Skewing the Meaning of "Want"

Summary

A quick lesson in the importance of consistency of meaning in terms you use on your site. Doing things like this skews the meaning of those gestures by the user and therefore makes them (and to some degree, the site itself) less valuable.

Details

I heard an announcement on the gdgt podcast today (an old podcast, but I just heard it now, so no grief about “old news” please) about a promo they are running where users can try to win a blackberry phone from a pool of phones (two models) they are giving away.

It’s a fine enough idea for a contest, but the problem is that the way you enter the contest is to log on to the site (gdgt) and add one (or both) of the devices to your “want” list. I see this as a mistake, since (as a user) your lists of devices on that site (“Have”, “Want”, etc.) form the core part of what the site is about.

Having people indicate that they “want” one or both of these phones (in order to enter the contest to win them) seems like a major mistake, because lots of people will indicate that they “want” the phones even though it isn’t actually a true measure of whether they really “want” it, relative to the criteria they’re using for marking other things on the site as “wanted”. By doing this, it is (IMHO) polluting the meaning of a term that seems like it should be very important within their system.

The counter argument is that if you don’t really want it then don’t enter the contest, but that is a bit silly as well. There are wide variations of what want could mean; the important thing is to keep that meaning consistent (for a given user) for their use of the site. As an illustration, I don’t “want” either of those phones. I definitely wouldn’t plan to buy them now or in the future (one possible interpretation of “want”), and I don’t even think I’d pick them up if I had enough cash to make the cost irrelevant (another possible definition), although I would gladly accept one for free (the only definition that applies in the case of the contest).

What do you think?

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5 Responses to Skewing the Meaning of "Want"

  1. Dan says:

    Want is want.
    *want*ing the item for free is still the same as *want*ing another item. It’s just a matter or measure of how much you want something that you’re talking about and I don’t think sliding scales are relevant.

    I think it’s actually a great idea, especially for marketing douchebags to get a pulse of the promo and the advertiser ( gdgt in this case ) to get people to use the system instead of displaying an ad

    *They also mentioned you could add it then remove it, the flag is still sent that you entered.

  2. JB says:

    “Want” isn’t “want” in this case, and that’s the problem.

    The users who do this undoubtedly “want” these phones in a much different way than they “want” other things they’ve marked on the site, so it takes value away from those markings.

    Those gestures (or whatever you want to call them) are (or should be) incredibly valuable to gdgt; I’ve always thought the site is a genius move for them because of that. I think that value diminishes substantially when they encourage people to use these indicators in inconsistent ways.

    Of course (in the short term) the advertisers love it, and maybe gdgt does as well, but I think it’s a mistake in the long term because it makes the data less “real” and therefore less valuable.

    It will be interesting to see how many people do go back and remove it later, but that’s actually a perfect indication of the problem: it will be impossible to tell how many do that, because there is no distinction between people who really “want” it and people who were just entering the contest.

  3. Ryan Block says:

    I think you nailed one aspect of this — there are many interpretations of “want,” and I don’t think it’s fair for someone (gdgt included) to assume they might objectively codify the idea of wanting something for anyone else. Wanting something represents a highly subjective desire; someone might want something for any variety of reasons, including the desire to get something for free. I think this actually represents the opposite of an inconsistent use of “want” — a free device may give people a reason for wanting something they never considered wanting before. (Being free is a perfectly valid reason for wanting something — and there are surely many free things you wouldn’t want, like a 20 pound bag of beach sand.)

    Put this in the context of a very finite and valuable commodity, an affinity-based declarative is not only sensible, it’s actually far more fair than your average giveaway (which often times make you work a whole lot harder to prove you want something than simply clicking a “want” button). If you actually want a Bold — but can’t afford it, as is the case with an increasing number of people in these trying times — it’s pretty lame to think of it going to someone who couldn’t care less about winning it. The idea that someone would desire being gifted a scare commodity that they actually do not want about seems both selfish and wasteful, and I think it’s a good thing that maybe there are a few less of these people participating in our contests.

  4. JB says:

    I guess maybe I should use the site more to get a better feel for it, but it still seems to me that significant aspects of value associated with the “want” tags may get lost when there are promotions which encourage some users to indicate that they “want” things when they otherwise wouldn’t.

    I would never assume that gdgt should define what “want” means for a given person; my point is just that the consistency of the meaning for an individual user would (in most cases) naturally be maintained across the items that they personally mark as “wanted”, and just as importantly, those they don’t. Whatever “want” means to any given user, it would probably at least be consistently applied by that user, absent any forces that motivate them to change their definition of want for only a select few devices.

    There is a lot of potential value in these “wants”, for a lot of different people / groups (gdgt, its users, gadget companies, etc.), but as an example, here’s a simple use case focusing on the user community value of “want” which I think is diminished by this type of thing:

    Imagine I am in the market for a new phone. A site where a lots of geeks get together and share information about the phones they like, dislike, and “want” would seem to be a tremendously valuable source of information to me. If I were to compare which phones people “want” the most, and saw a huge spike in a couple phones relative to other similar devices, I would get a certain impression.

    This impression would of course be incorrect, because I’d have no way of knowing that a whole lot of users were motivated to indicate that they “wanted” these particular models (and not others). Even if I were aware of such contests, etc. (as I now am) how could I possibly weed out which devices have had their numbers skewed in this manner and which have not? Even if I did know that, I’d essentially be unable to usefully compare the want counts between other competing devices which have not been pushed in this way.

    Don’t get me wrong; I don’t intend for this to be a bash on the site or you guys specifically – I’m just saying that for me, I can’t see how this doesn’t kind of pollute that aspect of what makes the system great. I’m fully aware that you’ve spent a lot more time thinking about these details than I have (of course), so maybe I’m just missing something.

    BTW, I enjoy the podcast too; keep up the good work.

  5. nstryker says:

    maybe they should have a new category on the site called “gimme?” then next time they have a contest where they give away a pigeon carcass, you can add “pigeon carcass” to your gimme list and don’t have to worry about anyone thinking you actually want one.

    seriously, why would someone “want” to win a contest for something they don’t “want?” i’m not sure how ryan justifies this as more fair than any other entry form, because who would ever enter a contest they don’t want to win? maybe i’m a sucker for not taking everything i can get for free, but at least i’ll be a sucker that can say i’ve tried hard to not put myself ahead of others.

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