In a couple of conversations this week, the word “ecosystem” came up, and I realized that there were two different ways in which we employed that word.
The first one I heard was using “ecosystem” to describe a collection of products with which users come in contact. Let’s call it the product ecosystem perspective. This perspective puts software and/or hardware at the center of the ecosystem universe. Users enter and exit the ecosystem, and changing the ecosystem means making updates to products, discontinuing them, and shipping new products. It’s a fairly clean view of an ecosystem.
The other way I’d heard the word “ecosystem” being used was to describe the users that interact with the product, or the user ecosystem perspective. Here, the user is at the center of the ecosystem universe. It is products that move. Users pick them up or drop them, according to interests, desires, comfort, or needs. Users are humans. They talk with each other, giving out their own and following others’ advice, giving rise to waves and wanes in product popularity. This view of an ecosystem is messy, annoyingly unpredictable, and beautifully real.
It feels intuitive to me that both of these perspectives are worth keeping in mind. The empowering feel of the product ecosystem perspective is comforting for us technologically-inclined folk. It’s easy to measure and prioritize. Diving into the complexity of user ecosystem perspective provides deeper insights into what’s really important.