The Web Is a Customer Service Medium
Rory Marinich said, wisely: Don’t blame people for looking bad in systems that aren’t well-designed to make them look good. Self-importance doesn’t come from people wanting to talk. It comes from systems that aren’t good at fitting people comfortably in.
The Fundamental Question of the Web
That’s when I tell them about the fundamental question of the web.
When it arrived the web seemed to fill all of those niches at once. The web was surprisingly good at emulating a TV, a newspaper, a book, or a radio. Which meant that people expected it to answer the questions of each medium, and with
the promise of advertising revenue as incentive, web developers set out to provide those answers. As a result, people in the
newspaper industry saw the web as a newspaper. People in TV saw the web as TV, and people in book publishing saw it as a weird
kind of potential book. But the web is not just some kind of magic all-absorbing meta-medium. It’s its own thing. And like
other media it has a question that it answers better than any other. That question is:
Why Wasn’t I Consulted?
“Why wasn’t I consulted,” which I abbreviate as WWIC, is the fundamental question of the web. It is the rule from which other
rules are derived. Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power),
and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.
What sums it up best, to me, is this image published on the blog Kotaku (if you know where the image originates please let me know). The image was posted as a comment on a blog post linking to an article about British computer-industry millionaire Clive Sinclair marrying a younger woman. Here is the image:
Consider what that cartoon means in that context: It implies that the commenter feels—with some irony and self-awareness, I’m sure—that his opinion, in some
way, is relevant to the question of whether Clive Sinclair should marry a particular woman. This is, for many obvious reasons,
completely insane. And yet there was an image already sketched and available to that commenter so that he could express this
exact sentiment of choosing not to be outraged at a situation he read about on the Internet. WWIC in action.
If you tap into the human need to be consulted you can get some interesting reactions. Here are a few: Wikipedia, Stack Overflow, Hunch, Reddit, MetaFilter, YouTube, Twitter, StumbleUpon, About, Quora, Ebay, Yelp, Flickr, IMDB, Amazon.com, Craigslist, GitHub, SourceForge, every messageboard or site with comments, 4Chan, Encyclopedia Dramatica. Plus the entire Open Source movement. If you spend
more time on sites like those listed here than you do reading books, watching TV, or visiting sites like ESPN.com or NYTimes.com, then, like me, the web is now your native medium.
The obvious example of WWIC at work is Wikipedia, created for free by unpaid labor. It tapped into the basic human need to
be consulted and never looked back.
That is the point that I am trying to make. The web is not, despite the desires of so many, a publishing medium. The web is
a customer service medium. “Intense moderation” in a customer service medium is what “editing” was for publishing.
Working Within a Customer Service Medium
The days of the web as all-purpose media emulator are numbered. Apps on mobile are gaining traction; the web browser, despite
great and ongoing effort, will not become the universal platform for everything ever. Apps provide niche experiences. People
apparently like niche experiences enough to pay for them. This is serious.