PC World announced their list of the Top 50 Best Tech Products of All Time yesterday. I have to say I was shocked at their number 1 pick — Netscape Navigator. Really, I was shocked at the whole list. Why wasn’t the iPod number one on the list? That single item has transformed entertainment as we know it. Hell, if Netscape was so important, why wasn’t the original IBM personal computer at the top of the list?
I know why. It must be because we as consumers (and the editorial staff at PC World) have lowered our expectations to ridiculous depths. That phrase — “Lower your expectations” — was my mantra at the first job I took out of college. It summarized everything I was aiming for in the output of my work — little effort, acceptable results. I should have put it on my office door, right next to my “Bang Head HERE” sign and the occasional notice from the American Cookie Council.
Really – have our expectations of computer technology gotten so bad that Napster is the fourth best tech product we as humans have ever created? Napster SUCKED. Sure, you could download all the music you wanted. But don’t you remember how crappy it was? It only showed 100 search results, the search results were never what you wanted, and if you did find something it took forever to download. “Best” technology my ass.
What about magnetic resonance imaging — MRI in the vernacular. It has countless applications including viewing blood flow issues, brain activity, bones and ligaments, and more — all non-invasive and it’s pretty safe. Now you tell me which technology is better — Napster, a miserable piece of software used largely by poor college students to commit copyright infringement, or MRI, which has helped doctors diagnose health conditions and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. PC World editors — I hope the next time you get an MRI, the computer they use gets infected with a virus that was downloaded when someone used Napster.
On the subject of consumer technologies, based on this list we still have a long way to go. We can develop kick-ass technologies, but we don’t. Apple has done a pretty decent job of it. But let me be clear about this — Apple is not the end-all, be-all of great technology. We’ve been conditioned in the Windows/Office paradigm for so long that we’ve forgotten what good technology experiences should be like. Apple is a breath of fresh air, but certainly not the best that technology can be.
For you people out there in charge of making the technologies that we humans use throughout our lives, raise your expectations about how great those technologies can be. “It’s good enough” is the last thought that should be on your mind. What if the person who buys your product knew you gave up on making it better — gave up on giving them a better experience when using your product? You should march down to the nearest store that sells your product and personally apologize to each person that buys it. “I’m sorry. I gave up. It could have been better. It wasn’t good enough.”
And really — who is it good enough for? Is it good enough for you? For your coworkers? For some ideal of a user that you imagine in your mind? For your parents? For a real person using it? Is there anybody who it’s good enough for? Or is that an excuse to cover up for something else — not enough developers, too many bugs, not willing to put in the work, pressure from the executives, satisfaction with what’s already there, disagreement about the features…
I’ve got plenty of time to talk about all of those issues. But for now, your goal is to start ratcheting up your level of expectations. The next time you get frustrated when using a piece of software ask yourself, “how would I make this better?” and go see if that better thing is out there. Then go to the Apple Store, play with an iPod and PowerBook, and talk to their salespeople. If you don’t leave with a new computer and music player, you either have a tight budget or haven’t raised your expectations nearly enough.