Would Be Better.com: Lessons learned building a site with a social component
I had no delusions of becoming as popular as Twitter or Facebook with Would Be Better, at least not right off the bat ;) so it came as no surprise when almost nobody signed up for the site.
Release early and release often, you hear them say. Or, a favourite one of mine, if you’re not ashamed of version 1.0, you didn’t release early enough. And just in case you think I’m being sarcastic or that this is going to be a rant, you’re wrong: I couldn’t agree more with both statements.
Anyway, so I put Would Be Better up quite early and have been adding features here and there more or less ever since, but how did I drive traffic to it?
Come to me
I decided to give StumbleUpon campaigns a try, even though I know not all traffic has the same quality level. So it was in any case a conscious choice: let them come en masse, and some might stick, but even counting on the power of sheer numbers not many visitors created an account.
Which isn’t that surprising at all really: Most users, including you and me dear reader, are fed up with creating new accounts for everything, some of which require you to give irrelevant personal details to sign up; most of which require you to provide a valid email address.
So the obvious solution is, let them use an account they already have to sign up for Would Be Better.
OpenID to the rescue
Most people out there already have an OpenID-enabled account somewhere, even if they don’t know it. Gmail, Windows Live, Yahoo Mail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn are some of the platforms that act as OpenID providers, and there are many more.
So, as you may remember, the next step was a no-brainer, and armed with an OpenID-enabled sign up process I re-enabled the StumbleUpon campaign and waited for the magic to happen. Until, all of a sudden: Nothing.
Nothing worth mentioning in any case. There was some improvement in the conversion rate, and at least almost all new users had acknowledged my effort by using the OpenID login, but it’s not like potential users were piling up to sign up.
Most importantly, to this day 95% of the users are one-time posters, never to return again. The other 5% consists of me and people I know well.
What do people actually want?
So what does Would Be Better lack that prevents users from coming back? Well, for one, after taking a deep, hard look at Would Be Better I realised that for a social site there wasn’t much social component to speak of…
Hah! So that’s why I don’t have whole herds of believers knocking at the Would Be Better doors! People are social beings! They want to interact with each other!
Piece of cake, right? Wrong.
I followed the next logical step: enabling comments on suggestions. If people can let their thoughts loose on other people’s suggestions they’ll sure come back to check if there are any replies to their comments or event comments on their own suggestions? Well you’d think so but that didn’t have the desired effect either, and I think I know why.
Your name rings a bell but…
People might be social, but they are above all, lazy, busy or absent minded or all three and need to be constantly reminded of their appointments, to-do lists, and, of course, that your app exists.
Even Facebook, a central part of so many people’s daily lives, does a terrific job of reminding you every now and again that it’s there!
And that’s where we’re at with Would Be Better. Would Be Better lets you post suggestions, lets other users comment on your suggestions and it even let’s you mark a suggestion as “Is Better”, allowing you to explain how or why. What Would Be Better does not do, is notify you, dear user, of any activity or news around things you have posted.
What we were arrogantly expecting of our users, is that they’d make some free time in their busy online agenda, not only to come pay us a visit, but to remember on their own to come and take a look.
If that’s not being self absorbed I don’t know what is.
Hi! It’s me again!
So we’ve seen the light. Again. We’re currently busy bees working on an alert system for Would Be Better that’ll let you know right from the moment you log in whether there’s anything worth checking regarding your suggestions and comments. The same alert system will take care to send you an email whenever there’s new activity that might concern you.
That’s right, we’re becoming less arrogant by becoming annoying.
But don’t worry, needless to say there’s account settings that allow turning off email notifications and newsletters.
Wait, what newsletter?
Exactly. That’s saddest part: there’s been in Would Be Better a mechanism to remind the users of our existence all along! The tricky thing I’ve discovered about newsletters though, is that it’s all very good an well to have a nice system to compose and send newsletters to your users, but you have to actually use it for it to be any good…
So what’s the lesson?
Well, I’ve been spreading all the “lessons learned” all along this post really, but the most important point is probably that it’s all a work in progress, and that assumptions and theories about what might work and what won’t are all very well, but you have to try it:
- Let your idea loose “in the wild”
- See if it works
- Rinse and repeat
Do you have (dis)similar experiences? Care to Share them? Let me know!