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Passion is blind


Forgiveness is relative. We diss Windows with impunity, but when our Mac does the same thing, well, geeez nobody's perfect. When Clinton lied, US conservatives were morally outraged. When one of their own lies, "This is just a partisan stunt... perjury is a technicality." When Office crashes, I swear at it. When InDesign crashes, I empathize with it.

Having passionate users is almost like a get-out-of-jail-free card.

I say almost, because if you abuse your position as the object of someone's passion, they'll eventually figure it out, and the sense of betrayal will make them angrier about your transgression (crashing, lying, running slow, being incomplete, etc.) than if they'd never loved you at all.

But there's no getting around it--we all have double standards. We are all cutting one side some slack while holding the other to our ruthless, concrete expectations. And of course we will all screw up. We aren't perfect. Neither is our software, our hardware, our service, our support, our employees, our policies, our products and services and ideas. But that's the beauty of passion--if you can inspire it, by helping your user kick ass--they WILL cut you some slack. They'll forgive you when you screw up.

And even their very definition of "screw up" is fluid. Like I said, when I reboot my Mac, it isn't Apple that screwed up. It's either me (what did I expect trying to hook those three things up together?) or just the nature of doing anything so sophisticated, superior, and cutting edge. A small, small price to pay. When I have to reboot my Windows machine, come on... rebooting is such a perfect metaphor for everything that's just so wrong with Microsoft.

True Apple fans know that the Nano screen only appears to have a problem with scratches because:

A) The screen scratches... DUH! The new users are just too stupid to take proper care of it.


B) The normal to-be-expected scratches are simply more noticeable now because of the increased screen resolution. The perceived "scratch problem" is actually an artifact of the Nano's superiority. A feature, not a bug.

Most of us stroll happily along never acknowledging the double standards we apply. We don't recognize that our specific level of forgiveness (and indeed, what we even decide needs forgiveness) is based almost entirely on whether we love something (we'll forgive almost anything), hate something (we'll forgive nothing), or don't care about it at all (we'll forgive based on whatever seems "reasonable").

But sometimes our double-standards bite us in the ass and we're forced to face it, as Phil Ringnalda did a few months back. When O'Reilly appeared to have search-engine-gaming ads, Phil slammed him in this blog entry. But when his friend Shelley Powers does it, the conversation got very interesting. It was fun (and impressive) to see Phil acknowledge and wrestle with the ambiguity of it all. A couple quotes from the comments:
"Unfortunately, I can’t extend that absolution to you, and deny it to Tim O’Reilly...I don’t like this answer either. Isn’t there one where I can get back up on my high horse, and take a nice absolute moral position?"

I love the discussions that force us into grey, fuzzy, squirming positions where we must "hold two opposing thoughts simultaneously." But the point of my post is this -- wouldn't you rather be the one most likely to be forgiven than the one who can never "catch a break"? And again, I'm not talking about areas where you really do have serious problems that you'd rather sweet-talk your way out of than fix. I'm talking about the inevitable problems you just can't avoid. The "stuff just happens" events.

So, we have to ask ourselves... what can we do to put ourselves on the side of forgiveness? What can we do to help protect us from the times when we will screw up? What would it take in our product, company, service, whatever -- to get users to have a glass-half-full attitude about whatever it is we do? If "rebooting" is a metaphor, I'd rather be Apple than Microsoft.

(And that's another question to ponder... why are we so willing to diss Microsoft yet give Apple a break for some of the same things? More importantly, what--if anything--could Microsoft do to turn that around?)

Posted by Kathy on November 11, 2005 | Permalink


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Very good points, but, believe it or not, some of us have exactly the opposite point of view about Microsoft. We will cut Microsoft slack because of the "nature of problem" (I'm messing with device drivers, or trying to run more applications that my RAM will support, or ....), while thinking of Macs as nothing more than extremely expensive "pretty" toys. ;)

I mean, come on, how can you do any *real* work with only a single mouse button. :) (j/k)

Posted by: Scott | Nov 11, 2005 3:58:58 PM

We all like to root for the underdog, for MS to get a little empathy, I think it's going to come w/ a loss of market share. If that's the case...I'd rather be MS ;)

Posted by: Darren | Nov 11, 2005 4:00:40 PM

See, now posts like this are why I read this blog so regularly (as in I check for updates several times a day). I notice these types of double standards in myself, as I'm sure many do, but I so quickly and easily dismiss them that they fail to disturb my calm. And I HATE it when I have one of those thrown back into my face.

