Listening, Responding, Refining

(This post about creating passionate users is dedicated to Kathy Sierra.)

I think this new initiative is an interesting success on Dell’s part. Dell will embiggen their support for Linux by offering Linux distributions on some of their desktop and laptop machines. (What, you’ve never heard of “embiggen”? It’s a perfectly cromulent word.):

Dell to Expand Linux Factory Installed Options
Since launching Dell IdeaStorm a little more than a month ago, one idea has risen to and stayed at the top: better support for Linux. We have heard you and appreciate the direct feedback. On March 13, we responded by launching a Linux survey asking for your feedback on what you need for a better Linux experience. …

Dell has heard you and we will expand our Linux support beyond our existing servers and Precision workstation line.

Cross your fingers for Ubuntu, baby! More important than the specific Linux distribution, Dell is also beefing up their support for Linux by working to ensure that all their hardware can be supported by Linux drivers.

In this tale, there’s a virtuous cycle:
- Creating a way to get feedback; some way to listen to the community
- Responding to that feedback to let users know that you’re listening
- Refining a company’s practices by acting on that feedback
- Result: the web community responds to those refinements with love, which leads to more feedback

In this particular case, Dell had some bloggy tools to help them. Dell IdeaStorm provided a way for people to give feedback and that other people could vote ideas up or down. Dell put in process a place to respond to that feedback, and then used the Dell blog to communicate the changes they made. I give Dell an A+ on this change.

But you don’t need blogs or digg-like sites in this picture to respond to feedback; those are just tools. The important thing is the process. It’s a process that many groups at Google use, and that (frankly) every team at Google should consider using. I’m not advocating that you set every goal by what the outside world wants. If you do that, you’ll miss some thunderbolt-from-above ideas that only an internal team can suggest. But for many products, paying attention to what your users are saying can really provide great feedback and ideas for how to improve, and that in turn leads to “love” and even more future feedback. In this case, I think Dell did well.

40 Responses to Listening, Responding, Refining (Leave a comment)

  1. supcercalifragilisticexpialidocious! I love linux..

    But I heard it has some negative impact upon the service agreement / warranty – Can’t quite remember where I read that – sorry.. I’ll try searching down the reference today.

    Also, it’ll be interesting to know whether Dell’s bought with Linux loaded are correspondingly cheaper – now that would have all sorts of interesting side effects –

    a) It would give Dell a huge competitive advantage, which would force others to follow.
    b) It would strip Microsoft of one of its major sources of licence income (pre-installed OEM)..
    c) It would lead to increased demand for pirated versions of MS OS’s.
    d) It would really kck up the MS / Linux war quite ferociously.

    I’d really like to see the fight!

    Matt – (Off topic) extremely interesting article softplus put us all onto – http://ha.ckers.org/deathby1000cutts/ thought u might like to read.

    M

  2. Oh.. and by the way – if Google’s allowed to invent nonsense words and enter them into the world lecixon as a verb, I’m sure Dell can invent their own too :)

    Speaking of which, have you seen the word of the day from ‘the urban dictionary?’ http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=march+sadness&defid=2329631

    M

  3. Oh.. and by the way – if Google is allowed to invent a nonsense word and enter it into the world lecixon as a verb, I’m sure Dell can invent their own too :)

    Speaking of which, have you seen the word of the day from ‘the urban dictionary?’ http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=march+sadness&defid=2329631

    M

  4. The real problem with Linux is that one driver doesn’t fit all flavors. I have a system at home that won’t run Ubuntu because of the RAID card I use. It’s fine under any RH variant and works under any of the others I’ve tried with minimal tweaking of the setup procedure (darn Debian anyway), but Ubuntu won’t run live CD or otherwise due to the Adaptec card. I guess that’s not a big enough name.

    Where I feel Dell will struggle is with all of the add-on boards that they offer and all the flavors of Linux, then trying to make things easy to pick the correct hardware for the distribution.

  5. Once the public starts using linux as a preferred OS Google will then present it’s fast and light linux distro that runs on small handheld devices…
    ;)

  6. Hmm Brian – I think you’ll find that Ubuntu will be bending over backwards making sure any hardware incompatibility problems are ironed out for Dell, as I’m sure Microsoft does at the moment.

    Now that I’m back from my morning walk, I’ve thought a bit more about this…

    It could be an extremely clever strategy from Dell’s perspective.

