This post is seventh in a series of my Social Media Principles. The base post is 10 Social Media Principles.
Principle #7 - Context is Fluid – How you view an object today will be different tomorrow. Don’t destroy tomorrow’s value.
In my humble opinion, most of the business failures we’ve seen in the tech sector are due to an utter disregard for this principle.
Context is fluid. The tech you are in love with that your company is building is certainly cool. In fact, it’s cooler than you think.
The Peril of Focus
I have seen several sites, applications and ideas become stifled because they limit their own market. A singular focus to specific use cases has been lauded as good management.
The reasons for this are legendary: Focusing on specific use cases avoids scope creep. Focusing on specific use cases increases predictability and ensures a logical development cycle.
The problem here isn’t necessarily the use cases themselves, it’s the focus on a specific static context or set of contexts.
If your route included what used to be this bridge, would you be taking it now?
No. Context has changed.
Your product’s context changes all the time. People find new uses for it. People eliminate old uses for it. Your intended use may bore the hell out of people, but they might find another use that works great for them and could still make you rich.
Despite this, business often limits its own products’ contexts.
How Context Works
In my 2007 post on the Seven Contexts of Human Understanding, I discuss how context radically changes based on perspective. Geographic, political, organizational, team, personal, religious, time, etc. Each perspective changes the context of what you might encounter.
And context changes based on the situation, and quickly. A baseball player at bat does very different things with 2 strikes against him than he does with none.
(See the seven contexts post for more on the workings of context.)
The Warning from Principle #7
When we create a product – any product – and narrowly define its use, we practically limit its use. No, every product shouldn’t be able to do every thing. But when creating your design, ask yourself “Are my assumptions limiting this product’s potential?”
Social media has been great for taking an idea devised for one purpose and re-purposing it. Social media and Web 2.0 has also been great for building in repurposing. The API is now mandatory – no API and you are dead.
Why? Because everyone knows they have their own context and they don’t want to wait for you to enable it.
So, no API or a self-limiting feature set is a rocket sled ride to liquidation sale.
Blogged at the Modus Cooperandi offices in Seattle, WA