Recently, while researching for a story I was writing, I stumbled over a blog post by Cosm’s Ed Borden, in which he stated:
It never occurred to me that crowdsourcing radiation data from Geiger counters would be an application for [Cosm]!
This is pure gold. This statement captures at the core why it’s necessary to put products out there: because we ultimately have no idea how it’s going to be used.
You can design all you want, the moment your product reaches its customers hands, they are going to decide if, and how, it fits into their lives. On a conference last week, Sami had a slide with a very compelling quote by William Gibson:
The strongest impacts of an emergent technology are always unanticipated. You can’t know what people are going to do until they get their hands on it and start using it on a daily basis[.]
However, there are two ways of dealing with that; you acknowledge that this is what happens, and design for it, allowing for unintended use by the users of your product, or you deny that this is what happens, try to lock down your product and do what often is dubbed “control the experience.”
The latter is a treacherous promise, however. You have no control over the circumstance in which your product is going to be used, how then can you even attempt to “control the experience”, to design for specific use?
There are countless examples of (especially) web-businesses realizing that their customers were doing things with their services that “never occurred to them.” There are so many examples, in fact, that the industry has even created a word for that realization and the subsequent re-alignment of business strategy: it’s called “pivoting.”1
There are whole corpus of theories about how businesses should work with their customers to better the experience for all parties involved.
But at the core, this is the spirit of the web – with technologies openly available and reusable, we’re lowering the barrier to new applications, to new surprises, to people using stuff in the way it fits them, and more importantly: in a way they see fit.
“It never occurred to me” is the gold medal of technologies that enable, expression of success, of new, unforeseen applications and manifestation of working on stuff that matters. Let’s hear it more often.
Please bear in mind that most of the business manoeuvres that are called pivots aren’t in fact pivots but rather fundamental restarts of the business. ↩