User focus

I used to ask about removing user control from software, “How do companies benefit from making their users’ experiences worse?”

But then I realized that it’s the wrong question. It’s not about the users — not really.

Does anyone really believe that Mozilla is attempting to please users by making their software worse, for instance? No, of course they aren’t. The users are an excuse, or a nuisance — at least for those who actually control the browser and its manifestation in the world.

The sociological causes and reasons aren’t single-axis, of course. Part of it is simply that as society itself gets more authoritarian and less free-wheeling, software companies (like everyone else) follow suit.

But another portion is change for the sake of change and yet another reason is that I think developers and designers actually enjoy angering their most ardent fans and most devoted users — because these people are the most demanding, and the most critical.

Pissing this user class off is a goal, because doing so is fulfilling and because since (supposedly) this group does not represent regular users — for some reason deemed the most important — contravening their interests and objectives in using the software is seen as a win, as something that proves that the regular user’s interests are being centered.

I pick on Mozilla and Firefox because I know the most about this company and software, but all of this is true of many other companies as well. However, Firefox is one of the most egregious examples even in a bad bunch.

All of this is of course not at all how software adoption or software choice works. By alienating and wilfully discarding their most ardent advocates, organizations like Mozilla and Microsoft and Apple destroy those who push their products and lead to a manifold increase in adoption and continued use.

This works the other way, too. One of the big reasons for Firefox’s decline is self-inflicted wounds caused by many of their biggest advocates have abandoned the product and its mission.

Buying the claim that destroying the product is being done “for the users” is the narrative they’d prefer you to believe, because it sounds the most honorable. But it’s not the true reason, and pleasing users is not the goal.