Editing your customers

“Almost everything you see in Twitter today was invented by our users,” its creator, Jack Dorsey, said in this video (found via his investor, Fred Wilson). RT, #, @, & $ were conventions created by users that were then—sometimes reluctantly—embraced by Twitter, to Twitter’s benefit. Dorsey said it is the role of a company to edit its users.

Edit. His word. I’m ashamed that I haven’t been using it in this context, being an editor myself and writing about the need for companies to collaborate with their customers.

I have told editors at newspapers that, as aggregators and curators, they will begin to edit not just the work of their staffs but the creations of their publics. But that goes only so far; it sees the creations of that public as contributions to what we, as journalists, do. And that speaks only to media organizations. Dorsey talks about any company as editor.

I have also told companies—it was a key moral to the story in What Would Google Do?—that they should become platforms that enable others to take control of their fates and succeed.

Twitter is such a platform. As Dorsey said in the video, it constantly iterates and that enables it to take in the creations of users. Months ago, when I wished for a Twitter feature, Fred Wilson tweeted back that that’s what the independent developers and applications are for. Indeed, Twitter enabled developers to create not only features but businesses atop it. But then when Twitter bought or created its own versions of these features created by developers, it went into competition with those developers, on whom Twitter depended to improve—to complete, really—its service. That’s a new kind of channel conflict—competing with your co-creators—that companies will also have to figure out as they become not just producers but editors.

Anyway, I like Dorsey’s conception of company as editor because it requires openness—operating and developing in public; it assumes process over product; it values iteration; it implies collaboration with one’s public; it still maintains the company’s responsibility for quality. An editor has nothing to edit if others haven’t created anything, so it is in the editor’s interest to enable others to create. And the better the creations that public makes, the better off the editor is, so it’s also in the company-as-editor’s interest to improve what that public creates through better tools and often training and also economic motives.

  • I agree the notion of acting as ‘editor’ is an important concept in helping to define PRODUCTS perhaps, but not in actually creating BUSINESSES. At some point, when you are trying to actually make something profitable, you have to be doing something there to add more value to the equation, otherwise all you can ever be is a low margin (re)distributor.

    ie: There has to be some element of a ‘secret sauce’ that stems from insights that are not coming from your public to drive more business value into the products. I think of this as a strategy premium.

    Twitter is in fact a great example of that problem. At Twitter there is no strategy premium to what they are doing and they have no ‘secret sauce’. Twitter really IS just a platform and the only reason they have any business value at all is because of the network effects of their user base. If you think about it, at least conceptually, Twitter could be easily replaced by a completely distributed solution using a federated protocol and I doubt anybody would care…except for Twitter and their investors of course.

    Personally, I largely believe Twitter is an anomalous case to examine when trying to draw examples of successful business strategies. Even if they do ultimately turn out to be successful in the long term (for their investors), I doubt their approach to business is really very repeatable. It all has too much of the feeling of trying to get positive returns by buying lottery tickets.

  • Let me take a different tack.

    We just switched to a new Website provider (IB, from World Now) – and took advantage to also change from js-kit to Disqus as comment system, for various advantages.

    One thing that Disqus unfortunately offers that I don’t WANT as an option is to edit folks’ comments. I have read and been told that being able to edit comments greatly adds to the liability issues from those who would seek to sue everyone for bad things said about them/their co., etc.

    I prefer to have the options only to allow the comments or delete them, due to terms of service violations.

    Moderate user comments? Absolutely. Edit them? Horrors, no!

    On a broader scale, I think “edit your customers” probably would bring a furrowed brow from most of the public that would see it as somehow curbing their right to free, unfettered speech (an argument I get in with many after a comment is deleted).

    I definitely can see the value in allowing customers/Web users to use your site as a platform – and perhaps there is a narrow scope of “editing” in which that makes sense (helping them make their message clear and have the greated impact). But the very notion of editing what others say/write, without a true collaboration (changing it, or sending ot back marked up) doesn’t strike me as a good “news as conversation’ tenet, and I do subscribe to that view of my profession’s future.

  • “Dorsey said it is the role of a company to edit its users.”

    This is a very interesting sentence. And it reminds me of a blog post I recently came across (about museums, but I would argue it still applies to this context).

    Nine Simon writes about platform power http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2008/10/future-of-authority-platform-power.html

    and she defines four ways platforms can have power:

    # the power to set the rules of behavior
    # the power to preserve and exploit user-generated content
    # the power to promote and feature preferred content
    # the power to define the types of interaction available to users

    If we follow this logic, the company (also media companies) need to define the degree of editing they want to do on their customers’/users’ interaction with your platform.

  • What interests me is that this casts the role of Twitter can a company akin to an evolutionary agent – casking their eye over the adaptations that the mass of users generate, and putting their resources/support behind adaptations they judge as beneficial. What is difficult from an evolutionary point-of-view is that it is a blind process – it can’t see forward, it only is. When we act as evolutionary agents, we are trying to second guess what will and won’t work – except that the number of variables at play is so huge, our guesses are just that – guesses.

    However Twitter has an advantage here in selecting software amendments – it’s users are a huge laboratory testing out the ideas to see what works and what does not. That is not to say the still can’t get it wrong (witness the debate over the RT) but you can atleast make an informed guess based on the mass behaviour of your users.

    This is real-time software development!

  • Milton Pincus

    A good editor not only “edits” but helps direct the writer — guiding substance, structure and/or style. That level of interaction is yet to come.

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