Delight developers in ecosystem-enhancing, easy to copy ways

Gibson Biddle came to give a product leadership talk at Google and one section really stuck with me. He mentioned how he came up with a simple statement that packs into it the role of product, while he was VP of Product at Netflix:

“Delight customers in margin-enhancing, hard to copy ways.”

– Gib

So short. So simple. Yet, much to unpack. For example:

  • Delight customers: The Kano model discusses the role of delight and how “Users don’t expect features that delight them. Consequently, if these features are not there, customers will not be dissatisfied. However, if they are present, they can easily have the biggest influence on the customers’ level of satisfaction.
  • Margin-enhancing: A ha. The business side that reminds us that we live in the real-world, and life isn’t solely about thinking through what the user wants….. as that won’t matter if you can’t survive or thrive, which is necessary to fund more delight. I now look out for the obvious bits here…. E.g. when you can’t just buy a book on the Kindle app on iOS. That restriction isn’t in place due to user-centric reasons.
  • Hard to copy: show me the moats!

I work on a developer platform, and a very open one at that, so I got to thinking about how a version of the statement would make sense for the Web Developer Ecosystem team, and came up with:

“Delight developers in ecosystem-enhancing, easy to copy ways”

– me

How does this unpack?

Delight developers

A platform needs to bring a supply of users to the table, for developers to have an opportunity to reach.

ASIDE: One of my kids asked me the good ole chicken and egg question, so I showed him:

And then for fun, I asked:

It was fun chatting through the birth of computing, and how the first users kinda were developers too, etc. It was also interesting thinking through various platforms and the stage at which third party developers were allowed on, and how it often depended on how valuable the host of the platform was as-is.

For example, the iPhone started first party, with Safari running the back catalog. The radio on the other hand….. I don’t remember it having any saved content that you could listen too if nothing was on the waves!

Anyway, back to delighting developers….. it’s important that we bring the meat of ROI (lowest cost to build your best experience for a large supply of users) but also the delight. Features such as this:

Value attracts, quality drives loyalty, and innovation differentiates.

Ecosystem Enhancing

Whatever we invest in should be enhancing the ecosystem. This means that we shouldn’t be thinking short-term. It means we should be thinking about the diversity in the ecosystem. One of the beauties of the Web is how anyone can make a home there. Grab a domain, and bob’s your uncle.

As a platform, yes you are a match maker of sorts (users and developers), but the long term aspect means that you aren’t just measuring hook ups, but family and societal growth that comes of the matches.

How do you notice weeds in an open ecosystem? You see silos that go over the top, and there are pure winners in verticals that stomp out competition. If you aren’t measuring and looking for the right things, it can look like engagement is going up and all is good…. when in fact the diversity is rotting away. We don’t want walls that keep people in and out, and even when we see people really enjoying a set of flowers, who knows how long that will last. Fashion’s change, and flowers can die out, so it is vital to not be all in on tulips.

In a healthy ecosystem, different parts interact in complex ways. You can mashup content, and someone can use an extension that makes something work better for them. The platform should be watching out for new patterns and work to bake them in so many can benefit.

Easy to copy

Rather than building first party competition that is zero sum game, we want to inspire the ecosystem and do so in a way that anyone can easily build on what we do.

We want to share building blocks, and help any sub communities throughout the stack. Open source enables us to not only share our own work in a well known way, but it also means we can participate and help other projects.

We see this in so many ways. From Chromium, to our guidance, libraries, and tools (DevTools, AMP, Lit, Lighthouse, workbox, you name it!), and with communities such as WordPress.

It’s incredibly fortunate that we can work in a way where we legitimately want sharing and copying, as we work together to garden the ecosystem, and make it the best destination to draw in more humans to play with us.

And thank you, Web community, for all of the creation and curation that you do.

Almaer.com Reopens For Business

As the Web turns 30, I reflected on what made, and makes, it different and great, and this lead me to thinking about when Medium started. I really appreciated the approach-ability of the user experience, how it helps authors focus on content, and also helped people find an audience.

There was an option of hosting your medium content on your own domain, but that went away, which was the first moment I thought about bringing my content back to my own site.
As I see the simple clean article experience become one of pop-ups and up-sells and web vs. app differences, it was finally time to make the switch, and thus I am posting on blog.almaer.com as the canonical location, and will syndicate on Medium and elsewhere as appropriate.

It is shocking that it took me this long, to be honest, as your own domain is something quite special on the Web and Internet. For publishers, who aren’t just writing as a hobby as I do, it is a business model decision.

