Tag Archives: users

Structured discovery, social media, and game dynamics walk into a bar

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Structured discovery is a set of steps by which a user interacts with an application to discover something new and, if the stars are aligned, something valuable. Even the most immersive worlds of modern 3D games have their rules. Levels generated on the fly still obey some designer’s intent for the user to see things in a certain order and at a certain pace. A Twitter user three degrees of separation away will take 3*a+b mouse clicks to find, assuming you click here, scroll all the way down here, click there and so on. You get the point.

Think about a kind of “value map” or “reward map” for your application. Where is the value concentrated for your users? What motivates the users to jump through the hoops and obey all the rules and how many hoops can they tolerate before getting frustrated and leaving? Is it the process of slashing monsters or the progress to the next level that is most rewarding?

Checkmate!

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4 Things That Drive Early Adopters Away

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We’ve had the alpha sign up page up for couple of days now. So what are we seeing? Not much, to be honest.

The people who leave their emails are the people whom I know personally, and who have ignored the ominous warning that says:

It’s preferable that you are not related to or are friends with either of the founders so as to allow yourself to lash out against our vision without fear of breaking the bonds of friendship or family.

So why would the rest be turned away?

  1. Lack of trust or credibility. Leaving your email is a gesture of trust since it involves passing your personal information to another party. At the end of the day you don’t know what’s going to happen to it. And if you don’t know us, your first inclination is to keep your distance. That’s perfectly natural. Moreover, in our case neither co-founder has a well known public persona that could boost credibility or count toward reputation.
  2. It’s not clear what you get. So you sign up, then what? Are you going to be among the privileged few who get to play with the app or are you being recruited for alpha testing? Well, a little of both actually. But why would you volunteer your time? You wouldn’t unless you know us or have something to gain. I keep hearing about early adopters all the time, but where do they actually come from? Are early adopters just a euphemism for fools, friends and family or is it something more?
  3. It’s not obvious when you get it. Our sign up page is purposefully vague on when the app is going to be ready for alpha. It’s vague because we do not yet have a good handle on our own bandwidth and velocity in the coming weeks. As we are making progress we are getting better with time estimates, but the margin of error is still pretty high. What we do know is that we are probably done with 70% to 80% of what we set out to do for alpha.
  4. Scarcity or urgency is not fully conveyed. There is no indication that this is somehow limited availability. Should we have said that we are accepting 20 alpha users only with the counter indicating the number of spaces left? I don’t know, but I feel like trying that soon.

Thanks, but no thanks!

The recurring theme with the four points above is clarity. In the coming days we will attempt to increase clarity along those four dimensions and see if that brings in some new folks, preferably the ones we don’t know personally.

Have you tried recruiting early adopters and motivating them to sign up? Please share your collective wisdom in the comments below.

Thinking about user experience is exhilirating

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After 3+ years of doing technical marketing for an embedded software B2B product I am only now realizing how much I’ve missed all things connected to consumers, user interfaces and user experience.

Thinking about all the great things we can do with our JustLiked app gets me really excited about the future, so is learning JQuery and Django and brushing up on HTML. But that’s just the boring part of learning, the really cool part is putting our humble assumptions in front of real people and iterating like mad. Alas, I know have the opportunity to do so.

The whole lean startup movement (which I’ve been thinking a lot about lately), its product and customer development cycles, its learn and iterate fast mantra are a natural fit for web/mobile/consumer apps where we don’t ship boxes, manufacture anything or have complicated IP licensing terms for legal to review over the course of 2 months. I know the grass is always greener on the other side, I am just hopeful that everyone on the other side appreciates how good they have it there. I do too now.

To say that consumer play is an entirely different ballgame from B2B is to say nothing at all. It’s two different universes, and I am about to find out how well I fare in this new one.

What do IRC, Twitter and a sense of bewilderment have in common?

