Enthusiasm’s Era

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

We live in a time fueled by enthusiasm. Rapid release of beta formats, yearly product updates and endless chains of sequels are just three examples of the ways in which our heightened interests drive us forward. Is the software not working? How should we respond? In the past we’d likely shrug our shoulders and write it off as a sign of a bad product and an error in judgment. Not today though, in our current era we post on a manufacturer’s website, contact the company directly or, if really fired up, launch a mini flame campaign to force a fix.

No longer do we function at a distance from the makers of our toys. We are now closely linked and dictate what we want, how we want it and scream if what we get just doesn’t make the grade.

Networking makes this possible, connecting consumers with creators so that the desires and needs of the end-users can be a crucial dynamic of the design process. In short, companies who produce material for public consumption, whether physical, mental or emotional, are tightly tethered to future users of their products.

This system is not exclusively positive; however, in cases where a product is defective, a manufacturer cannot simply wash its hands of responsibility or issue a major recall for the products. In today’s system of closely tethered relations, a manufacturer’s reaction must come in the form of rapid deployment and extends far beyond the dead-end state of defective. Now a minor bug demands a response and what in earlier eras would be written off as just a bad feature, exists now as an item on a growing list of “bugs” that developers must correct.

Even beyond cases of product faults many manufacturers are expected to provide users with what they hope to see- acting as cyber Santa’s whose latest creation is less about the corporation’s notions of product identity and more about fulfilling the list of demands expressed by a user base. Note a manufacturer’s website forĀ  a discussion board where endless threads exist as virtual Christmas lists for wandering company eyes.

We live now with endless betas and product improvements. Internet Explorer entered the world free from a numeral distinction. IE was IE, it wasn’t IE 6 or 7 or 8 or 9. This development came only as more consumers came on board and explored alternative browsers. One can only assume Microsoft’s intentions for IE in a pre-Chrome and Firefox era, but the program’s slow progression to each major release (in comparison to Firefox and Chrome) suggests a less than interested policy of constant improvement and correction.

Beyond this negative factor a manufacturer does benefit from this close connection to the consumer. Market research now occurs in-house and a population of enthusiastic users can be tapped into to provide product ideas and testing. For many companies the difficult task of improving a product while avoiding a major error that inadvertently reduces use can be avoided with this network of enthusiastic users. In essence, the “in-house” volunteers provide a breadth of services far beyond the stretch of even an employed body of developers. With the investment of cognitive surplus, a body of testers dedicate an immense force to a product and in many ways carry the future of the product on their backs. Dedication and enthusiasm are the power forces that drive this development and are revolutionary in their power. We have not seen this sort of power in previous eras and companies are only starting to recognize its power.

A result of this slow reaction is the growth of third-party developers and small companies. Large companies whose hegemonic rule over the early internet or whose power in the hardware area simply transferred to the online world have been slow to react and as a result suffered significant losses.

In order to fully succeed in our era, a company needs to tap into the enthusiasm of its user base. Consumers have a passion for their products and identify with their gadgets. Companies that recognize this power and support their developing social networks can “use” these individuals to improve product development. Such a relationship benefits both the users and manufacturers. Enthusiasm is a life blood now and working as the fuel of innovation must be recognized as a major driver of the dawning internet hegemony.

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