Andrew Ducker (andrewducker) wrote,
Andrew Ducker
andrewducker

The death of a thousand cuts

Something that successful startup companies do well is to throw ideas out at high speed, see what sticks, and then build on that, iterating rapidly towards a product that people actually want to use.

It's something that large companies do badly, which is why they are frequently disrupted, eaten alive from the insides by faster moving, more flexible competitors.

William Gibson came up with the phrase "The street finds its own uses for things."* and it's a lesson that you'd think any designer of tools would have learned by now. If you designed what you thought was the perfect egg de-whiter, and then discovered that it was selling in massive amounts to motorcycle owners to be used as a rear-view mirror then the _last_ thing you do is tell them that they're using it wrong - you design some new boxes, stick some adverts in the motorcycle magazines, and work out a way to make it an even better rear-view mirror.

Sadly, illustrating how badly large companies do this is the perfect example of Google Plus. Where a site with potentially awesome functionality was launched, and then people started using it wrong. Leading to Google throwing people off the site, and causing endless bad blood. People who would have happily used their real names are now upset at Google for removing the option from others, and traffic has fallen 37% over the last couple of weeks.

There was another case I saw, where a webcam video feed site decided to throw off their porn users, because they were only a small proportion of the userbase, and the site didn't want to be associated with that kind of thing. And then discovered that the adult content users were a massive proportion of the _paying_ user base. Thankfully, they realised this in time to turn things around.

I suspect I'm being optimistic if I expect Google to be that smart.


*in the same short story that laid the paving stones of his Sprawl trilogy and coined the word "cyberspace". He was clearly having a good day.



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