Making services your own

This time of the year is commonly agreed to be the time to make new resolutions for changing your life and probably upholding them for about two weeks. I’m not stranger to this great tradition, and for me the resolution time starts with lists, lists that are supposed to organize my life completely and make every single decision just a to do task, from grocery shopping to starting new projects, January is all about the lists. This time around I started using pinterest as the main collector of my lists, specially those related with shopping, while this is not the main objective of the platform and the interface is not optimized for doing this, it adapts quite well to what I was looking for, a way to visualize the main ingredients in my pantry so I don’t have to craft a grocery shopping list every time I head to the supermarket.

Today, while listening to this talk on the research behind the new twitter design, I started thinking on how often do we adapt services to our own purposes, even though there is nothing on the service that could hint to this hiding uses. One great example of this, is how Qatar retailers are using Whatsapp to better communicate with their clients, as an ordering tool profiting of the send images feature to avoid miscommunication, as a means to facilitate the delivery process thanks to the pin location feature, or as a means to collaborate with the internal team through group messaging.
While we do this constantly and naturally with a lot of digital services, this kind of behavior is not common in other, more traditional, services, you don’t go around a bank trying to hack the banking system to make your own customized service, is more like pre-set options where you choose which kind of interactions you want to have or need and roll with it. So what is the difference here, why I can easily appropriate some services and make them work however I want and for others seems so difficult?
I think that the main differences are four:

  1. Digital services require us to gain an in-depth knowledge of the service. I can, mostly by memory, explain the main functions and features of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, dropbox, among many other services that I use on a daily basis, because for using them I need to know this stuff, and because they have made it very easy to me to learn how to use the service. This leads me to the second point.
  2. Digital services allow us to understand consequences of our interactions with the service. As I know the features and rules of the service, I can deduce what will be the expected result of my actions. For example, before smartphones became widely spread I was using twitter as a way to chat with my best friend, I knew that with every @mention she would get an sms and since I could also use sms to tweet, this became a quick and easy way to send her messages even when we were in different countries and without having to access a laptop.
  3. There are not preconceived ideas of how these services should work. Everyone steps into the service with just a mild idea of what it could be useful for, but the lack of definition allow us to generate connections more easily and potentially solve problems that weren’t address by the service.
  4. Most digital services are pretty simple. They aim to solve one specific need or to enhance one’s capability for doing something, but try to do so across different context which allow us to easily hack the service in order to comply with our needs.

This environments of user-led innovation have been enhanced by what Eric Von Hippel has called user toolkits for innovation, a set of technological tools and rules for the use, which circumscribe an overall space within which users are able too freely innovate (see more), think of the Twitter API or the Tumblr theme creator.
This concept of user toolkit for innovation seems really interesting, I wonder if it could be relevant to more traditional services. What might a user toolkit for innovation in healthcare look like? Which challenges and obstacles could arise for creating one?