Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Yesterday I was referred to a blog post written by Danah Boyd, an academic researcher at Microsoft and Harvard.  Her work focuses on the impacts of the internet and social networks on society.  She wrote about a horrible experience she had while presenting at the Web2.0 Expo.  The post is long but worth reading.  While Danah did take responsibililty for content or delivery problems with the talk, there were several lessons to be learned by those of us whose job it is to create thoughtful, intentional experiences.

First, Danah mentioned minor issues such as the fact that she was not allowed to have a laptop from with to present.  She then went on to describe that the podium she had to use was flat, which enabled the audience to see that she might be reading from notes.  This was exacerbated by the fact that the lights were so bright, she could not see anyone in the audience, making it hard to connect and establish a rapport with them.  And the final kicker, there was a running twitter stream that was displayed behind her, so that she could not see it, but the audience could.

What this created was an open invitation for the audience to carry on a conversation about the talk as it was happening. Not only was it distracting from the talk, it was happening literally behind the speaker's back.  This behavior is rude enough to begin with, and sadly, this audience devolved to the point of making rude comments and juvenile wisecracks.  It was like a bratty kid looking for attention in public.

New technology allows us to do many things we couldn't do before.  But the freedom to do these things comes with the responsibility to use the tools wisely.  I'm sure someone thought it was 'cool' to display a live twitter feed about the talk.  If handled responsibly and with a little more forethought, it could have served to engage the audience and allow Danah to better connect with them by seeing where their interests and energy were going.  Critical thought, active listening, and discussions that challenge existing ideas respectfully all help us to move further faster.  New technology can facilitate that type of interaction better than ever before.  However, when something like this happens people tend to shy away from the technology itself, which could actually set us all back.  It would be much better to stop and think about the experiences we want to create, and question whether what we are doing will actually help us to deliver them.

As you develop products and services at your company, how much thought is given to the actual experience a consumer will have when trying to learn about, purchase, and use your offering?  When developing a new technology, or launching a new product, are there unintended consequences that could result in the actual experience of use?  Obvoiusly there are no right answers to these questions, but it is important that someone is asking them.  Are they being asked at your company?

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