April 23

What Happens When Products Work Well and Cause Harm?

Earlier this week, we had a great Virtual edition of INDUSTRY: The Product Conference. There were 17 keynotes (along with many other discussions and fireside chats). But several of the keynotes are still on my mind. One of them is Teresa Torres’s talk, which explored how product teams can evaluate the impact of their product decisions on just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive outcomes. It was a talk that would benefit any product team, for sure.

It reminded me of a different topic, but along similar lines — how there are certain products that work really well as designed — but actually have the potential of causing harm to people. I asked a question about that a few weeks ago on LinkedIn — and I got some really interesting responses.

The one response, in particular, that especially rings true for me personally is social media. I’ll admit that in the past year, I’ve gone through bouts of deleting apps, re-installing them, and following that cycle over and over again. It’s not because the apps are bad. They all work really well. In fact, they work too well. The way that most of these algorithms work is that they deliver content to us that they believe we want to see. The more relevant the content is to us, the more likely we’ll want to consume it and engage with it — and the more we’ll use the app. It makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

But sometimes, that level of personalization can be dangerous. New York Times columnist, Kevin Roose, details just how dangerous certain platforms can be in his podcast series, Rabbit Hole. After listening to it, it’s a lot less surprising how someone who typically wouldn’t be seen as a stereotypical “conspiracy theorist” can start with a simple curiosity, yet get sucked right into… well… the rabbit hole.

So what rings true for you? What products are designed so well — but maybe a little too well… that they might actually cause some harm?

Text me at 216-532-5818 and let me know. From time to time, I’ll be texting small-bite thoughts on product as well, and you can get those if you send me a text.

Mike Belsito

About the author

Mike Belsito is a startup product and business developer who loves creating something from nothing. Mike is the Co-Founder of Product Collective which organizes INDUSTRY, one of the largest product management summits anywhere in the world. For his leadership at Product Collective, Mike was named one of the Top 40 influencers in the field of Product Management. Mike also serves as a Faculty member of Case Western Reserve University in the department of Design and Innovation, and is Co-Host of one of the top startup podcasts online, Rocketship.FM. Prior to Product Collective, Mike spent the past 12 years in startup companies as an early employee, Co-Founder, and Executive. Mike's businesses and products have been featured in national media outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, NPR, and elsewhere. Mike is also the Author of Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of us, one of the top startup books on Amazon.


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