It struck me the other day after downloading, installing, sighing deeply to myself and then uninstalling the latest version of Skype for Mac, how much the principles of software product marketing have changed with the arrival of (effectively) zero cost of software distribution on the web.
I’ve written on here previously about my discomfort with the way that Twitter seems to unilaterally and utterly change its user interface at what seems like the slightest whim, and how such behaviour runs entirely against the way that software you pay for is updated and improved. There aren’t many software product managers who would spring a complete redesign of their app’s UI on a paying customer base without warning, never mind protracted consultation.
Imagine you’d paid for a Ford Focus only to wake up one morning six months later to discover that a crack Ford spec ops team had sneaked in under the cover of darkness, with night vision goggles and everything, and replaced your much loved Focus with a completely different colour and model of car. AND in the process they’d taken your Bee Gees greatest hits CD. Now, if on the other hand Ford had given you a Focus completely free of charge and then done the overnight ninja switcheroo on you, you’d find it understandably hard to find any basis upon which you could really complain.
That’s sort of how I feel about the way Twitter and Skype just fundamentally change their user experience on me. I really liked the old Twitter iPhone app and I’m still rolling with a two plus year old version of Skype for Mac. I really don’t like either of their latest versions and so, for as long as it’s technically feasible for me to continue to use the old versions, I doggedly will.
However I don’t pay for either and presumably the Twitter and Skype product marketing geniuses have determined that their only hope of monetization is to accentuate features that make their apps either more attractive to people with advertising budgets to spend – in Twitter’s case – or people who tend to make the kind of calls that cost money – in Skype’s case – by accentuating the revenue generating aspects of their apps, and muting the free’n’easy design conventions that old true freeloaders like me prefer.
And when you think about it, both Skype and Twitter (and Facebook for that matter, but unfortunately for my point I actually like the new Facebook UI) are entirely justified in squeezing me out of the equation, in fact in a business sense it’s absolutely the best thing for them to do. Why expend their valuable resources on someone who is in effect un-monetizable inside the context of their free / freemium / ad driven revenue and design models when there are four billion Justin Bieber fans out there with their parents’ credit card details.
And so I think we’ll probably see a further splintering of the disciplines of software design and feature innovation where new monetization principles of the web sit alongside on traditional expectations and revenue models. This isn’t actually a complaint, and in fact I think it’s pretty remarkable that software design decisions are now apparently* informed by such sophisticated commercial reasoning and behavioural data.
* I say ‘apparently’ because I don’t know for a fact that Twitter’s or Skype’s product managers actually operate this way. Perhaps I’m crediting them with too much intelligence and it’s actually a just a chimp pressing big buttons whenever a picture of a banana appears amid a random sequence of images on a screen in front of it. Wouldn’t be the first time.