Understanding the customer is not the same as educating the customer

Hosting my own website is a pain in the ass. Kind of like owning my own house but without the obvious benefits.

When I owned my own house and my hot water heater died, I had to get it replaced. Broken things added up over time, but I always thought to myself, “That’s okay. It’s an investment in my own property.” So the time and money spent on it felt like an investment in my future.

Now, I understand that hosting my own blog has similar benefits. I’m hosting my own data and have complete freedom with it and that is very future focused of me. But I understand the importance of data in the future and not everyone does.

This conversation is going on right now over on the Project VRM Mailing list. I’m explaining why the fact that blog maintenance being a pain in the ass outweighs most people’s perceived benefits to hosting one’s own data. That Facebook or Google owning our data doesn’t seem pressing compared to the type of work we’d have to put into the maintenance of it ourselves. Plus, there is that convenient way that they connect so many of us by making it so easy.

I self-host my blog. I get to personalize the theme and have the ability to export my data in an instant. Nobody puts ads on here except for me. You sign up for alerts? I maintain that database. It’s my content, my community and my artwork. All mine. But it’s also a huge time suck. I get bugs, hacked, lose things, have the possibility of having my host explode and lose everything not backed up. When my template breaks with an update, I have to figure out why. I recently lost my Whuffie Factor website altogether (content is still on my server), and it’ll take me a while to track down this issue. My blog was compromised again for, like, the 6th or 7th time in 10 months just this week. I needed to research what was going on and how to fix it, then figure out where things were at, what my passwords were (I always seem to be changing them) and wade through folders looking for files that look out of place (I have no clue, really). Luckily I have stellar friends that helped me out.

It’s frustrating and inconvenient. And even for me, a big believer in owning my own data, I wonder on days like these if it’s worth it. I want to “set and forget”. I’ll deal with the data issue later so I don’t have to deal with the maintenance issues now. So I posted this dilemma to the list and got back a bunch of responses with all sorts of links on how I can make my blog more secure. It’s not that security isn’t important. It’s very important. I get that. But I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want answers. I want convenience.

And I really think that is the basis for “regular people” not fighting against Facebook or any other companies that own a good amount of our data (still growing at an incredible rate even if there are protests in the geek ranks). They make everything really convenient. People don’t want to learn more about security so they can host their own conversations and relationships, but if you provided people with a solution that is 100% user-friendly PLUS you gave people the ability to export/move data/relationships/etc, you would be a clear choice.

People aren’t lazy or stupid, but we ARE busy and will find anything to simplify our lives so we have more times for the things that really matter (i.e. not reading how to make our blogs more secure). It’s not about education, it’s about understanding that. So if you are in the business of changing the world or offering a solution for people that is empowering or a ‘better alternative’, don’t educate people on the benefits of using your service. Instead, offer the very very best user experience in the universe. Help people not think about the stuff that doesn’t matter and do all of the heavy lifting in the background so that they can just reap the benefits of your platform. If you can deliver both freedom AND convenience, you’ll be the clear winner.

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Categories: community, featured, vrm

Author:Tara Hunt

Strategist. Researcher. Interdisciplinarian. Founder, Lime Foundry + Buyosphere. Author, The Whuffie Factor. Speaker. Mother. Karaoke lover.

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12 Comments on “Understanding the customer is not the same as educating the customer”

  1. July 9, 2010 at 20:16 #

    Wow. Thanks by brightly funny tip about (e)commerce.

    I have a blog together with a friend and I think he agreeds with you!

    Thanks by a good reading! =) I love a good reading.

    []s
    RCB

  2. July 9, 2010 at 21:30 #

    The easiest solution would simply be to find someone you trust and put them on retainer for website issues. This is what many (most?) small business owners do.

    We did that sort of thing for customers when I ran my hosting company. Our solutions started at around $300/month. I’d say you could probably find someone similar who would take care of all that around that price range. If you want a couple people I would recommend, feel free to email me.

    -Erica

  3. Tara Hunt
    July 10, 2010 at 06:54 #

    @Ericabiz Other than the fact that I cannot afford $300/month right now (heh. I am looking for an apartment for 1/2 the price of my current one. I haven’t had real income in well over a year – by choice, but that’s a whole other story – bootstrapping is fun), the point of the article wasn’t to say, “Self-hosting is hard, help me” Quite the opposite. It’s to say “Self-hosting is important, but until we make it as simple as hosting on a platform (i.e. Facebook or Google), Muggles are not going to do it and FB will grow” $300/month is NOT going to help that cause.

  4. July 10, 2010 at 19:29 #

    An affordable option is to use open source software. For about $7/month you can get hosting by Bluehost.com (plus a free domain) and you can use a CMS like Concrete5 to run your website/blog as well as any of the 100’s of plug and play addons. As their ad says: it is a matter of 10 minutes (and a phone call if necessary) and you are up and running — you have complete ownership of all your content. (Happy to help at: http://www.webenzed.com)

  5. Steve
    July 13, 2010 at 18:36 #

    Two tips …

    One that’s been around for a while – http://www.squarespace.com/
    One that’s new – http://www.drupalgardens.com/

  6. July 16, 2010 at 08:27 #

    why wouldn’t you just want to find a reasonable boutique developer and pay them to provide you with a service? if it’s not your specialty, chances are it won’t be worth your time. it’s no different than hiring a plumber or an architect. you hire a professional that is reasonable and form a relationship out of mutual needs and respect. they save you hours and hours of aggravation and you help them get some bills paid. if you provide your audience with great content chances are you can pay for a good bit of your site through custom advertising.

    my partner and i are concrete5 & wordpress featured developers. unless a person is looking for the most basic of basics, he/she will not be happy. developing a site is not easy. it is a finely honed craft and skill. it takes years to learn to design and program beautifully, and that is what you pay for :)

  7. July 19, 2010 at 13:51 #

    @Kei

    See…even you are missing the point of this post. I’m *NOT* posting this to get suggestions on how to fix the hacking issues on my post. What I *AM* doing is demonstrating that people who say they are customer centric aren’t. Do you think regular people would want to deal with what I’m dealing with here? Nope. Until the day comes that you don’t have to pay someone else to deal with issues of spam, hacking, etc., people will remain with Facebook (and so will their content).

  8. July 19, 2010 at 20:04 #

    I think you’re giving, ‘regular people’, far too much credit thinking they’d abandon Facebook-like sites given the availability of an option like the one you outlined in the original post.

    John and Jane Mainstream are on Facebook because that’s where their audience is. They perform their amateur acts to a sympathetic crowd of friends and family. Their own private Madison Square Garden wouldn’t interest them; the silence would be deafening.

  9. July 25, 2010 at 13:10 #

    I believe most sites out there are shady although there are a couple that are legitimate. I’ve signed up on three legitimate sites and its a steady income. You’re not really risking much so I’d advise you to give it a go.

  10. Jay
    July 26, 2010 at 09:39 #

    Hmm, I’ve read this three times and I’m not sure I understand the complaint. WordPress.com will give you control over your content, multiple themes, etc. without any of the scale or security issues. They’ll run ads, but so will Facebook; unlike FB they will take them off for $30/yr. How would you improve on the wordpress.com model? Flickr does the same thing with photos. Amazon will give you an infinitely large hard drive for large files you want to serve, again with you in control of the content but them in charge of security & scale. I feel like there are loads of services out there to start filling the gap between control & convenience. True?

  11. August 3, 2010 at 07:50 #

    I agree with jay. self hosting is the best way to go. it does get annoying with all the blog spamming when you log into your site. I always turn comments off for a lot of my pages then it becomes easier to manage.

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