Blogging Your Convictions
Steve Jobs doesn’t give a shit what anybody else thinks. Neither does Google. Or Craigslist. For all the love-festing around “social,” “sharing,” and “community,” mosts of the biggest successes of recent years have been driven by a singular vision, rather than “collective intelligence.” As Nick Carr pointed out:
Jobs, in fact, couldn’t possibly be more out of touch with today’s Web 2.0 ethos, which is all about grand platforms, open systems, egalitarianism, and user-generated content. Like the iPod, the iPhone is a little fortress ruled over by King Steve. It’s as self-contained as a hammer. It’s a happening staged for an elite of one. The rest of us are free to gain admission by purchasing a ticket for $500, but we’re required to remain in our seats at all times while the show is in progress. User-generated content? Hah! You can’t even change the damn battery. In Jobs’s world, users are users, creators are creators, and never the twain shall meet.
Which is, of course, why the iPhone, like the iPod, is such an exquisite device.
Does Apple do product testing? Does Google do UI testing? Do these companies constantly improve their products based on user feedback? Of course they do. But the end result is the product of one or a hand full of minds with a vision of how things should work. I’m not talking about refusing to listen — I’m talking about at taking it all in and arriving at your own conclusion.
At the Web 2.0 Summit, John Battelle asked Jim Buckmaster, the CEO of Craigslist, why they don’t run text ads and make a boatload of money. Jim’s response:
No users have been requesting that we run text ads, so for us, that’s the end of the story. If users start calling out for text ads, we’ll listen.
But he could have easily phrased his answer: Because we DON’T WANT to put ads on the site. We’ll put up ads when we’re damn ready to, so stop asking.
There’s a lesson here for bloggers and writers. Think about all of the most successful bloggers — they don’t blog by consensus. They don’t try to please anybody — in fact, they routinely piss people off. They see the world, and they call it like they see it. They are sometimes wrong, and the best of them apologize or correct themselves when they are. But then they plow right ahead writing about how they see the world.
My most successful blog posts have been those that were born of pure conviction — for many of those posts, I look back and think, what an idiot, I was so totally wrong. But it didn’t matter. I called it as I saw it at the time — and I listened to the feedback I got, and often it changed my thinking. But I never wrote anything to please anybody.
Yesterday, I wrote a post about the Apple iPhone, declaring it a stunning innovation. I had a moment of hesitation before I posted it — what if everyone else thinks it sucks? And sure enough, today the blogosphere is filled with discussion of everything wrong with the iPhone. But I posted it anyway. I don’t create any value for my readers by trying to hold a mirror up to everyone else’s opinion.
It’s possible this post may rub some people the wrong way. And I reserve the right to completely change my mind at some point in the future.
But this is what I really think, right now.
Best post I’ve read in months.
When you’re good, you’re damn good Karp.
I take your point about the blogging part, Scott. Conviction makes for a great read, even if it turns out to be wrong — although I would hope you’d be man enough to admit the wrong part if someone called you on it.
But as I commented on Nick’s post, it’s easy to take the anti-Web 2.0 comparison too far — like trying to make it seem as though preventing people from changing the battery in an iPod is a positive instead of a negative. That just makes it sound as though Nick doesn’t mind being dominated by Steve because he’s so darn visionary. It borders on the pathological.
Nick also has a “Digg” link after his posts — so presumably he thinks Web 2.0 interactivity is fine if it helps him get more traffic and make money from his ads, but when it comes to design or anything else, people should just stick to being “users.”
I don’t think anyone (except maybe Nick) is saying that Web 2.0 has to be a binary choice between user-generated chaos and the kind of benevolent totalitarianism of Steve Jobs. Collaboration takes many forms, not all of which are useful in every case.
Mat — that has to be the longest comment you have ever written. ;)
Mathew, of course Jobs hits the other guardrail — Nick’s point is that, despite the drawbacks of that extreme (like not being able to change the battery), there may be more value created, at least as to ideas and innovation.
And if you read the comments on my posts, they are filled with instances where I conceded points to others. I’ll even concede to you the point that it’s not a binary choice ;)
Have you ever considered the possibility that we are seeing these mind blowing singular visions reach the market BECAUSE of “web 2.0” ideals? Without the development of new technologies that amplify the amount of feedback and then efficiently filter it for quality perhaps we’d all still be popping CDs into bulky, ugly, devices.
While I may instinctively rear my short hairs at Jobs locking down the iPhone to only one carrier – I would have bought three if I could have them unlocked – he gets away with what he does because in general he offers a superior product as well as clearly understanding that a computer needs to be a beautiful thing. No one understands the aesthetics of a desktop, laptop, or peripherals than Apple, I think. The PowerMac tower, the iPod, and OSX are superior products and he charges the hell out of people for them.
Many are willing to pay.
Trouble is I need an unlocked phone more than I need the iPhone so I sadly will miss out on this one.
Wow, incredible stones– you like the iPhone? Really going out on a limb there.
Ah, when I wrote something about the iPhone, I still thought that more people would swoon over it simply because it looks so slick. Anyway.