    I mean, Dell has to be up there amongst the largest computer manufacturers on the planet right?

    If MS doesn’t realise my points about (re: market share, increased piracy etc) I’ll eat my hat.

    If I were a large monopoly with an equally large war chest, I know what I’d do. I’d say MS will come back to Dell with a greatly more attractive (but highly secret) deal to help Dell ‘change its mind’ – that might take a few possible forms -

    1. Offer Dell MS OS’s for free (or essentially through a rebate system)
    2. Offer to PAY DELL to install its OS.
    3. Provide some other financial incentive to Dell that isn’t such obvious anti-competitive behaviour but achieves the same thing.

    As I said, this could be read as a highly tactical move by Dell – and it is a brilliant one. However it pans out, they will gain a bigger market share and reduced cost of production.

    Who would like to bet that Dell gives up on this experiment pretty quickly – I know I won’t be suprised if embetterness is quickly replaced by embitteredness on Ubuntu’s part.

    Cheers,

    M

  7. dabo

    Matt – I admire the fact that you not only discuss your topic-du-jour, but you also try to educate people by throwing little off-topic tidbits. In this case, “cromulent” and “embiggen” are great examples. Not being a Simpson’s watcher, I didn’t know about these. There’s just too many bloggers out there who don’t use proper grammar, not to mention misspell every other word. Yes, I’m one of those who demands proper spelling and correct use of the language, or I’m gone. Which is why I keep coming back to your posts.

    Thanks, and keep on yoinking!

  8. I have never quite understood the major vendors’ fear of installing/supporting linux — I worked for years in a number of different whitebox/OEM computer manufacturers and we would always accomadate _any_ requests that led to sales — support any OS you wanted, or do whatever was wanted.

    I think Dell should make Linux an option on _every_ PC sold, or at least as many as possible, including desktops and laptops.

  9. Love the Simpson’s quote, nice.

  10. Harith

    Matt

    “The important thing is the process. It’s a process that many groups at Google use, and that (frankly) every team at Google should consider using.”

    At present, WebSpam Team and Sitemaps team are following “the process” successfuly, IMO.

    Maybe we need to mention the process to Google Crawl/Index team as well :)

  11. I still think a very large number of people just want a Dell to come preinstalled w/ linux as a cheaper option so they can save a few dollars on the “MS Tax” and then put a stolen copy of windows on the machine. Then again, i am a pessimist.

  12. Nice to read a positive example of a big company that doing something well – it’s a refreshing change of pace from all of the articles that trash big biz these days.
    I agree that listening to customers is a critical part of directing a company. To supplement your mention of a ‘thunderbolt from above,’ I’d add Oren Harachi’s idea that companies should lead their customers to places they didn’t think possible.
    Thoughtful leadership can only happen when you understand customers’ needs. Your thoughts are timely and appreciated.

  13. I agree the import factor is the process – actually listening to what customers want and responding (they say they will offer to let you avoid all the extra software they normally install). I blogged more on Dell’s efforts with this in Feb – http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2007/02/25/dell-innovation/

    I also agree you don’t just do what the customer wants. Customer focus is an important strategy but innovation often is not customer driven.

  14. dockarl, I saw that. Of course, that’s not my Myspace page as lots of SEOs know, so I wasn’t born in the 60s as the post says. :) Some other things were wrong too, but it’s not my job to correct them.

    March Sadness is awesome! I made that up, but figured someone else had done that too, not unlike Danny Sullivan and his “Google doppelganger = Googleganger” rant on the SearchCast.

    dabo, I used that word 1.5 years ago or so, so I figured someone would call me for repeating. Glad you liked the word! :)

  15. Since this is tangentally related, I figure I’d post it here.

    http://services.google.com/ads_inquiry/adsense_referrals

    There’s a minor typo on this page (it says “Propety Info”). It’s not a big deal to me personally, but it might cost a potential signup here and there. (By the way, if anyone signs up and notes that this was fixed, I want royalties. ;) )

  16. The important thing is the process. It’s a process that many groups at Google use, and that (frankly) every team at Google should consider using. I’m not advocating that you set every goal by what the outside world wants. If you do that, you’ll miss some thunderbolt-from-above ideas that only an internal team can suggest. But for many products, paying attention to what your users are saying can really provide great feedback and ideas for how to improve, and that in turn leads to “love” and even more future feedback

    This is nothing personal
    ……however, over the past couple of years, this is what SearchEnginesWeb has been stresses on this blog – by replying with passionate, frank criticisms to policies and perceptions.

