Month: January 2008

5 Product Requirements for Social Media Widgets (at least)

Lately I’ve been asked to help design or add input to several widgets designed to create a sticky and viral presence in places like Facebook, Blogs and other “New Media” outlets.

Here are some rules of thumb that I’ve come up with. As I see it now, there are 5 basic requirements to make these successful. The importance of each will vary according to the goals (don’t neglect to examine yours) and context of the widget.

1. Compelling seed content.
Text, Video, Flash, Game-like interaction, or – heavens – Utility! Whatever, but you need a reason for people to look at it. Some kind of clever, meaningful, interesting or compelling hook. Humor is a good one. The chance to “do good” is another. Entertainment (puzzles, etc), a third. The Bob Dylan Facebook app does this in spades for me, even though its not very useful.

2. Sharing
Every good widget must have some easy way of sharing it or otherwise spreading the word. Otherwise you’re shortsheeting yourself. Super Groups on Yahoo have some great features for this. Check “John Stewart for Moderator“.

3. User contributions

Most new media widgets should have some way of allowing users to contribute – either through comments, or ratings, uploading pics, or something. The easier and more creative the better. But be careful about having people harshly rate people who are trying to do good.

4. Look and feel.

This is New Media. Design is IMPORTANT. It needs to be hot, fresh, and interesting. And it needs to be ergonomic. Think about what links and actions need to be visible and make them boldly so. No boring hotel room art, you know what I mean?

Also – you need to be sensitive to who’s using it and how. Do you really want consumer ratings of people’s earnest thoughts? Frame your language and your functionality so that people feel good about using it, not insulted (well I guess there are some rare funny things where insults work, but who looks at those every day?)

5. Tracking

No good product should go unmeasured. Continual Improvement (aka learning) relies on objective measures.

Number of interactions, number of referrals, and number of productive referrals should all be tracked. Return visits – people who come back to check on it should be counted.

Got more? Please share what you’ve learned in the comments.

Passion is a best practice.

Want to build something great? You have to want it. Bad.

Here are some somewhat random thoughts about passion, quality, genius and boredom and mediocrity.

Greatness is rarely achieved by accident. It is the result of a pure vision, refined over time and developed with care and purpose. I do not believe that it is possible to develop a truly great product without at least one very influential visionary on the team. Why?

Well – on the way to any goal, there are about a million little decisions and tradeoffs that need to be made. Without a vision, a North Star, as they liked to say at Adobe, those tradeoffs end up in a bland compromise.

But we have to compromise! Of course we do – we need to make decisions. But with a clarity of vision and purpose, those decisions make a product stronger, not weaker.

Without vision, its hard to care, to offer the attention to detail necessary to make it perfect. Pure discipline is a hard way to attend to the details. We need discipline in everything we do – of course, but discipline fueled by passion is incredibly powerful. Discipline supported by sheer force of will – well its just hard to maintain and sustain.

An interesting micro-cosmical example of this happened at Startup Weekend a couple of months ago. Various ideas were pitched and discarded, and the one startup idea that was voted in was a site that enabled micro-social networking for neighborhood communities. The problem? The guy with the idea split shortly after the vote. Leaving the rest of the people – even those who thought it had been a good idea – looking around for what was special about it, and what would make it more than yet another social networking site. We eventually came up with a couple of reasonable value propositions that we bickered about a bit, and ended up spending the weekend working on features that were neither here nor there.

Now – this was a situation where it really didn’t matter much. The point of the weekend was to see if we could launch something, learn, have some fun. All of which we did – and it was a FANTASTIC and wholy worthwhile experience that I hope I can repeat someday. But. It made a great little expose on why a little passion goes a long way.

On the flip side. When I worked at AOL, oh so many years ago, we launched an online calendar. In those days, an online calendar was still a new-ish thing, and AOL was still the leading provider of consumer internet access. But our little calendar was sweet. Every detail was lovingly designed, debated and improved. We had a crystal clear notion of what we were building and why, and what we wanted it to become someday. The team had a huge spark of creative endeavor. For a calendar. Its not the product – its the passion behind it.

What’s your passion? What’s fueling your creativity? What will make your next product great, not just there?