The Technology Buyer's Manifesto
First came the Cluetrain Manifesto (the end of business as usual). And then the Hughtrain (the end of marketing as we knew it.) Then the Social Customer Manifesto (social software + angry customers = angry but social customers who talk to each other and hate your company together.)
So I figure it’s time to bring out the Technology Buyer’s Manifesto or should I call it The TroyTrain Manifesto…or the Angrignonifesto?
In any case, it is a work in progress but I realize now that open-sourcing is a good way to improve it more quickly. So here is my first public draft. I would love your comments, email, and suggestions.
The Technology Buyer’s Manifesto:
Dear Technology Companies:
We have been hanging out with each other for quite a while now, years actually. And like any good relationship, sometimes one has to say things in a way that are so clear, so unequivocal, that their meaning can not possibly be misinterpreted. And it hurts to hear words spoken so bluntly but sometimes it is necessary. Now is one of those times. Please accept the following sometimes harsh words in the spirit in which they are intended – the opener in an honest, bright-light-of-day discussion about how our relationship has been these many years past and how it must change in the future in order for me to continue partnering with you.
I’d like some. I want to talk to humans who know what their products do and how to help me. I want humans who smile when they say hello, who ask me for my first name and mean it, who know as much or more about the product than I do, and who are interested in helping me find a solution, not in seeing how quickly they can get me off their line to maximize call-center “pass-through”.
Failing that, I want you to build and support the community around your product. Make no mistake, if you don’t somebody else will – me. You might as well keep it close. And you shouldn’t censor it (Apple), manipulate it (Zip.ca), or respond harshly to it when you hear things you don’t like (Marketcircle). If you listen to the harsh words of your customers, they will tell you what you need to do. Does that mean you follow their every whim? Of course not. Use your head and your cost/benefit calculations balanced with your own long-term vision of your market and product.
And this community? It should be open, transparent, useful, timely, and honest. Tell us the truth. Tell us if your product sucks. We know already anyway. And we’ll help you make the next version better. If your product helps me with my life, then I will commit to helping you make it a better product. I’m FREE! And I care more and know more about your product than most of your employees because it is personally relevant to my life.
Speaking of things you are providing, let’s talk about your website. I want to find anything I need in four clicks or less – no matter how big your website is. I want your search engine to actually be useful and to allow me to free-form search your entire site in seconds, and to rank the most likely sections of the site at the top. Your site should work on any browser, and any platform. I know that Microsoft is making that impossible by shipping a horribly non-standards-compliant browser. So fight them. Put a “Get Firefox” badge on your website and encourage your users to switch. But in the meanwhile, until web standards exist (see below), test your browser on all key platforms. If you have good development people, they will do this for you. If you have lame development people, they will say, “most people are on Windows so that’s all that counts.” If you hear this, fire them and get new ones. I would suggest, although I don’t have the statistical evidence to back it up, that the smartest 10% of the planet probably use some sort of Unix variant, like Mac OS X or a distribution of Linux. Don’t keep pissing them off with your lack of attention to detail on your web-applications. For an excellent example of a company that knows what they are doing, I would refer you to NetSuite – horizontal web-based applications for running almost any business. Brilliant, fast, functional – and runs on all platforms.
Hardware and Software:
Fix what you sold me last year. It has big, obvious, well-documented, and very annoying bugs that have been there for four versions! FIX THEM! And don’t even think of charging me for those fixes. I already paid you for this software…and some of it does not work as advertised. Just ask anybody who has had to use numbering in Microsoft Word on a forty page document and who does it manually because your paragraph numbering system has been so screwed for so long, that nobody in their right mind uses that function anymore because if they do, it will blow up their numbering and probably corrupt their file.
Once those bugs are fixed, I will be happy to support the development of your next version of software. Let me join your team. Make it easy for me to submit suggestions, feedback, and bug reports. Because we all know that you no longer have a QA department anyway and that your beta and point-oh (.0) release customers are the REAL QA department now. So, let’s all just drop the pretense. Give us free beta software, let us communicate easily with you, and then give your beta-testers cheap or free access to your next version of your software. Then, when you have released your next major version of software, go back and re-read this item again.
I want to download cheap music from any service I want, play it on any player I want, back it up to CD and to my backup drives, take it with me to play on other players, and share it amongst my devices. And I want the artists to be reimbursed – more than they ever have been. So stop using incompatible systems in a vain attempt to force me to pick a store, a player, and a particular user licensing arrangement. Besides, we all know that the reasons for the incompatibilities in your systems is not for “improved functionality” or “protection of the buyer”, it is simply for the purpose of erecting artificial barriers to movement to ensure that once you have trapped me in your store and have me using your player, that I will no longer have the freedom to move. I can feel the music, my body is grooving, and I just want to be free! Do NOT get in my way. Take down the barriers and I will support you. Erect those barriers and hide behind them and I will do everything in my power to break them down. And while we’re at it, I want it cheap. I’m prepared to pay you 25 cents per song. And that’s a fully licensed, play-it-anywhere piece of music that I can take with me in my MP3 player or on my laptop or on my desktop computer. What you say? I might trade it to my friends? Not if it’s cheap enough. We want to pay the musicians. We understand that they have to make a living. We want a simple, quick, pain-free way of paying them and pay them we will. But if you create some abominable secure music system and overcharge for music the way you have the past 20 years, we will fight you, break your system, and go around you. We want to be trusted, not criminalized. We want real alternatives, not intimidation and lawsuits. We want solutions from you, not bullshit anti-piracy commercials at the theatre.
