UX and SaaS (2013)

Dried Peppers

It’s old news that Flickr has updated its site. It’s old news that thousands of users don’t like it. After a solid week of using it I have to say that I don’t understand why people are griping so much.

This last update really works for me. I realize in the end that I may pay more for the Flickr service in the long term but I’ve got 17,210 pictures on Flickr at the time of this writing and I suppose I will eventually go over 20,000 images. That’s a lot of images (I plan to go through and delete some over time, particularly some of the less interesting ones). Is it the best service in the world for hosting images? I don’t know.

What I do know is that it does what I need it to do – and now it has made new photos from my contacts more engaging on the Flickr main page. This means that my images also get seen by my contacts more easily and, really, on a photo sharing site, visibility is king.

Am I in the majority? I don’t know. I do know when you update a service with live users, people get cranky. I’ve seen it with many services over the years and have seen updates that really suck. Flickr’s update, to date, has no down side that I’ve found.

Updating Services: The Ups and Downs.

Users are strange creatures when it comes to services. Users invest heavily in an emotional way in what they use; that’s the hook. In the context of Flickr, we users develop contacts and like it when people favorite or leave nice comments on our photos. It’s a pat on the back, an affirmation, a feel good moment. Sad is the photographer whose photos no one likes. I’ve never been extremely popular on the service because of a variety of reasons and I’m OK with that. The only person I’m really interested in being better at is me, but there are some competitive folks out there who take getting listed as an interesting photo quite seriously. They accumulate likes and favorites as if they were actual currency – and they’re not.

It’s typically that gaming element that has people complaining most about a service. In Second Life, it was about impacting how people made real currency. On Twitter, it’s about how many people retweet you. On Facebook, it’s about how many people like your page or like your posts or share your posts. The gamification, often heralded as a game-changer, is a double edged sword.

Aside from the popularity contest, there’s the user experience. UX is what they call that now because we humans like to abbreviate things and, in this case, ‘UX’ allows people who don’t do well with 4 syllable words a chance to discuss user experience – perhaps a dangerous thing if one thinks that through. Most people feel an emotional ownership of a service despite the fact that they don’t actually own the service. This ‘ownership’ creates brand/service loyalty but it also doesn’t react well to changes perceived as drastic even when the changes positively influence what users can do.

Change is difficult to swallow, not unlike a hot pepper. Mixed in with other things, change becomes more easy to swallow. It’s an issue of flavor and gauging the taste of the audience. Smart owners of services take the temperature on issues before they do so, allowing people to believe that they have an effect on the service they get (and reinforcing the false ownership) and that they matter – but the reality is that what people want also has to meet the criteria of the owner of the service. TANSTAAFL.

Every change that Facebook makes upsets people. Yet Facebook users still use it, even if only to complain about Facebook. The same can be said of any service. It boggles the mind at times what users will put up with despite their complaints. From the outside looking in, one has to wonder why people do put up with so much.

That’s where User Experience comes in.

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