The Faster Horses of Audience Capture

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses

A most famous of business quotations. Though not, as myth has become, from the mouth of Henry Ford. Merely those engaged in a spot of critical fabulation as to what he could have been capable of saying.

As an exec at industrial designers Ideo spun it;

'Don’t expect customers to help you envision the future.'

Ever seen the infamous meme of how the iphone would've evolved had Apple asked its users what ought be done with it? [if not, see the original, or foot for one such tweeted pic].

My experience in this is chiefly in the realms of 'programs', but also have a fair amount beyond too.

I can attest to the fevered debates around what new features ought go into the next round of the standard product.

As our computer-age has progressed, the balance of custom-tailored to off-the-shelf has shifted to the extent that hardly any software developers seem to entertain maintaining both nowadays.

Yet when is a 'mod' (modification) as requested by a 'user' (client, yes note the old joke about 'only app makers and drug dealers...') solely or widely applicable?

This is a question with ramifications that can drain even the most accelerating of development teams of vital time and energy.

I sense that faster horses are rearing their heads a lot lately.

I'm all in favour of customer driven development.

But there is a limit.

Remember the yang to the yin of the mantra, 'the customer is always right'.

(I've also long enjoyed the corollary, 'a customer can be right about everything except price', where you can slot in for price your own preferred caveat.)

Too much of a vibe of customer demands can lead you down a rabbit hole of market shrinkage.

From the shadowy social media 'influencer' world, I came across the phrase 'audience capture'.

A recently observed construct - an agreed definition still to emerge - but its essence can be readily understood.

Indeed, here's one of the more benign scenarios given by way of example. From a reddit user, MightySqueak;

My interpretation is this: small musician struggles, starts gaining an audience but the audience he gets isn't 100% what he wants, but at least he has one. Over time he kinda has to change his music to fit the audience he's gotten, and over time his music completely deviates from what he originally wanted to do/be in the first place. At this point he basically has to continue doing what he now does or he will lose his audience. He is now "captured" by his audience.

Web commentaries are awash with way more sinister, real-life examples.

Where a self-reinforcing audience feedback loop makes the content creator increasingly radicalised.

With the gradual and unwitting replacement of a person's identity for one custom-made for the audience.

The phenomenon of creators becoming controlled by their audience.

When (akin to the musician above) you've built a community on a certain set of ideas, then aren't able to adjust those views when information or consensus or capability changes, because of risk of losing your community.

Imagine these taken too far in our sphere.

Whilst we may hopefully stop short of such extremes, we surely have a direction in mind that underpins our drive.

It's hugely unlikely that every customer suggestion can forever be a good tip.

We must filter out those not for us.

Formats exist in tech for futures prioritisation.

For instance, heard of MoSCoW?

You can even make your own pots; core, niche, off-shoot, nevers.

This also serves as a reminder not to let your roadmap become too lopsided. Where one particular client requests dominate.

One exception to this can be with your labs-partner 'alpha customer'. But even among them, I've found such accepting of the need to keep delivery as broad and open as required.

In the main, we all wish to be customer-centric (ugly term I know). Perhaps though, we need a newer label. Directly for the person we help. Those held back with the problem that we now freshly resolve.

You could compound the b-school speak; beneficiary-centric. Or you might simply pop in a key suffix; core-customer-centric. Or maybe better make up your own. Adapting a word that already describes the person or role for whom we're now a saviour.

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