Be bold

littlechinaDon’t be a wuss. If you implement incremental product features just for so called “competitive parity” or because it’s the latest industry buzzword you’re likely to lose users, not gain them.

For an example let’s pick the buzzword of the day – going social. It seems that every company, brand, marketeer or product owner is talking about it and there are startups a plenty jumping on the back of it. So your brand has a facebook page, your company a twitter feed, but you’re a product manager and it’s your turn – what do I do?

You could just copy something else. Fast following can be pretty good if you have one of the largest online audiences.

Let’s say we have a site where people can rate things.

Picture 1

We could add a news feed – wherever I rate a movie, buzz a news article, etc. other people can see that in an “activity” stream. It could be a global feed of all activity – or just for my “friends” – either way, we can drive traffic to things that are popular.

Picture 2

What a great feature! It looks like facebook, it’s clearly better than twitter, and bolt it on to what we already have. But then ahhhahhhhh.. the doubt starts to set in. What if our users don’t like their activity posted for all to see. What if I don’t want anyone to know that I like Big Trouble in Little China?

Picture 3

There could be complaints, legal issues, who knows what else. I know what we need – another feature! Let’s ask the user who they want to share their update with. After long consultation with the engineers, the lawyers, the policy team, and a number of vocal users from our focus group we settle with the following.

Picture 6

Great. We just pop this bad boy up every time anyone sneezes and ask them if they want to share it with their friends. We’d ask them just the first time, but you know, they might be doing something different the second time. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this has now ruined the experience of our product altogether.

In the first case you changed the way an existing product works in a way that the user didn’t expect – yes, the questions they asked were public but the user didn’t expect the side effect of it being broadcast to anyone in their email address book. Second, you totally broke the user experience with a confusing popup dialog.

But the point is not about the specific feature or specific UI. I’m not saying that activity feeds by themselves are a good or bad thing – just asking if anybody considered the bigger picture up front and asked why?

Why did this feature make the user’s life better?

Did it save them time? Save them money? Allow them to do something they couldn’t before?

So be bold, don’t make incremental feature updates to a product based on industry buzzwords or competitors press releases. Focus on what really makes a difference to your users and spend your time and money on the big things that make it happen.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ed Voas on September 2, 2009 at 12:21 am

    FWIW, I appreciated the insight of the sample statuses 🙂


  2. Posted by John Watts on September 10, 2009 at 8:06 am

    How do you have the time to blog!

    Anyway – you say the same things as me so I’m off the hook! Keep up the good work!


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