But then again, the media industry fought the 8-track, the cassette, the LP, the video-tape, the DVD, the internet, and now Tivo. So I suppose that my message here is falling on the deaf ears of the incumbent dinosaurs. May your business models collapse and may you rest in peace as quickly as possible.
While we are on the subject of artificial barriers, let’s talk about instant messaging. Herald the revolution! But let’s make sure the revolutionaries are only using our system. I want my AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, iChat, and any other instant messaging system to interoperate. Seamlessly. Do not give us that crap about “difficult interoperability issues.” This is a marketing policy decision, not a technical one. If you wanted to do so, you could connect all of those networks in a week. In fact, many people have. And you have sued them out of existence. Because you are afraid. You are afraid of losing control, of sharing information, of conforming to standards, of letting your users communicate with “those other” systems. Well guess what? We do not care about your problems. I have friends all over the world and they live on all sorts of systems. And I want to communicate with them quickly and easily. Now. You technology companies keep using the old model. Trying to separate, segment, divide, and control us. We won’t stand for it anymore. We are your customers. You are providing a service. And we want all instant messaging systems to follow one protocol and to be completely interoperable. That should be the highest goal of all IM systems – full interoperability. Then if there are new features to be added, then add them to the protocol and we can all share. That concept may be hard for you to grasp, but give it a try.
Now that we’re discussing web communication, why is it that ten years into the web-revolution, we still have a disastrous mish-mash of non-standards-compliant browsers? I want all companies to be able to write their website ONCE. And it should work on every browser and on every platform. Because standards development is being avoided and because some big-name companies are actively hijacking the standards and producing their own bastardized versions of the standards, the web is splintering. It would be like having to retransmit a television broadcast in twenty different variations so that it could be watched on the different television types in the same country or city. The whole website design industry must write their websites by trial and error by constantly checking and re-checking their code to counteract the disastrous rendering from this brand new browser.
You know those “standards” groups? You have a new stakeholder at the table and it is me, the user. I am the one you are building the standard for. It is more important for a free and interoperable standard to be developed, than for your engineers to rush to market with a de-facto version to say they won. It is more important to jump-start the whole industry with the same standard than to delay the development and growth of the industry with internecine warfare, standards disagreement, and political posturing. Guess what? I don’t care! As far as I’m concerned a 1% optimization doesn’t matter anyway! I don’t care if the audio or video format is A, B, or C. I just want to get on with using it and paying somebody for the features! And guess what else? I have looked at the variations and found that for the most part, I can’t tell the difference! Audio spec A, B, and C are really all adequate to the task. And the faster we can settle on one standard, the faster we can all get to working on the next version of it. So, once and for all, hear this. Your egos and your posturing are damaging to the industry, damaging to the development of the standard, and are costing you all a lot of money. The sooner you pick one (any one!) standard and get going on it, the sooner you begin making money off me. Why must we keep learning this lesson over and over again? Because you won’t get your collective egos out of the way. If you need a case study, go look at what you have been doing in the DVD arena.
Open them up. That’s it. That’s the entire request. Take a chance. Stop creating incompatible file formats and then using them to once again corral users and segment and divide them (seeing a pattern yet?) as well as block your competitors. If you have created a useful file format, why not open it up and release it to the world open-source style. Let us all play in your sandbox. Because that is where the magic happens. When you keep it to yourself, you are being selfish but you are also being ignorant and financially short-sighted. Let’s use a popular universal document format as a good example of this. It has taken nearly fifteen years to become somewhat of a standard and yet most of the planet still can’t use it to create documents. Because you did not have the foresight to release the format to the world at low or no cost, to share your brilliance, and then to create really compelling tools at a reasonable price. I am of course talking here about Acrobat PDF documents. Adobe could have licensed the format and technology widely and broadly to anybody who would ask for it. But instead, they held it and held it, letting another file format (Word) become practically the de-facto standard, even though using it to send documents means that they are unlocked, editable, incorrectly formatted, and do not contain the correct fonts. It doesn’t matter to the users, they couldn’t create PDFs so they had no choice!
We want more functionality. And we want flexibility, and freedom and respect. We want to become your partners in building a really cool world. And we don’t want you to keep corralling us into little corners, enclosing our rights, removing our established rights (fair use for one), proscribing our actions, and restricting our freedom to use, share, and enjoy the fruits of your labours. We want you to stop criminalizing us on the one hand and asking for money with the other. And we want to know the truth. In all its unvarnished glory. Besides, most of the time, we know it before you do anyway, we just want you to admit to it.
Now…let’s go build cool stuff, save time, make money, and have fun.
That’s not the end of this story, more likely it is just the beginning. I agree with all of the writers at the top of this article that things are changing. The interesting thing is that things are changing publicly, visibly, and transparently. Or at least, they are beginning to. I look forward to the changes. Feel free to comment on my Manifesto and I might add some more thoughts and comments to it later.