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My first run in with IRC happened about 10 years ago. I was taking CS3210 class (now defunct) at Georgia Tech where we had to learn about OS internals by finding our way around the Linux kernel. We tried out all of our little kernel hacks on a Compaq iPaq device to which we had root access. Those were some fun projects, and at one point I found myself on an IRC channel dedicated to helping Linux newbies playing with iPaq’s.

Twitter feed circa 1740 (or IRC chat capture, I couldn't quite tell)

I don’t really remember what I was looking for or what brought me there, but what stayed with me was the memory of utter bewilderment and incomprehensibility of this mode of communication. I understood IM; I understood older, 90’s style chatrooms, and I was for all intents and purposes a technically inclined person, a kernel hacker even.

IRC to me was something arcane. This feeling was reinforced by bizarre server messages, cryptic lingo, strange interfaces, and routine and nonchalant rudeness heaped onto newbies. The more I think about it the more negative a user experience I am able to recall. Now here we are in 2010, and I have this conversation with a friend, who is a Twitter virgin, explaining what Twitter is all about (Conversation was shortened and paraphrased, identities of those involved protected.):

me: these are microblogs. every message is like an SMS, just 140 characters long. i.e. there are a lot of small messages on different subjects.

friend: clearly i don’t get it :)

me: here is an example: http://twitter.com/ibagrak i know it’s complicated :)

friend: it looks like random ravings, crazy talk

me: thanks :) context is everything. people are exchanging messages, and without context it’s really hard to understand.

friend: is there no better place where messages like this can be exchanged? i mean, this is completely out in the open, right?

me: yes, exactly

friend: it seems people who tweet do so either out of loneliness or sheer boredom. i can’t see any other reason.

<end scene>

So there you have it…

I think the two experiences have more than enough in common. Despite the fact that Twitter and IRC are two applications designed for two ends of technically savvy spectrum, I would argue that neither one offers an optimal experience for its audience and new users especially. Yes, both are immensely popular, but as long as the latter conversation takes place how could anyone argue about Twitter entering mainstream?

I don’t want to knock Twitter (or IRC). Not all apps are designed for Normals. In fact, great apps can deliver great value without being designed for Normals, and I think Twitter is a living proof that. But I also think there are simple things that Twitter and IRC could do, really minor cosmetic stuff in view of everything else that’s been done, that could vastly improve user experience.

But the point is even if Twitters of this world choose not to budge, it doesn’t matter. It only matters that we choose to do it right in our application.

What we learned by polling people (part 1)

As you might already know we recently ran a poll to help us decide what the name of our future application should be. This itself was an eye-opening experience that yielded some unexpected results.

What we did

We started by crafting our prompt and creating a poll with the names we have shortlisted. You can see the result of that work here.  I then tweeted about the poll and what were trying to do. I’ve also had a couple of friends ask their friends on Facebook to take the poll.

I am a recent Twitter convert and I am not by any stretch of imagination someone who has a lot of followers. There are 43 (as of now) to be exact. I asked for retweets explicitly and I managed to get a total of 1 retweet from one of my followers who in turn has 700+ followers. I also DM’ed 2 people (who (a) have a lot of followers, (b) are very influential in the community and (c) follow me) asking them to retweet. This yielded nothing. I also tweeted the message (or variants thereof) repeatedly to get good timezone and day of week coverage.  In total I think the tweets alone might have had few hundreds of impressions. My estimate would be around 300. Facebook might have yielded another 100. I am actually being generous with both numbers.

This brings the total of impressions to 400 for which we got 82 page views of the poll itself. Of these, 35 people voted. You can compute corresponding “conversion” rates yourself.

