Sometimes You Have to Say No to Your Users

“The customer is not always right. The truth is you have to sort out who’s right and who’s wrong for your app,” advises 37signals in their book Getting Real. “If you try to please everyone, you won’t please anyone.” In order to create the software you want to create, you sometimes have to say no to your users.

Video hosting site Vimeo did just that yesterday. Lauded as one of the “classiest” video hosting sites on the web, Vimeo announced on its blog yesterday that it would no longer be accepting video game videos, including walk-thrus, strategy videos, game demos, etc. (Machinima-style videos are excluded) and will be deleting clips that fall into that category on September 1.

The post caused a mixed reaction on their site, but a large number of the nearly six hundred comments expressed disappointment with the decision. Vimeo cited three reasons for the decision to nix game videos. First, they’re generally larger and cause longer transcoder wait times for other users (the single biggest reason for slow transcoding times, says Vimeo, has been game videos). Second, they open the site up to potential liability issues that they’re rather not deal with. And finally, they don’t match the mission statement of the site. “Vimeo was created with the intent of inspiring creativity and providing a place to share video with friends and family,” writes Vimeo. “The Vimeo staff does not feel that videos which are direct captures of video game play truly constitute ‘creative expression.'”

A comparison of video sites by Webware in February found that Vimeo had one of the slowest transcoding times on the web. It also has some of the best quality, which may cause slower transcoding, but slow transcoding wait times have obviously been an issue.

However, clearly, the main issue here was about the site’s focus — it seems obvious that Vimeo just doesn’t want to become known as a game video host. “We feel this decision will benefit Vimeo in the long run and better benefit the video makers it was created for,” said Blake Whitman of Vimeo. “Our resources are limited and they must be channeled towards maintaining our goals.”

At a conference I attended last fall, Jason Fried of 37signals advanced the idea that software development needs a leader willing to say “no.” Vimeo is following Fried’s theory of “opinionated software:” Figure out your vision and run with it — don’t always let your customers define your application. If some of your users want to take your app in a different direction, you don’t have to let them. Just tell them “no.” (Note: I argued an alternate view on ReadWriteWeb in February.)