A quick cartoon before we begin?

Trust thy user.

Lessons for Product Owners and Interaction Designers

Design never fails to present interesting aspects of human thinking to me each day. Especially, how we as engineers and geeks think about our users.

Quite often I’ve had my developers pose the following questions to me when I’m pushing hard for a new feature.

“What if users game the system?”

or

“What if users create junk?”

better yet,

“What if users upload pornography?”

Initially these questions bothered me. In fact, once we rolled out an ugly “Flag as Inappropriate” way before we had a “Like” button! How crazy is that?!

Now such questions just amuse me! For one simple reason-

I trust my users.

In this essay, I investigate why users create junk and present my argument on why I believe we should all trust our users.

IMO there are only THREE reasons why a user would create junk in your app. None of which is their fault!

A. When users don’t understand critical elements of your experience.

A lot of times we leave our users in the dark trying to figure stuff out on their own. In their ambitious quest for understanding your app they inevitably create junk or unwelcome content.

Imagine this. You’re couch-surfing in a friend’s apartment for a night in a new town. In the middle of the night you are suddenly thirsty and need to look for some water in the kitchen. But the light bulb there needs repair. Hence you’re left helplessly feeling your way for a tap in the dark. Inevitably you’d knock over things, create a mess or eventually just give up.

That’s exactly what users feel, left alone in our seemingly “intuitive” app!

Just having a sign-up tutorial with a jazzy image carousel usually does not make the cut! Our users deserve more directions to create greater content.

B. When users don’t have clear incentives to create quality content.

Great content apps typically use two techniques to incentivise their users.

One technique is by giving out direct incentive like “credits” for creating quality content (StackExchange, HackerNews, Quora). Carrot-and-sticks usually help communities reach a stage where everyone agrees on certain types of content they’d like to see. The other is indirect incentives like Twitter’s Retweets and Favourites, Medium’s Recommends, Jelly’s Goods etc. where a users contribution is not quantified.

Choosing one (or both) of these techniques is really a strategic product decision but vital. Just think about it, Would you put in as much effort Tweeting, Instagrammin’ or Blogging if you never had metrics like RTs, Favourites, Followers or Recommends glaring at you every living moment of the day?

Ergo — Unless users understand the incentives of creating quality content, they would usually create crap! Simple.

C. When power users can’t teach by example.

Face it. Power users are the only family your early-stage product has! They help nurture your pixels and code into a quality content platform. Hence, it’s really important that such power users feel important and special in our app.

Giving out extra capabilities to curate & moderate content being generated could be a good start (a la StackOverflow, Reddit). But I think it needs to go another step further. We need to provide prime placement to such power users where they can show off their creations. Many successful content platforms are already doing this, for example Twitter’s Discover feed, Medium’s Top 100, Instagram’s popular feed, HackerNews’ popular etc.

Showcasing content not only directs the community toward your ideally desired direction, but also educates new users by example. This becomes crucial for new content platforms to avoid junk.


tl;dr

In conclusion, if there is one lesson from this essay I’d like you to take back home, It is this —

Users creating junk in our app is mostly our shortcomings as Product owners or Designers. As long as you have a clear design and curation strategy in place, I think you can safely — Just trust your users!

Find me on Twitter @blabfest to continue a dialogue on this essay. Or just have a look at some cool side projects that I’m involved in!

Until next time. ☺

Adit

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