Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More Than Philanthropy

Alex Steffen has a great quote from his talk with Bruce Sterling at SXSW '05 on what he calls "attention philanthropy."
"Not all of us have money to give to good causes, but all of us have attention to give to good ideas." SXSW, Mar 15, 2005, from Odeo

Amen!! He was discussing this in the context of being more responsible in our consumption by rethinking the things we buy (clothes, furniture, etc.) that contain toxic chemicals or have grave impacts on environment and natural resources.

When he said that, however, my brain immediately took off in it's own direction and tried to apply this idea to user experience and technology. I'm not even convinced that this is really "philanthropy."

Many of the darlings of the tech world right now were not the first movers in their industry. For example, both Google and Flickr both arose within industries that were considered crowded and (somewhat) mature. Little did they know that by rethinking the approach of the user experience and coming at the problems from a different direction a whole new opportunity would open up.

Now that I'm thinking more about these concepts, Peter Morville's concept of ambient findability applies directly here.
How do we make decisions in the information age? How do we know enough to ask the right questions? How do we find the best product, the right person, the data that makes a difference? Business Week, Nov. 9, 2005

The companies we find most exciting right now, whether they be upstarts like Flickr and 37Signals or innovative behemoths like the BBC, are gaining a competitive advantage by loosening their controls on the interface, find new opportunities and success by:
  • creating simple functionality
  • examining how their customers use it
  • finding ways to extend/evolve it
  • updating the business strategy around those opportunities
In some ways, this is ambient product development. With this approach to building technology, we're talking about the how to enable iterative business strategy to create a competitive advantage. This indicates a co-existence of business strategy and design that all of us really want to see across the board as user experience practitioners and technologists.

Further than that, imagine if every interaction we have as consumers whatever the channel were as useful as doing a Google search. Maybe, just maybe, it's possible.

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