Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Creating Passionate Users

Why is creating passionate users such a hot topic? It could be because of the fantastic blog of the same name, or it could be something bigger going on. Kathy Sierra, author of that fantastic blog, believes it’s the latter. Commenting on the popularity of the Creating Passionate Users tutorial at an open source conference, Kathy writes:

I think it means that after years of being enamored solely with the technology itself, and the various methodologies and approaches to crafting it, the geek world is starting to look at the larger sphere around the use of the technology. In other words, not just the content but the context in which technology is created and used. That means caring about the quality of our lives, as developers, as well as the quality of our user’s lives and the role we play in that.

In other words, people are starting to get it.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll restate it, Marshall McLuhan, who I believe to be one of history’s most brilliant media theorists, explained that “the medium is the message.” It’s not about understanding a medium, but understanding the people who use/watch/interact with that medium. Just as Sierra explains, it’s about understanding not just the content, but also the context. As McLuhan said, it’s not about watching TV, it’s about watching people watch TV.

This always takes time. It’s hard to get passed the flashy outward appearance of new technology. Just think of Flash. Remember all those stupid intro animations? You know, the ones that offer to let you skip them. Well, how many of those do you see anymore? Once people got past the initial blindness that came with using a new, powerful tool, they started to understand how people actually use. With that came an understanding that this isn’t TV and people don’t feel like sitting through commercials (obviously people understood this in some way, after all they did add the “skip me” link).

People are developing a better understanding that it’s not about the tech, but about the people using the tech.

It doesn’t matter how great your product or your code is if it doesn’t make my life any better.

What’s so cool here is that this idea goes well beyond just technology. Businesses are realizing that it’s not enough to just sell products in this world of infinite choice. In order to be relevant companies must move beyond products and provide real meaning to their customers.

Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks, understands this. He explains the need for emotional connection like this:

The fracturing of our humanity, fracturing of trust in public institutions and corporations has created significant cynicism. However, people want to be a part of something that they can believe in. They want to be associated with a product or service that they can rely on. Companies that are serving these emotional and human needs of the customers will really stand out amidst this cynical backdrop.

I think he’s onto something. I’m not sure it’s entirely the breakdown of traditional institutions, but there’s no question that people are looking to return to those values that they believe business once stood for.

After all, for business whose customers have the world at their fingertips means that their competitors are more accessible than ever before.

Time to rethink some strategies.

(Additional reading I couldn’t stuff in this post: Users don’t care if you are the best.)

June 23, 2005