As featured in The Economic Times - Sunday - 2nd December 2012:
What Politicians can learn from Apps.
Think of Obama and Romney as ‘apps’. Clearly, Obama was ‘downloaded’ (à la voted) many more times than Romney. When the final downloads were totalled, Obama came up on top and Romney was second.
As a guy who makes mobile games for a living, I see a spectacular co-relation between Apps and Politicians. Read onto enjoy my bizarre thesis and learn a thing or two about apps!!
The least corrupt
The least corrupt countries in the world are called iTunes and Android. Why do I say that? It’s based on the way they function and how they allow their citizens called apps to live and thrive! Genuine citizens - aka mobile apps go about their business (of getting discovered and downloaded) without intervention, rules, regulations, conditions and favours. For example, think of the game Angry Birds. Even if you haven’t played it, I bet someone close to you has.
Now consider how Angry Birds got downloaded. Angry Birds did not bribe iTunes or Android for ‘permissions’ and ‘contracts’ to do business and become popular and profitable! Angry Birds did not ‘acquire licenses’ at throwaway prices. Because to operate as an app in the app world, you don't need a license! All Angry Birds did was to adhere to a standard code of conduct and dedicated themselves to being creative and innovative!
The lesson politicians can learn from this is that self-regulating, non-intrusive and massively scalable economies such as iTunes and Android can exist and thrive. By killing rules, regulations, licenses and permissions, model citizens can truly focus on ‘inventing’ things, rather than on ‘navigating’ the sticky cow webs of politics.
Everybody is equal
There are no ‘reservation’ quotas on app stores. You may be the son of Darth Vader or the illegitimate child of a politician of Uttar Pradesh or a farmer from Bihar... When you ‘submit’ yourself on the app stores you are treated at par with everyone else.
No app gets ‘preferential’ treatment. No officer from Apple calls the manager of iTunes “to move the file quickly”. Sure, if Angry Birds submits new apps, they do get noticed faster. But that's like Viswanathan Anand asking for an urgent passport renewal so that he can go and thrash the Russians all over again! I doubt any Indian would grudge him for that.
Politicians can get things done and that power is granted to them to be used for mass benefit – not for ‘singular use’! What politicians can learn from Angry Birds is that 1 billion people have downloaded the game (almost the population of India), without ‘special status’ or ‘being the son-in-law of someone’. When good things are exposed, magic happens. In the same way, politicians must understand that the ordinary can become extraordinary, on its own merit!
Remember ‘good ol’ reputation’?
One of the founders of a recently successful app (Clash of Clans) said that, “people find out about great games, themselves”. He said this naturally and it almost sounded clichéd!
What he was touching upon was the concept of ‘good old reputation’. In the days before the Internet, when you wanted to buy products, you had to rely less on what your neighbours said and a lot more on marketing. That was because there was no way of finding out if the gramophone record player you were thinking of buying was good or bad! How could you have found out?
The Internet changed everything! Now, we don't care what ads tell us (assuming that some people still watch them). Instead we go to the Internet and swim in ‘user feedback’ to make our choices.
Any politician reading this article and dismissing this as, “Ha Ha – how ridiculous to compare me with an App...” is as fuddy-duddy as the rotating Doordarshan icon that used to traumatise me back in the days of black & white TV!
As we speak, like good apps, politicians are going to be discovered by voters, for voters and from voters. Consumers will fluidly share their experiences with the politicians they voted for and what they got in return. Poor, shoddy work will be punished with voter rejection and great work rewarded with re-election!
The astute politician of tomorrow should read this and say, “I think people will vote for me because they will find out about me, themselves”, and work hard to build a solid reputation that will surface on its own, like the morning sun.
Money can’t buy you downloads. Really!
The shocker in the Obama–Romney battle was that Romney spent way more on campaigning against Obama and still managed to lose! Clearly, money did not buy him votes.
