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When Your Model Doesn't Match Their Model

Here’s an interesting passage from an over-all insightful essay on MySpace and Friendster from Danah Boyd:

People often say that social networking sites will succeed when people have something to do. They point to sites like LinkedIn where business people can social network and actually get “value” out of the site. There is no doubt that LinkedIn is great for brownnosers, but there are a lot of folks out there who don’t care about “getting ahead” by hegemonic standards.

Suggesting that formalized action and tangible benefits are the only path to success is hogwash. These are simply ideals that contemporary America holds onto in a capitalist society where people are only valued based on their productivity. It is reproduced by technologists who are living in a society full of venture capitalists and stockbrokers and other people who live by the “do or die” mentality. But the reality is that most people’s social lives are not so formal, not so action-oriented. Or, at least not in the sense that technologists speak of.

There’s a challenge: how can you software be successful when those are you users? And I’m not talking about fun software — the consumer tech people have figured that one out, friends. I’m talking about 9-5 software. Enterprise Software.

Sure, Enterprise Software is fun for me and (maybe) you, but we’re the freaks in that regard. Work-flows, systems management, and even databases rarely get most folks grits sizzlin’. And yet, we expect people to use those kinds of system successfully. See “PC Load Letter.”

If large parts of your user base are “folks out there who don’t care about ‘getting ahead’ by hegemonic standards,” you have to ask yourself, “am I writing software that fits into the work-life of people who don’t care about constantly grabbing for the brass-ring?” Sure, people will “do what they’re told,” but they’ll do it poorly. And once they’re doing their job poorly, people start to ask, “is there other software we could get once this license frees up?”

Categories: Enterprise Software, Social Software.

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3 Responses

  1. I dunno Cote, DabbleDB gets me kinda hot under the collar.

  2. If you don't post some flattery for me soon, you too will soon know the real meaning of "PC LOAD LETTER".

  3. There’s an interesting dichotomy lurking in that post. It reminds me of something I read in a book: “People that are good at making money like to talk about it; people that are not good at making money don’t like to talk about it.” You could probably replace “making money” with just about any activity, and I bet the statement would be true for the most part. One question to pose in this case is how much do I care about writing software for these anti-“getting-ahead” folks? If the goal is to profit from making the software, there’s a good chance these folks don’t have any bucks to cough up because they’re spending so much time trying to not “get ahead”.