Technology is changing the way people think about—and participate in—knowledge creation and sharing. What does that mean for product builders?
Imagine a symphony orchestra. It’s a group of musicians playing music together: violinists, bass players, drummers, cellists, trumpeters—the list goes on. All of these musicians have mastered their individual instrument and when coming together they create beautiful music that goes far beyond the individual instrument and musician’s capabilities. You can confidently say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
What makes a symphony orchestra possible? One thing is collaboration. People get together to create something they couldn’t otherwise create alone. Together, they go further. But how do you steer collaboration? How do you ensure a quality outcome with so many players involved? Enter the conductor. The conductor plays an essential role in any orchestra. The conductor will steer, guide, and instruct the musicians to play at the desired effect. Without playing a single note the conductor is essential to the final musical result.
But collaboration is not unique to orchestras. In fact, one of humanity’s greatest pieces of collaboration is the internet. The internet has billions of contributors that inform, use, and add to the products that we, as product builders, create. With more people now transforming from consumers of knowledge to creators of knowledge an urgent need for quality control and credibility validation has arisen. But who is the conductor in this case? As product builders, we all are.
At Elevate Product this year, we heard about how creators of knowledge can work together while still ensuring quality, diversity, and accuracy. Let’s look at a few open and inclusive products that were showcased.
Katharina Borchert, Chief Innovation Officer at Mozilla, talked about how an open internet can provide access to all and bring power in numbers. A stellar example is their crowd-sourced Common Voice initiative—already the largest and most diverse dataset of human voices available for use, including 18 different languages, adding up to almost 1,400 hours of recorded voice data from more than 42,000 contributors. You might question how Common Voice can ensure that donated voice clips are accurate and not people being trolls? Well, the platform has a built-in validation mechanism, which allows users to listen to various clips and vote yes or no for accuracy. Mozilla has therein figured out not only how to co-create with their users, but also ensure quality by their users.
Chris Slowe, CTO of Reddit, attributed Reddit’s meteoric rise to its focus on designing for community contributions. Instead of fact-checking each piece of user-generated content, Reddit’s job, as an open platform where people contribute freely and anonymously, is to allow (and encourage) debate, only moderating on “quality not opinion.” In fact, Reddit’s content policy is extremely light considering the sheer number of users that contribute to the platform. This was an important lesson for us in valuing the mission of a product above all else, even if it means giving users more space to generate content that you may not personally agree with.
Even if our product/platform isn’t open-sourced, we, as product builders will benefit by making a conscious effort to openly “source” from our users. Samantha Stevens, Director of Product at Tinder, urged product builders to remember that we don’t always know what’s best for our users and have to venture outside the “walls of our office” to gain diverse user feedback and ideas that can vastly improve our product fit. One such discovery for Tinder was realizing that users may not value the same product features in different locations. In São Paulo, for instance, when looking for potential matches the distance radius isn’t a preferred metric but instead it matters what neighborhood people are from. At the heart of what Tinder does is their desire to have:
“Any user, no matter where they are in the world, should be able to open the app and feel as if it was designed for them.”
Elevate Product inspired us to really dig into what it means to build better products through the input of people who are not necessarily on the product team. We always strive to strike that balance between being the product experts and quality controllers in the room. However, we also realize that we have blind spots and biases that need de-risking through collaborating with other people like our users, subject-matter experts in the field, open source engineers, or business stakeholders. While it’s on us, as the product Conductors to ensure quality, we cannot create a symphony without a broad range of contributors.