TITLE: Quality is Only One Good AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 23, 2006 4:23 PM DESC: ----- BODY: It seems that folks have been discussing a flap between Google and Yahoo about choice in the search engine market. "Choice" has become a loaded term in several political contexts over the last couple of decades, and I suppose that this context is political in its own way. I don't have much to say today about the Google, Yahoo, Microsoft situation, but something Jeremy Zawodny said recently struck a chord:
First off, I agree that companies should compete based on quality. But Microsoft and McDonald's are both shining examples of how that's not necessarily the way it works when "the market" is involved in the decision making. Price and convenience tend to trump quality.
Far be it from me to defend Microsoft and McDonald's, neither of whose products I use with any frequency. But... it seems Jeremy is saying that companies compete based only on quality, whereas the market introduces unfortunate forces such as price and convenience into the mix. Why should companies compete based only on quality? Quality is only one good. Other features have value, too. I don't think the market introduces issues such as price and convenience into the equation so much as expose what people really value. I think that I value quality, but I also value other things in this world. In particular, I am often a price-sensitive consumer. With two daughters to raise, I sometimes have to make choices based on both quality and price, if I want to save money for other purchases I want to make. In the search arena, if Yahoo! or some other company creates the absolute best, highest-quality search engine, but it costs a pretty penny, I may choose a "lower-quality" provider simply to conserve my scarce resources for something else that I value. And I may not suffer at all for my choice; good enough is often good enough. We face this kind of choice in software development, of course, and folks like Richard Gabriel have written about the phenomenon's effect in the software world. Agile methodologies encourage us not to build the Perfect Solution if we aren't gonna need it. I suppose that the choice between "do the right thing" and "do the simplest thing" is still an open question in the software world, with many folks not enamored with the agile approach to things, but I think in the long run "do the simplest thing" will win out -- and produce both the most software and the best software. This is all basic economics: we have to make choices in a world of scarce resources and conflicting values. As something of a disclaimer, while I can pinch pennies with the best of them, I'm not a "least common denominator" kind of guy. I don't eat a lot of fast food, at McDonald's or elsewhere, because I value some things more than the convenience and immediate price savings over some of the alternatives. I'm writing this blog entry on a computer made by a company that has built its reputation on the idea that it makes better products. Users of these products seem prouder than most to be using the better tools. And those of us who use these products pay a small premium to do so. When I buy a new computer, I take quality and price into account, along with a whole host of other factors, including convenience and the intangibles of my experience using the product. I value quality, but I value many other things, too. (Oh, and if Jeremy didn't mean what I thought he meant, I apologize for dragging him into this. His blog entry was simply the trigger for this piece. For more on triggers in writing, start with this piece by Richard Gabriel. I also recommend the Hugo book that Richard cites.) -----