Friday, November 12, 2010

Perils of Success

Here's an amusing, ironically droll statement:
The leader of the dredging party, Edén Pastora, is an eccentric former Sandinista guerrilla leader, who claimed that Google Maps showed his camp to be in Nicaraguan territory. Google then admitted to an "inaccuracy" in its map, adding that these should not be relied on to make military decisions.

This illustrates an important lesson about providing something new: If you are successful in launching a new product or service that everyone starts to rely on, then you will end up with situations that you never imagined.  Ten years ago, nobody at Google could possibly have imagined that one of their computer programs would be an issue in an armed standoff between two soverign countries.

People will accept error and inconsistency in new things, especially if they offer lots of benefits.  But after a few years, people expect more and more things of you, and you can get in trouble if you do not meet these rising expectations.  When the thing you provide moves from being a luxury to a necessity, you are suddenly operating within an entirely different implicit social contract.  People go from being happy with any benefits of the new thing to being unhappy with any flaws in it.  You have to change your engineering standards from 'good enough to amuse early adapters' to 'capable of handling mission-critical tasks at five-nines reliability' which often requires a big change in corporate thinking.

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