Archive for December, 2010

Posting Regularly

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

As you have seen,  I’m way better than before in posting regularly on this blog.  I’m still doing the same things, so there is not more to write about. However, I do follow a new system for posting.    In the past I would post when I was inspired to do so.  After a while inspiration dries up and you run into the ‘I have to write something…. ‘ problem and it will start to go downhill soon from there.

My new approach is to decouple inspiration,  writing and posting.   Instead of  going from idea to post in say 30 minutes.  I now just write down everything that could potentially be a blog post, without putting the burden of actually writing it on myself.  So I just create a draft post with the title and whatever flows easily from the mind.   Sometimes it is just the title,  at other times it is almost a full post.Because I do not force myself to write the whole post, I’ve collected a lot of drafts that could grow into a post.

At other times I might not feel inspired at all, but I do feel like getting something done. This the time to finish posts. Maybe find some relevant links or creating an illustration. When done, I either schedule the post  or let it rest for a bit until I feel like it is time to post again.

To make sure that I don’t forget about posting, I’ve also set up a repeating item in my Google calendar.  With the drafts already there, it takes no effort at all to actually get something out there if I didn’t already.

Using this approach I have gone from a single idea to post action  to a buffered approach that’s can cope much better with prolonged lack of inspiration or plain laziness.  It does take a bit of discipline to not immediately post what has been written, but it does lead to a much more consistent post rate.

Analyzing the Pomodoro Method

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

In earlier posts I summarized the Pomodoro Method for time management.  Since than, I have to admit,  I wasn’ t able to persist in using it on a daily basis.  However, I did find it to be very useful to prevent me from diving into lengthy spans of procrastination and low-productivity.   Even one or two days of it, give back the feeling of actually getting stuff done. This is often enough to get everything back on track.

An important part of the Pomodoro Method is to have dedicated time assigned for a specific task, ensuring your full attention and focus. However, I believe this method mainly works for me because it decouples your breaks from your natural breaks in attention. On a normal working day you need to take breaks. Usually you will take them at times you mind starts to wander, energy is low or things start to get painful. You stopped working because you don’t feel like working anymore. Making it very hard to find motivation to start up again: it wasn’t going well when you started this break and now you don’t feel any better.

With the Pomodoro method, taking a break is fixed. Because you are forced to take it when you are in the middle of something, the feeling is entirely different.  At first I  felt ridiculous to take the break now, instead of just finishing your task.  However, after a while, I learned that this feeling ensures that you can easily start up again after a break. As you were making good progress before taking the break, you are eager to continue and finish that task at hand.

Rethinking Corporate Twitter Accounts

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Twitter is great for networking as it, contrary too all other social networks, allows you to connect and communicate with random strangers with exactly those interests you are after. That’s one of the things that makes Twitter a great tool for business. For one-man companies, it is easy: the company is almost equal to their person and so can be their Twitter account. They can just sneak in a few business related tweets now and than.

For larger operations, there is a catch: Do you follow business accounts? I don’t. If I’m interested in a business I try to find the founder or an important developer related to it. I might follow a business account if I’m a customer, or are really really waiting for them to launch, but other than that? Nope.

Now let’s look at why this is:

  • News from the company itself is obviously commercial. We don’t like to read commercial messages.
  • Without a real person attached to it, it is much harder to identify. Most people I follow are selected on some kind of commonality: maybe they are into design, maybe they are developers or in a start-up. I don’t have anything in common with your company, except if you are the competition or when I’m already your customer.
  • It is hard to tweet regularly. Without day to day stuff to tell about, it is hard to keep something interesting going. It can quickly slide down to the RSS feed level. Without regular tweets you will not be remembered and get the attention you aspired.

So, company accounts on Twitter can’t work?  Yes, they can.   Let’s look at @Kissmetrics. They are obviously commercial, their twitter account is for a service, nothing personal about that. If you scan their time-line,  there is no  cooking, cleaning, traveling or complaining.  Still,  their feed doesn’t feel unpleasant. Although you are aware of their business interest, they provide great content at a fairly high rate.  Let’s break their strategy down a bit:

  • Great content – Their blog posts are high quality, relevant to their niche, without being an advertisement
  • Great linked content – All relevant links, closely related, but not about their product
  • Good retweets – Again relevant links, without much effort to create content.  It does take a knowledgable person, involved in the business to pick out that quality
  • Smart Quotes – It allows them to put out a message on how they operate and their vision, without resorting to sales speak.

All of this results in:

  • Regular tweets, showing up in the timeline frequently
  • Lots of retweets, that further increasing visibility

What it comes down to:  Publish content your customers want, instead of promoting your product.  Finding a good balance between your own content and linked content can reduce effort and improve continuity.

