June 16, 2004

Addictive Services and Ethics

I don't like being prophetic. A few months ago, I asked about abandoning users, and wondered what the ethical implications of shutting down free and research systems were.

Researchers become very interested in building systems, and we study adoption a great deal: how many users can we get, how fast can we get them, and how many hours can we get them to use the system? Those are all good things: the CSCW paper that does wonderfully is the one where the speaker stands up and says, "It was more addictive then crack; we have the entire english-speaking world using it; and they never log off."

Unfortuantely, the next line is--all too often--"then we completed the six week study and turned it off. What a wonderful lesson we learned!"

Now we've seen two instances of this in the weblogs world recently.

Six Apart, the makers of this very weblog software, announced a new upgrade policy that was startlingly expensive and made difficult demands on many users. Even though the upgrade policy has been revised based on user feedback, some users are still irritated.

Yes, that's about upgrades, but very few people want to stay behind when the technology moves forward.

Of course, that's nothing on the l'affaire d'Weblogs, in which Dave Winer shut down (rather suddenly) his free webhosting service, thus shutting down several thousand weblogs at once.

Others have written elegantly about this situation: Many-to-Many sees this as an issue of managing expectations ("plan for success); Brad DeLong suggests that "An internet in which you can expect persistence, et cetera only if you pay for it is a quite different animal."

And LawMeme claims that Dave "had a serious obligation not to leave them in the lurch," and sees this as a blow to Winer's credibility as a weblog guru.

I'm just realizing that it's an ethical step: there's a serious danger to building a multi-user system of any sort. If people are dependant on it, they'll want it. And you need to think of a plan for what to do when your funding, or enthusiasm, or access runs out.

June 16, 2004 02:39 PM | TrackBack | in Data and Documents
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