Dear IoT: Don’t Follow Pied Piper’s Lead
WARNING: This post contains a few spoilers of the final few episodes of Season 3 of HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley.’ You might not want to read it until you’ve watched the shows.
Our central thesis at Leverege is “IoT for All.” We believe that the Internet of Things is and will continue to be a tectonic shift affecting the way we live our lives and run our businesses every day. Because of the magnitude of the forces at work in IoT, we need to find a way to build services that are useful and usable to every day people. The IoT shouldn’t “disrupt” people. The IoT should improve their personal and work lives. The IoT should be easily understood. That seems obvious, but it’s so much more common and cliché for technology companies to forget about non-technical people when building products that the issue became the driving factor in a stumble (yet again) by the fictitious company Pied Piper in HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley.’
The plot-line first revealed itself in the show when Monica, the first (and only) non-engineer friend of the Pied Piper crew, took “the Platform” for a spin during a private Beta period. She felt terrible in saying so, but she had concerns about the User Experience right from the start. Monica admitted she “didn’t get it.” But the Pied Piper crew ignored her concerns because “everyone else loved it.” Of course, “everyone else” they allowed into their Beta was an engineer. This is something we’ve seen happen so often in the Internet of Things space that the refrain “For engineers, by engineers” is part of our lingo.
Sure enough, immediately after launching a public release of “the Platform,” Pied Piper saw a ton of downloads of their app… and almost no repeat users. It got so bad that Pied Piper launched an “education campaign” to help teach end users about the functions and benefits of “the Platform.” Hint: Every time you find yourself discussing how to “educate the users,” you’ve suffered a failure. It may not be a product-crippling failure as was the case with Pied Piper’s “Platform,” but it’s a failure nonetheless. Good luck surviving too many of those. Technologists have spent the last 20+ years teaching the general public how to expect to interact with computing platforms and services. If your users don’t “get it” and don’t see how your product is helpful without “education,” it’s you, not them.
Thanks to the convenience of existing in a comedy series universe rather than our own, Pied Piper appears to have survived this giant misstep. Most products in our very real universe won’t. It’s absolutely vital as the IoT moves from being a novelty to an every day function of life that we work to ensure people — all people — “get it” and benefit from IoT from the start.