The Unbearable Narcissism of Mobile Users

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the need for judicious consideration of whether to embark on an app-building journey or build a mobile-friendly website. A couple of days later, Buzz Andersen at Tumblr said something in an interview that rings true for most of us not profoundly drunk on the Kool Aid of the so-called app economy:

Really since the introduction of the iPhone, but particularly after the advent iPad, this concept of “apps as content” has gained a lot of currency, and now every media company in the world feels compelled to be in the business of developing native software as a distribution channel. Despite the press’s tendency to portray this trend as futuristic, I actually think of it as a bit retrograde—particularly since we’ve actually been evolving an incredibly sophisticated medium for content presentation and distribution for over 15 years now: the web.

Buzz Andersen, Director of Mobile Development at Tumblr

Good lord, is “retrograde” ever the right word. “Apps as content” are the modern equivalent of Compuserve, Prodigy, eWorld, and AOL, except that, whereas those services provided connectivity as well as content, today’s mobile app equivalents offer little more than a pretty cage in which to consume (and sometimes create) relatively narrowly defined content. Magazines as stand-alone apps? Single source news apps? Don’t get me wrong – the NYT iOS app is pretty nifty, but its existence presumes a manner of news consumption that fails to recognize – let alone leverage – the countless benefits of the open web.

Producing mobile apps for mobile apps’ sake is neither content strategy nor marketing goal. Content creators and producers looking to add value need to ask themselves – to know if the value is real – who benefits from their work. If it doesn’t benefit the user first, it can’t go beyond that to benefit the producers, creators, advertisers, or other stakeholders in the endeavor’s success. Most users aren’t interested in your digital marketing goals. They’re interested in their needs and wants. They’re interested in improving their own situations and experiences. Users! They’re all about themselves, the narcissists!

Thing is, to matter to them, you have to be all about them too.