For example, when my step brother and I pulled out our new laptops and for a few hours of geektastic fun. He had a Dell, and I had my iBook. Every time he had a problem (and initially he did, mostly with getting online), I would utter under my breath "it just works". Of course, not ten minutes later my iBook puked while transfering some files and I had to reboot. It was totally my fault for trying to transfer such a huge number of files all at once (see, there I go).

I agree that I'd rather be Apple in that situation than Dell (or MS, whoever was to blame for the problems he had). His didn't work and he cursed it, mine didn't work and I apologized for asking so much.

As a further example, that iBook died the other day for unexpectedly, and within two days I'd ordered a new iBook to replace it. Problems or not, I'm willing to overlook all of that to have the experience of using one again. Apple's doing something right, that's for sure.

Posted by: JClark | Nov 11, 2005 4:03:01 PM

Awesome post. I think it does have a whole heck of a lot to do with being the underdog, so I consider this a sort of balance in the universe. The little guy gets the benefit of the doubt while the big guy is held to a higher standard.

In addition, there's an element of newness at play. I put up with more annoyances for a new experience than I would for an old experience. This fits right in with the underdog situation, because the underdog typically is offering a new experience.

Combine these, and we have today's Microsoft held to a higher standard both for being the 800lb gorilla and for not offering anything new. The solution? Lose market share or offer new products. Specifically, I think Windows Power Toys where mishandled. Such small, easy to release customizations can help keep people interested without requiring a 4 year OS dev cycle. Ultimately, decoupling the release schedules of all the things that go into a current Microsoft product can lead to a steadier state of customer excitement rather than the peaks and valleys they currently engender.

Posted by: Anthony Cowley | Nov 11, 2005 5:09:19 PM

Another great post, Kathy. Isn't this just linked to that process the psychologists call 'cognitive dissonance'. Once we've bought something, then we're almost bound to say it's better than other competitive products. How could we have made a wrong decision? It's almost as if we were a ball bearing sitting in a little cup shaped depression. Small shocks cause us to move around a little but we roll back down to the bottom of the cup. It takes a big shock before we're bounced out of the cup and decide that we really should have bought something else.

Posted by: Barry Welford | Nov 11, 2005 5:17:12 PM

Very good post Kathy and a nice point Barry Welford.

Posted by: Jan Korbel | Nov 12, 2005 9:15:45 AM

A few points...

Contrary to popular belief... passion can often be far from 'blind' and have a rational basis based firmly upon logical (albeit emotional) triggers.

>...what can we do to put ourselves on the side of forgiveness? What can we do to help protect us from the times when we will screw up?

Why is 'protection' appropriate? I say it's not - and further, if we've been genuinely authentic and decent in our dealings, those flaws add to our character and strengthen relationships.

>More importantly, what - if anything - could Microsoft do to turn that around?

The answer to that is 'effectively zero'. Key is the pre-flight mindset with which we approach and conduct the enterprise - this is something which cannot be faked, tweaked or in-any-way altered after-the-fact. Examples of three points on a line here are Zeldman's A List Apart, 37 Signals and 9Rules. The former is very different from the latter and clearly, I favor the Zeldman line (real talent, understated). There again, much of commerce operates on the opposite - overstatement.

Posted by: gulliver | Nov 12, 2005 9:57:34 AM

I remember a specific time and market segment in which Windows was very much the underdog. In 1987 I worked for a small computer integrator doing desktop publishing. The solution of choice in those days was a Mac system, which we would have loved to sell in spite of its $12,000 price tag (for computer, laser printer, and software). But Apple was very choosy about who could resell Apples, and we didn't qualify.

So I learned (and then taught) desktop publishing using Windows 1.0 and Ventura Publisher 1.0, then Aldus Pagemaker 1.0. It was incredibly slow and painful compared to the Mac, as I well knew - god knows I would have preferred working with Macs, and I bought one for myself for home use as soon as I could afford it. But we didn't have a choice at work. Neither did some of our customers, e.g. government departments, who could get a full Windows DTP system for under $5000 - much easier to budget for on the public dollar. So I worked with the underdog, helping underdogs, and we all made the best of it. It wasn't sexy, it wasn't sleek, and no one loved it, but it got the job done. In the end, a Fiat will get you to work just as surely as a Ferrari.

