Niall Kennedy: Standards for Users.
Continuing the theme for this year’s BloggerCon, empowering the users, Jay Rosen has written the description of his session, the second one of the first day, which is about users and journalism. He says it’s a “put up or shut up” moment, asking how we can use the tools of the two-way web to realize the promise of citizen journalism. His session follows the opening discussion led by the how-to man, Phil Torrone, where we will explore the tools used by the blogger of 2006.
I had lunch today with Andrew Baron of Rocketboom, it’s the second consecutive Saturday I’ve had a meal with Andrew, last week it was in San Francisco at Vloggercon. We will continue the discussion next weekend back in San Francisco, because Andrew will be coming west to be part of BloggerCon. Must be something karmic about it.
TechCrunch reports that Flickr’s APIs are not open to competitive sites. This means closing the APIs to Flickr users who want an easy way to use their content in another, competitive environment.
This will be on-topic in two back-to-back sessions at BloggerCon next week, Users In Charge, led by Chris Pirillo; and Standards for Users led by Niall Kennedy. My goal is to help raise awareness that standards are for the users. They are not just a marketing checklist item, there are real, important reasons why users benefit when vendors don’t hold the users’ work hostage. It’s why Web 2.0 with its focus on vendors controlling “User Generated Content” creates problems for users.
This comment from Flickr creator Stewart Butterfield shows clearly why we need a user’s conference to resolve these issues, because, like all other tech vendors, he’s only focusing on his competitor, Zooomr and ignoring the interests of his customers. Yes, I know Flickr has an export function, but by making it harder than it has to be, you’re holding on to something you have no right to hold on to.
When users wisen up, and that day is inevitable, you will have lost the battle, it’ll be too late then to give them their entitlement. If Zooomr isn’t reciprocating that’s their problem (or more accurately their users’ problem) and they’ll pay for it. My job, as the guy who started BloggerCon, is to help you get recognition for giving all the power of choice to your users. The only criteria for winning that should be tolerated, by anyone, are features, performance and price. Lock-in is not an honorable or sustainable way to win.
Another observation. Every time there’s a competitive market like this, the vendors learn something that seems counter-intuitive. Users who are attracted to Zoooomr will not stop using Flickr. The core users will use all the tools, even competitive tools that seem to be clones of each other, because some are strong in one area and others are strong in others. In the Mac graphic tools market, for example, people who used PageMaker got Quark, but they never stopped using PageMaker. And they also used Canvas and Illustrator and even MacDraw and MacPaint, because they all did things the others didn’t. What made this possible was file format compatibility. So Stewart, let your users try Zooomr, make it easy for them! We won’t stop using Flickr, unless you stop moving it forward, and you know because you have integrity, that if you stop moving it, you have no right to hold on to the users.
Sometimes I feel like putting the picture of a commercial product on my blog because I’m enjoying a seasonal beverage, for example, in its place of origin. This morning, the beginning of what promises to be a sweltering hot day in NYC, I am enjoying a tall Dunkin Donuts iced coffee. Yummy! It’s a tradition I started when I lived in the Boston area a few years ago, where there is a Dunkin Donuts on virtually every street corner. In Boston they’re staffed by young Brazillian emigres, they work fast and efficiently, and the line in the morning is often long, filled with teachers, cops, students, moms, sales people, postal clerks, working class Boston people. The line may be long, but it moves fast. The point of this little screed is that every commercial site should have easy to crib clip art of their most famous products, to make it easy to give them a free plug on my blog.
Nowadays at the beginning of each show Steve inserts a 3-minute rambling advertorial for Earthlink. After listening to it twice (the first time it was actually entertaining) I learned to skip over it, but then Steve implemented a workaround, he went to six minutes (I made the mistake of telling him I was skipping over the 3 minute version). Then, after a short break, he splices in the recorded banter between himself, Mike Arrington, Doc, and whoever else happens to be on the Gang that week, you know, the entertaining stuff, the stuff I came for. It’s mind-numbingly stupid, but it’s funny and stupid. A perfect companion while eating Vietnamese noodle soup in downtown Berkeley.
So then I had a brainstorm, why not force Doc and Mike to listen to Steve’s bullshit about Earthlink, and let them tease him, on-air, while he reads the ad. Doc loved the idea. Then we flipped it around, and decided that we’re not doing Earthlink any favors, because this advertising thing is just making us hate them even more than we already did. I said to Doc, it would be better for Earthlink if we got some users to talk to them in the podcast, explaining how they could make Earthlink better. After all, their ads say how much they love us and how they’re just like our camp counselor or kindergarten teacher, or our moms, and they really care what we think.
So let’s tell them what we think. Earthlink sucks, and we don’t appreciate you wasting our time before we get to listen to the Gillmor Gang.
I rest my case.