How things get better
Wednesday, August 22, 2007 by Dave Winer.
I've said it here many times in many ways, if you make a tech product or service, there will always be problems -- bugs, system failures, human errors. The question isn't whether your product is perfect, it's how do you respond when it breaks.
The first time I got bad news about a product was when I asked a friend to use the software I was working on. He wasn't a programmer, he had never used a computer. An educated intelligent person, roughly my age. (When I was young, believe it or not, there were many people who had never used a computer.)
Before he had fully settled in I knew it wasn't going to work. I was able to play out, in my mind, what was about to happen. The software would say nothing to him, so how could he know what to do. I waited and what I predicted did happen. He looked at me and asked "What do I do now?"
That's where the conversation between product and user begins. A first step must be evident, then a second and a third. At some point, a choice. Eventually, a "virtuality" reveals itself -- a world with its own laws and logic, it's own sense of how things work, so a user's guess at how something works actually does. You build trust, one step at a time, knowing all along at some point the house of cards will fall down. (Something like that happened to Skype a few days ago.)
If you want to make a product that people use then you have to pay attention to their experience when they use it. The better you are at understanding, the better your product will become over time. The inverse is true as well. If you deny the value of feedback, or deflect it, your product will never get better.