Why the client hates your software

This post, from June 2004, is being reposted from several dozen posts which were lost during a database corruption a few years ago. I recently changed the sub-title of this blog back to the same one I was using back then “The people woven web”.

The only thing that has changed since 2004 is that customers are much happier to just forget about you completely, they don’t stick around like they used to.


It’s been over two years now since I have sworn off being a web developer and software hocker. I didn’t do this because I had to, I did it because it became clear to me that I could no longer do work that I wasn’t passionate about. I applied this thought to every space in my life that made sense. I made family a passion, I was passionate about the girl I love, our cat, my belief in god, I had passion as my driver. I am still learning about this, and I believe I always will be.

In this change, I came to hate the essence of the software I had been producing, even when I was making a lot of money doing it. I saw this because there were two parts to what I was doing. I was building tools that had FIV (the virus which causes featureitis) and the other half of my time was spent fixing the screw-ups of other vendors (this is where I got to see how much the client suffers).

At this time, I began to become fascinated by community building – I fell in love with the idea that people could connect with each-other, online, on a meaningfull level. I saw that we weren’t stuck in the old software world forever, we could make software that meant something to the people who used it. I got to do some cool work on internal communities with some big organizations, but I saw that I couldn’t make much of a business of it at the time, the dot-com boom was still rolling along, albeit on it’s last legs.

It was then that I noticed on key fact: The client hates the software – and (s)he may start to hate you.
Software, web apps, utilities, databases, they all cause headaches. I wish I could bet on this at the casino, because there is almost no argument here. So little software is actually well made that organizations have been forced to funnel money into IT and the only cost-effective training is teaching the employee how to run damage control when needed. This is true for all software, open-source included.

It is still true however, that: If you don’t know a thing about the software, you’re going to look like an idiot.
If you are building a business on this software, it doesn’t matter who you are, you have to understand the software. Even considering the last point in this post (coming up), the tool does matter enough that it can break your relationship with the client.

There is a different way: Be passionate about your build, and connect that to the client.
The fact is, most developers are incredibly passionate about what they are building. The software that a programmer develops is most likely a major source of pride in his/her life. It is somewhere between the coders, the sale department, the management, and the client that the love gets lost. The connection between the programmer and the client needs to be made again – let them smile at each-other, and let your developer tell the client a few secrets here or there, or fill a feature request in record time, just for them. This is the only way you can foster a real long-term integrity. The easiest way to start is to have your developers blog on their own section of your company site.

No matter how good you think you are: Your software doesn’t matter
In the end, what matters most is how well your client can actually use the software. There is no other result (including your bottom line) that will sustain you over the long term. By being in the trenches with them and pushing the adoption curve, you will get impromptu phone calls from your client in a few months, just to tell you how well everything has been working, and just to say thanks.

Want to work in Social Business?

We are hiring for a handful of positions right now. These are very cool opportunities for someone who gets Social Business and feels ready to apply it. You will be working directly with customers and I promise you will learn on the fly.

We are currently looking for people who can help as:

We are based in Austin, TX (wow you will love this city!), but location is not a requirement. We want to hire the best people possible, and we aren’t ready to let anything stand in our way.

If you think you are up for the challenge, and you fit the bill, please get in touch.

Am I going to post on this thing?

Kate and I were lamenting last week that we just haven’t had the umpf lately to post something worthwhile. When we aren’t putting our creative thought in to our work, we are stuck on Twitter, Facebook and wherever else we can spend attention like the generous folks we seem to be.

Kate and I are always trying to post big posts. Sort of “put me in coach, I can hit this out of the park” stuff. Kate gets there on every post, but she puts a lot of energy in to each one. I keep swinging for the fences as well, but I have to say that Kate and I are in different leagues in terms of insight.

People like Howard post stuff regularly whether or not they’ve got something big to say. Howard knows that a few thoughts written down are much better than a brilliant insight locked up inside his head. So he lets it out, and usually it is as good as something he sat around all day thinking about. I know Howard well enough to know that he goes on instinct most of the time and that shows up in his blogging. He knows when something is worth saying.

Then there are guys like Fred Wilson, who seem to have something great to post every single day. Honestly, there are days I don’t want to read his posts because I know he is going to throw off my concentration for a while.

There are also story tellers like Rob and Peter. I don’t even know Peter really, but I love his writing style and I am pretty sure he could persuade me of anything. Rob’s posts are much more epic and illustrative of a specific point. I don’t always know what the actual point is at the time, but then I will find myself in a situation where I will remember the story Rob told in a post and I will think how it applies. Reading Rob’s blog is a LOT like being his friend, you get the same Rob on both mediums.