Perhaps Apple's snobbish attitudes on pricing and distribution contributed to their eventual loss of market share against Windows, even in areas where Macs were clearly technically superior. I have never forgiven Apple for that early snub (okay, so I bear grudges), and nowadays I find the smugness of many Mac users equally irritating, especially since Macs are still pretty expensive.

Windows is no longer the underdog in the OS market, but it's the OS for us underdogs who can't afford Apple hardware, or aren't technical enough to deal with Linux. We don't love it, but it does the job, and sometimes you have to settle for that.

Posted by: Deirdre' Straughan | Nov 12, 2005 12:15:51 PM

Creating Passionate Users + Passion is blind = Creating Blindness in Users?

I think this gets at the vague discomfort I've had with many of your posts. It's not so much what you say as what you leave out. One of the struggles of web accessibility is how to create sites that work for blind people without requiring that people be blind to enjoy the sites. I think the same struggle is equally, if not more, common in the work of creating passionate users. I assume you're not aiming to make users blind, but I don't imagine it would hurt to discuss that risk a bit more.

Posted by: Scott Reynen | Nov 12, 2005 3:20:29 PM

Macs look nice. They are comfortable and they are reliable. Windows is none of these I'm sorry to say.

Posted by: jeremiah | Nov 12, 2005 9:14:20 PM

I've never had to reboot my Mac... what ARE you talking about, Kathy? ;)

Posted by: Steve Akers | Nov 12, 2005 10:05:43 PM

I've only ever had to reboot my Mac when I've finished doing a System Update. It has never crashed, ever. I often have to reboot my completely solid-state Belkin ADSL router when it just can't keep a connection going, but that's about it.

Posted by: Matt Moran | Nov 14, 2005 6:05:59 AM

I familiarity breeds contempt then the question you missed was "what are Apple going to do to keep it this way?" If you are cool and funky you can cover up many issues, as you get more mainstream the problems get worse.

From what I hear, because I have no first hand experience, Apple have a huge Customer Service issue to overcome.

Posted by: Graham Chastney | Nov 14, 2005 8:36:46 AM

This might be really unpopular, but I actually expect a whole lot more from Apple. I do not use one, but my fiancé does. Every time he has to reboot his Mac, I count it against Apple. I believe for the extra money it costs (which is a whole bunch since I build my PC’s myself), that thing should be rock solid, the customer service should freakin rock, etc. Basically it should be near perfect. So I have a double standard against Apple. I’ll forgive my Windows PC for a lot, but I won’t forgive that Mac for much of anything.

Posted by: Rachel | Nov 14, 2005 10:06:40 AM

One time I was in heavy traffic and someone nearly clipped me pulling into my lane. I was about to select some expletives when I noticed it was a friend of mine.

All of a sudden I was smiling, and I did not feel one trace of contempt. I was thinking, "Hey, it's hard to be a perfect driver. Everyone loses focus now and then."

That taught me a big lesson about the fluidity of perception.

Posted by: Zach Thomas | Nov 14, 2005 10:39:25 AM

"From what I hear, because I have no first hand experience, Apple have a huge Customer Service issue to overcome."

My personal experience with Apple's Customer Service has been nothing short of delightful.

I had to send my old PowerBook in at one point, two days after I called a prepaid shipping box showed up, and two days after I mailed it out I had it back all fixed. I literally mailed it on a MOnday and had it back by that Wednesday night.

Another time I bought an accessory from the Apple store that was faulty, I called up and they immediately refunded the money to my card and told me I could do whatever I wanted with the item.

I have heard horror stories about Apple's service, but I've never been less than thrilled with it personally. I'm sure at least some of those stories are true, but I'm also sure that Apple's service is better than most I've dealt with (especially Gateway and Microsoft, hours and hours of pointless phone calls with no results).

Posted by: JClark | Nov 14, 2005 2:45:37 PM

I think it all comes down to this: We humans don't like to admit that we were wrong.

Once I make a stand for something, I will try to ignore its faults because, if I don't, then I will be admitting that my original decision is wrong. It works the other way as well. Once I go against something, I will ignore its successes because I do not want to be wrong. This builds up momentum - the longer I stand for something, the harder it is to admit its faults.

