February 17, 2008

Companies That Listen to Their Users Will Win In the End

Continuing in our discussion of acting in the role of early adopters, I've really enjoyed having the opportunity to communicate with developers of new services as they've come to market - sometimes getting the first public account, and helping shape how these new products are interpreted and discussed. And more often than not, while I've certainly been exposed to a lot of new applications, it's those that keep innovating and keep listening that have me bookmarking and engaged.

In August, I wrote a post entitled "Use Your Blog To Talk To Companies", illustrating a few good examples of how companies like Google, MyBlogLog, Technorati and LinkedIn took suggestions I had made on my blog, and made changes to their product, sometimes coming back to tell me they'd upgraded.

In the ensuing months, I've seen this on an amazing scale. Whether it's been ReadBurner, RSSMeme, AssetBar or FriendFeed, my favorite new applications are working together with their users, as partners, to make their products even better.

FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit spells out this process in his blog today, saying, the most important thing to understand about new products and startups is that it's important to release a product early, gain users and listen to them. If you don't, you might keep tweaking and tweaking a product, never finding it complete. (See also: Mathew Ingram: Being smart isn’t always enough)

AssetBar is another perfect example of this. After opening up the service in beta to some early accounts, they've gotten some strong feedback from different corners of the blogosphere, begging for updates to their user interface. Some have said it's too slow or too complicated, or they've erred in favor of features over simplicity. And AssetBar has answered. In a post on Valentine's Day, called "Lots to Learn", Israel LHeureux wrote "the bottom line is that we are really excited to improve Assetbar UI so it’s simpler and easier...Thanks for the critiques, folks–we have our marching orders. And I still have lots to learn."

The key word? Humility. The AssetBar guys have it in spades, and I know they'll get there with time, if they continue to listen to their users, who continue to offer feedback, from th@talldude to Two Point and Unique Frequency.

As famous NHL star Wayne Gretzky once said, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been."

I think I know where the puck is going. It's going to the companies that continue to listen. When it comes to developing new Web services, it makes sense not to copy those companies that have come before, as to offer a me-too solution that completely lacks differentiation wouldn't attract users the way a new service that continues development would. And there's no question some of the new ones won't have everything nailed in the first round. Development takes time, and it's hard, or else somebody else would already have it nailed.

FriendFeed listens and participates with you. AssetBar listens. Benjamin Golub of RSSMeme and Alexander Marktl of ReadBurner listen. Adam Stiles of LinkRiver listens. I love it. Keep up the good work, everybody, and keep listening.


  1. I completely agree Louis. I've enjoying carrying on a dialog with Alex, Adam and others about this. It's amazing how fast they've created these tools - and even greater that they listen.

  2. Yet another great post, and you're absolutely right, the survivors listen to their users. Keep up the great work on informing us of amazing new services from across the web.