Who Watches the Users?

How do you decide which use cases you should support and which you shouldn’t? This question has been hovering in the back of my mind for quite a while now, because it seems to be increasingly forgotten. When apps or websites are launched, they tend to have a specific goal in mind, a solution to a problem the developers have identified. But does this take centre stage during a redesign? What if your users believe you’re providing a different solution to the one you had intended?

These are very real problems and I don’t think tech firms are treating them with, well, any care at all. Facebook’s constant redesigns have largely worked but I also find myself looking for ways to refine what appears on my wall. Adverts I can manage, but scrolling through an entire page of content about people I’ve never heard of (friends-of-friends and liked activity) is boring, and boredom means my time on the service declines. Facebook appears to have forgotten its core goal: to connect you to your friends and make communication simple. Now it just wants to connect you, period, which ultimately just results in a lot of noise.

Similarly, Youtube have just redesigned their smart TV app. I like the redesign, but Subscriptions are now hidden behind a menu rather than being on the home screen. Youtube may think that Search or Recommendations are more important, but that’s not how I use their service. Hiding the content I want behind two menus (i.e. two clicks away) is bad practice on a PC, but ultimately manageable. On a smart TV, with clunky controls and latency issues, every click counts. A barrier has been placed in between me and what I want to do. Far from solving my problem, Youtube have just created another one.

On the flipside, Instagram recently implemented the ability to control multiple accounts from within their app. When Instagram first launched it enabled you to take a photograph and share it with your friends; over time though, it has become a portfolio platform that people run businesses from. The inclusion of account switching confirms that Instagram are actually listening to their users and, crucially, how those users are actually using the service. They may even end up enticing some of those business users to setup secondary, personal accounts as a result, furthering their initial concept. They’ve managed to branch out their service to solve not just one, but two problems, simultaneously.

And yet… despite this positive step, searching your own photos on Instagram is practically impossible. I can’t be the only one wanting this functionality (though I imagine my own personal use case is a little… unusual) because an entire industry has evolved to fit this niche. Yet Instagram themselves aren’t listening. There is a disconnect here between how I want to use the service and the way the developers think the service is used. Right now, I’m willing to put up with that and hope for a better future. But given time, as with Facebook, doubts will begin to gnaw. And unlike Facebook, I have no intimate connection with Instagram; cutting that cord would be fairly painless.