Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

A Product Journal: The Technology Demo

I’m going to try to journal the process of a new product that I’m developing in Mozilla Cloud Services. My previous and first post was Conception.

As I finished my last post I had a product idea built around a strategy (growth through social tools and sharing) and a technology (freezing or copying the markup). But that’s not a concise product definition centered around user value. It’s not even trying. The result is a technology demo, not a product.

In my defense I’m searching for some product, I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know if it exists. I have to push this past a technology demo, but if I have to start with a technology demo then so it goes.

I’ve found a couple specific experiences that help me adapt the product:

  • I demo the product and I sense an excitement for something I didn’t expect. For example, a view that I thought was just a logical necessity might be what most appeals to someone else. To do this I have to show the tool to people, and it has to include things that I think are somewhat superfluous. And I have to be actively reading the person viewing the demo to sense their excitement.

  • Remind myself continuously of the strategy. It also helps when I remind other people, even if they don’t need reminding – it centers the discussion and my thinking around the goal. In this case there’s a lot of personal productivity use cases for the technology, and it’s easy to drift in that direction. It’s easy because the technology facilitates those use cases. And while it’s cool to make something widely useful, that won’t make this tool work the way I want as a product, or work for Mozilla. (And because I plan to build this on Mozilla’s dime it better work for Mozilla! But that’s a discussion for another post.)

  • I’ll poorly paraphrase something I’m sure someone can source in the comments: a product that people love is one that makes those people feel great about themselves. In this case, makes them feel like a journalist and not just a crank, or makes them feel like they are successfully posing as a professional, or makes them feel like what they are doing is appreciated by other people, or makes them feel like an efficient organizer. In the product design you can exult the product, try to impress people, try to attract compliments on your own prowess, but love comes when a person is impressed with themselves when they use your product. This advice helps keep me from valuing cleverness.

A common way to pull people out of technology-focused thinking is to ask “what problem does this solve?” While I appreciate this question more than I used to, it still makes me bristle. Why must everything be focused on problems? Why not opportunities! Why? An answer: problems are cases where a person has already articulated a tension and an openness to resolution. You have a customer in waiting. But must we confine ourselves to the partially formed conventional wisdom that makes something a “problem”? (One fair answer to this question is: yes. I remain open to other answers.) Maybe a more positive alternative to “what problem does this solve?” is “what does this let people do that they couldn’t do before?”

What I’m certain of is that you should constantly remember the people using your tool will care most about their interests, goals, and perspective; and will not care much about the interests, goals, or perspective of the tool maker.

So what should this tool do? If not technology, what defines it? A pithy byline might be share better. I don’t like pithy, but maybe a whole bag of pithy:

  • Improving on the URL
  • Own what you share
  • Share content, not pointers
  • Share what you see, anything you see
  • Every share is a message, make it your message
    Dammit, why do I feel compelled to noun “share”?
  • Share the context, the journey, not just the web destination
  • Own your perspective, don’t give it over to site owners
  • Know how and when people see what you share
  • Build better content, even if the publisher doesn’t
  • Trade in content, not promises for content
  • Copy/enhance/share

No… quantity doesn’t equal quantity I suppose. Another attempt:

When you share, you are a publisher. Your medium is the IM text input, or the Facebook status update, or the email composition window. It seems casual, it seems pithy, but that individual publishing is what the web is built on. I respect everyone as a publisher, every medium as worthy of improvement, and this project will respect your efforts. We will try to make a tool that can make every instance just a little bit better, simple when all you need is simple, polished if you want. We will defer your decisions because you should decide in context, not make decisions in the order that makes our work easier; we will be transparent to you, your audience, and your source; respect for the reader is part of our brand promise, and that adds to the quality of your shares; we believe content is a message, a relationship between you and your audience, and there is no universally appropriate representation; we believe there is order and structure in information, but only when that information is put to use; we believe our beliefs are always provisional and tomorrow it is our prerogative to rebelieve whatever we want most.

Who is we? Just me. A pretentiously royal we. It can’t stay that way for long though. More on that soon…

[The next post in this series is To MVP Or Not To MVP]

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This is the personal site of Ian Bicking. The opinions expressed here are my own.