Will It Hurt For Long, Doctor?

Part 5 – How Long Will They Stay Sick?

Diseases are just DNA propagating itself. Following Dawkins, and many others, the disease (which in our case is the love of a product or an idea) merely exists to propagate itself. If the population of hosts is eliminated, or if the hosts all become immune to the disease, or if another illness displaces the original one, then the disease (our idea or product) is dead for ever. Long lived diseases are careful to not kill everyone they infect, there is heavy selection pressure for behaviours that ensure they are propogated successfully for long periods.

Your users can get immune to your product: they can be bored of it, fail to find challenge, or not receive direct personal benefit. Whatever the cause, they will, eventually, stop using the product unless you know they are changing and then do something.

Users change too: they get older, they gain experience, they become poorer (or richer), make new friends and take up new hobbies. Again, whatever the cause, they can stop being susceptible to your ideas and stop being customers. If you don't watch out, the dynamics of your user group will move away from where your product is able to infect them.

(side note: very few marketing books discuss Population Dynamics. I wonder why? Perhaps it is hard enough to define a user group in the first place, without having to worry about the processes of dynamic change?)

So we do care a lot about sustaining our idea/disease in a population. We need to look at how evolution changes the way in which disease and host interact and the way that evolution itself is driven by mutation. We should consider not only evolution of the disease organism itself, but of the population in which it exists. Unlike a virus, which is entirely passive and has no will, our technology products are run by a company of dedicated and intelligent individuals who can take positive steps to propagate their ideas to other people.  There are therefore additional things which the company can do which a virus would not be able to do in a natural system in order to sustain the use and spread of our ideas. (If you are not in a tech media start up, best you go read elsewhere, I guess …)

Problem is: which things do we need to to do? The answer is: release, test, measure, refine. (Marketing 101 for most people, if not common sense). That is it, that simple mechanism is the real engine of product development and the way in which products can be kept fresh and alive in a changing community. That simple mechanism is how we inject mutation into the evolution of our product.

(another side note: I was tempted to write about how sex drives evolution, but I have no age filter on this blog and I have no idea how you feel about flies mating….)

We don't have to only do some random mutation by test, measure, refine. We have clever people, don't we, and they can think through the user requirements if they are asked sensible questions and given good data to think on. We can, therefore, deliberately develop improvements to keep our product fresh and “infective”. Posh software developers call it “structured incremental development“.

Having considered the model and design the initial set of features and functions it is utterly vital that we also build instrumentation and mechanisms into the product and the community that enable us to gather accurate, timely, accessible information on the quantitative and qualitative factors and of the interaction between them. If you are not using the basic web analytics that nice people like google.com provide for free, go look hard in a mirror and ask yourself what it is you are doing with a tech start up.  In practical terms this could be as simple as knowing how many people were introduced by another user. The long-term success of the product therefore depends on understanding, analysing and applying the information gained to improving the product, improving the website, better targeting users, and forming better alliance partnerships. It is this aspect of directed development that will go the furthest towards sustaining our products in the longer term.

ACCTTO (yes, we have used this before as a tool) also has pointer to maintaining the brand, where it gets a business to focus on Testability and Observability.

Testability – the more obviously factual, and testable, the advantage, complexity, and compatibility are, then the more easily the message that the product is worth having can spread. (Consider PR, news, media, and others who want to be able to “prove” to their own satisfaction that the product is good.). The corollary is that
no product should ever rely upon untestable, qualitative statements as to its benefits or usability.

Observability – the more transparent and obvious the advantages, ease of use, compatibility, and method of transmission the more rapidly and widely the product will penetrate the market.Any tech product should produce for the user, output in a clearly visible format, and most of its operations should be clearly visible to the user. This makes it all more observable. Our next priority is to increase the awareness of the product in all the relevant media areas, specifically in social media areas were our technology content is shared and where the creators of good content are rewarded. A corollary of this is that our tech products should not target marketing activity on groups of users, or means of use, which are not shared in a public domain. Those are not observable and unlikely to be of long term benefit.

When we looked at the design of Moviestorm, we realised that one piece of the puzzle is the “Mod Shop”. In disease terms this is a mechanism through which Moviestorm can mutate in the hands of its users in order to infect new users with new content, new features, and new scenarios without further research and development by the company once the product is released.  The module is a long-term windfall for the company and for the product. It is at least as complicated to develop as the product itself as it involves a complete toolchain for the production of Moviestorm scenarios, assets, and sounds. It is also a product which has the additional complexity of being handled by an untrained user.

So, having started out as a pure Darwinian and follower of Dawkins, I apparently find myself, in business terms, being more akin to a Lamarckian
believer in directed evolution with a sprinkling of random mutation for luck. My tutors would turn in their graves,
but I am, as I said in Part 1, only talking as an analogy for business
and not trying to overthrow 100 years of scientific learning on
evolution.

In summary: change, just change, and if you can change in the way that users want … or die out.

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