I’ll be the first to admit: I have no idea how we’re going to grow products in a “Time Well Spent” world. The landscape of viable startups will change drastically once we can’t rely on dark patterns and perverse interpretations of intent to fuel exponential growth.

I do like trying to imagine products as they might exist in that world, though.

I’m curious what a respectful social network (i.e., Facebook) might be. The possible features are endless. Imagine: (you’ll have to imagine it because my visual design skills are nil)

  • Before asking for permission for push notifications, the app asks you “how often would you like to receive updates?”, gives you real options, and respects your choices.
  • Maybe the app is honest about why it wants you to post during the new user flow: “If you create a post, you’re more likely to keep using this app.”
  • What about the “aha moment”, like the fabled “7 friends in 10 days to engage”? When you’re asked to add your contacts, maybe you’ll be told “Based on other users’ experience, you’ll be more likely to keep using this app if you add 7 friends.” I cringe at the earnestness of it, but right now I’d welcome it.
  • I even imagined letting the user see how the apps bucket the user by behavior. Am I considered an engaged user? Have I churned? Would you show me how you’re planning to re-engage me?

The time spent to build those flows would be wasted in today’s world. But I wonder whether being honest and respectful of the user might end up being its own virtuous loop. I also wonder if users would be more likely to pay for services in that world, knowing that they’re being treated decently and not farmed out for ad dollars.

I think there’s room for app developers to start building products with these sorts of ideas in mind (the Center for Humane Technology even has some guidelines), but they’ll struggle for air against products without scruples. I’d love to see a movement happen, even if it’s destined to play out like the Loudness Wars.