    How many times did critical replies ‘disappear’ ,…while others who flourished every post with praise or posted meaningless replies were allowed to remain? :-?

    The point is that reflecting what others are feeling and did not have the nerve to write – is in fact HELPING the company and should not be taken as a personal attack.

    Surely, Google Engineers read popular SEO forums, there was nothing any worse here than what was on any of them :-|

    The real sadness is that many posts and ideas are now permanently deleted – and what benefit did that ultimately bring Google????? :-o

  17. Everyone loves Ubuntu!

    It’d be great if they installed Ubuntu on it!

  18. Harith

    Matt

    Off-topic, sorry.

    Is it true that Emmy and Ozzie are not welcome at Googleplex while they are allowing dogs, snakes and maybe rats to spam the plex? why are they discriminating cats ;-)

  19. Séan

    Does ‘March Madness’ refer to American Football or Baseball or something like that?

    Matt, Do you have any comment on the (well written) article at ha.ckers.org.

    Oh – and what on earth is happening with Kathy Sierra… Some people need to get a life and stop messing with other people’s lives.

  20. Hampstead

    When it comes to made up words canonicalization should get a prize.

  21. It’s good to see that big and mighty Dell is actually listening to what the customers want for a change, however I can’t wait to see them try get around some of the problems linux has with hardware. I’ve got agree with the comments above about Ubuntu bending over backwards to meet any of Dell’s demands – they CANT afford to miss this opportunity to grab more marketshare

  22. Harith,

    Because the dogs and rats were there first and snakes can defend themselves.

    Apart from the fact they are scary creatures (sorry Matt) that leaves the cats in the middle of the food chain. :)

    M

  23. Pity they didn’t take soundings before introducing those useless express card slots inplace of pcmia cards though. (hint when CISCO ship a express card NIC is the time to switch not before)

    Not sure its going to be a winner installing ubuntu sure a lot of PFY’s say they want it but will they actualy cough up esp as dell wont be able to layoff some of the cost of the pc by installing demo software packages.

    also such systems are open to gameing (i take it you read annalee’s article in wired about gaming digg)

  24. rite

    “Result: the web community responds to those refinements with love, which leads to more feedback”

    I am asking myself how a globally acting service like Google’s (or any other large scale company) could react on such increase of incoming feedback? That’s the domain of small and (maybe) medium enterprises (SME). After all, it would be a question of man power, because “Responding to that feedback to let users know that you’re listening” will not work out by sending an automated response like “Thank u for your feedback”. If you serve billions of users, doesn’t that automatically mean that you just cannot personally react to their inputs, or am I getting something wrong here?

    To give u an example related to Google (which also slightly abuses this thread for another purpose, 4give me …): Just recently a client of mine complained to be very prominently ranked under a wrong keyword (first time indeed that anyone complained to me to be ranked too high). They are a firm of patent attorneys, but when you search for a “notary [$city]” in their town, they appear second in that section on top with those “local results close to [$city]” (it’s a German site, I don’t know the expression used in the English version). Result: Their firm is regularly called by people looking for a notary. But this term is not even once mentioned on their site. How did they end up there? Must be kind of a lack on Google’s side to distinguish a “lawyer” or “attorney” from a “notary”, I assume?

    Now, I had a problem: What should I do to help them? I filed a spam report, describing the problem. Of course, you don’t get a response on that. At times of the famous “Jagger” update, I observed reactions in the rankings within days and I was stunned, mentioned it here. But that was an exception. I don’t even wanna guess how many spam reports there are daily coming down on Google. Now, this post, for being placed here at a place which only a tiny share of Google users may even know, may theoretically have a chance to be heard (that’s why I asked to be forgiven for abusing the thread).