I used to post with a much more conversational style. A lot of my posting was actually emulating the style Dave Winer used to use back then. I had my blog hooked up to an outliner as well and it was a beautiful thing. It was very similar to Tumblr blogs today.

Then tonight, Peter goes and posts some thoughts on what he thinks has changed about blogging. They are all good points and they all resonate.

The biggest point is the first one, and I think it is more of a general “life lesson” than simple blog advice. “Once momentum is lost, it’s a lot easier for the blog to remain at rest.”

Pete also mentions that a lot of the people he first started reading just aren’t posting as much these days. That really hit home for me when we did our “Thanks” post on American Thanksgiving and I couldn’t find current blogs for many of those who influenced me the most.

I have written about this before. I don’t really think that blogging is dying, I just think that certain types of bloggers have varying life expectancies. If you want longevity you need to learn to pace things properly and keep your networks changing so that as your other blogger-buddies lose steam, you can make new connections that matter.

Posted earlier today on Leveraging Ideas…

Posted earlier today on Leveraging Ideas:

I think there is a disconnect here.

What has made App Stores successful is that they do control the transactional part of the relationship, so they can get the kind of margins you need to make them viable. Force.com generates subscription revenue, takes a cut of app sales, and ties customers deeper in to their own platform with each app install (resulting in higher long-term lock in).

If you don’t have those advantages, you are not an “app store” as people are discussing them, you are a directory.

Oneforty is not an app store, it is a directory of Twitter apps. It is simply positioning itself as an app store. Oneforty cannot offer developers the value-add they need, nor can they offer end-users the unified and integrated experience that they love in real app stores. It is a tough spot to be in.

Building a directory of twitter apps is a much different proposition than Salesforce building force.com and I am surprised people are confusing the two so easily.

A new website and some new ideas

The last few weeks have been a flurry of activity. Just a few days ago Oliver Marks announced that he was joining us, and before that we announced our acquisition of Headshift.

Today Dachis Group is launching a new website, and I am excited about it for a few reasons. The primary one is that there is now a place where Dachis Group can share Social Business Design thinking. There is a lot of material on there that people will be able to explore and I hope that it helps get some new conversations going about Social Business Design.

The other thing that I am excited about is that the new site has the beginnings of some new ideas for how Dachis Group will grow as a Social Business. If you go to the front page of the site you will see a stream of information about what we are doing. Some people won’t believe that this is a live and unmoderated view of what we are doing. It is unlike anything else out there and represents a glimpse at the Dynamic Signal of our organization.

As this part of the website grows and becomes part Collaboration space and part Laboratory, it will offer our customers new ways to interact and engage with us and other Social Business Design thinkers.

So, please take a minute to check out the new site and post feedback here if you have any questions for me. You can also download our Social Business Design whitepaper if you would like a more in-depth view of what Social Business Design is and can mean to your business.

Stowe Boyd is getting behind Social Busi…

Stowe Boyd is getting behind Social Business as a way of looking at more than just IT and cool technologies to solve business problems.

Enterprise 2.0, on the other hand, does not have the same coherence. Perhaps this is because so many of the principles of Web 2.0 are blunted by the command-and-control needs of the enterprise. You cannot state that Enterprise 2.0 is Web 2.0 for the enterprise because much of what defines Web 2.0 does not easily translate to the enterprise context.

In particular, Web 2.0 as a phenomenon is strongly tied to social tools — social networking, social media, and so on — in which the individual is primary, and asymmetric networks of relationships with other individuals form the principal mechanism for connection and information flow. However, this does not gibe with the enterprise obsession with groups: where the rights and responsibilities of individuals are derived from group membership, and these rights are granted by the enterprise.

an my friend Euan is also putting his shoulder behind it

Why do I believe this? Because I believe there is a fundamental change in how we do business heading our way. Driven by the networked communication tools flourishing on the web, tools like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, not only how we communicate with those who benefit from our services but also how we organise ourselves to produce them will be changed forever.

What I believe is happening, as more of our society becomes more connected and computing power and bandwidth become pervasive, is the equivalent of the advent of the printing press.

What is exciting here is that we are seeing a resurgence of optimism and idealism about the future, but it is coupled with a practical framework for achieving change.

Enterprise 2.0 is still a powerful concept, and it is a discipline that will grow and mature. Much like Social Media Marketing, Enterprise 2.0 is a much needed point solution in a larger problem. When applied properly and at the right time, it can play a significant role in organizational transformation.

