Saturday, February 23, 2008

Comments, Corrections, and Community

Thanks so much to everyone that has left comments on this blog, and thanks so much to everyone that has emailed me thoughts and questions and criticisms about what I've written. Everything has been helpful. The first comment mentioned wild turkeys and led me to write about a pet turkey. And the most recent comment cautioned me not to get too excited about the one-lakh car and got my head spinning a bit about leapfrog technologies.

I would love for to evolve into as much of a conversation as possible. Blogs are to some extent tools designed for broadcasting. They're for quasi-journalists on soapboxes. But if the articles up here are my soapbox speeches, hopefully you'll use the comments function and the moreperfectmarket [at] gmail [dot] com address as rotten tomatoes, suggestion boxes, and backstage passes to talk to the band after the show.

A few days ago, Will, a Beijing-based journalist friend of mine, appropriately took issue with one of my posts. He wrote:

The idea of "enlightenment" you support so fervently in your blog seems to be directly at odds with your plan to leave out the negative on the section of your site that most people will see and hopefully take into consideration. How can you enlighten yourself and others without providing all the information you can get your hands on?

Will's right. I need to be much more careful with the word enlightenment.

When we launch our website, we don't want to highlight the horrible things companies do. We want to allow our users to bring them up and debate and discuss them. But, for our part, as moderators of the discussion and organizers of information, we don't think we should try to go the full enlightenment route right away. We want to approach it bit by bit and shoot for curiosity piquing partial enlightenment now. We want to build a community, earn its trust, and, as we do that, push enlightenment farther and farther.

Here's an attempted explanation:

Companies could see us as a potential friend, an opportunity, a way to learn what their customers want, an information exchange in which they can participate. Or they could see us as threat, an enemy, a target to be discredited and destroyed.

Ideally, obviously, the companies will see the opportunity. They'll want to participate in the discussion on our site. They'll want to contribute. And they'll want to learn which processes they can change and which investments they can make that will help them forge stronger bonds with their customers.

We'll definitely try our best to show companies that opportunity, but they'll still approach us with their hackles up. We are, after all, activists. We have an education agenda, a paradigm shift agenda. And, if we build and empower a community properly, we could cause big chunks of a lot of markets to start behaving quite differently.

And that could be seen as threatening.

Which means we need to tread very carefully. We need to emphasize the imperfection of our information, emphasize our humility, and emphasize the fact that we're not out for anybody's blood.

We're going to do the best we can to collect the best information that's out there, but the reality of the situation is that it's not all going to be great. The expert organizations from which we'll collect information will make mistakes. Our research people will make mistakes. Our contributing users will make mistakes. And our rankings will, at times, reflect something less than reality.

We'll design into our system ways for users to check experts, check us, check each other, and fix mistakes. Even so, however, we are going to give some undeserved gold stars, and we are going to fail to give some gold stars when they are deserved.

If we were to build anti gold stars into our system, we would run the risk of making false accusations as well, and I simply don't feel comfortable doing that. Negative information cuts deep. It turns more heads than positive information. It's more newsworthy. And while that makes it more powerful, it also makes it more dangerous. Deep cuts take a long time to heal, even if you stitch them up right away.

I'm not ready to deal in negative information yet. I don't want to spread false rumors. And I don't want to threaten. I'd love to enlighten and enlighten completely. I'd love to get all the information out there to all people. But I don't trust that information yet. I want to start with positive information, see how our community responds, see how they filter through it. And I want to get the companies participating, bring them into the community, and see if they, like Will, can become valuable voices that call me out and keep me in line.


Jefferson Parke said...

Just listened to the last two segments of the radio show. You've got nothing to be embarrassed about, Jake. Be proud -- you're thoughts were more than coherent and your delivery natural. Honest.

I think you've got a very good point about focusing on the positive. I believe that ultimately a company's rating will be a pretty tight function of the sincerity and consistency of their social conscience. Companies that do some good and some harm won't inspire the same level of passion among the raters. They will naturally be penalized when their good deeds are looked at in context, even without an anti-gold star function.

That said it'd be wise to test these assumptions. We wouldn't want a big company's many good deeds to 1) fall out of context with their bad deeds, or 2) overwhelm the infrequent but consistent good deeds of a smaller competitor.

Jefferson Parke said...

I mean, "...YOUR thoughts..." I know that you're more than just a thought. Now I'm embarrassed. :)

Jake de Grazia said...

Glad you liked the radio bits. I still haven't listened. Soon. Maybe.

As for testing assumptions, I'm in full agreement. I have a feeling we're going to learn a lot about companies' behavior and consumers' reactions once we get this thing up and running.

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