Quality economics

I was reading Ben Terrett’s blog post about how frustrating the process of re-downloading music from iTunes is – having to re-enter password and having to click “buy” when you’re actually downloading it for free. It’s a bit of a palava.

Ben talks about how this is a straight-forward problem to fix, so you might ask 'why don’t Apple just fix it?'. The reason is likely to be that they have very little incentive to do so. It probably doesn’t cost them anything, so why spend developer time on the issue?

Quality isn’t free

As we become reliant on web services, these frustrating interactions will become more and more part of our daily lives. In fact, this sort of problem crops up offline all the time: Why isn’t the bus clean? Why does it take so long to get through to a call center? Why don’t the buttons on cash machines line up with the screen? The reality is that none of the companies who could fix these problems have a financial incentive to do so.

Are kludges inevitable?

Kludges, or quick and dirty fixes, are sadly the norm. In Kludge, Gary Marcus argues that the human brain is a result of millions of years of kludges, which is why for the most part, we get through life but we still suffer from cognitive problems such as anxiety and phobias.

Is there anything we can do?

Probably not. The fact is that most organisations have a single core motivator and that is money. They will always plump for solutions that are the cheapest and quickest. However, there might be one saving grace for us all – pride.

I’m not an evolutionary biologist, so I can’t tell you why, as humans, we evolved a sense of pride in some of the things we do but it’s a reality: we decorate our houses at Christmas, we wash our cars, we pick up litter in our neighbourhood. People sometimes do things, not because they’re getting paid, but because it’s important to them. If we want to see the same sense of pride in the world around us, companies need to start employing people that care about the things they do.

The only way that Apple will do something about the iTunes issue is if one employee stands up and says “I’m going to fix this!” not because they’re told to but because they won’t sleep knowing it’s still a problem for users.

Organisations don’t have a sense of pride but individuals do and harnessing it is the key to making the world around us a less frustrating place to be.