Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter - What does it don't?

One of my FriendFeed buddies, Chris White, has been busy this evening.

I was sharing some things in Google Reader a little earlier, and White has responded to a couple of them.

For example, I shared something that postulated that Facebook's just-announced changes are an attempt to counter Twitter. White commented via FriendFeed:

What is Facebook, what is Twitter?

A few minutes later, I shared Dana Franks' post "Why Twitter Matters to Me." White commented on the FriendFeed share for this item also:

What is Twitter?

I figured that White was executing a master plan - and frankly, I think that master plans are stupid things unless I'm the one executing them. And, with apologies to Jim Bakker, I was right:

I am going to respond to every Facebook and Twitter post with the question "What does it do?" I'm sure you will be annoyed, and then you will know how I feel.

I might use some variation, such as "What is it?"

Actually, White is asking a valid question, especially since Facebook and Twitter tend to get a lot of press. But you can ask yourself, do the applications do anything?

In an attempt to answer that question, I'd like to invite you to dinner with me. The dozen or so diners who gathered at the restaurant earlier this evening came from different backgrounds - some were scientists, others were forensic people, and others were salespeople or marketers. But all of us were interested in technology. Which meant that several of us brought out our phones at some point in the evening.

Now, as Louis Gray happens to know, my current phone is a 2 1/2 year old Motorola Q (or, as Gray lovingly calls it, an "8-bit rotary phone") with the equivalent of Internet Explorer 4. But Gray will be happy to know that I associate with people that have more modern phones, such as the Apple iPhone that Gray likes. Perhaps you've heard of this phone. And perhaps you've heard of some of the applications that you can get for the iPhone.

  • You can get an application that allows the iPhone to act like an ocarina.

  • You can get an application that makes irritating noises, like the sound of a dentist's drill.

  • You can get an application that imitates a glass of beer - you hold the iPhone upright to pour the beer into the "cup," then you tilt the iPhone to "drink" the beer.
Actually, you can get three applications that imitate a glass of beer - and one of my fellow diners knew someone who had all three.

Now when you hear about these applications, you're forced to ask a probing question about the iPhone:

What does it do?

The answer, whether you're talking about the iPhone, Twitter, Facebook, or a hammer, is that the item in question does whatever you want it to do.

Let me share something more serious from that same dinner. My day job is as a product manager, and part of my responsibility is to set overall direction for my product. As part of my job, and because of my fifteen years in my particular industry, I sometimes pretend like I know what the product should do.

But I've learned something over the years. As soon as I use my imagined knowledge to make a statement such as "This product will never need feature X," I will receive a request from a customer asking guessed it; feature X.

You see, I don't determine how my product will be used. Steve Jobs doesn't determine how the iPhone will be used. And the Facebook and Twitter people don't determine how their products will be used. (Although Jobs and Zuckerberg try to dictate uses.) In the end, it's the users that determine how these products will be used. I say it again, it's the users that determine how these products will be used.

Just like Google doesn't determine how Blogger will be used. This post was originally entitled "What does it don't?" But then I changed the title to "Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter - What does it don't?" knowing full well that the title of the post would eventually end up on FriendFeed...and that Chris White would see it...

Told you that my master plans were brilliant.

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