16 April 2013
Push On

It amazes me the groundbreaking innovations people have written off. I found these examples on Reddit:

"Everything that can be invented has been invented." — Charles Duell, U.S. Patent Commissioner, 1899.

"This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication." — William Orton, president of Western Union, in 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell tried to sell the company his invention.

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." — Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment, in 1977.

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" — Harry Warner, Warner Bros., as movies with sound made their debut in 1927.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM (1943).

"I see little commercial potential for the internet for the next 10 years." — Bill Gates (1994)

"A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere." —The New York Times, January 13, 1920.

"The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad" —President of the Michigan Savings Bank

Just think of all the innovations that have been stifled because someone listened to a quote like this. Push on.

Join the discussion on Hacker News.

3 February 2012
Simple, humble problems

I recently watched a great episode of Foundation with Kevin Systrom from Instagram (full video).

One point that really stood out was when Kevin gave the advice to focus on three humble, simple problems (link to quote). 

Instagram solved 3 common photo app problems:

  1. Made photos look good (some would argue with this)
  2. Allowed the user to share photos on multiple networks
  3. Made photo uploading [appear] quicker

Solving problems is not a new mantra. I hear this all the time. But look at the problems that Instagram solved. They have a couple of things in common:

1. The problems are small.

Filters, sharing on Twitter & Facebook, and uploading in the background are not huge, tech-heavy features. Instagram solved little problems people had with all other photo apps.

2. Users experience the solution almost immediately.

This is the most overlooked aspect. It is great to solve problems, but users have to experience the solution. The first time users have their photos uploaded instantly they are hooked. If users don’t experience your solution to their problem soon after giving you a chance, they are gone.

Solving problems is what we do, but start small. If the problem is sharing photos, start with a small pain (slow photo uploading). Then design the product so that users experience your solution immediately! 

3 January 2012

Pinch of Play: Twilio Present Puzzle

This is the first post in a series on adding a little play to regular activities. I have blogged about this before (Making things fun) and really love adding a “Pinch of play” to activities. 

This Christmas I added a little spice to the present opening process. Using a small Twilio app I made (Textbox), I turned opening gifts into an engaging trivia game. Here is how it worked:

To start, my family awoke to an odd sight. All gifts were missing recipient tags. Instead, a large, single letter appeared on the wrapped gifts.

A nearby note explained the puzzle:

We wrapped so many more presents this year
Hoping to bring everyone all some cheer

Departing the north with mounds of gifts
The sleigh was weighed down and began to shift

Raindeer pulled and tugged with all their might
As presents tumbled and shuffled all night

As we elves landed and unloaded here
We realized what happened and along came fear

The presents were shuffled and no one could tell
Which gift each person should open, oh hell

Wanting you to miss the gifts we did not
So we labeled the presents and thought a lot

Back in the north is the master list
So send a text to find your gift


My dad texted the elves and they immediately replied:

Hey, sorry for the screwup. To start, open package “8” after the person who was given a drug-related nickname while playing a sport.  Txt back after

After deciphering the clue, my girlfriend texted in and received:

Hey Sharon… sorry! The turbulence was rough, but the master list says start off the Christmas gift opening with gift “d”. Txt back after opening that gift.

The gift trivia game began. For the next 2 hours, we followed the same pattern: people would text “The North Pole” to get clues and open gifts in the order the elves hinted. It made the morning more engaging and fun. By adding a little story and technology (Textbox uses Twilio and Google Appengine) the experience of opening gifts was awesome. Everyone participated and helped each other figure out the clues.

What else can you add play to? Foursquare has made going out a game (“I’ve gotta reclaim my mayorship!”). Turntable has added playful elements to online music. Often those little elements of play make all the difference.

16 November 2011

Follow the User Behavior

Get uncomfortably close to a user behavior.

I can’t remember where this quote came from, but I can’t get it out of my head. The concept struck an entrepreneurial tuning fork that is still ringing. I can’t stop seeing examples in the wild:

  1. Instagram - Kevin Systrom saw that users liked sharing photos on Burbn, so he positioned Instagram closer to photo sharing than any other app.
  2. Pinterest - Trend setters and fashion lovers have been sharing photos of their inspiration through blogs, email and Facebook. Pinterest built a service for this one type of sharing, removed extraneous features and people are hooked.
  3. Twitter - Some IM users meticulously edit and change their status. Twitter recognized this unintended behavior and built a service around this simple idea, making IM statuses persistent.

I have also experienced this first-hand, as a user. Last year, every Friday, I would spend 20 minutes on Grooveshark creating a weekly playlist. These playlists ranged in theme from all 80’s to Lady Gaga vs. Katy Perry (don’t judge). Once created, my friends and I hopped on Google chat, I shared the link, my friends struggled to load the playlist, we counted down over IM, and finally experienced the music together. When Turntable launched I knew I would never have to fumble with piecing features from multiple services together again. Turntable aligned almost perfectly with my previous behavior.

So, watch what people do in your application. Can you get closer to that behavior? If you are just starting, look at other applications. What are users doing that are not core features? Are people using extraneous features for unintended purposes? How could you build a service around that behavior?

21 February 2011
Text Yourself In Update

Our text message buzzer has been guarding our gate for a few months now. Many have entered. Parties have been had. Upgrades have been made. Here is an introduction:

Recently, we added some simple game aspects. The results have been great!

Personal Replies
We made sure all the numbers on the whitelist have personal replies. This gives the buzzer a much more human feel. Guests would come up the stairs and be excited to discuss their personal message. In a few cases, they even showed eachother thier responses. It reminded me of people sharing their fortunes in fortune cookies.

Recent Entries Display
We also made a simple website displaying a feed of recent guests. When a new guest arrived the display would update and show who was entering. Many guests loved this greeting and even sent in multiple texts to ensure their name remained on the display.

By introducing small gaming elements into our apartment we are hoping friends will be encouraged to return and share more great times. If you have used the system before, thank you and we hope to see you again.

Want a system like this at your place? Follow me on Twitter to stay updated.

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