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June 22, 2005

Latest Essay: Create Value By Relinquishing Control

My latest essay is up on Adaptive Path's site: "How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Relinquish Control." The thesis is that the more control companies give up, the greater value they receive in return.

As I started writing that essay, I thought I'd write more of a diatribe against designers who feel that controlling the user's experience is the point of their work. While I have a dig at that perspective in the paragraph on the interactive design competition that Jeff wrote about, the essay took a decidedly different tack, trying to come to grips with the more fundamental concept of control.

The problem was, I end up using 5 or so different types of control, and I don't really call them out distinctly. This was a nagging thing in the back of my mind as I was writing the essay, and didn't really become clear to me until after I had turned it in, and talked about it with others in Adaptive Path.

I'll go example by example...

Google's relinquishes behavioral control. Instead of trying to create "stickiness" that keeps you clicking into their site, they instead try to provide the best results to your queries, wherever that might lead. I find it impressive that, if you type an address into the Google search engine, you a link not only to Google Maps, but Yahoo and Mapquest as well. You prefer the competitors? Fine! Enjoy!

Amazon and eBay have relinquished editorial control.

Whereas the designers that Jeff grew so frustrated with were unwilling to give up experiential control. Not surprisingly, this is pretty typical in the experience design and graphic design communities -- the idea that the designer knows best, and the designer needs to have total control of your experience, and you should just sit back and enjoy it.

Flickr relinquishes a combination of these forms of control. Flickr relinquishes behavior control, editorial control, and experiential control, really letting their users cobble together their own meaningful experiences.

The Long Tail is all about shifting control of selection from the business to the customer. Amazon, iTunes, and other long tail content companies simply expose databases of material, and let you have at it.

Netflix does that, but even more disruptive is their Google-like take on giving up behavioral control. Rental store late fees inflicted a cost on customers who wanted more control of their viewing experience. No more!

And then there's Craig of Craigslist, whose polling of his community for thoughts on corporate direction is some form of giving up strategic control.

While these are all different forms of control, I think there's still a foundational concept of control that underlies this. Particularly because companies typically give up control in more than one way. Google, Amazon, and eBay all have APIs. Netflix is long tail, by mail, and has no late fees. I think these companies have a core philosophical tenet that encourages relinquishing control, and that this gets expressed in many different ways.

That said, I think uncovering a framework for considering control would be valuable. To understand how these different forms of control work, how they relate, how companies and their products can figure out what forms of control make sense to relinquish. An initial thought was to use Jesse's planes...

Control Planes

...but I think for the framework to be successful, it would need to be specific to the idea of control.

If you're familiar with such frameworks, or have comments about my article, I encourage you to leave the comment here.

In other news, it turns out that "How I Learned To Stop Worrying And..." is a remarkably overused phrase, particularly in the digerati space (Example Other Example Google Search. ) Oh well. It worked here. And Dr. Strangelove *is* one of my all-time favorite films.

Posted by peterme at June 22, 2005 08:30 AM

Comments

peter,

while i completely agree with your premise and observations regrding how these companies have placed their business models on a different level by thinking differently (and the importance of thinking in a similar fashion across other domains), i still have problems with your dig at designers.

"Whereas the designers that Jeff grew so frustrated with were unwilling to give up experiential control. Not surprisingly, this is pretty typical in the experience design and graphic design communities -- the idea that the designer knows best, and the designer needs to have total control of your experience, and you should just sit back and enjoy it.

Flickr relinquishes a combination of these forms of control. Flickr relinquishes behavior control, editorial control, and experiential control, really letting their users cobble together their own meaningful experiences."

i hate to break it to you, but most in-house/agency uxdesigners aren't within companies/working with companies that view the web, products and the world through such a progressive lens. designers/design managers, such as livia labate or lawrence lipkin or robert fabricant, commit themselves to changing how deeply rooted, ivory tower companies think when leveraging the possibilities of the internet. the short-term results may not always be a sandbox, but the intent is there. their positive contributions to the domain are wrought through intense struggle over the long-haul. it's a story of change on a different level than flickr.

but let's forget the politics of change for a moment, let's talk about the experience design at, say, flickr. it may be "sandboxy," but no matter how you slice it, there are design parameters in play. i mean, even a sandbox has controlled, fenced-in, design parameters, otherwise, it would be called the beach.

these are experience design decisions we're talking about.

there's no way around the fact that the folks at flickr designed specific behaviors (e.g. slick, Ajax methods to change a photo's name, description or call up previously used tags) within specific levels of interface design (e.g. top level browsing of photos, secondary level of results with a different layout, tertiary level of focus on the information object itself). each of these interfaces, their placement in the information architecture, etc. have contributed to the overall effect of "relinquishing control."

this all happened by design.

i assume that your overall point is on a higher level than this granularity, speaking to how open source and open thinking can affect great change. i agree 100%. but since you dip down into the humanity of the work itself, it's necessary to make clear that no matter how you slice it, each of these product experiences have been crafted. they put on their interface "pants" one leg at a time. and whether a ux designer was the entitled contributor in that process or not, your stereotyping of designers affects the perception of the holistic practice and method of design in the eyes of business.

personally speaking, i think that's somewhat controlling.

-sean

Posted by: spcoon [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 22, 2005 10:29 AM

I have to admit that I have little understanding of your usual web design posts. Your field of expertise and interest is generally out of my realm and over my head. But when you focus on the less digital elements of human behavior and commercial enterprise I think you overlook some obvious aspects of personal experience.

What little I do know, for instance, is that Netflix, and any subscription service, is totally controlling. That monthly fee you pay is all the control they want or need over you. And I assure you they love it when you hang on to a DVD so that they can satisfy more subscribers with a lower inventory.

As for Google, Yahoo, Amazon and the rest, they are all advertising operations. And their success is based on their "persuasive control" of site users. Does the magician relinquish control when tells you to "Pick a card. Any card?" You know that he doesn't. You know there is a "force" in play; but even knowing it you can't figure it out, as Penn and Teller love to demonstrate. So you pick a card and enjoy being fooled. But what about Las Vegas? Why you can play on any table at any time and bet any amount on any spin, deal or roll that your heart desires. Where lies the control in that? If you have to ask you'll neve know. Like Justice Potter Stewart, you should know it when you see it.

I guess what I am coming down to is the suggestion that the easiest target for manipulation is the person who thinks he has found an honest Three Card Monte dealer. Slight of hand, in card or commerce, is nothing else than brain control through perceptual seduction, also recognized as manipulation.

So if business success is what you seek, flatter your targets that they are under their own control, then follow the lead of Google, Netflix, Amazon, etc. and make them want to make you rich.

Posted by: BJMe [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 22, 2005 11:10 AM

peter, you should hire your father as "director of keeping it real."

awesome.

Posted by: spcoon [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 22, 2005 11:41 AM

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