Do the masses know what they want?
Yesterday I asked if the echo chamber was still relevant now that the needs of the early adopter and those of the populace at large are becoming more differentiated. Today I want to follow that up by asking if the masses really know or understand their needs?
We live at such a pace that we often have little time to consider what we actually want. We exist in a semi-robotic state commuting from home to work and back, and before we know it it's tomorrow and we do it all again. With life like this how can we expect the consumer to really know what they want? If everyone knew then the world would be full of entrepreneurs.
Just look at the amount of money spent on market research, product testing and advertising, it obviously works or companies would not be willing to invest so heavily. We go from day to day being told what to eat, what to wear, what to buy and - because we have more important things to be getting on with - we go along with it.
If consumers need their hands held with something as simple as the weekly shop is it reasonable to expect them to know what they want from an online service when many haven't yet grasped concepts such as the web and email?
Need or want?
Look at the example of the iPod as given by Mark in his comment. The iPod is a classic example of a product creating a niche for itself. Now, I wouldn't say that the iPod created an actual need (that was always going to be there with the spread in digital entertainment) but it created a desire. It was the effect of, as Mark says, "Simple and powerful technology" - Apple just beat everyone else to the punch.
There has always been a need to communicate over long distances, this need was filled with the telegram, telephone and now the internet. As we increasingly become part of the global village the need is there to communicate with more people in different places so it is more a question of how we want to do things and this causes its own problems.
Choice is generally a good thing but in areas of uncertainty it is often easier to be given a direction and grow your knowledge than try to pick one path from many. Consequently, people will often follow the herd and go with whatever their friends are doing - in a social media context this actually makes sense. As Louis Gray has been pointing out social media is not defined by its features but by the community that use it and if all your friends are on service X it would be foolish to use service Y.
Niche services are able to deal with this diversity as they are targetting a specific audience but for mainstream users too much choice could prevent wide enough adoption of any service preventing it from ever reaching the tipping point. It is nice to have healthy competition in any market but when the market becomes flooded the value is lost.
Will a particular service come out on top solely due to the herd mentality or will the market need a nudge in the right direction? Who is best placed to lead: the echo chamber or business, or should anyone be leading at all?
Image by Tara Hunt.