Three Sins of Product Failure

The death of Twitter has been highly exaggerated… until now.

Products don’t spontaneously fail. They die because of repeated mismanagement, just like Friendster died in the U.S. and just like the major music labels will soon. I call these the Three Sins of Product Failure. They are:

  1. The Sin of Technological Hubris
  2. The Sin of Practice Indifference
  3. The Sin of Burying Your Head in the Sand

Let’s break it down using Friendster as an example.

The Sin of Technological Hubris

When your technology isn’t as good as it needs to be, you’re committing the sin of Technological Hubris. Friendster exploded onto the ‘net in 2005. However, the site couldn’t keep up with the load, and it crashed frequently. This pissed off the users, but not enough to make them run.

The Sin of Practice Indifference

You commit the sin of Practice Indifference when you ignore what people are really doing with your product. You make decisions to the detriment of how people use the product.

Friendster had no way of articulating fandom (ex, “I like Counting Crows”), so the community found a way around it. They created “Fakesters” — a fake user profile — to represent the bands, actors, and other pop media icons that they love. Friendster didn’t like Fakesters, and in an overnight purge Friendster deleted the Fakesters in an incident best called the “Fakester Genocide.” Following this act of complete indifference by Friendster towards their community, only one obstacle remained before the death of Friendster in the U.S.

The Sin of Burying Your Head in the Sand

If you don’t pay attention to what your competition is doing, you’re committing this sin. While Friendster was going through their troubles with technology and community, a new social network called MySpace was growing in popularity. Sick of waiting for Friendster to get their shit together, users flocked to MySpace who was more stable and more accommodating to the users than Friendster. This was the last domino to fall, causing Friendster to lose its status as the preeminent social network in the U.S.

You can commit some of these sins and not destroy your product. If you commit all of them, you’re certain to be on the wrong side of a revolution. Let’s do this again, but with the major music labels and film distributors:

  1. The Sin of Technological Hubris  — Major labels and film companies require DRM and other technological protections when distributing their content digitally.
  2. The Sin of Practice Indifference — The RIAA has sued thousands of people, sometimes wrongly, for distributing music online. Both music and movie companies have gotten and are seeking more changes to the law increasing penalties for copyright infringement.
  3. The Sin of Burying Your Head in the Sand — More and more artists are realizing that there is life without major labels, and that DRM-free and free (as in beer) downloads bring their own rewards.

So Twitter… With frequent crashes and reeling back features, they’re way beyond the Sin of Technological Hubris. They’re definitely burying their heads in the sand (*cough*). And they just committed the Sin of Practice Indifference — killing SMS support for users in the U.K.  Expect a plummet in U.K. Twitter usage, followed by some competitor reaping the spoils of Twitter’s ignorance.

And if they’re not careful, they’ll lose much more than those U.K. folks.  Such is the penalty for committing the Sins of Product Failure.


P.S. For all you people worried that ads will destroy Twitter… As long as they do that without breaking their users’ practices, Twitter has nothing to worry about.