“It’s about people.” -Marcus Nelson
Marcus Nelson’s blog post today about the potential for creating a renaissance at familiar names like Flickr, Digg, and Yahoo challenged me to think about the internet services that I actually pay for (and don’t just use as a beta customer) and the critical differences between these “gotta-have-it” products and the rest of the Internet chaff that’s easy to try these days in an almost zero-friction way thanks to the power of social login (which reminds me, I’ve got to clean up my Facebook and Twitter authorization.)
Sorry Design Hackers, Design is Not Enough
Marcus’s axiom that “it’s all about people” is a powerful one because it’s not enough to build a beautiful site (or app) these days – you also have to build a habit that allows people to learn and practice a known process that brings them tangible benefits. Yes, you say, great design is necessary for great apps (I agree). I also think that it’s not sufficient to have a beautiful design where the principal message to new users that don’t get it is “you didn’t do it right.”
Great Apps Start with Unmet Needs – and Fill them
A perfect example of a service that’s both well designed, beautiful, and deadly accurate and functional is Sanebox. We all have the problem (or at least most of us do) of having too much email and not enough time to deal with it. And an even greater problem is the inability to know which emails are likely to deserve our attention. Enter Sanebox – it takes this unmet need and addresses it with an elegant solution – categorizing the mails you see into filters that allow you to scan and review your mail (and bacn) easily. Do I have other solutions for this problem? Yes. Do I pay for Sanebox? Yes.
A Great Need, Unmet
As Marcus points out when talking about some of the “original” internet apps like Flickr, Digg, and Yahoo, they have stagnated because their customers still have great, unmet needs, and have moved on to other services that offer adjacent substitutes (and oftentimes leapfrog innovations). I started using Instagram because it was an easy way to share photographs in a social way – and it offered a fun way to manipulate images that was easy and satisfying. I stayed with the service because it’s still a lightweight way to share photographs. I – like Marcus – still subscribe to Flickr Pro – and I’m wondering why I still do. If Instagram were to offer me an easy way to archive photos (perhaps through Dropbox) and gave me a way to upload non-square images, they would have me as a customer (until the next big thing comes along.)
People are Sometimes Stuck, but that Doesn’t mean you should stop innovating
People resist change (or I wouldn’t still be a Flickr Pro member, obviously) for lots of reasons. But that doesn’t mean that your product should stay the same. Keep building the features that people use (and get rid of the ones they stop using) and you’ll be farther along the path of building an innovative, interesting product that people compelled to pay for, even when new and shinier products come along.