So this application is your friend?

Inleiding, Het artikel “So this application is your friend?” van Rick Mans en Mark Smalley stond eerder op


After having written “IT is from Flatland, Business is from Spaceland”, a paper that explored the troubled relationship between business people and IT people, Mark Smalley’s gaze has wandered off in the direction of the relationship between users (What a strange word, ‘users’. What other kind of users are there? Only drug addicts?) and applications.
From a cool analytical perspective the relationship is just about input and output but step back a bit and take another look from an emotional viewpoint.
What do you see? A relationship that varies from hate and loathing to love and addiction. That’s right: users. Now add the social media dimension. Rick Mans has co-authored this paper from his point of view as social media evangelist, contributing innovative ways of engaging users. This paper shares some stimulating new insights into the relationship between users and IT and how judicious use of social media could take it to a higher level.

In the beginning there was IT…

IT users have had a rough ride. Ever since the introduction of IT sixties odd years ago, IT departments have been acting like divine beings, telling the users what was good for them. For the first twenty years or so, IT boffins were treated as incomprehensible but brilliant scientists who were treated with the same deference as doctors used to be. Yes doctor, no doctor. But then the inevitable happened and cracks started to appear. Projects failed to deliver. Costs rocketed. Functionality didn’t function. IT fell from its pedestal and became a fallen angel, retreating into a “Just tell us what you want” position, with the implicit message “and then it’s your fault when it goes wrong”.

Stockholm syndrome

Users (unlike IT) are regular people and regular people tend to adapt to uncomfortable situations. People need defense mechanisms in order to survive. Ever felt happy with an application when you’ve completed a longish transaction without it having crashed and losing your data?
Yep, that’s the Stockholm syndrome: “a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness”. I think of some applications as benevolent dictators. You’re obliged to use them and they direct your actions in a polite but firm way: “Please re-enter your data”. Including the data that it could have but hasn’t bothered to save for you.

Going steady

Another human trait is to give things human attributes. So let’s anthropomorphize a bit. Can applications be happy, grumpy, authoritative, lazy, reliable, fickly, cruel, stupid, intuitive, responsive, sexy? Sure they can. Think about it. Now we’ve elevated applications to a near human level, lets develop a relationship with them. Your relationship with an application will probably go through a lifecycle something like this.
• Anticipation – you’re looking forward to getting the app or being authorized to use it
• Disappointment – Too high expectations
• Resignation – Guess you’d better get used to it
• Acclimatization – It’s not that bad after all
• Frustration – It’s habits are annoying me more and more
• Alienation – The thrill has gone
Seeing as all relationships seem to come with a ‘best before date’, it’ll probably end up ugly.
So now we’ve established that users have a relationship with apps, why not formalize it by liking and friending the app? Or disliking or unfriending. And why not tweet your app? Post cool pics on your app’s wall.

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