I'm working on a piece on Social Media and why it's no longer that. When I write I like to take mini-breaks to "clear the cache" so I check my email and incoming twits. I've been getting a bunch of followers lately--which I love: I usually check to see who's following and add (or not) depending on what I find. A Lisabaxterjones is now following me, my twitter email alert reads. I click the link and get this:
I must admit Twitter fail messages have been serving as a great comic relief. There's even a facebook page called FailWhale somewhere. Honestly, I don't quite know what I'd do when all these bugs and snafus are fixed.
What's fascinating to me is that users have come to expect free web 2.0 to fail. It's like there's a hidden contract somewhere--a handshake--between web companies and users that says "Beta (forever) is okay." It says "We the users will put up with sub-par experiences in return for the ability to participate and try something new." Twitter and Google's SearchWiki are but two examples. Yahoo!'s new email platform a few years back is another. Facebook used to enjoy a great deal of user patience until their infamous redesign and then it was all gone.
Interestingly enough, users today will put up with web 2.0 service failure much more than they would with online services coming out of large corporations. Maybe because most consumer web 2.0 is often application-based and is free. Or maybe because expensive products coming out of large corporations are used to protect or generate revenue so they need to be somewhat perfected before they're released. Or maybe it's because there's a whole different "feel" to the web--I mean, who pays for the web anyway?
It is obvious that there's a threshold--a ceiling. At some point, even the most tolerant user will jump ship. But it seems that there's a much greater leeway for mistakes before anyone raises their hand.
That may be because the reward for tolerating unfinished products on the web is participation in the conversation--the innovation conversation. People get to see things as they are being created right in front of their eyes. It's no longer a closed niche: no longer a Visionary or strict Early Adopter play--anyone interested can join in. Soccer moms (to use the cliche) are twitting and facebooking just like techy highscoolers do.
Companies benefit from the state of virtual Beta too. It allows them to develop their products on the go, to prioritize features based on user feedback (consider it the yelling test), and helps them stay agile, cheap, and iterate fast.
But I argue that the cost of being in virtual Beta is high: it comes with increasingly lowered standards and poor final product quality. That conversion is fascinating to me: It's like being handed different exotic fish every day but ending up eating them as melts week after week, forgetting there are other, tastier meals that don't necessarily involve fish.
Will the price of participatory innovation be a reduced quality? Will it be speed over strategy? Short term fixes over long term vision? Or are things okay just as they are? If you have thoughts on the matter, do share. Personally, I'm getting tired of looking at grey robots, whales, and fish.