Negative Questions Kills good products/ideas, and why not to deploy traffic police while you are building a road

If you are building a video sharing site [say youtube], the first question that you will encounter is: “What if people upload porn and copyrighted material?”

If you are building a photo sharing site [say flickr], the first negative question that you will encounter is “What if people upload porn or plagiarize other’s photos?”

If you are building an ecommerce site [say ebay], the first negative question that you will encounter is “And what if people share their email/phone details and complete the transaction offline?”

And what if and another what if. Another what if and the product idea goes out of the window! Right?

To be successful, better ignore these “what ifs“!

Agree? Disagree?

Let me ask you this – If you are being asked to build a road, what are the steps you will take to accomplish your objective?

Design, Build, Launch (i.e. inaugurate, open for public) and then you bring in a traffic police to control the traffic – Right?

Similar to what you do with software products too, i.e. design, build, market, get more users and then bring in policing.

Negative Spaceman, originally uploaded by karlequin.

Or will you do the other way round – i.e. get traffic police and then build the road?

No. Right?

I come across several such discussions where a good idea is smashed ruthlessly because the ideator just can’t answer any of the above negative questions.
If you were YouTube founder, how would you trustfully say that users will not upload porn or copyrighted material? How can Flickr founders confidently say that they will not allow site to be a porn sharing portal?

Infact, most of the initial feedbacks regarding your idea/product will be on the negative side of things – i.e. “what if” kind of questions.

Everybody expects you to deploy traffic police, much before you start designing the road.

But the reality is that 99% people are good (courtesy: freakonomics) and as a startup, you just can’t design your product for the rest of that 1%.

I do agree that one needs to think of other ways to tackle that 1%, but definitely not your top priority/ objective (atleast during the initial days of the product). Not till you hit a major customer base.

The key here is to invest your time in building a community that can deter bad guys from entering the system (digg?wikipedia anyone?).

What’s your opinion?

Thought to ponder: As a startup, do you really need to do policing? An obvious answer would be ‘yes’, but I have different perspective on this.

But before I share mine, why don’t you share your perspective/thoughts?

An interesting read: Flickr’s mantra of building online community

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