    But: I frankly think it is impossible for “multinationals” to react on individual requests to optimize a service or product, and I guess this is especially true in branches like search services (where there is a gazillion of instances in which your service is used) or even building computer hardware (where the product cycles are simply too fast to react on user feedback). So, on my opinion, close customer relation will remain a niche for SMEs. Unless someone proves the opposite …

    A remark concerning Kathy Sierra: Tuff stuff which she has been confronted with, sad about that. Such developments go along with virtually everybody having more or less anonymous access to the net. It must be about five years ago when I first saw death threats posted in German newsgroups. I fear that the ever growing bandwith of communicational means may continue to unveil particularly some formerly not that conscious (and vicious) streams. Just look at the history of Hollywood through 50 years: Is it possible at all to invent another way of extinguishing life, which they havn’t shown already? Did they show such things 50 yrs ago? What Hollywood shows to the people makes up their minds, I fear. Or, with the musician Peter Gabriel: “Nowadays you are what you watch”.

    Sorry if this was too long.

  25. Harith

    dockarl

    “Because the dogs and rats were there first and snakes can defend themselves.”

    Of course Emmy and Ozzie can defend themselves. In fact Emmy and Ozzie have been defending The Cutts house too for the last two years.

    And though Matt will never admit, its SEO-Emmy who has been writing the algos of the latest 4 Data Pushes. While Ozzie is a spcialist in writing the anti-duplicates filters. Ask Adam Lasnik.. he knows all about it :)

    So…

    Cats Must Be Allowed in Googleplex, or else :)

  26. Linux are offering their software for free now, so I think Windows are going to feel the pinch soon.

  27. Rite –

    That’s not a problem it’s a free kick.

    Come across to the Google Webmaster Forums for some advice, or come to my site and use the contact form.

    Doc

  28. Does ‘March Madness’ refer to American Football or Baseball or something like that?

    NCAA basketball, Sean. To be more precise, a 64 (65?) team single-elimination tournament to determine the US national college basketball champions for the season.

  29. Ian

    But I heard it has some negative impact upon the service agreement / warranty

    Eh? Even installing it yourself, it would have no impact on the hardware warranty (any software warranty they provide wouldn’t apply if the software isn’t there). If they provide it themselves, then it’s as if you’re buying a Windows/other as far as warranties go.

    I think you’ve been a victim of Microsoft-originated FUD.

  30. Dave (Original)

    RE: “Responding to that feedback to let users know that you’re listening”
    ==========================================

    Matt, that is one thing Google spam reports lack IMO. Knowing you are being heard is THE single most important thing in any communication.

  31. Dave (Original)

    BTW, Matt. I fully understand the volume of spam reports would be HUGE! I don’t know if the spam reports are *relatively* increasing or decreasing. However, Google has always had a “healthy disregard for the impossible” and spam could be Google’s achilles heel.

  32. Séan

    um – not that this is a forum or anything – but

    Harith – Dockarl: Have either of you read the short story by Neil Gaiman where a family take on a stray cat and it ends up saving them from the devil… Well – if not, you shoul. It is in “Smoke and Mirrors”.

    Oh – and thanks Adam of Many Words.

  33. Ah… now I understand why the urban dictionary failed to index my new word ‘funfugly’, describing your blog, Matt – they respect the Google Gods :) ..

    You want proof? Todays urban dictionary word of the day? Just arrived in my inbox – ‘embiggen’.

    Coincedence? I think not :)

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Embiggen&defid=125407

    Doc

  34. “The noblest spirit embiggens us all” – Genius.

    Matt, can you start adding a “Simpsons Reference” tag to all your relevant posts? I like to read them all in a row, to give them the respect they deserve!

    Henry

  35. Multi-Worded Adam, thanks for mentioning that.

    Search EnginesWeb, it usually depends on how many bold and italics you put in a comment. Minimizing that would maximize your odds of not having a comment deleted. Also, complete/coherent sentences help. :)

    Henry Elliss, I’m going to yoink that idea! ;)

  36. Harith

    Matt

    Any chance of an Easter Grabbag?

    Ready when you are ready :)

  37. Jon Dale

    Hello, Matt…

    Do you have any idea when you will be able to get back to: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/infrastructure-status-january-2007 ?

    It seems that your last post there was three months ago and quite a lot of queries have piled up in your absence.

  38. I own 3 Dells. I bought my first Dell 2 1/2 years ago. It is now a server running Linux. I bought a Dell 7 months ago that came with XP. There was no Linux option at that time. I recently put Linux on it. It was a nightmare. I could not find a distro that had the right NIC driver and video driver. Finally I was able to get Fedora Core 6 to install.

    With a factory install these problems will not occur. A nice apt-get type of distro would be nice.

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