Trucks, Spokes, and Pinterest

Designing great content experiences from the outside in

I couldn’t find a link, so this may be completely pulled out of my ass, but I remember hearing an anecdote years back about Disney having secret meetings with airline executives. They wanted to talk about experience design, about how to make everyone who employed the services of the airlines slightly less miserable.

It turns out, the experience of Disney World guests was suffering. But it had nothing to do with the lines at Splash Mountain or the turndowns at the Modern. It was the coming and going that was causing the headaches and tears—a perverse twist on ‘it’s about the journey, not the destination.’

Families shelled out mad guap to take their kids to Disney World, but when asked how their vacation went, they’d say “It was a pain in the ass. We sat on the tarmac for an hour and missed our connection in Philadelphia. And on the way back they lost one of our bags. It sucked. But the park was nice.”

Here’s the thing: sometimes it doesn’t matter how magic the kingdom is. After the experience of trying to navigate the airline system with luggage and screaming kids, you think you’d want to go back again?

You are beholden to the experience across your entire network.

At Ahalogy we work closely with independent content creators, so it’s important we understand their challenges holistically, not just photos and pins. I attended a one-day blogging seminar a few weeks ago. This ‘expert’ blog coach spent two hours talking about SEO plugins. He spent five minutes talking about mobile, social, and their effects on how readers discover, experience, and use content.

The people in the audience, these people were mothers, wives, women with day jobs. They’re hungry to learn, and they’ve got other shit to do. So what’s a better use of their time, tweaking their thirteenth keyword or fixing this:

Honestly, who would want to read this shit?

The experience of their blogs through an in-app browser, the way people find content in 2o14, is still awful. I was angry. But it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen this bias play out—or even seen myself make the same mistake—but it’s a great example of it.

Let’s call it The Truck Bias.

In 2010 Steve Jobs pulled this brilliance out of thin air on stage at D8:

“When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that’s what you needed on the farms. Cars became more popular as cities rose, and things like power steering and automatic transmission became popular.
PCs are going to be like trucks.”

Of course, he was right. This year the number of smartphones in use globally will eclipse the number of PCs. We’re living in a car world now. Consumption of content is by and large being done using the cars: iPhones, iPads, all the Android devices. PCs are being relegated to workplace or work day devices, for producing things.

What’s interesting to me is our consumption patterns as the makers. I consume so much more content on my laptop because I’m on there all the time making shit.

So when it’s time for us to design, to make choices about our products, we’re biased towards our own consumption experience. My users aren’t using Ahalogy on a 27" cinema display sitting in some fancy chair though. They are, statistically speaking, using Chrome on a Windows laptop. And their audience isn’t using a laptop at all—it’s all phones and tablets.

You are beholden to the experience across your entire network.

Content on social networks in aggregate works like a hub and spoke system. There’s one giant hub and a shitload of spokes. Articles, posts, photos, and videos flow in. And the audience (with its page views, social shares, and ad revenue) link out.

This is even more the case for Pinterest—it’s focusing increasingly on serving the purpose of a visual search engine. And Pinterest is beautiful. The interface is polished; the interactions are sublime.

But 75% of all its daily traffic comes from native mobile applications.

That’s great for the network’s hub. In 2014 there’s not a better digital product experience than a native iOS app and a thumb.

At a certain scale though, any network is only as good as its nodes, a hub only as good as its spokes. And those spokes have been underserved. It’s as if Uber didn’t find it necessary to care about the quality of their drivers or the cars they drove.

The valuable stuff on Pinterest comes primarily from blogs stuck in an outdated paradigm: poor design, a complex CMS, banner ad blog networks, and heuristic-driven recommendations.

But what if you could make the hub better by making its spokes better? By improving the reading experience on the page, by intelligently maximizing the distribution of the work itself, by providing thoughtful, data-driven recommendations for what’s next, what if you could improve the experience across the entire network?

The answer to that is why we’re orienting ourselves more and more towards solving these problems, towards creating solutions for this new content layer in a fundamental way.

You are beholden to the experience across your entire network.

Here’s to the spokes.
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