November 20, 2008

Web Apps Should Keep It Simple For Success

By Rob Diana of Regular Geek (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Most people have heard the KISS acronym (Keep It Simple, Stupid). There is a very good reason for this. If you keep something simple, it is hard to mess it up. Why do I bring this up today? Well, I recently wrote about a conversation with my brother where he asked about Twitter and the conversation moved to FriendFeed. He immediately saw some point to Twitter, but FriendFeed was hard for him to understand. Many people have written "what application XXX needs to go mainstream" posts as well. Kyle Lacy wrote a "What Twitter Needs" post on Tuesday, and I commented that Twitter is going mainstream whether the early adopters want it to or not. There was also a thread on SocialMedian regarding what sites were your internet addictions. A few comments mentioned that they did not "get" FriendFeed or they found it "confusing" or "hard".

This got me thinking about the differences between Twitter, FriendFeed and SocialMedian. Why is Twitter so popular? Because it is simple. Is there a learning curve? No, or at least nothing you could not figure out in about 10 minutes. Is it hard to use? No, just go to the website, type your update and click the update button. Because of their API, there are several client applications that make using and listening to Twitter even easier. The other benefit is that it is very similar to a widely accepted application, instant messaging. Many people know how to use instant messaging applications, so moving to Twitter is not a big stretch of the imagination.

SocialMedian is finding success for slightly different reasons. Parts of SocialMedian are not the easiest to use. The concepts of Noise/Volume, filters, relevance of topics and sources are definitely advanced features. However, when SocialMedian started importing blog feeds and Google Reader shares, they made it simple to contribute to the site. Unlike Digg, Reddit and Mixx, I do not have to go to the site to share information, it comes from my daily activities. I only need to go to SocialMedian if I want to read some other posts I have not seen, or to participate in some of the conversations. The other major "simple moment" were the networks and the widgets that the team is creating. If you wanted to follow the election, you could just use the election widget. They just created another widget for President-Elect Obama Transition news. These widgets grab posts related to these topics only. How easy is that!

FriendFeed is a different story entirely. Once you add your accounts and subscribe to various people, the site is fairly easy to use. However, many of the early adopters are used to subscribing to a blog using RSS and seeing every post. If they are subscribing to people's activity, they typically expect to see all of the posts for all of their subscriptions. If you subscribe to even just a few "active" people, you will miss a lot of posts. The important thing to remember is that you have to accept the fact that you will not see everything. Once you "let go" it is much easier to get used to. Generally, it is difficult for the average person to get used to the firehose of information that is fed to you.

Personally, I am an information addict and struggle trying to limit the amount of information I consume. FriendFeed is a very good service for information addicts like myself or even on a greater scale with the likes of Robert Scoble and Louis Gray. Am I saying that FriendFeed will never go mainstream? No, mainly because they are continually making things simpler. First, you could hide entries from a particular service. Then you could segment your subscriptions into lists. Recently, we received the ability to hide a specific feed for one user. With each iteration they are trying to make things simpler.

Why is simple so important? Because simple drives adoption in greater numbers. FriendFeed is gaining popularity already, but massive growth requires simple.

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