LinkPeelr has been fine and dandy. So fine, in fact, that I feel a pressing need to tell you about its progress. This is a long post — sit back and enjoy!
When I started on LinkPeelr I thought it was a neat and compact idea, and a small enough project I could actually tackle myself. I ended up launching LinkPeelr after 3 weekends of work, but I never intended for it to evolve far beyond the small project that it was. From day one I viewed it primarily as a “pipecleaner”, an app that could help me test my own ability to go from problem to launch and prepare me for more ambitious things that I’ve had simmering on the back burner.
Needless to say LinkPeelr has quickly outgrown its purely experimental intent, managing for a few weeks to eclipse everything else I was thinking about and working on. This period has been a period of rapid learning, and something that I enjoyed immensely. Although I obviously set out to make LinkPeelr a learning experience of sorts, I never anticipated that this learning would come at this pace and intensity.
What follows is an account of what happened after I launched LinkPeelr, and what I’ve learned in the process. After hitting 1400 words with this post I realized that “what’s next for LinkPeelr” section had better come in its own separate write up.
LinkPeelr is a URL expander that takes a URL and peels it to show you the URL that you will actually be taken to. It took me a Friday to design the logo (I am a complete Adobe Illustrator noob, so be charitable) and the weekend to layout the one page, test the app and deploy it on Google App engine.
The next two weekends were spent polishing Google Chrome extension that makes peeling possible for any link on any page (shows the resulting URL in a nice-looking tooltip). Altogether I ended up being a rather nice-looking, compact project.
Here is how I imagine the conversation would go:
Me: So tell me what you want, what you really, really want?
Them: I’ll tell you what I want what I really, really want.*
A lot of your customers and users will be a lot like Spice Girls. I don’t mean cute and bubbly but rather fixated on their most obvious and most, ahem, basic needs, which means that they are unlikely to ponder far-fetched possibilities or to provide you with unanticipated insights on the spot. This is not because focus groups can’t brainstorm — they are just not primed to think out of the box like product designers are paid to do. The results of such a focus group exercise are bound to be predictable and boring, and they will most likely agree with what you already know about your potential users and market.
Now consider our effort to poll people about our future startup’s name (you can see how that went here). LikeWisely was my top choice, but the multiple levels of meaning and the play on words was not well-received, probably because these things are not on the surface as they are with just❤liked, which is much more literal. In the end we accepted that just❤liked was a decent choice appealing to a large segment of the audience but perhaps a choice lacking in imagination and finesse.
The point is not to offend Spice Girls in particular or focus groups in general. The point is that, despite your best intentions, good product ideas cannot be pried from any perfectly informed and sensible focus group. The good news is that you get to keep your job. The bad news is that you, the product designer, still have to come up with great ideas, convert them to hypotheses that can be validated on a set of flesh and blood users, and validate them. At no point should you suffer the illusion that what you get back will be informed by the audience’s imagination or their desire to find a solution to the problem.
You’d be lucky enough to get back another grumble about zig-ah-zig-ah*.