User Generated Devices.
Between meals, Fred Wilson's camera problems in Italy have prompted an interesting post on the idea of user generated devices. It speaks directly to the marketing P of product.
While we certainly now possess the connectivity with which to gauge user reaction and product improvement suggestions in unprecedented depth and while any business that fails to acknowledge this is dead in the water, I think some other conditions need to prevail if we are to avoid the perils of design by committee.
1) Companies need to be convinced that the 90/9/1 rule doesn't mean that the opinions offered are not just those of the vocal minority. As I've often cited before, Jakob Nielsen has shown that the opinions of the minority can pick up the majority of software bugs, so I don't see why this should not hold for hardware.
2) Suggestions and modules will have to be compatible with overall design parameters and production technologies. How often do you hear people say - "in the twenty first century, they must be able to do this"? The reality is not quite so simple.
3) People need to know what they want - and this I think is a tougher problem. Time and again the fallibility of research has shown that people don't know what they want until they're given it.
So I'm with Fred on the desirability of the idea of modular products, but there are real problems in getting there. The new collective voice is a great development, but the wisdom of crowds is an often misconstrued concept. Surowecki's thesis is predicated upon the interaction of a large group of differently minded people, not merely a large group of people and so I'm not convinced that the users of a device are necessarily sufficiently diverse a group for the wisdom to prevail.
Focussing on what they don't want is easier and might yield some progress but ultimately someone has to make a decision/take a risk. That's what they're paid for. Just as the most interesting bloggers (like Fred) take a view, so too must businesses. After listening, digesting and absorbing all sources of feedback, they ultimately have to decide what users will want and, in reality, the functional personalisation of devices isn't what the majority want. They simply want something that works.