How To Manage Perception Of Your Product In A World Where Algorithms Are Hated?
Courtesy: The Social Dilemma
I sat through multiple scenes of “The Social Dilemma” as the personified algorithms performed technological voodoo on a simple-minded boy to metamorphosize him into an extremist.
Horrified is not even close to representing the true emotion of the watcher.
But rarely is one point of view any complete or simple.
If you are on the user side of the table, it is easier to accept your reaction. The idea is more difficult to digest and be fine with if you work with Products.
If you are a Product Manager, or into Development, you are well aware of the fact that
Brilliant algorithms are nothing but mere clay in the hands of the master
Algorithms are not the new kid on the block.
But they are certainly getting more and more intelligent. Advances in AI have led to steroid-fueled algorithms.
In a situation where the advances pick up a sharper trajectory than the human minds can understand, and digest, some road bumps are certainly to be expected.
A big part of the problem can be solved by merely creating awareness. Awareness is known to deeply affect the fear one has towards the unknown.
A known devil is better than an unknown angel.
We all Hate Algorithms. Do we really?
The general word out in the market is that Alogirhtms are evil, manipulative, and intrusive! You are sitting, waiting in one of the uncomfortable cold chairs at the airport boarding gate waiting for your flight.
Your ears stood up when you heard your destination is announced.
While you were waiting for a boarding announcement, you were met with one broadcasting that your flight has been delayed.
You stare at the ground staff with all the anger you could muster. But then you hear them apologizing profusely and declaring that it was a management issue.
The next subject of your wrath was that person, you imagine sitting in a plush leather chair, giving orders to delay flights based on their whims and fancies.
We tend to hate the fictional character our minds make up if we have even an inkling that they had something to do with our problem.
We did not for a moment think that it could have been bad weather, or worse a flight accident.
You hated the boss because you did not know how the system worked.
You just bought a new bicycle with all the frills. The fancy bike shows you the real-time calories lost.
This weekend on the trip you noticed you lost 2000 calories. You were more than elated and announced it to the rest of the world.
Next time on the same route your friend wanted to experience your shiny new bike. Swapping bikes for a day hurt nobody.
Your friend’s bike, a good one but an older model, also shows the lost calories. But Hey! Only 1200?
You feel cheated. Was your new bike making up numbers? What was this sorcery?
Huffing and puffing you went back home that day and spent some hours online.
The new bike has inbuilt a new software that in addition to your RPM and heart rate, also considers the incline, nature of the terrain, your breathing pattern, in burnt calories computation.
Now you are more convinced that the number was no hokum.
We, humans, consider ourselves the most intelligent of the creatures. We do not like to feel cheated, which we often do. We do not like machines sneaking upon us, even if for our good. We like to know exactly what exists, and how it works before we are convinced it works.
Let’s talk Facebook, the antagonist of the Social Dilemma. And let’s think from an unbiased mind for a moment.
The advertisements shown on Facebook are relevant, and often useful.
I discover a lot of new brands and get to know what is new in the market. Some of the more local and small brands, which serve customers with very attractive items, would have never been otherwise discovered.
The shopper in me loves relevant advertisements!
But there are just too many of them. As per my experiments around 25–30% of the feed are ads.
A bit annoying, isn’t it? Just a bit.
One day, you decided to buy a coffee mug.
There it was, your old faithful — Google, as inviting as ever.
After a few minutes of exploration, you got bored and abandoned the search.
Next time, you opened Facebook, and voila! There they were. Coffee mugs, Tea sets, and whatnots in your feed.
But you never told Facebook!
You felt betrayed!
The lack of transparency makes Products lose their user's trust.
We can never restore the long lost faith? Can we?
Restoring faith, gaining trust is not a simple business.
But it’s not an impossible one.
Like any PR scandal, the strategy calls for a change in perception. So here is the three-pronged strategy of how Products can help users trust them.
Firstly, tell your users the algorithm exists.
Most Products today are powered by algorithms (AI or not). But the fact is not openly visible.
The feats in the world of User Experience in recent decades have certainly not been focused on solving this problem.
The obsession with simplifying things for the users has been mistaken as making the internal workings opaque to users.
Imagine your old neighbor who wants to book a cab to go to his friend’s place. He is App familiar, but not an expert. The price Uber quoted today is Rupees 689. But last week it was Rupees 200!
What is the first emotion that likely pops up in this person’s mind?
How does he know that the App is not spewing out random numbers?
The second step is telling users how the brain of your Product works.
Would your neighbor, we just talked about, feel better if we told him that the algorithm works per cab demand?
And that there is usually a ceiling value! So you aren’t getting just random numbers!
The article Your Products have a Personality talks about how to best expose to the users, how the brain of the Product works.
The third and probably the most important is maintaining transparency.
Transparency builds Trust
So, you are using your customer’s data. They already know that.
Being open and transparent about where you get the data and what you do with it would certainly gain you some brownie points.
The Technology world constantly gets rocked with news of behemoths like Google and Facebook facing Antitrust charges.
In justification, they often end up explaining how they acquire and handle user data. The attempt is to prove they are not using it with malicious intent.
If you are a Technologist, and you build Products, here are Key Takeaways for you:
- Your users love your brilliant outputs. It's the emotion of feeling manipulated and played that they hate.
- Designing a transparent ProductBrain- User Interface would go a long way in addressing the mistrust.
- If you make Products powered by complex algorithms that dynamically takes decisions, then find a way to - Let the user know it exists - Explain how it works (At least the key parts) -Maintain as much transparency as you can
And No, hiding away this information in your “Product Documentation” does not count.
Anything the user does not see on a regular user interface absolutely does not count.
When your Products are powered by complex logic, it’s always a good idea to get the logic validated by your users. For Product Managers, here is the how.
Industries, over the life span of humanity, have made mistakes. And they have had the time to realize it and remedy the situation.
The Tech world is still being led by the very same set of individuals who started the revolution
The young learn with time and patience.
This post was originally posted on Medium.