Welcome to Digital Homesteading.

This collection of resources from 9 Clouds helps you build your business and community.


4 Ways to Fight Concept Rot


The moment a business or product launches is when it is most relevant.

Most businesses conduct research, ask for input and test their product before launch. Then, a powerful force takes hold: concept rot.

The longer our idea is in the world, the further it drifts from the world. The needs of our customers change and, too often, our businesses don’t change with them. Without revisiting why we do what we do, the concepts and context behind our business rot and the products or services built upon these concepts rot with them.

Fortunately, we can fight concept rot.

4 Ways to Fight Concept Rot

1. Measure What’s Ripe

A common examples of concept rot is on your website navigation: naming hierarchy.

On every website, we are limited by horizontal space. Thus, businesses choose categories and decide what words should be on their navigation and what should be underneath these categories.

The words and categories are always at risk of rot. What we call something today may be irrelevant a number of months or years later. What’s more, the insider terminology for something may mean nothing to a potential customer. Even more likely, what we think is important enough to put on the navigation may be meaningless to an outsider.

An easy solution is to measure what works. Use Google Analytics to measure clicks on your website. In Google Analytics there is an option under Behavior to see In-Page Analytics. This shows where people click. Test different words for your navigation and page text and see if it increases the number of clicks. If something is being ignored, it’s rotten and can be removed.

If you are worried about other parts of your business rotting, figure out how to measure if they are working. Test what works and doesn’t work and make edits to fight the rot.

2. Monitor Trends

The riping and rotting of a concept is measured in real-time by Google Trends. Look at the concepts underlying your business to know when or if you need to make changes.

There are two ways to consider trends: real-time and futurecasting.

For real-time monitoring, look at the specific word describing what you do. Are more people interested in this service or is demand decreasing? How does this word compare to other similar terms or services? By looking at the concept underlying your work, you will learn what you should be offering and how you should describe your business.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 3.11.51 PMFuturecasting uses real-time monitoring and extrapolates lessons for your industry. At 9 Clouds, for example, we know (from Google Trends) that inbound marketing is a fast-growing term. This shows an increasing awareness and, presumably, demand for the service. However, automotive inbound marketing doesn’t even measure on the radar. Basically, no one is looking for it.

However, the fact that we know inbound marketing is growing in general means that the trend should soon reach the automotive industry. We can position ourselves as experts so we are ready for the growing market. We can futurecast this trend by looking at trends in other industries.

Look at what your business provides to customers. Is demand growing in general? If so, you could be the trailblazer that brings that service to your market or industry.

3. Ask Customers

Your customers are the best antedote to rot.

Most businesses start because they see a problem that needs to be solved. Talking to your customers enables you to continue to find those problems and stay current on what your business needs to focus on.

Intercom is a great way to continually fight rot. It is a simple online tool that asks customers questions, chats with users when they need help and quantifies the products or concepts that are most confusing to your online visitors.

Other quiz or polling sites, like SurveyMonkey do a great job as well. Ask your customers a few quick questions regularly to make sure your business is on the right track.

Offline, asking customers is nothing new. The comment cards we see at most cafés and restaurants are a cheap and easy way to gauge rot.

If you’re not asking the question, you’ll never know if you are drifting away from what your customers most need or want to see.

4. Open Source Your Product or Services

Integrating our work helps it to survive. One way to help your business to survive is to open source at least some of what you do.

Open sourcing is when you enable others to participate and contribute to a body of work. In our businesses, we can ask our customers what they want to see (like the restaurant comment cards), but we can take things one step further. We can invite them to make our work better.

Often, the core product or service we provide is specialized. If you’re a dentist, you don’t want to open source the dental care. However, the experience around the product or service could be improved. How could the waiting room change? What would the best way be to take reservations?

None of us is as smart as all of us, so inviting customers to contribute and create real change in our business helps speed innovation. Plus, when a customer contributes to a change in your business, they’ll be more likely to be a lifelong customer. After all, they are a part of the business.

Discover the Group Mind from the Group

Don’t let your business think it knows what your customers want. Sure, it worked for Apple, but most of us are best served by working with our customers.

As Clay Shirky argues, it should not be a small group of people modeling the group mind on behalf of the group mind. Instead, we should model the group mind with the group mind.

In other words, don’t assume you know what’s best. Ask and investigate.

Context rot is a risk for all of our businesses. Continually fight rot in order to stay relevant for the long term.

Photo: Florian