Whenever I post about problems I have with Twitter’s direction, I inevitably get a few people accusing me of acting entitled toward a service I don’t pay for. In my experience, this is a pretty common rallying point for defenders of unpaid web properties: you’re not being charged money, so what right do you have to criticize? Customer care and attention, it would seem, need only extend as far as a user’s wallet. Don’t like the direction a free product is going? You’re free to stop using it any time.
We’ve got to stop thinking like this.
The problem with this point of view is two fold. First of all, none of these services are free. If they aren’t selling you yet, rest assured they will be soon. I have nothing against advertising as a business model (as long as it’s smartly implemented). But it’s ludicrous to pretend that selling my eyeballs to advertisers doesn’t make me a customer. We may not pay with our wallets, but we’re certainly generating revenue. In my mind, that definitely creates a two-way relationship and an obligation on the part of the product-owner to support and listen to their community as the product evolves. Beyond being an obligation, it seems obvious that nurturing and advocating for an active and passionate community will lead companies to evolve their products more thoughtfully, leading to even greater revenue in the long-term.
The other problem is with this idea that if you’re unhappy with changes to a product you love, you should just quit it entirely. Ironically, I’ve never heard anyone say this about their own free product. In fact, the best companies out there take the completely opposite stance. Even Facebook, kings of the tumultuous redesign, never implore detractors to quit Facebook. And although most of the time they stay the course with new product launches, slow rollouts help them catch user feedback early and adjust as they go. And though it’s rare, they’ve even pulled entire features offline due to user feedback. But no matter what they never, ever tell dissatisfied users to quit if they don’t like the latest changes.
The reason is simple, too: your most dissatisfied users are also your most passionate. When I was at Formspring, I remember seeing people tweet about how much they hated the latest design tweak and literally seconds later tweeting out requests for more questions on their profile. People would say terrible things about the increase in width (they couldn’t see their custom backgrounds on smaller screens), but would use that extra space to compose long and interesting answers to questions. They cared more about the product than anyone else. When you say you want passionate users, it’s a double-edged sword that way. You have to accept the gushing praise and insanely-high usage along with the criticisms, justified or not.
Product people: love the entitled, freeloading, passionate users. They’re your entitled, freeloading, passionate users.
Want to discuss further? I started a Branch!