email connection but no Word file. Where is Word? There's no clue as to how I'm going to find a simple program like Word. I give up. Call Fred. Shriek. My day is ruined. It's as if a Sylvia impersonator entered my house, took all my things out of the drawers, and replaced it with unfamiliar paraphernalia. My whole *being* is gone."

"For the time being. I can still use the phone."

I love Sylvia. And she loves Fred.


Wait Till Next Year Permalink to Wait Till Next Year

It's also very cool to have your website chosen Cool Site of the Day.

I know what it's like, my home page was the Cool Site on March 29. I made a lot of new friends on that day, including Glenn Davis, gdavis@infi.net, the Cool Site man. In my April 1 DaveNet I anonymously called him one of the "unsung heroes of the Internet." He's still a hero, but not so unsung anymore.

It's important to have a judge like Glenn, scouring the net for innovative and creative stuff. His home page is a very valuble resource for hundreds of thousands of Internet users. His list of Cool Sites chronicles the evolution of the web better than any other website I've seen. It's concise. It's easy to use. It's fun!

A few weeks ago Glenn had his own dream, and now it's realized. His one year anniversary was coming up. We have Cool Site of the Day. But what about the best site of the year? He picked his five favorites, put them on a web page, and let people vote on it.

On Wednesday, they had a celebration in Hollywood to announce the winner. It's on the web, of course.

I have a website too, and it didn't make it this year.

But wait till next year!

The Customer is Very Smart Permalink to The Customer is Very Smart

I had lunch on Tuesday with a friendly Macintosh user. We talked about lots of things, including what it's like to be a Macintosh 95 user.

The conversation reminded me of things I learned about users when I ran my first software company in the mid 80s.

First, a user is a customer. In business, we have a saying about customers, and like all wise sayings it's true from every angle.

The customer is always right.

And it has a corolary -- the customer is also very smart.

How do you know your customers are smart? Because she or he was smart enough to buy your product. The market is a minefield of excuses for people *not* to buy your product. The ones that pay money to use your software are the smartest people in the world. They overcame every obstacle, every objection, to discover the greatness of your product. The customer's intelligence is a reflection of your belief that you have a great product. If that belief isn't built into your company, you're going down! It's over. Liquidate the assets. You may think you have a business, but you actually don't.

Read the pulse of the customers. You should feel a balance. You should feel good about meeting with a customer. If you're scared of your customers, take a look at it, behind that feeling is a fundamental problem in your business.

I flashed on this many years ago when I heard a few of my programmers shmoozing in the company kitchen. They were trading stories, trying to top each other with stories about how stupid our users are. This really bothered me. At first I couldn't figure out why.

What unlocked the puzzle? I tried flipping it around, I'm not the president anymore, I'm a customer. Imagine overhearing this conversation. What does it feel like to hear the disrespect of a company whose product you bought? I've been there many times; so have you. Lots of customer reps for lots of products assume you're dumb if you don't understand something they do. It's a basic human mistake, it shows up everywhere you go.

It happens when you're a tourist -- visit a strange country -- some people assume you're stupid because you don't know the local customs. It's like going to a party where the host plays jokes at the expense of the guests. It works that way in the software biz too. A platform is like a household. An API is a party. Did you make me smart for supporting your last interface? Or were you playing a joke at my expense?

Every user is also a developer. Syvlia wants to know why you moved her word processor. All the cuteness can be realllly irritating when the system stops working for me. It makes the Stones look bad too.

Back to Mac customers. For the whole life of the platform, until last week, we had the confidence that even if we weren't using the consensus platform, we were still using the best platform. We knew something the other guys didn't know. Our choice made us smart, and made us right. But no more. Now we're using the minority platform, and there are features in the other platform that we've wanted in *our* platform for years.

We're not right anymore. Ooooops. Something important changed.

Now, the chicken comes home to roost. For years Apple jealously guarded the right to upgrade the operating system, cutting off developer opportunities with the justification that they have the right to upgrade their own OS. Of course they do! But that could be a losing strategy. When you hog the fast lane with inadequate technology, eventually the competition catches up, and then passes. Apple can block their developers, but they haven't blocked the competition.

2-by-4s Permalink to 2-by-4s

Mac users feel truly stupid and truly wrong, for the first time.

I believe it's important for the owners of the Mac OS to realize this.

Guy Kawasaki, macway@aol.com, says that Windows 95 is a 2-by-4 across Apple's forehead.


But it's a 2-by-4 across the forehead of Mac users too.

Dave Winer

PS: In many ways the Mac platform is still the best. I believe that a Macintosh makes a much more powerful web server than Windows NT. I've got an NT machine now, I'm going to check it out. Apple should stop everything and do an inventory of the platform. Stop assuming that multimedia is the only differentiator. There are others.

PPS: Sylvia was one of the .

PPPS: Fred Davis, Sylvia's boyfriend, has a very cool . What a sweet nerd Fred is. There's even a picture of me on his website! Now that's cooooool. Send him email, tell him DaveNet sent you.

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."