This post is kind of in response to Roy’s “Not Functionality” post. He asked why functionality is the go-to standard to measure a device’s success, and posited that it was in large part due to ignorance of context – what Jeff calls the Artworld. That is, we can’t critique something we don’t know anything about.
I definitely agree with that point of view; however, while reading Roy’s post something else occurred to me. Ignorance is definitely an obstacle to critiquing beyond an object’s functionality, but I believe we’ve also been trained over time to measure products by their functionality. I’m talking about full-on “Sit, dog,” style training. Ring-the-bell-and-we’ll-start-drooling style training (I’ve got more analogies lined up, if need be).
Consider how products’ most frequently comapred – with a feature checklist. “We’ve got more RAM! And a stylus! And a 400 megapixel camera! And that device over there doesn’t! Nyah nyah nyah!” I think this is such a pervasive technique that many people have come to understand this standard as the only meaningful way to measure a product.
I’ve been trying to decide on buying a new Windows machine, and it’s been a maddening experience. On the one hand, people selling the computers describe them in terms like I previously described – processing speed, RAM, hard drive capacity, available add ons, …etc. And yet, when I describe to those same people how I’ll be using the computer it’s a more qualitative narrative. “I’m working on this project and I need to be able to use these other technologies. I also bike everywhere, so I need something that can survive that sort of lifestyle…,” and so on. There’s a big gap between the two narratives!
Amazon is one of the biggest exemplars of the “functionality first” approach. It’s embodied in the actual layout of the website – products are presented in a grid to allow for the most careful comparisons of all the data points.
But what if Amazon and other retailers could find a way to bridge this gap and leverage user narratives as the primary means of selling a product? Maybe it could be built out of the existing user review system – and it only takes one glance at a product’s Amazon review page to see individuals are willing to spend time discussing products’ impacts on their lives.
What if the Amazon user experience was a story? What if it were a ’20 Questions’ style conversation with an intelligent recommendation system? What other form could a story-based shopping experience take?
A story to make a sale – storyselling (it’s a play on storytelling…get it?).
P.S. – I ended my post with the title. THIS POST IS A CIRCLE.