The last few weeks has not been kind to three of the world’s most innovative tech companies, but one could argue: you did it to yourself.
The big three in question, Apple, Google and Facebook, all had relatively good news to share (iPad, Buzz, and a new look for Home, respectively), reasons to be happy and new products and features. There was no Toyota-like tail to tuck between legs and no reason to think that by traipsing out in front of the crowd that there would be anything but cheers. That is, unless they had actually asked anyone outside their company ahead of time about what they were about to do. Maybe then they’d have a glimpse of the near-future.
Underestimating Your Undercut
The reception to Apple‘s iPad has oscillated between wide-eyed wonder and, “you’ve got to be kidding” with a dash of, “looks cool but I’m reasonably sure that’s for old men.” But this story is not about the iPad itself. In fact while you still get some mainstream media Twittering on the tablet, the real critique is going on about the Flash debate. Both onstage and off Apple has been sharpening its sword to go after the Adobe Flash issue, swearing by the constant crashes and closed system it presents, hoping to migrate the universe (or at least Apple-controlled space) toward a Flashless existence. However by trying to point at that pot the kettle can also be seen and the closed-system of Apple’s world, combined with their want to control everything has been on a different stage for all to see. It’s been the theater equivalent of the curtain opening too early and seeing the director strangling a dramaturge.
What has secrecy wrought?
In an era where people try and keep things tight-lipped, the iPad and Buzz were no real secret. We knew Apple and Google ether were or would drop something like these things at some point, but they obviously maintained a vice-like grip on details. Too bad, because once we got past the, “okay, that’s what we thought” stage, the internets converged on what was actually presented and pounced like a pack of wolves.
The death of the Beta Test?
And when Google reached a swollen, wounded hand up from the fray, what was so astonishing was that a company that should completely know better, that had usually teased out features to anyone who would have them via Labs for years, had been eaten completely by the crowd. How bad was it? A company like Google was having to make face-saving changes to Buzz before the ink had dried on their own press releases. There were performance problems, privacy flaws (serious ones) and more.
Look, when there’s even a reality show where the prize is to be a game tester (no matter how sad that concept is) there is at least a transparency now about the product development process that can and should include some amount of user beating before things go to market. Again, it’s not like these products were secret to begin with.
Great News! We All Use Your Service & Know How Bad It Performs
Which brings us to Facebook. Seriously. By now you should know better than anyone. Never mind that they eased in their new look complete with some very bizarre choices (Video is hidden under photo? Huh?), what was happening under the hood was even more disturbing. Debuting before the Super Bowl meant that the News Feed issues that accompanied the big game could be masked by the high-volume of users (right?) – but when the News Feed problems persisted into the week after, we all smelled an issue. Worse still, it looks like Facebook has been trying to monkey with the problem by adding a strangely draconian solution, the, “oh by-the-way-we-haven’t-been-showing-you-your-friends” revelation that most of us have been limited to seeing only a fraction of our friends in the News Feed lately – and Facebook picked which friends. Meanwhile administrators have noticed that some Pages have gone unpublished and then suddenly published again and we have all witnessed strange slowdowns in updates, views and communications with other services. Really Facebook? I know you’re big now, but this is an awfully systemic bunch of bugs. You never gave us a FailWhale to look at, you just make us think you’re working right until we notice things aren’t updating. At least I know when to leave Twitter alone.
Speaking of Twitter, you’re on notice too for falling down so much. What is it, 2008 again? Please go make some revenue so we can have more dependable servers and can see “Old Posts” again.
I can’t believe this is something we should have to tell some of the most respected (and social) companies in the world but: LISTEN. Roll it out, stress test it. Privacy test it. Don’t just let mock-ups speak for you, let your product roll around in some hands. In some of these cases we’re talking about some very obvious issues: philosophies of privacy, basic volume-handling, old arguments with renewed ammo. We know the excuses. “But it crashes Safari!” “But it’s exactly what we need!” “But we’re free so don’t complain!” Screamed with all the rigor of Gollum’s, “It burns usss!” We appreciate you’re not thrilled with our response, but don’t pat us on the head, just listen and change.