5 Reasons to delay your product launch

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

We strongly believe in  release early and often. However when you work with other partners or customers, they may not think the same. So in a few years we have had experience with opposite ends and we have learned from it:  Although I still believe it is bad to delay your launch just to get more features in there, there are very good reasons that should stop you from launching your product.

1. You’re product is not clear. If you can’t summarize in a few sentences what users get out of your product and what action they need to take to get that, you might be in trouble.  If you can,  make sure that this message is also supported by your homepage. Not only the ‘what’ but maybe even more important:  the action users need to take.

2. You’re marketing is not in place. There is really no point in releasing a product without a plan on how to gain customers. If you are not able to start promoting your product, what’s the point? Nothing feels more disappointing than releasing a product and getting no feedback at all.

3. You can’t even use it. Aiming to release early does not mean delivering a barely working product. Attention for usability must be included in the most basic version.  So if you’ve got low quality instead of  less quality features go back to the drawing board.

4. It’s not that impressive. Expectations on design and usability have grown quickly over last few years. Users are no longer impressed by just a good look, you need to impress them with your product, but not just the product: the whole experience has to ooze the quality you deliver.

5. You did not review and test the code. Especially if you have outsourced development, I think you need to closely examine the quality of your product internals. If you can’t do it yourself, hire someone.  Even the best developers make mistakes and take shortcuts once in a while.  Even if you have tested everything, you are still going to find lots of bugs and flaws in the first weeks, so the more you find yourself, the sooner you will get real feedback.      If you believe you can rely on bugreports by users:  you can’t.

It all comes down to attention to detail. Some product make it because they are game changing ideas, others are just lucky. However most products only make it because there is someone that is obsessed by every single detail, even when running into unwilling designers, developers or marketeers.

5 Reasons To Release Early

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

There has been a lot of writing about the need to release early and often already, but I feel after doing many projects, I need to write a few reasons down anyway.

1. You are building stuff nobody needs. No matter how nice a feature will be, without real users, you have no way to tell if you are spending your valuable time on something that will convince users to buy your service.

2. Nothing like real user data. Your software may work great in theory, there is nothing like real volumes of data to test it. Many things can grind to a halt if you start having serious amounts of data. ( Things like search with ‘%LIKE%’ or pages listing ALL entries of a table)

3. Nothing like real measurement data. You can ask potential users whatever you want,  there is nothing like properly measuring what they are doing and what they prefer. With real users you can use tools like  Analytics to confirm that users actually do what you need them to do.

4. Ranking in Google takes time. As soon as you’ve got something out there,  Google can start finding your site, you can start optimizing text and titles and build links. The sooner you get started, the better.

5. Enough chances on a first impression. If you are worrying about scaring your first users of, think about the vast number of internet users out there.  The changes of ruining a first impression with all your potential customers are slim. Just don’t start promoting the product till you feel confident about it. There are many ways to steer the first users, e.g. an invitation based beta program.

Why you should not rely on bug reports

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

After building websites for a few years, I’ve reached a very important conclusion:  you cannot rely on bugreports to find major bugs and flaws in your product.  Think about it, what do you do if a website has a major bug? e.g. the registration form doesn’t work? You will just go to a competitor, unless you have some special interest in helping the creator or you really really really need to use it.
The same goes for missing features or conceptual errors: users just leave if they do not like what they experience.

Users that send you feedback, only do so if they already committed to your product. Maybe they’ve already paid, maybe they just entered loads of content or maybe they just like you.  However, this will only get you so far: in most cases this will be exceptions, obscure bugs or obvious features you just didn’t get done yet.

So what do you need to do?

  • Create a list of all important user stories in your site.  For PicturePush I would write stuff down like:  signup, login, create an album, upload a photo to an album, delete the photo, delete the album,  change my profile, delete my account.
  • Test all of it in ALL major browsers. No matter how much you think you’ve made everything cross browser,  there are always subtile differences that sneak in when you add new features or fix stuff.
  • REPEAT this as often as possible. Fixing bugs and adding features, you are very likely to create new bugs, clutter and/or unclearity.
  • Measure if you can. Using Google Analytics or other tools you are able to track whether users reach certain goals. This will allow you to see if your users succeed in the most critical tasks on your website.

Furthermore you can encourage you users to send you feedback:

  • Offer rewards for feedback. You could give away a few months discount.
  • Make it easy for users to delete their account and have an easy option to indicate why they want to leave. I suggest having radio buttons for those that are in a hurry and an aditional text field for those that want to help you even more.
  • Respond quickly to all questions and bug reports, if you can fix their problem quickly they will not only become loyal customers, they will keep contacting you with feedback.