Jun 14 2012

User Adoption Bubble

It’s clear that we are in a bubble. I am not saying we are in a stock market bubble, even though most tech investors will agree that private valuations are frothy and that this frothiness is caused by the bubble in which we are in, a user adoption bubble. Where it used to take a long time for people to adopt a new technology, now new products and services gain more users faster than ever before. It took decades for traditional telephone companies to get a signification penetration rate, were as mobile carriers already have garnered an estimated 97% penetration rate in the United States. A similar user adoption rate acceleration can now be experienced by startups that execute well, Facebook has a stepper adoption curve than Yahoo did, and Google Plus had a steeper adoption curve still for its number of Daily Active Users. Products that execute well, such as Instagram, can see an adoption rate that is appealing to investors. An increase in user adoption rate, especially at the 1 million to 50 million user accounts, and a decrease in the cost of running a startup has been a key factor to the trends we have seen in Silicon Valley. The formula, as demonstrated by Instagram, is simple; small team + millions of users = a billion dollar valuation.

Even though some social networking related startups have seen user fatigue, I don’t see or expect the user adoption bubble to burst at an industry level any time soon, especially for well startups that consistent execute on user engagement and amazement. At the individual product or service we’ve already seen where companies have faltered, such as the reports that Draw Something has seen a significant drop in daily users.

The user adoption bubble has been brought on by a number of factors including the ubiquity of internet access, growing number of smart devices and inexpensive computers, as well as social engaging techniques such as poking, liking, following, retweeting, pinning, etc.

Jun 1 2011

Never Underestimate Your User

Never underestimate your users, if you do you’ll soon hear about it. Software is often built with assumptions about your users. Your user will be an accountant, your user will understand the labels, your user has experience with Excel, your user is this, that, and the other. Never make blanket assumptions of how your software will be used.

There are assumptions built in in every input field and user control element in software. Common assumptions baked in the User Interface of applications is that your users live in the United States, that they have a zip code or a telephone of a certain pattern. I’ve seen problems with file upload mechanisms when users try to upload a 500 MB PDF document and the server crashes, or when a user tries to enter 10,000 character comment and the database truncates 90% of it.

Facebook and Twitter have learned how to hedge users behavior that could lead to problems with limitations. Twitter best exemplifies this by the 140 character limit of each status update and the 2000 limit on the number each twitter account can follow. The 2000 follower limit can be increased but only when at least that many people follow you back. Facebook has a similar hard coded number of friends you can have.

The less assumptions you built into the software, the easier to use it will be. But as you remove assumptions, consider having caps, limits, and restrictions in case you start to have scaling issues.