Beware Hostility Towards Users
2 min read

Beware Hostility Towards Users

The most striking aspect of the reactions to my “Mobile Web Sucks” post — which was much more about my own frustrations as a USER than any kind of industry analysis — was the overt hostility that many respondents displayed towards me as a user of the mobile web, and to the many who chimed in that they shared my frustration.

There’s nothing wrong with the mobile web, you idiot. Only a complete moron like you who doesn’t know how to use the mobile web would think that. It’s not the mobile web that sucks, it’s YOU.

From geeky fans of a technology, this attitude is certainly rude, but not particularly consequential in the grand scheme. But when developers of mobile technologies, applications, and platforms are openly hostile towards users, it’s downright troubling.

Why? Because the USER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. Any developer of technology who wants users to change to suit their technology instead of creating technology that empowers users to do what they want is playing a very dangerous game.

This week also had another striking example of overt hostility towards users — from Apple. A new version of software for Apple’s iPhone was released on Friday, which wiped out all third-party applications that users had added to their phones and that rendered inoperable — “bricked” — phones that had been unlocked for use on carriers other than AT&T.

The relationship between the owner of a mobile phone and the wireless carrier for the phone has always been hostile — Verizon, for example, has been notorious for disabling or limiting some of the capabilities of the phones they sell for use on the Verizon network, e.g. Bluetooth file transfer.

Preventing the unlocking of iPhones is understandable at one level, because Apple shares revenue with AT&T. But render these unlocked phones useless — as well as wiping out third-party applications that add functionality many users thought was missing from the iPhone — was an overtly hostile act by Apple towards its users.

Much of the problem it seems stems from the wireless carriers. I can put any third-party application I want on my MacBook Pro because the relationship is only between me and Apple. Apple doesn’t care how I access the internet because the business models of Apple and the ISPs I use don’t depend on the hardware accessing the network via an exclusive channel.

It may be that certain technology and contractual factors gave Apple no choice but to take an overly hostile act towards its users. And it may be that I’m not a savvy user of the mobile web.

But that’s not the issue. The issue is how users PERCEIVE the way you treat them — when they are frustrated by your technology or want to do something that you didn’t intend for them to do.

Providers of technology, applications, web-services, etc. need to understand their users needs at a deep level, understand what users want and need to accomplish, and then help them do it ways that make the users smarter, faster, and more successful. In short, to quote the deeply-missed Kathy Sierra — help users kick butt.