Beware the Pretty-Faced Girl

It’s astonishing how quickly forget one of the most important lessons in life, just because it’s applicable somewhere unexpected: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Why then, do we not hear words like “magical” and “revolutionary” and become suspicious, as we should, instead of fawning and yammering on excitedly about the future?

Any semi-savvy computer user (or anyone with common sense, really) can tell you that no, there is no Kenyan prince willing to sign over a vast sum of money to you, if you only send him the bank fees. No, the bank didn’t make a mistake on the account you didn’t know you had, and will not mail you a large check if only you can verify your social security number.

Why then, when we hear about a magical, revolutionary new tablet, do we think it comes with no strings attached? Why is it ok for us to find a brilliant product, a brilliant free product, even, and think it’s not going to have some sort of cost somewhere down the road? Why do we think we can make thousands, if not millions of dollars developing applications for a service, but the service (with financial woes of its own!) won’t step in to compete?

We’re just used to the Web being free. We’re naturally suspicious of Open Source software (that’s changing, as of late, thank God) because we don’t understand why people would waste their time developing free, open tools they can’t profit from for our use and enjoyment. And the simple answer that they like to seems out of place. And yet, when those tools are embedded in a webpage… Suddenly it’s all okay.

You’ll notice I’ve strayed away from Apple’s iPad. There are plenty of posts out there on how the iPad is a “poisoned apple”. Nobody needs another one. And the iPad isn’t what got me thinking about this.

I was just thinking about Tumblr, the wonderful micro-blogging site. Free to use, elegant, well-designed, and with a nasty tendency to copy features from other sites, it is the blogging tool of choice for most the hipsters I know. Just as Apple is the company of choice. And that really got me thinking: it comes down to aesthetics.

I mean, how could something so pretty possibly be bad?

And yet… Tumblr has that aforementioned nasty knack for cloning functionality. Apple has a sour relationship with developers, competitors, and really anything they decide not to like that morning. Apple’s practices are, more often than not, borderline monopolistic in nature: want to develop for your iPhone? Good. Get a Mac.

There are plenty of arguments for why this is. The one that holds the most water, I believe, is controlling user experience. By making sure their products work best together, Apple can control the user experience. By copying features in-house, Tumblr can control the user experience.

When did we decide it was okay for anyone to control our experience except for us? Are we really that insecure about our ability to have a good experience on our own? Imagine going to a movie, and having the cinema tell you where you were sitting, what you were drinking, what you were eating, who you were watching the movie with, what movie you were watching, and what you thought of the movie, including whether you liked it or not.

Why is that experience not okay to control? Doesn’t Regal know best? If Apple went into the cinema business, would it be okay for them to do that?

We really need to consider the types of businesses we’re supporting and condoning, all because they have a pretty face and control our experience for us.