Tuesday, January 29, 2008

is later the new now?

Well, probably not. But here's some food for thought...

People are bad at thinking ahead. Daniel Gilbert tells us this is why we can't buy dinner if we're not hungry and why we think marriage will make us happy. (ouch)

And companies - which presumably are made up of people - suffer from the same thing. PowerPoint documents across the land are bursting with graphs that demand instant results. Which is a shame, because sometimes longer term thinking can lead to better things.

When I heard the Last.fm news this week, I took a little pride for having been a member of it for over three years (when it was still called Audio Scrobbler). Then I thought - slightly off-topic - wouldn't it be nice if the earliest users of a service were rewarded later on. (OK, I was hardly a beta tester - but stay with me)

I joined Streetcar before it got really big and because of that I remain exempt from the monthly charge new members face. I pay nothing and get my original deposit back if I ever leave. That is a genuine reward for joining early. The thing is I didn't know this would happen when I joined. And neither, probably, did Streetcar.

Now, imagine all start-ups promised reward for 'retrospective loyalty'. It would turn all these companies into a kind of attention stock market. You would be rewarded for spotting them early and seeing their value in them before others.

Here's the thing. If one company does this, nothing happens. But if lots of companies adopted this approach, the entire culture of beta-testing would change. In the same way that users of Amie Street are given an economic incentive to be the first to hear a band, people everywhere would have an incentive to sign up early to try services. Time is the one thing you can't give later. Unfortunately, 'later' is not something that is thought about enough.

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