Chicken Scratches

The Dangers of Knowing Too Much

Lady GagaApple recently announced that they will be offering a “Music in the Cloud” service, whereby users can upload their music library to a server and access it from anywhere with an internet connection.

My first thought was, “So what?” but then I read that Google is also working on a similar service, and in fact the two companies were in a race to see who could launch it first. So apparently two of the smartest companies out there think this is a good idea. Given Apple’s recent track record, I’m going to guess it’s a good bet.

While I believe them that it’s a good idea, I will never use it, and I would never have thought of it. Why not? Because I don’t need it. I have my ten-dollar-a-month Dreamhost account on which I host this website and a bunch of others. My account was granted unlimited storage for life to make up for some billing mix-up a couple years back, so all I need is rsync, ssh, and a couple Perl scripts and I can have the same functionality without the privacy concerns of using Apple or Google’s service. If I want a slick streaming web interface, well that’s easy with some Django-based magic and an open-source Flash media player – I can even customize its source code! So why would anyone need a third-party music streaming service?

What’s that? You mean not everybody knows Perl? Not everybody manages web apps for a living? Not everybody cares about privacy?

Don’t Be Too Smart

Well, clearly I’m not the target audience for this idea. But that’s a problem, and if you’re reading this blog it’s probably a problem for you, too. I’m not saying we all need to compete with Google or Apple, or that we have the resources. I’m saying we – and by we I mean the developer community, those who would rather read Slashdot than People – are missing out on opportunities. We casually dismiss the People-readers because they type LOL after every sentence, because they use the word “password” as their password, because they don’t know how to right-click their mouse, because they shell out $2.50 for a 30-second ring-tone when they could easily jailbreak their phone and customize their rings to their hearts’ content. In other words, we dismiss them because they are not like us. They are not stupid: many of them are successful CEOs, professors, architects, and so on, but their areas of expertise are not in information technology. But guess what? There are a lot of them and they spend a lot of money!

To be honest, I still don’t get the one-button mouse thing. I figure since I have five fingers, why can’t my mouse have five buttons? In fact, give me a mouse for each hand for a total of ten buttons. Or better yet, give me 101 buttons and a CLI, and remove that silly pointer thing. Still, I guess there’s a pretty successful product out there with only one button.

But Don’t Be Dumb

So when it comes to thinking up product ideas, we have to “dumb-down” our thinking a little bit. But how far? There’s clearly a danger of going too far. My 92-year-old grandmother, as sharp as she is, doesn’t know Perl, but neither is she about to go buy cloud-based music. Instead, let’s fall back on every consumer-based marketer’s go-to group: Lady Gaga fans, by which I mean 14-year-old girls. (Yes, I’m sure there are plenty of 14-year-old girls who are amazing programmers, but how many of them also listen to Lady Gaga?) I’m talking about the people who don’t know Perl and don’t ever want to learn Perl, but can text-message at the speed of light. They want their music, they want it now, and they only want to have to press one button to get it.

So what’s the take-away? Listen to Bad Romance more? Hang out with teenagers? No, we don’t need to torture ourselves. But let’s try to step away from our little world of command line prompts and Hypersnoot Transport Protocols and see what the paying consumer really wants – simplicity, pretty colors, and a good beat that you can dance to.

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