Don’t Ignore Your Users, Empower Them
Michael Arrington ends his post about Facebook’s acquiescence to user feedback with:
Making users happy is a suckers game. Pushing the envelope is what makes you a winner.
I don’t agree. One of the largest (if not the largest) provider of end-user web services is Google. So – how does Google implement change without such user outcry hitting the headlines of all the major blogs and news outlets? First, there’s transparency and collaboration. Ideas come from within Google and from outside via efforts like Greasemonkey or random open source mash-up projects.
Second, and more importantly, these features are incrementally made available on an opt-in basis until a critical mass of users have accepted a critical mass of features… leading to a new release. Through it all, there are statistics informing the designers and developers of the success and/or failure of individual features. In turn, there is a cyclical refinement of features based on reviewing end-user statistics AND end-user feedback. Finally, all of this is happening on a controllable scale without alienating the user.
As I’ve written previously, Facebook’s mistakes are not in their design, but in how the design disempowered it’s core of established users. It reminds me of when Microsoft bragged about how the completely redesigned Office 2007 tested extremely well with novice and new users. Are these really your core customers?
Google empowers their users by giving them random opt-in beta access to features under development. Nothing is imposed, very little is disrupted, and ultimately (and most critically) the user has control.
In other words, if you hate the feature you’ll probably try it, hate it, turn it off (an important usability vector), and ignore it as a beta feature that’s being tested. If you love it, you’ll not only use it, but you’ll talk it up, tweet about it, or even write a blog entry that sings it’s praise.
Bottom Line: A happy user is a user that feels like he has control.