Digital products are systems. Technologically and metaphorically. A product is a universe, an Eco system. In this universe there are domains, entities and actions that can be taken. Screens, apps, web sites, messaging protocols are properties of such systems. The process of building a product involves carefully designing such properties to a story that a user would be part of.
What does the entry point look like, how do we communicate the possibilities available to a visitor or a member, what are the goals of this session? Once ready, the doors open and users start coming in. The main goal is to keep users engaged for as long as possible and create loyal members (or as Kevin Kelly coined true fans). We hope that they will come back and maybe even become ambassadors by bringing their friends and contacts.
Without users these eco systems are nothing more than ghost cities.
Startups depend on humans beings able to use their products. Through usage data founders can validate their business, get more funding and grow. I mention the hustle of traction in Everything Will Happen. It is a laborious operation of building fans and followers. People who are willing to stand behind a vision and conviction, especially in a world with so many visions to choose from. In social products a new user would need to surrender their contact list to the system, and connect with a large enough group of users in order to make the system usable.
Those moves are socially taxing, weather we acknowledge it or not.
Products that are driven by a community need to firstly build strong relationship directly with the individual and–as importantly–foster relationships between users. Seth Godin does a much a better job at explaining these forces in his book Tribes.
Once these relationships are established the collection of users is effectively a tribe. The members are interested in synergy with the system. They might tolerate errors, and even ads, if the greater good of the tribe is achieved. As time progresses the system becomes more polished, maybe even adds new useful features. The company could have raised more money at this point, and the hypothesis is validated.
The disruption succeeded.
Selling, killing or blowing up the bridge Products — more often than not — die. That doesn’t necessarily mean the demise of a company. It simply means selling to a larger company, making mistakes that render the system useless to the tribe, or simply abandoning the values that brought the tribe together.
We should note that disappointing your customers is nothing new, and has been done by brands for some time now.
I do however urge us to hold startups to the same standards. The industry is mature enough, the minds are sharp and strategic, and the users are savvier than ever.
In a Q&A PDF Godin responds to this concern:
How do tribe members deal with a leader who has abandoned tribal protocol?
A true tribe forms around an ideology, so when the leader abandons it, it does not disintegrate. It may move on with new leadership. It may try to reclaim its leader with tribal sub-leaders mounting a campaign to save him, which is not always successful (as in the case of Nader). In the church example, the tribe will most likely either disperse and join a different church, or stay together under new leadership. Either way, the tribe will not allow the original leader to reclaim his position. — Seth Godin – Tribes Q&A
This scenario doesn’t hold in a situation where the tribe congregates around domains– and uses tools of conversation– built by the leader.
A lot has been said about users being the commodity. I don’t know that tribes even matter being the commodity, nor being displayed ads.
Anecdotal products are a waste time, code and stock of thinking for short term gains or losses.
It’s time for intentional software and true leadership in start ups.