Friday, December 30, 2005

Flickr's 2005-Your Single Best Photo Group

Flickr's 2005 "Single Best Photo" group is amazing:

Everybody contributes one photo, and the results are amazing.

You know what's really amazing about this? The Flickr 2005-Your Single Best Photo phenomenon was not a result of "Customer Focused Design". The Flickr team didn't sit down and identify top customer scenarios, then prioritize features from 1-10 based on their customers' preferences.

The Flickr team built a lot of cool stuff, and let their users throw stuff against the wall until something stuck.

I think that most of the time, when people talk about how "innovative" a company is, they're really referring to qualities like "cool", "willing to experiment", "willing to do something just because it feels right" - willing to repaint your company web site with a tribute to Rosa Parks, willing to replace your corporate logo with a starry night version on van Gogh's birthday.

The authors of Why Business People Speak Like Idiots recently came to Microsoft to chide us on some of our shortcomings related to the above (namely, lack of personality). Could Flickr's "Single Best Photo" phenomenon have happened at Microsoft? Not as a feature or special project, but as a grassroots occurrence? On Spaces? Messenger?

Would Microsoft connect with their customers and the world by replacing the content on with something heartfelt to honor a death at the spur of a moment?

We dye all of our campus fountains green internally for a launch, yet we're so reluctant to show customers this side of our company. Why?

Campaigns like Start Something are manufactured out of marketing divisions. I'd argue it's time to take a hint, and let our most valuable developers shine through experimenting and bringing cool stuff to the world just because it feels right. But if you were an executive, would you buy that pitch?

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