Relationships Matter

Building a great software product is only half the battle. The relationship the user builds with your software has the single greatest influence on how awesome that software is. Sorry. It’s not the language the software is written in. It’s not the algorithms. It’s not all the processes you used behind the scenes to create it. If the relationship sucks, your software sucks. Period. To prove this I’m going to use a tangentially-related personal experience that has absolutely nothing to do with software. In this case, it’s ok, because realistically, this bit of reflection actually has nothing to do with software – remember it’s about relationships. Let’s talk about two concerts I've seen this summer.

Coldplay: “You’re Awesome!”

I’ve heard Coldplay’s radio hits but I was never really a huge fan of the band. Had it not been for a friend’s invitation I would never have gone to this concert and I would have missed out on one of the best live shows I’ve seen. Acceptable radio hits became handcrafted masterpieces, more amazing live than on FM. The most interesting part of the show, and the thing that left the greatest impression on me, was the band’s absolute humble devotion toward the fans in attendance. At one point the band walked out to mini-stages set up in the seated area under the pavilion and way out in the lawn, giving all fans an equal chance to be a part of the show, not just the diehards that purchased overpriced tickets. Coldplay’s attitude created a completely positive vibe that made me want to enjoy myself.  After they had exhausted themselves for close to two hours, doing everything possible to create a positive experience for the audience, Coldplay thanked us, not for coming to see them, but for allowing them to play for us, “You’re awesome, thank you for letting us play for you tonight!”

Dave Matthews Band – "We're Awesome!"

I didn’t realize that Dave Matthews Band live shows are really just one long meandering jam session.  Every one of the band members is an amazing musician, but 14+ minute songs start to wear after a while.  Dave Matthews rarely spoke (when he did it was incomprehensible) and most of the band wore sunglasses throughout the entire show. Overall, it was a very mediocre concert that was better suited to an afternoon picnic setting than an evening at a large outdoor amphitheatre.  From a technical perspective it was amazing but overall it failed to entertain me. The most interesting thing about this concert was the crowd. In spite of the fact that the band seemed to be playing solely for their own amusement, the audience was full of absolute fanatics, complete with their own dress code - plaid shorts and tie dyed shirts (though rarely together) with sandals - and a shared emotional connection to every song the band played. Dave Matthews Band is here to play music - If you like it, whatever, if you don’t, whatever.  "We had a fun time tonight and I hope you did too!"

It's all About the Relationship

It turns out that the relationship the bands built with the audience during the show was directly related to how much I enjoyed it. It should be pretty obvious how this extends to software.  The relationship your software builds with your users will determine how much they enjoy using it. Is your software helping users be amazing or does your software expect users to change their behaviors to use it? Are you building something for yourself that others might happen to like or are you targeting a specific audience? Software that is technically the best will always fall short to similar software that builds a relationship. Kathy Seirra expressed a similar sentiment with her Dating Rules for Software. But there’s a small catch to Kathy’s rules as exhibited by the Dave Matthews Band. Apple tends to act this way too. Sometimes if you do your own thing and you actually are great, you can afford not to focus on the relationship. It’s extremely difficult but sometimes it works. Sacrificing the relationship creates a razor thin margin for error but when you get it right, you’ll breed fanatics that will love you (almost) unconditionally and critics who will absolutely hate you – there is no mediocrity. Sacrifice the relationship and you could be the best, but only until someone almost as good comes along who thinks about others before themselves.  I think Microsoft has learned that lesson the hard way.  No matter what you do, relationships rule the day.


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