Some small things that bother me about the word product. Mostly stuff I've already said on Twitter rearranged into sentences.
Product doesn't really mean anything
Or its meaning is slippery. It certainly doesn't seem to mean what my dictionary says it does:
- an article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale: dairy products.
- a thing or person that is the result of an action or process: her perpetual suntan was the product of a solarium.
I guess digital services are things resulting from actions and processes but then so is everything and anything else.
Because product doesn't mean anything when it's combined with other words that don't mean anything it makes meaningless sentences
Like "Minimum Viable Product". A good deal of the conversation around "product development" is an attempt to define an MVP but no-one can ever agree on that definition. If you substitute viable for useful and product for service it's still not immediately apparent but at least it's a starting point for a conversation. Useful for what? To whom? Useful enough? Useful enough for people to pay for it? Useful for enough people for enough people to pay for it? What problem does it solve? Who has that problem?
Because product doesn't mean anything people bring their own meanings to it
Some people seem to define it as a managed development process. And lots of the talk around "products" seems to be more about process than product. About cross-discipline teams and co-location. Which is equally applicable to building anything.
Some people seem to think it's about building things that people want rather than just chucking up some web pages. Something about product life-cycles and future development based on interpretation of analytics. Which is all equally (and probably more) applicable to service design. Did we ever just make something and stick it live and forget about it? I can think of a few examples where this was true but not much I've ever worked on.
And some people think it's about building something marketable; something that can be summed up in a one liner on the side of a bus. If you can't explain to the people your service is designed to help how it might help them there's probably not much point making it.
All the 'products' our industry makes get marketed as services
Services to help you pay bills or fill in tax returns or contact your MP or listen to music or radio or watch television or films or share photos or videos or find places. Why describe them between ourselves as products when we describe them to users / customers as services?
It at least implies branded, bounded boxes
Product management in a software sense has been around at least since Microsoft were still shipping software as shrink-wrapped packages. Back then the product word probably made sense but now...
Everything that used to a product is becoming a service
Software, music, books, films, games, maps, newspapers, even bathroom scales and maybe one day the beloved internet fridge. As everything that can be connected is connected, the lines between tangible products and intangible services are blurring. But it's more about products becoming more service-like (less hard edged, more malleable, more adaptive to use) than services becoming more product-like.
Services outlive products
Lots of services manifest themselves through a product but when your iPhone 9 is making it's final journey to the landfill site chances are something very like the iTunes store or Amazon's Whispersync will still be around.
No-one I know makes products
From a rough list of friends and acquaintances there's some teachers, a lawyer, a nurse, a doctor, a postman, someone who does "cloud provisioning" of some sort, some people who make it easier to listen to radio and watch TV, some people who make it easy to find and read news, some people who make legislation and case law available to lawyers, some people who make it easier to book travel, someone who provides wire feeds to news organisations etc. All of them provide services, not one of them makes products. Occasionally the service is manifested as something product-like but more as a token (like a postage stamp or an Oyster card) for service. The value (and the surplus value of labour) is always in the service. You don't buy a loaf of bread, you buy the convenience of not having to bake.
Service just sounds nicer
Services are helpful. They adapt as you use them. They're things that people need (in a large or small sense); things which make their lives easier. Products are things that people can be persuaded they want or desire.
Maybe I'm just out of date and not following the change of language but to my ears products are still tangible and the things our industry makes are largely intangible. And we have a perfectly good word for that.