Although it obvious differs for different companies, I tend to be the biggest fan of the approach where:

  • By regularly creating great content, your loyal customers will subscribe directly, as they are investing not just in a one off article, but rather invest in future reporting.
  • Any time you syndicate content, you are using it as customer acquisition into the subscription business, and can of course monetize through advertising.

You have to go into this knowing that users may be trusting the aggregator and giving them subscription as the source for great future content.

Restaurants vs. Food Delivery

I liken this a little to restaurants and food delivery. If a punter comes to your restaurant, you own the entire experience. You are best set to make it great and build a loyal customer that you may even know by name over time.

If you have excess supply, maybe you want to be on DoorDash/Caviar/UberEats etc. These customers are browsing and may not feel like going out, and you have a chance to experience your wares. If you believe in the quality of your food, maybe they will be impressed and will want to come in. You don’t control the experience in the same way, and these customers may not be the type that wants to go to you directly, no matter the quality, so it is also important to acknowledge that (and how much you can make from the food itself…. akin to the ads). Maybe you make enough from the transactions that the extra reach is fully worth it. The restaurant could even become a showroom of sorts….. but this is a dangerous position to be in. How sticky are these diners to you?

Your own home on the Web, with your own domain, is your restaurant. Your loyal users want to hang out there with you. Those are the users that would like a high quality PWA. You can think through how to drive traffic to you, or how to get value from your content living in other experiences, but it feels good to see more people starting to really think about this…. and it was certainly time for me to make the switch, even for my lil old blog.

Becoming a better Pacesetter for Web Developers in 2019

Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile barrier

When you work on a platform, you quickly feel how you are one part of the overall ecosystem. The Web is a huge ecosystem with diversity galore. Web standards, multiple browsers, a huge number and variety of devices, a plethora of tools and services available. It can be quite overwhelming at times!

Over the holiday break, I was naturally noodling on our role, and how to help improve the Web. As is cliche for this time of year, I jumped aggressively into the desire for healthy habits, and went on (short!) daily runs, often with my dog, or 9 year old son. When running with Josh, I started to think about the role of a Pacesetter:

“A runner who leads a distance running event to ensure a fast time and avoid excessive tactical racing.”

I want 2019 to be a year in which we will run to where the Web community is today, and do all we can to train to get in shape for where we all need to be.

We want developers to be successful on the Web by shipping great experiences for our (collective) users. Part of this success revolves around us setting up the environment (the meet) to have as many users available as possible, setting up the rules of the game, and helping developers train and get better.

The Goldilocks Pacesetter

What does it take to be a good pacesetter? You need to make sure that you aren’t on either end of these extremes:

  • If you are too far ahead of the runner then you are no longer making pace for them. They can’t reasonably keep up, and thus you may as well not exist and they will go back to their natural pace.
  • If you are running alongside them, even cheering them along as you do so, you are also not doing your job, and they won’t improve as much as they could.
  • If you win the race you are not doing your job, you need the runners to trust that you are going to do the job you agreed: to make the race fast and competitive and let the racers race.

We need a balance, pushing the pace in a way that is achievable, yet naturally will contain stress (in a good “the only way to improve” way).

How are we reaching developers where they are today?

At Chrome Dev Summit, we shared how we understand that we partner with frameworks, to deliver the surface area that developers use to program for the Web, and how we want to work closely with them:

  1. Include frameworks in the Chrome Intent to Implement process
  2. $200,000 of funding for improving performance best practices in frameworks.
  3. Increased collaboration with frameworks from the Chrome team.

We also know that we need bring the APIs that you need, to make the Web more capable, allowing you to bring your best experiences to the Web. This also includes enhancements to the UI toolkit of the Web, allowing you to build rich, fluid, UI.

We all know there is work to be done there, but we also have more tools available to deliver high quality UIs than ever before. The stack is changing. Salesforce posted on the change they have seen between 2014 and today, and how it enables them to take a very different approach using Web Components. This standard, shared API, gives us interoperability across frameworks. They can invest in fast, accessible, <killer-components>, that work with all. These components could even progressively change under the hood, allowing features such as various Worklets, and a scheduler to improve the experience.

Where do we need to be?

If we work together, we can break the four minute mile equivalent for the Web, which is delivering an instant, responsive, jank-free experience for our users.

There are many types of Web applications, with a variety of trade offs. A tool such as Squoosh is a different beast compared to a content site, or an e-commerce store. We want to deliver a platform that can work well for the variety of use cases we see on the Web, and collectively learn from each other on patterns to build such experiences.

Now we have a challenging goal, it’s time to jump into the New Year, and put in the work to achieve it!


p.s. As always, I am always very interested to hear your thoughts on what you need from the Web platform and ecosystem, and what you would want from a Pacesetter!