Traction

Years and years ago, a blogger I followed kept talking about how hard it could be to get traction — getting the momentum necessary to propel a product from nothingness into somethingness. I’ve kept thinking about it ever since then.

Sometimes what you’d think is a mostly terrible product gets traction. Sometimes what on the face of it appears to be the best and most wonderful product in the world falls flat on its face. Traction seems a decent term for it: no matter how great your engine is, if you’re stuck in a puddle of mud without proper wheels, well, you aren’t going anywhere.

Suppose they gave a war and no one came?

I don’t think this blogger ever got around to writing about Traction. Probably because if one knew how products get traction, one would be a millionaire.

Perception

What role does perception play? What if numbers say one thing and perception says another? For example, Microsoft’s Windows 10 is already on more machines than all versions of OSX put together. That reads wrong, doesn’t it?

Does that mean Windows 10 has traction? It certainly feels like it has more traction than the ill-devised Windows 8 had. But what makes me feel this way? I don’t think it’s entirely unlikely that Windows 8 was installed on more machines than have OSX installed. Still, ask anyone if Windows 8 had “traction” and they’ll likely shake their head. They might point at you and laugh.

Despite Microsoft’s 90% desktop operating system marketshare, for sure Apple has traction with OSX. While Microsoft may be winning back traction through careful steering of the ship by fresh-perspectived CEO Satya Nadella, the lions share of the desktop operating system traction game is still strongly in Apple’s camp at this point.

Mindshare

Is “mindshare” a better term than “traction”, to describe the momentum towards success of a product?

Sure, your operating system has 90% marketshare, but does it have doors that go like this? ¯\_(° °)_/¯

Mindshare defies numbers. This in turn, probably converts to traction. If you can win hearts and minds, you can get out of the mud. Right?

But even that doesn’t seem to be enough. Though Apple has all the mindshare it needs, it couldn’t get iTunes Ping off the ground. Remember iAds? I wonder how Apple Music Connect is going.

Building A Mountain

Famous last words: “build it, and they will come”. It never works, except when it does.

Wikipedia seems like an example of this. I can’t recall when it was started, but I can’t help but think I would’ve been full of equal amounts of admiration and skepticism towards the idea. While Wikipedia is undoubtedly a good idea, it is also a long-haul idea. It is something people will use when it gets critical mass, and achieving critical mass is arguably a matter of time and Sisyphean effort to achieve. It’s like building a mountain — keep pulling gravel to the same spot every day, and eventually people will see a mound, then a hill, then a mountain on the horizon.

Some products can succeed in this way, but getting meaningful traction is likely to take a long time.

Bottled Lightning

Remember Yo? Pretty sure Yo had traction for a while. I even installed it myself. And then the shine wore off and it lost all momentum. Seems like traction on its own is meaningless without fuel enough in the engine to go the distance.

Okay no more vehicle metaphors. Incidentally Yo lives on, in spirit, in the Apple watch. Sending your heartbeat to someone is the same as a poetic “Yo!”

Saffron

In the end it seems like there are multiple ways for a product to get traction, but most of the ingredients are rare as saffron. Now that I’ve tried to write a post entitled “Traction” myself, I’m starting to increasingly realize why this blogger never came around to writing it.

Because it is, perhaps, an unwritable post. It just raises more questions than it answers, perhaps the biggest question being whether getting traction is a worthwile measure of success in the first place.

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