What good is technology? Why do we love it and use it? What motivates us to use the new gadgets and websites that come our way?
I may earn the title of Captain Obvious for saying this, but humans are social creatures. We like to talk to each other and compare notes. We compare ourselves to each other and show off. That’s the basic thought at the root of gamification’s leaderboards. I know that whenever I check into foursquare I like to see how I am doing in relation to certain friends in particular.
But it goes deeper than that. The products that are likely to stay with us are the ones that enable our communication. Those that are failing in other ways are surviving in some respects thanks to their ability to work with our social lives. Let’s take the Blackberry as an example. What do the urban youth love about the Blackberry? Is it e-mail? The Internet? The ability to open multiple applications at once? Nope. It’s BBM. Free texting mixed with social network style updates. RIM is even trying to extend their brand by capitalizing on this love for their messaging service. BBM is apparently coming to Android.
Let’s look at Facebook. Why do people stay on it even when many can go on for hours about how much they hate it? For this I’ll turn to one of my favorite YouTube songs: the Facebook Song by Lynnea Malley. One of the lines in the chorus says it all: “Facebook, oh it would be sublime if I could erase you without being disconnected from society.”
But is making it easier to connect with others the key to success in our new digital world? Not necessarily. Though tools and products that make it easier to communicate more naturally are coming into the market (dare I look to Google+ as one such example?), there are other factors to consider.
- Network advantages certainly come into play. This basically means that as each new person joins a network the value of the network for all the members grows. This in turn makes it more appealing to join. It can be summed up by saying “All my friends are there, so that’s where I’ll be, too.” If all their friends weren’t on BBM, then the urban youth would not be using it.
- Utility is also important. So what if we can communicate in a natural and organic manner if we can’t use it when we need to? I’m going to poke at Skype here. Though Skype mobile apps and Skype phones are now available, not everyone has one. I don’t. So rather than showing my mother the shoes I am thinking of buying while in the store and talking with her about them, I have to either take a photo and text, avoiding Skype entirely and using an unnatural communication method, or buy them and Skype chat at home where I can try to show the shoes to my mother using my not-so-great web cam. Of course, that’s a comment on the camera technology as well as Skype.
- Branding and money can also play a part. How else did Google+ get millions of users in only a few months? Of course that doesn’t solve the problem. Money can only “lead the horse to water.” It can’t “make it drink.” Google+ now has to get all those people with accounts to use them.
So no, making it easier for us to communicate is not the only thing to think about when trying to think up new products for the market, as much as that feature is in demand. What other roadblocks can get in the way? Feel free to add some in the comments.