Friday, February 6, 2009

Bashing into things and falling over

"One of the differences between big companies and startups is that big companies tend to have developed procedures to protect themselves against mistakes. A startup walks like a toddler, bashing into things and falling over all the time. A big company is more deliberate." Paul Graham

Like all startups Zipipop too has been doing its fair share of 'bashing into things and falling over'; however, I guess the difference between success and failure is the willingness to make mistakes, learn from them and keep on going. Of course any damn fool can make mistakes, but the difference is between plain stupid mistakes and intelligent, diligent, well-intended mistakes that might have led to remarkable achievements.

Whilst licking some of our wounds, we have recently been doing some serious soul searching: On a specific level, we have been reviewing Zipiko to analyze why it is not growing as fast we would have hoped (see Rethinking Zipiko). And, on a bigger level, we have also been asking ourselves – from all that we have learned – what does it take to make a successful social web service. And in the process we developed these 10 Commandments.

At Zipipop we sometimes indulge in a bit of lighthearted hubris and, although we currently stoop a little humbled, our ambitions remain straight and tall – since if you aim for the top of the mountain you might only make it half way up, but, if you only aim half way up, the heighest you will ever go is half way up. And our goal is to see the view from the top ; )

So while we purse our dreams and trudge our way up the mountain, why not let us give you a helping hand up. Based on our hard won knowledge and experience, we can tell you where best to place your belays and guide you past some nasty precipices.

As well as public speaking and consultancy work, we are also now offering web-oreintated video production. Please contact us to discuss what we can do for you.

The 10 (+2) Commandments of Social Service Development

Thou shalt have PERSONAL PASSION:

What excites you? You have to be totally in love with a project at the start because towards the end your love will fade away and, until it starts making money, you might even end up hating it. If you start with just a good idea you will never even finish it. And you must always eat your own (dog)food.

You shall find a NEED:

If you wish to make a profit your ideas need to be valuable, ie – people must be willing to pay for them? There are plenty of good ideas that are perfectly worthy but have no business value. So find ways to turn your passions into pennies. Otherwise create a non-profit social enterprise or go into research.

You must provide CONTENT:

Users must have content from the beginning. This can come in the form of community driven, user-generated content (Facebook) or readily available content from other sources (Spotify).

Find and connect to NETWORKS:

The new networked economy requires that you find existing or, even better, growing networks to which you can connect with. Nowadays this means providing and making the most of existing APIs. "As the number of nodes in a network increases arithmetically the value of the network increases exponentially. Adding a few more members can dramatically increase the value for all members." (Kevin Kelly, 1999) Facebook is the prime example of this and Twitter is currently making the most of network effects.

Define thy DISTRIBUTION strategy:

What channels are you going to used to spread your service? Considering connecting through such services such as: email, Facebook, micro-blogging, calendars, etc. Blog, micro-blog and make friends with bloggers. Be honest and think big to avoid being boring. If you are not comfortable immersing yourself in social media find an advocate who is.

Never underestimate the power of CONTEXT:

What is the context of your service? Both in terms of community and space. Identify communities that will connect with your service and determine where and how they can access it. Context will have a huge impact on how your users related to your service. Should it be designed to work best on large screen or mobile formats? Should it be a desktop web application?

Work hard to find the PLAY:

Do you have any game elements? You should think hard about what makes it fun: reward systems, role play, social interaction / recognition, etc. Amy Jo Kim has identified the following key components: collecting, points, feedback, exchange and customization.

What are your levels of COMMITMENT:

Some users can be put off if the commitment levels are too high. To find out more read this blog entry Commitment Levels in Service Design.

You shall implement your METRICS:

Are you getting your stats? Right from the beginning you need keep a close eye on the frequency and direction of user usage, so that you can iterate and fine-tune.

Thou shalt not be afraid to CONFORM:

Genre films (Westerns, comedy romance, etc) work best when they meet around 80% of the audience's expectations – with only about 20% innovation. This is a safe ratio to follow when designing your user experience. "A convention is a cultural constraint, one that has evolved over time. Conventions are not arbitrary: they evolve, they require a community of practice. They are slow to be adopted, and once adopted, slow to go away … Use them with respect. Violate them with great risk." – Norman, D. A.

Know thy TYPE:

Are you creating a lovable or a pragmatic service? For a lovable service you can push the boundaries and risk some annoying elements because the users will be inclined to in their hearts to forgive you. Or you can go for a service that is efficient and makes a big effort not to be annoying and users will be grateful for your consideration.

You shall do a controlled RELEASE:

If your service has too many problems you will end up shooting yourself in the foot and all your marketing efforts will be wasted. Web users are super fickle, so don't build up their expectations too high. Instead invite them to help you develop though closed-Beta releases.