Things we learned and/or confirmed

  1. Facebook was the top referrer, which is as expected since it’s usually easier to compel the people you know to do something. People you don’t know are more reluctant to respond.
  2. It is difficult enough to get people to click, but I was more surprised by how difficult it is to get people to vote. About 43% of people who ended up on the page voted. And we are not talking about a multipage survey. It’s just one simple question with 3 options – that’s it! Perhaps the problem is the message. Perhaps the problem is the medium. My intuition tells me it’s neither, it’s just people’s nature. There was no incentive for taking the poll. The results are de-personified and there is no immediate value in this for the voter.
  3. Don’t count on retweets. They will not come unless people you ask to retweet have a vested interest in your enterprise. Good will is rare. I am not sure about DMs. The sample (2) is far too small to comment.
  4. Grabbing attention is hard. The message needs to be repeated but not to the point of annoying your followers/readers. Further messages bring less and less traffic and cause more and more frustration. The less and less part was confirmed by the wonderful WordPress analytics.

In conclusion

This was a good experiment which exposed what were were trying to accomplish (because we had to explain the main idea behind the application, albeit briefly) and forced us to confront real people with all their unpredictability and inertia. Needless to say the overlap between this sample and who we think are userbase will be is unlikely to be very large, but it was still instructive in that we had to put together a public announcement and talk openly about what we are up to.

In the next post, I will tell you about the actual poll results and what surprised us there.

Help us name our startup and app!

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We are building an online social application that lets you stay on top of and enjoy things that your friends find interesting, good, likable, cool, irresistible and noteworthy, or things they just liked for no reason.

“Things” in this context include places they visit, foods they try, music they listen to, books they read, etc. There is really no limit what one may enjoy in life, is there?

Needless to say we are looking for something that has that special ring to it, that is easy to remember and not too lame.

For now we have shortlisted the following three names. Please help us decide!

If you have other ideas or suggestions, you can let us know in the comments.

*Domain names would be irresistib.ly, likewisely.com or likewise.ly, and justliked.com.

5 cultural memes antiquated by Kindle (or profound ways products impact lives)

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Disclaimer: This is not another Kindle review.

I’ve been using an Amazon Kindle for couple of months now, and I think I realize what revolution means.

  1. My children’s children will probably not understand that different books can have different weight and thickness. I am almost done readying Ulysses by James Joyce, and it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve never even seen the book in its traditional format. I can sense from reading it on Kindle that it’s really long, but I don’t know how long it is. It’s perfectly fine with me not knowing but there is something profound about this context being lost.
  2. Large print books will be first to go. Every e-book is in all possible fonts from regular to enormous, and it simply makes no economic sense to have a separate printed large print edition of any book that is available in e-book format. A few years from now the familiar image of an old man in his recliner with a magnifying glass bent over a book would cause just as much curiosity as a horse-drawn carriage.
  3. Insanely heavy backpacks will be a thing of the past. I remember suffering all through high school hauling my textbooks around, having to think twice about which books I really needed that day. I would shuttle them between the locker and the classroom, between the house and the locker, stashing them at the wrong place for the time being and missing the book I needed when I needed it on the weekend.
  4. The whole term out-of-print is becoming meaningless. All books are going out of print. Out of print is in, in print is on its way out.
  5. No more dog ears, frayed paper bookmarks falling out of place and all over. No more ugly highlighting that soaks through the page. It’s like the vessel that carries the book’s contents is becoming devoid of any personality. No scribbled notes in the margin left by the previous owner. No coffee stains or greasy fingerprints. No bookmarks. Yes, but you can now actually find all your underlines without flipping through the book. Did I mention flipping itself (and fanning yourself in the process) is a relic too? Opening to a random page is gone.

Alright, don’t get me wrong. I am not lamenting the disappearance of these cultural memes from the lives of generations to follow. It’s fine with me. I am simply reflecting on the fact that I am witness to nothing short of a revolution. I am also not crediting Amazon or any particular e-reader for bringing this about, and this is not meant to extol the virtues of any one of these devices.

And yet the power of products to affect our lives is incredible. That alone should make anyone in product management feel the staggering responsibility that lies before us in the product business. Our products will change and better lives of people, and that’s an exciting and equally intimidating thing to think about when I power on my next book.

Incidentally, it says “Opening” when I power it on. How is that for a cognitive dissonance?