by Julius WiedemannFeb 23, 2021
In the digital world the user is the guinea pig of the entrepreneur. As harsh as it sounds, it is probably one of the most innovative strategies in terms of product and business development we have experienced, in this scale, in the last 100 years. Whereby the M.O. of the 19th century used to be oriented by trying to answer as many questions as possible before taking action, the 21st century is commanded by the idea that a simple idea can be put in place in its minimal form, allowing for constant learning and constant improvement until something is originated with value. But the cycle of product development never ends.
In the publishing world, the world I came from, digital tools have empowered us to produce a book, or to simulate one, with a precision that nears 99.99 per cent of the final product. The distance between the prototype and the final product is minimal. But we are talking here about a printed venture. In the digital realm the game has to be played differently. To simulate the final idea that one might have thought about for an application or website it would require almost the entire investment that would be the equivalent of having launched it. And there is no print on demand here. There are tools, but this is no DTP. Whereas in books the only thing missing, but also the costliest part, is the print run; in a digital product the whole implementation of a complete simulation means the cost of an entire infrastructure. Let alone marketing and engagement simulations. There are bits and pieces that can be put together these days, almost like in a Lego block style building strategy, but for most part the development of an UI and UX are time-consuming and costly. But most importantly, when a product is starting to get traction, the user will be the best guide for the next step. The core idea of a venture holds more of a vision, and not necessarily specific functionalities.
Platforms like Wix and Balsamiq are great platforms to simulate websites and wireframes respectively, using templates which allow for great understanding of digital dynamics. But a final product isn’t there yet, and therefore its development needs to be taken further. New wireframes and new user interfaces are needed every day, let alone the backend which needs to be revised constantly. The permanent sequence of upgrades and updates have become the only feasible dynamics to understand what a digital venture can be, because what it is in the beginning becomes rapidly irrelevant.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Working Model as “a model of an actual or proposed machine that can do on a small scale the work which the machine itself does or is expected to do a working model of a freight locomotive”. Fast forward into the digital era, The Minimum Viable Product as described by Wikipedia “is a version of a product with just enough features to be usable by early customers who can then provide feedback for future product development. A focus on releasing an MVP means that developers potentially avoid lengthy and unnecessary work”. Wikipedia too started with a minimal version and has grown into a monster website with editors in multiple languages and has had to make adjustments for it to comply with higher quality and better relationships with its contributors. But in the case of Wikipedia in play was the credibility, as it would become the only condition for it to be adopted massively.
Heat maps, broken links, dead ends, and many other sources of user’s feedback have become essential in product development. Users are tracked in every moment of their actions. It has been proven as the most effective way to keep track and provide insights into improvements of user interfaces and usability. It is a sort of self-correcting tool, with no compliance provided by some external entity, for the good and the bad. What happens in this dynamic is also the outsource of creativity. Innovative possibilities come through automatically from users. Companies such as Procter & Gamble are also applying similar techniques to innovate. Its co-creation program consists of five steps: insight generation, ideation, concept creation, validation, and finally, evaluation. The process uses customers hired on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and has shortened the time for product development dramatically. Instead of recurring focus groups research coupled with complex qualitative analysis, customers give their input into how products could be developed and improved. It is a typical example from the digital world applied to a very analogue classic structure.
Not having a final product has become almost the contemporary narrative of digital platforms. Beta is there to stay. Users always know by now that what they are using is going to be changed sooner rather than later, and that the key thing to the next version is to hope that the learning curve is as short as possible. We always complain when a new interface is implemented, then we start using it, and end up forgetting about the hassles that we complained about just a couple days before. We are co-creators even when we are paying to use a platform. Companies like Spotify and Netflix are constantly improving their services not only through direct feedback, but also through meticulous analysis of users’ behaviours.
Recently, privacy policies have tried to contain companies’ exploitation of data and the knowledge of consumers about their data usage. For years the usage of user’s data has been done undercover, most of the time with the consent of users when clicking on the button and agreeing to the “terms and conditions”, which are not read by anyone, including myself. Consumers, or rather, users, are mature enough today to understand that this dynamic is necessary for improvement after services and products they use. What they are not happy with is the lack of transparency and the impossibility to know how their data is going to be distributed or sold. Co-creation is here to stay, and the new generation of users is becoming a new generation of citizens, or better, digital citizens, who are keeping their eyes on every development they feel uncomfortable with.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.