Posted by: Ryan Bates | Nov 15, 2005 10:44:11 AM

Something I do that is a 'shortcut' into this forgiveness (although for a shortcut, it's much more work): I write games, and like all software, there are problems that need patches to fix. But when I make a patch, rather than just fixing the bugs, I throw in new features - minigames, extra levels, new tools you can use in the level editor. There are threads on my forum of people posting ideas they'd like to see in a new patch - they're not even thinking about bugs they might find, they just want more cool stuff! So it turns that patch moment of "great, I have to go through extra work to get the game to WORK" into "oh, I'm gonna download this for the extras!".

A side effect is that while I sometimes have to tell a customer "oh, you'll need to download the latest patch for that to work right", I more often have to say "Sorry, that add-on world was made with a more recent patch, you'll need to download the patch to play it!" (implied: because of the amazing new features it uses) so I'm basically telling them "Oh, didn't you know? There's more game than you thought, go get it for free!"

Instead of being seen as an incompetent who can't seem to get it right, I'm seen as a great guy who keeps adding new stuff for free (or so I hope).

Posted by: Hamumu | Nov 15, 2005 1:59:30 PM

Seriously; I know what you mean. When Windows crashes, it's a huge PITA. When GNU/Linux crashes.... oh... wait. It doesn't. Never mind.

I don't know what I'd do if my computer crashed. Probably (a) pinch myself, and (b) take photos so my friends would believe me.

Posted by: Phil Hagelberg | Nov 21, 2005 3:05:57 PM

Hell hath no fury like a computer geek scorned. I was as bad an apple snob as any that exist today, until they cut my nose off to spite my face... by discontinuing the //GS. I love that machine... still have my Woz signature machine with an overclocked processor. However, when they killed that machine... 6 months after celebrating "Apple // forever", I swore at and off apple for good. Windows may crash... I can recover from that. Windows isn't sexy... I have a wife for that. At least I can still run programs from four iterations back. Can macs do that with OSX? Without running an emulator? Is there an upgrade path for Macs? I can slap a new motherboard into my PC and have it back up and running in 20 minutes. Can you do that with a mac? For these, and many more reasons, I'll never own another Apple product.

Posted by: Gene Humbert | Nov 28, 2005 4:08:25 PM

Its not Microsoft's behaviour(http://reactor-core.org/in-microsoft-we-trust.html) but Microsoft's innovations that get to me:

Posted by: Bill | Dec 5, 2005 12:04:48 PM

I know quite a few current Mac and IPod users, and very, very few fit the "True Apple fans know that the Nano screen only appears to have a problem with scratches because:" mold you describe.

I have been using Apple gear for a number of years, as well as Linux and Windows systems. The Apple ones work better, for now. That was not the case in the late OS 9 days, when I needed a Java 1.2 VM, and Apple did not have one. I used a machine that did what I needed, quite happily. Built it myself, too, and upgraded it several times as new Athlon cpus came out that ran better.

OS X came out, and by the 10.1 release, I had switched back. As time passed the OS got enough better that I stopped needing to really run Windows or Linux. I did not, though, completely lose touch. All three systems have improved, but I believe that Apple has the superior product, at least for my needs.

Is Apple perfect? No. Do they make boneheaded decisions? Yep. Do they seem to make fewer than Microsoft? Seems to be the case.

Put another way - I have seen windows crash rarely in recent XP releases, and I have not had a single crash from my Mac since the 10.2 days. (Beta OS releases of both notwithstanding.) I still find Windows clunkier, and less likely to do what I want. More, Windows is less likely to be customizable the way I want it to be, and more likely to waste my time. All three systems could improve a bunch, but Apple seems ahead of the pack.

Any serious and honest Apple user knows at least one or two areas that Apple has screwed up over the years. The thing is, Apple seems more interested in improving my user experience than the competition. They get the passionate users because they care more, for the moment.

The iPod might change that - when your big device only costs $300, it is hard to support a lot of customer contact and warm fuzzies. Still, that is a risk, not a certainty.

Recognizing that you have a superior platform _FOR YOUR NEEDS_ is not a double standard. It is only a problem when you forget that needs change, or fail to recognize that yesterday's solution is not right for today.


Posted by: Scott Ellsworth | Dec 5, 2005 1:23:22 PM

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