We could be looking at the beginnings of an internet-wide burnout and backlash…
Ok, maybe that first sentence is a touch dramatic, but something’s in the air. Consumers tend to be fairly conservative with technology in general. They don’t like taking risks, especially on priority services like communication. Lately however, thanks to internet-echo-chambering, nearly every new update, product, announcement, or release has been met with a viscerally negative reaction.
We can look at the response to Microsoft changing the UI of Windows 8. iOS users seem to be a little cranky with iOS7 when I talk to them face to face. Most recently, petitions and forums are buzzing about Yahoo changing the interface for YMail. At some core, fundamental level consumers don’t like actual “New” things.
To a degree this makes sense. We count on products like email or our operating system to get things done. However, we’re also witnessing the immediacy of internet communications coloring the perception of a change before anyone has a chance to try out that new thing. That cycle happens far faster than any developer or manufacturer’s PR can handle the discussion. People who have never handled a Windows 8 product for example, still love to tell me how much it sucks and why I’m wrong for liking it, because “so-n-so at such-n-such blog eight months ago said it was confusing to blah blah blah…”
Is education part of the problem?
We seem to be conditioned to learn the base operation of a tool set, but are rarely encouraged to understand how a tool works beyond that. Far from encouraging curiosity, we often celebrate ignorance. “Your time is too precious and valuable to learn anything about how your magic glowing rectangles work!” You’ll just experience severely more downtime if and when your glowing rectangle breaks if you don’t know some basic trouble shooting…
This makes sense for something like a hammer. It takes very little instruction to learn how to hammer, you don’t really need to know how a hammer is made, and it’s highly unlikely the core functionality of a hammer will change. For those interested, you can learn about Advanced Hammering by moving to sledgehammers or rock hammers, but all hammers somewhat resemble each other to some degree.
In the past, technology worked via long term iteration. For my parent’s generation, after learning how a piece of software worked, it would probably be several years before they would have to encounter new functionality or a new user interface. Often those changes were fairly slight, a new menu, a fresh coat of paint.
As technology becomes more and more a part of our daily lives that evolution will happen faster and faster. In mobile hardware, we expect yearly, sometimes even quarterly, improvement to the phones and tablets we use. This cycle will most likely accelerate further.
I live in a world of iteration. My children will know constant change.
It’s not hard to see a near future where the idea of yearly, quarterly, or monthly updates and iterations gives way to near constant real-time correction, improvement, and evolution. To a degree, for as much as people resist change, they also demand it. Analysts bemoan missed (unrealistic) expectations. Companies have to generate excitement not based on their actual merits, but on the PERCEPTION of how they’re doing in the market based on shareholder expectations. Customers vaguely “want something better” though often they can’t articulate what that “better” looks like beyond one feature they personally want, or some small UI change which would fit their usage better.
With every update a product has to change enough to feel fresh, but not SO much that we have to re-learn functionality that we enjoy. A delicate and dangerous balancing act for any developer or manufacturer to walk. The knee jerk reaction to these changes is polarizing and sometimes scary. Sure, Yahoo is receiving petitions to change their email system back (spoiler alert: it’s not going to happen folks), but Call of Duty developers received death threats for tweaking some of the weapons in Black Ops. That’s insane.
Companies should value their customer’s feedback. Companies should celebrate discussion online and people sharing ideas. After a point however, an edge of entitlement arises from these same communities.
This knee jerk is now being fed by “journalists” all too happy to rush to the web and decry change alongside their readers. As with cable news, outlets no longer inform or challenge their readers, they simply confirm the bias their readers bring to the site or channel. Are a majority of your readers pooping on iOS7? Well, reap the traffic of a “Top 10 things broken in the iPhone 5S”, and make sure all those folks who have never held an iPhone know how much it sucks! Ensure you make them feel special and smart for NOT buying an iPhone and playing on the “right” team.
Unfortunately, though I’m a futurist and an optimist, I don’t have hard solutions for this spiral. How do we encourage people to embrace change? How do you encourage someone to pick up something different or something new? How do you get a consumer to take a second with that new thing, give that experience a fair chance?