How to be a better (beta) user

The new Lore

I was one of the early users of Lore. 

It was nearly a year ago when Boston University student Maurice Rahmey, hearing that I planned to teach a course at BU, implored me to use the new social teaching and learning platform then called Coursekit.

It didn’t take long to get dependent on the service. Lore let me post my syllabus, organize the semester’s calendar, enter assignments, add links and resources and post grades, which were automatically dispatched to students.

But Lore’s real value was it’s social quality. It took learning — in the form of discussion, debate, and discovery – beyond the walls of the classroom to a Facebook like stream where students and teacher could share blog posts, creative ideas, videos, images and commentary.  It made teaching and learning interactive and collaborative.

No surprise I quickly became dependent on the service.

Then last Monday, Lore introduced a slick new upgrade to its site. Now you could invite auditors to your classes, integrate your calendar and stream, and present a more marketable profile (good for students, especially).

All great features. Except for one problem. They didn’t work. At least not for me. And since Lore hadn’t let me know the changes were coming, or what to expect, I wasn’t prepared for being down an entire day.

WTF I am pissed

Many of us tend to get pissed the moment Facebook changes something, or Twitter adds promoted tweets, or Instagram sells itself, or Lore doesn’t work. Count me among them. But are we entitled to get that upset? We receive these services for free and enjoy a multitude of benefits from using them.

(Wait a minute, you say. Lore is leveraging you and thousands of other teachers to attract students to the site. All of who will reveal information about their majors, their interests, their career aspirations, etc. In an age when the interest graph is rapidly offering brands and advertisers a more efficient way to market, a platform that has thousands and maybe millions of students along with all the data they’ll provide becomes pretty valuable. Maybe we’re doing them the favor and they do owe us.)

True. But in so many cases, Lore in particular, what users are getting is more than a fair return. Our lives are easier. Our content is better organized. We have digital tools that enhance both teaching and learning. Maybe we should not feel so entitled.

Patience is a good thing

For the first six months of this year I worked with Springpad as its interim CMO.  So I witnessed first hand the time, effort and diligence a small team puts into launching a new upgrade – testing, debugging, then going into crisis support mode when something neglects to work as it should.

I took a breath. I imagined the 15 or so people at Lore in a heightened sense of urgency when they realized that everything didn’t perform perfectly, that users were locked out, that the system couldn’t withstand the increase in traffic.

Instead of dashing off the angry email or tweeting about how screwed up things were, I informed them of what wasn’t working, what it looked like on my screen, and asked for an update. Having to wait a few hours, or even a day, was in the bigger scheme of things a small price to pay for having such a powerful platform.

OK, maybe I did issue one unhappy tweet.

But the less reactive approach elicited a much better response.

Personal attention goes a long way

To Lore’s credit, their CEO Joseph Cohen responded almost immediately. And his staff kept me updated constantly. I knew what they were working on, had assurance that my content was intact, and had the clear sense they were aware of my status. All of which made it OK that the service was down even if I’d lost access on a day I really needed it.

More importantly, the impression made by Lore and its team– that they genuinely cared, that they appreciated users’ needs, that they understood the inconvenience imposed – made me, and I’m sure others, even more loyal users and advocates.

Users have a responsibility, too

The start-up phase for any new platform is trying. No matter how much load testing gets done or internal rigor is applied it’s inevitable that developers need users in real world situations to tell them if something does or doesn’t work. Or how to make it better. Or to offer suggestions they hadn’t thought of. So perhaps it’s not enough just to be users. Perhaps with the privilege of getting that invite early and to having a first crack at a new service comes the responsibility to help make it better.

With ideas, reactions, suggestions. Maybe even an occasional thank you.

So Lore, and all the folks there inventing the future of education, thank you.