The interesting similarity is that on the mobile stores also, beyond a certain point, money does not get you downloads to make you #1! The reason is very simple. People don’t believe in advertising anymore. They believe in seeing, experiencing and buying. That is why the most successful apps have spent minuscule money on advertising and all their money on bettering their product!
Imagine if politicians spent all their campaign money on real work, welfare and for community work ... what would be the resulting benefit, as compared to wasting money on massive advertising and communication on all kinds of media?
The world is quickly moving away from false promises to real ones. In Europe, a Merkel still remains headmistress, because she delivers - not because she advertises herself better.
Politicians must pick up this new consumer sentiment, proving themselves quickly to be adopted, rather than selling themselves. And yes, MasterCard would also benefit by saying that it does not help politicians.
Self-Glorification is ugly
Often when I drive around Mumbai, I see posters of sinister looking men sporting evil looking beards and devilish moustaches. Most of these men have red vermillion on their foreheads and can easily pass as contenders for ‘Criminal Idol’ if indeed there was a show! As it turns out, these men are not criminals! They are local politicians staring and glaring at me as I drive by. These hoardings are ‘self glorification’ messages targeted at congratulating themselves in the ugliest manner.
In the apps business, glorification comes from consumers who ‘rate’ and ‘review’ apps. All successful apps have thousands of such ‘rankings’, generated by consumers themselves! When an app becomes insanely popular, it generates a large mass following – similar to film stars and novelists. The app stores ‘rank’ apps basis these rankings.
The message for politicians? Quit self-glorifying yourself. Stop getting cronies to put these silly banners all over the city, showing your ugly face. Instead, let consumers ‘rank’ and ‘review’ you. If I were a politician worth my vote, I would really hope that a seventeen year old kid would want to wear a t-shirt with my face on it, rather than one featuring the ubiquitous red Angry Bird.
Improve by the hour, every hour.
An app when launched is like a newborn baby. Easy to give birth to, difficult to rear. As an app owner, I am obsessed by rearing an app via ‘updates’. If you own a smartphone mobile device, just check out the number of red badge updates you will find in the alerts tray.
The interesting thing is that consumers don't ask for updates! App owners proactively keep updating their apps to become better. Once an app is launched, maintaining its ‘update cycle’ is almost like launching a new app ever so often!
I wonder if politicians ever update themselves? When I hear a lady politician from Bengal speak on television, I feel like I have been time warped and taken into the ‘70s. Does she live in a black hole and can’t come to terms with the way the world has moved on? Take another example. I live on Peddar Road in Mumbai and I see the road outside my house not having been ‘updated’ for years. Where is the politician I voted for? Why does he not update himself and what he had promised me?
The big lesson to learn here is that politicians will need to get better and serve better, without being told so by anyone, because that is standard consumer expectation. If apps have to remain in smartphones, they have to be constantly updated. Else, they get deleted. Capito, Mr. Topiwala?
Reward me when you feel I deserve it.
The app world has invented a new paradigm of economics. Take the concept of ‘freemium’ for example. It means free and premium. While that sounds contradictory, it represents apps that are free to use for consumers and also have bigger and better paid versions if the consumer is interested. So you can play Angry Birds’ basic version with limited levels for as long as you like; and then pay a dollar to buy the massive version that has more levels and entertainment packed inside.
The freemium promise is simple. First play, then pay. Or speaking the language of life, it translates into ‘reward me when you feel I deserve it.’
Now, the business of politicians works the other way around! They want to be rewarded first by getting elected and then go to work to deserve that reward. Unfortunately, many of them fail to work and live up to expectations. Taking my personal example again, I see no improvement in Mumbai, the city I love and live in, despite all the tall promises made to me each year, when I elect my local politician. I am sick of rewarding before receiving.
Apps teach us many things. That people need to feel happy. That happiness is infectious. That people are tolerant and forgiving if you improve yourself. That financial rewards come after the job is done.
Now, aren't all these supposed to be the original traits of a politician?