Everything is Boring

February 14, 2006

There’s a current fascination with the Web 2.0 and all its latest applications for users. There’s so much talk about Edgio, 3bubbles, 30boxes, digg, and everything is that it’s nasueating to follow-up on this stuff. It’s a complete and utter waste of time to even bother reading reviews about it, and even more of a waste of time to develop these sorts of applications.

Squash has a post titled “If it ain’t broke, why you trying to fix it?” In it, the author voices some of his frustrations over some of these start-ups trying to take on some of the more established businesses out there on the Web (eBay, craigslist namely). The whole basic premise of it is why would anyone want to switch from one webservice to another when the first webservice suits their needs perfectly? I can’t argue in favour of some of these companies with their various products, because let’s be honest, most of them are complete crap. What I can argue, however, is that to be satisfied with the norm of places like eBay is wrong.

Competition stimulates growth and development in the industries. It’s always worthwhile to experiment with something that works to see what happens, and what positive changes come from it that may help all products of that particular genre. The automobile industry is a perfect example of this. Those companies don’t give the impression of being fully satisfied with how cars are designed right now, and are constantly tweaking various aspects of the vehicles in search of perfection. Sure, some of the changes have the aim of driving up sales of the vehicles (convincing us the look of the car is as important as how the car drives was pure genius on their parts), but there have been a lot of developments that have been good overall (air bags, audio systems, air conditioning, etc) that are widely accepted. Even though one company may be a pioneering force in this creation, the immediate duplication and imitation by other companies benefits both the consumer and the company in the long-run.

The main concern with all these Web 2.0 companies isn’t how many are duplicating other services already offered elsewhere, or how they’re trying to take on the big giants of the internet. Instead, it is how quickly they are moving to try and take command, and how eagerly the amatedia (amateur media, blogosphere never looked right to me) eats these things up. The combination of these two entities is creating a viscious cycle:

Next.Best.Service is created -> amatedians write about it to drive up support for the companies -> N.B.S. explode in usage (temporarily or permanently) -> amatedians feast off all the currency (money or popularity) pumped into their virtual wallets -> copycats read the amatedians and see the N.B.S. company and create the Next.Best.Thing …

These Web 2.0 companies are dependent on the amatedians to survive. Without their support, they fall to the wayside in favour of the Next.Best.Thing. But, the same is also true for the amatedians. There are so many tech/web writers out there in search of new businesses to write about, that if the creation of Web 2.0 stopped, those amatedians would die as well. With the hunger of amatedians for something current and fresh, the Web 2.0 companies are willing to take the risk of putting out a product quickly in hopes of catching onto something and rising to the top.

I can’t see how these people are genuinely interested in helping the common people who are blinded with the speed of things blurring past them. We may be living in the information age, but it might as well be called the Useless Information Age. We can’t even comprehend some of the information thrown at us, able to evaluate why something would be so important and how we could find it useful before something else is in front of us. This is why I titled this “Everything is Boring.” If I can’t digest the things I read and have some immediate conclusion or reaction (like I do with traditional reading, which is meant to evolve and keep me captivated for a long time), it’s not going to be very interesting to me.

To keep me interested in a product, a few things need to happen: 1) It better be good, 2) I need to be able to use it, 3) I need clear examples of how I should use it and why, and 4) there needs to be some complementary literature that creates a sense of importance, that I can’t live/use the Web without this product.

With the current form of creation and advertising of these sites, I only get a mild sense of the importance of a product. There hasn’t been a very good way of qualifying how these services are good/bad (ie no star rating system like software/games – ease of use, graphics, speed, etc), so I can’t easily judge whether the site is worth me trying out or not. Then once I do invest the time into exploring this product, it better work the way I want it to work without much difficulty. I don’t want to have to relearn special commands for basic functions, or look around my browser in confusion searching for a certain button. I want everything clearly laid out for me so I can master it within minutes of picking it up. Think of how long it takes the average user to pick up and use a remote control from a tv they’ve never seen before. That’s the kind of control I want with my web.

To create a useable site, it has to fit in seamlessly with the rest of my life. I can buy a new tv and plug it in to have it working within a matter of minutes, or a new pair of shoes just get put onto my feet and on I go. There are some major problems with how these websites work to create this seamless transition. Screenshots don’t give you the idea of how something is used. These sites aren’t static things, they’re dynamic. I need a quick way to see how information flows around, how easy it is to add data to my personal site, how other people can view that data, and so on. I also don’t appreciate having to enter my email address into everything to create an account. There must be a better way than this rather archaic form of storing information (why not store the information on jump drives that are carried around or create a Web 2.0 device – the iPod for the web). If I want to try out a site, I should be able to do it fast without having to go to my email account, click on the link for the message, then the site address, then relogin all over again. If the companies can move so quickly to release a product, then they should work at the speed of access to the site.

With the examples of how to use it, I want to have access to how-to guides, thorough websites of information on how to fit the product into my life with ease, descriptions of how other users have used the site, or people can post problems and receive solutions for workarounds. I don’t want to pay for this information, though. I can go to a bookstore and browse in books or magazines about how to use a product, without buying it, or I may hear something on the radio or see something on television. Information should be free for me to have readily available access to.

The final problem is the briliance of marketing of products like iPods, computers, game systems, make-up, everything. These marketing campaigns work hard on the viewers to create that image of cool, or how handy something would be if you had it lying around, or how beautiful you would look using X-product. With Web 2.0, I don’t get that sense of urgency for me to go out and use something, let alone try it out. There’s basically only three primary things I need for use of the web, beyond the internet connection and computer; a web browser, email, and a search engine or gateway website. With those tools in hand, I can go anywhere and find anything I want, plus have proper communication and store history of my explorations through bookmarks and caching. With sites like digg, Writely, del.icio.us, I need to be told and shown constantly of how dramatic the change in my internet use will be by using one of those products.

There’s an easy way to meet all those needs: incubation. Don’t be so quick to release a product. Spend the time to develop it completely, with a full set of tools available upon completion (the guides, the information, the videos of the product, etc). Leak bits of information out into the public to create interest, but don’t let us forget about it. Don’t leak something in January and release the product the following January. Keep it fresh in our minds. Really think all aspects of the product through, then release and reap the rewards for your hard work. Don’t try to take advantage of the public, because we’re smarter than you give us credit for. You may be able to fool those venture capitalists into giving you millions of dollars, but you’ll be hardpressed to get us public into using even a free product.

With that, I wish you good luck in meeting my needs. And I’ll tackle those pesky amatedians later.

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