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The User Is The Story

StoryGuest post by Kyle Bylin of sidewinder.fm

I have become convinced that one of the major voices missing from the conversation about the future of music is the user. We cite studies and various data points, but when it comes to talking about Spotify and Pandora, we concern ourselves only with the views of experts. This seems like an oversight to me, because experts, while frequently offering valuable insights into business models and competitive landscapes, don’t typically get into what ordinary users think about these products or how they use them. To rectify this, I have started to consider different ways that I could make users a part of these essays in the future.

"actual users... are not asked what they think"

One of the most common types of technology coverage in the media is the product review. When a new product debuts or an existing product is upgraded, a writer will focus on, for example, the exciting features that Pandora added to their Android app and sprinkle in a bit of history about previous developments. Then they may conclude the piece by talking about how Pandora fares among rival apps or the status of the stock price. This is standard reporting and there is nothing wrong with this approach. In some cases, these pieces are targeted at professionals who want to stay up-to-date on the latest Pandora happenings. Other times, they are geared toward the listeners who already use, or may want to use the app. Either way, the view of the user is represented by the writer and actual users outside of their world are not asked what they think of the app.

"who cares what users think?"

This may seem like a trivial concern, because honestly, who cares what users think? Not many professionals in the music space, from the look of things. To engage users, a writer would need to collect a balanced and representative sample of views and provide analysis of what they learned. This is time-consuming work with little reward for anyone involved. Similarly, people already using an app probably aren’t interested in what other users think about it, because they’ve already made up their minds. This leaves the reader who does not know about the app and may consider downloading it based on what a writer recommends. They’re interested in what Mashable and Lifehacker have to say, but likely couldn’t care less about what a few users happen to think. As it turns out, about the only time any of us seek a user perspective is when we are about to download an app and decide to check out the reviews. There is, however, a unique opportunity to represent the view of the user in trade publications.

"gain a better sense of how people view the app and what they would like it to do"

Imagine that in a product review of a new Spotify app, you asked five particularly insightful users to give their opinion of the product and explore a few features that they would like to see added. After that, you might talk to them about the current Spotify apps they use and how this one fares in comparison. These insights could prove incredibly useful. As a writer, you would gain a better sense of how people view the app and what they would like it to do. You could then place your findings in the context of the apps they currently use. In turn, the audience of artists, professionals, developers, and investors would benefit. They would be able to learn how users like to experience their music, what products they use, what features they enjoy, and what features they would like to see added the most. Of course, there are challenges in balancing and broadening the views you gather, but if handled with care, the utility of such real-world views could be great.

From my point of view, the largest disconnect in the music industry over the last decade has been between what users said they wanted and the products companies actually created. This resulted in a constant tension between the industry and the user and products users found unsatisfactory. My belief is that users should be more deeply involved in product conversations and used as a feedback loop to make both current and future products better. We must rethink our approach to trade journalism. The days of a publication existing solely to engage with the music industry are numbered.

"examine products through the eyes of those who use them"

At this point, the best way for us to lean forward and anticipate the future of music is to examine products through the eyes of those who use them and use their feedback to build and improve products that align with what the future looks like to them.