Back in April I wrote a post that attempted to bring some clarity to the role of Enterprise 2.0 in a Social Business world, and I think that post is more relevant now than ever.

The Attention Question in Social Business

The story goes like this: In 1865 Coal was a big deal. A lot of R&D work was being done on how to make better use of coal. Make it burn hotter, make steam faster, make it burn more quickly, etc.

240px-SteamEngine_Boulton&Watt_1784This guy, James Watt, had a big breakthrough. He created a steam engine that was far more efficient than the old models. It was more powerful, smaller and used less coal. This was great news and it got a lot of attention, and the orders for his engines came flowing in. Before long Watt’s engine was being used all over the place. In fact, because it was so efficient coal was now being used in more places and for more things than ever before.

And so this guy named William Jevons started to study the use of Coal. Think of him as the fringe peak-oil alarmist of his time (who was, well, right…). He wrote a book called “The Coal Question” and in it he surmized that there is a paradoxical effect when you increase the efficiency with which a resource is used:

increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.

This was extremely counter-intuitive to people at the time, and I believe it remains so today. In fact, just yesterday Paul Kedrosky noticed it in terms of electricity consumption and the increasing energy efficiency of batteries. We strive for increased fuel efficiency, but it is possible that we would simply accelerate the consumption of Oil if we were to do so. It is likely in fact that driving is bound, by some degree, to economic affordability and that more people would drive further if it were more cost effective.

Attention as resource

I was proudly recounting Jevons’ Paradox to my colleague Pete the other day. I was actually surmising that if Kate had a more powerful computer, she would simply run more programs all at once and it would eat up any gain in processing power that she would get through buying a faster computer. I was feeling good about the genius of the whole thing and mentioned that I was curious how this paradox could be applied to Enterprise 2.0 when Pete quipped “well, attention is the resource.”

A lot of thinking has gone on around the idea of Attention as a resource that should not be abused or depleted and it is certainly a productive way to think about it, but on the other hand we are constantly looking for more and more efficient ways to utilize that attention. Twitter is a more efficient use of attention through its smaller and faster messages, instant messaging increases the efficiency of many interactions, wikis make more efficient use of the attention paid to long form content, etc.

We may be falling for the fallacy that enables Jevons’ Paradox, and by doing so we may be pushing people to the limit of their capability, even though we intend the opposite.

The implications for Social Business

Enterprise 2.0 (and Web 2.0 in general)  is a great example of technology increasing the efficiency of the consumption of a resource. By being social we are creating more efficient and useful filters and information sharing capabilities. Whether it is expertise location on an internal social network or the ease with which we can share family photos, we have more efficient ways than ever to interact with large groups of people.

And so there is a challenge for one of the fundamental assumptions of Enterprise 2.0: that increasing the efficiency with which people connect and collaborate will allow for emergent or unexpected outcomes.

Helping create emergent outcomes is core to what we do at Dachis Group, so we have been thinking about it a lot.

The challenge is this: by simply increasing the efficiency through which people connect and collaborate, we may paradoxically consume even more of their attention because it is now easier for them to connect with people. This can lead to a depletion of their ability to do useful things with their new connections because they will be too busy monitoring, maintaining and developing their networks.

Design with intent

To me this is a question of design and intent, and to some degree it brings up the question of whether much of what has been going on in Enterprise 2.0 is in fact a crock.

We need to stop designing tools and platforms which are simply meant to allow people to connect, share and collaborate more. In doing this we are being incredibly irresponsible with the resource we value most. Instead we need to design for business intent and utilize our efficiencies as tools to help solve real business problems.

It is only by creating more efficient ways for workers to do the job they are expected to do that we can create the space and time they need in order to create emergent outcomes. This applies not only to software, but strategy as well. As people become more efficient through the use of Social Business tools, the surplus attention that they create needs to be protected through policy.

It is only through the application of both technological and strategic efforts that you can do both, and that we can avoid falling victim to Jevons’ Paradox.

Talk about a day of ups and downs. Jeffe…

Talk about a day of ups and downs. Jeffery Walker has passed away. I first got to know Jeffery through the Enterprise Irregulars, which we are both members of, and had the honor of sharing a few dinners with him over the years.

His public struggle with Cancer taught me a lot about life and how I should live it. I won’t forget those lessons.


Watercolor, August 2004, of Bing Gardens at Stanford Hospital, by Jeffery Walker.