January 3, 2014
Marc Andreessen was the first to coin the phrase: software is eating the world. And I tend to agree with him — no phrase defines our time more so than this one. More and more companies are powered by and create software. More and more people are creating software. Software is everywhere — plugged into our cars, our bikes, stuffed in our pockets, embedded in our TVs, and controlling a vast majority of the world we’ve created.
Yet I find myself wondering: what kind of software is eating the world?
Caught up in a race for money and fame, we lost our focus on the important. We talk of venture capital, recruiting tactics, dreams of disrupting industries, stock options, growth hacks, and the superiority of our tools. We do not talk of the bugs, the quirks, the difficulties of using our creations, the exploitation of the public, or the worst secret of all: software is broken, we are responsible, and we’re making a lot of money off it.
We’ve become obsessed with process and tools. We’ve stopped caring about the product.
Product is the reason that I build software. I want to create things that bring people joy. I want to build things I can be proud of. Things that makes the world a better place.
You can’t argue against pageviews — people want this. It may be slimy, but it works.
I look around at software today and I wouldn’t be proud of it. Most software is frustrating, broken, and in all honesty, a disservice to humanity. I would be ashamed to be associated with the vast majority of software that exists today.
Yeah, but he made a $20M exit, it must have been a decent product.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can stop listening to the venture capitalists seeking a payout. We can stop listening to our colleagues who are driven by a desire for fame. We can build sustainable businesses that are not based on advertising and exploitation of other humans. We can care about building good product. We can care about the things that matter.
We can do these things, and we can do them in the real world — the same money fueled kinda shitty world that we all exist in. The real world with all of it’s seven billion imperfect humans.
That was Mica’s department that put those ads on the site — I hate them, but what are you gonna do? They perform insanely well.
We can’t be afraid of words like revenue, compensation, management, and user satisfaction. We must remember that there are human beings who use our products. We must stop pursuing vanity metrics. We must remember the other humans — our colleagues — who help us build our products. We cannot be empty cheerleaders nor uninformed critics. We must face our fears and resist the urge to run away under the code to hide.
Organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations
— Conway’s Law
Good product is more than the software. It’s managing the humans who build your software. It’s managing your investor’s expectations. It’s ensuring every piece of communication with your customers — blog posts, support responses, meetups, and conferences — are all amazing. It’s finding a way to sustain reasonable growth to support a unprofitable company until it can be profitable. It’s facing all of our fears dead on and confronting the actual world we live in.
We’re getting a lot of pressure from our investors to improve our sales numbers — they’ve given us a call list and I’d like you to start going through it.
This is scary, and it’s no wonder so many great product minds run away to pixels and code when confronted with the realities of building software. Organizations can be scary monsters when confronted for what they are, and the status quo is a powerful force — a powerful force dead set on delivering shitty software.
I didn’t want to step on their toes, so I just deleted the sentence and pushed it out. It doesn’t make sense, but hey — not my job.
I guess it’s not surprising that so much software is terrible. It’s easy to be lazy, and it’s hard to build good product. But we get paid to invent the future. The future! That’s an incredible opportunity that blows my mind every day.
“You want to have a future where you’re expecting things to be better, not one where you’re expecting things to be worse.”
— Elon Musk
I think a lot about what kind of future we could build. About the things people could accomplish with our creations. I have an enormous amount of respect for Elon Musk in this regard — he works every day toward a laser focused mission. He claims three things will impact the future of humanity most:
Where does Buzzfeed fit in here? What about SnapChat, FarmVille, and High Frequency Trading? I’m not saying these can’t be a source of entertainment or insanely profitable — but they’re not good product. They’re not making the world a better place.
We are focused on likes, app opens, hours spent, pageviews, and company valuations — but do these translate to a better future? Are we using ads to provide for a connected humanity, or conning people into conspicuous consumption? It’s hard to judge. I do know that it just feels right when you build a good product.
That’s really the core of it: how can we create financially sustainable products that bring people joy and make the world a better place?
I’ve been thinking a lot about principles of good product. At least, principles that I can feel confident writing about.
I want to spend more of my time writing about these ideas. More time debating and collaborating on these ideas. And coming up with better ideas so we can all build better things and make a future where we can expect things to get better.
If you'd like to keep in touch, I tweet @kneath on Twitter. You're also welcome to send a polite email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I don't always get the chance to respond, but email is always the best way to get in touch.
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