Joshua Porter has an excellent post titled Are you building an everyday app? (the LinkedIn problem)  where he writes

In a recent interview, LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman describes moving away from day to day to a more strategic role in the company he founded:

I want to be able to sink my mind around a couple of problems and work through them. For example, many professionals still don’t understand how LinkedIn can be valuable on a daily or weekly basis”

Another way you could phrase this is: “people don’t use LinkedIn everyday…we need to figure out how to change that”.

The fact is that LinkedIn, in its current incarnation, is not an everyday app. An everyday app is one that is used every day (or most days) by its users.
In general, most people think they’re building an everyday app, but they’re not. When the actual use patterns are discovered, most apps will be used every few days or less. Designers have to ask themselves a very hard question: “How often are people really going to use our web application?”. The answer is important…it will even help drive design decisions. Whether or not you have an everyday app affects the entire design of what you’re building, including the screens, notifications, and frequency of the service. For example, only everyday apps really need to use real-time technology to update streams. If you find out that you’re not building an everyday app, you probably don’t need to invest in making it real-time. But…you might invest in a notifications system that can alert users to when something very interesting happens.

You don’t have to be an everyday app to be successful. Netflix, for example, is not an everyday app. It’s an every-few-days app. Most people go back every few days to update their queue. There is really no need to go back more often.

Many developers of social software applications on the Web believe they’ve built an everyday app but they actually haven’t. One thing I’ve learned in almost five years of working on social software applications at Microsoft is that simply having the features of an everyday app doesn’t translate to people using the application every day. The best way to think about this is that no application starts off as an everyday app. Very rarely does an application show up that is so amazing that people start using it everyday right off the bat. Instead there is a transition where either users transition from occasional to frequent users while the application stays static or the application itself transitions to catering to a more engaged user base relative to where it was in previous years.

An example of the former is Twitter, the site hasn’t really changed much since I started using it about a year and a half ago. However it wasn’t until the right set of factors came together such as getting enough people I was following, adding the Twitter app to Facebook & Windows Live to update my friends on those services and getting Twitter applications for my desktop & phone did I transition to becoming an everyday user. Twitter’s main problem is that not every user eventually hits this sweet spot which is why you read articles like Twitter Quitters Post Roadblock to Long-Term Growth which points out that retention rate over a one month period hovers between 30% – 40% for new users. This need to make the application instantly useful to users is what prompts features like the Suggested Users List whose purpose is to give new users content worth coming back to every day instead of the “Trying out Twitter for the first time” style posts that they probably see from most of their friends who are also kicking the tires on the service they heard about on Oprah.

Having features that are useful every day like a constantly updating activity stream doesn’t mean people will use the site every day. For the users that cross the hump, it does. The challenge is how to get users to cross that hump.

A site that has done a good job of motivating its users to check it out on a daily basis and adjusting its features as its user base has become more engaged is Facebook. One of Facebook’s most annoying features for a long time was the fact that notifications on new messages in the service didn't actually contain the message. I suspect the purpose of doing this was to drive users back to the site so that they would then catch up on all they’d missed such as invitations and content in the news feed after they were done answering the message. Although this feature is annoying, it was definitively effective given anecdotal feedback from various people I talked to at the time. After a certain point, Facebook’s user engagement grew to the point where sending messages without the content to drive users back to the site wasn’t worth it relative to the decreased customer satisfaction.

Another great example from Facebook is the transition from the old news feed to the new stream. In March of 2009, the news feed was transformed into a real-time stream and almost two months later the real-time stream now updates live without having to refresh the page. The previous functionality of the news feed was relegated to an alternate highlights stream as shown below 

From reading the blog posts about the changes, the problem the switch from a highlights-centric news feed to a real-time stream is addressing is the fact that the highlights-based feed is stale and doesn’t provide enough value for users who’ve not just become every day users but are now every hour users. Not only do over 100 million of its users login every day but with 90 million users generating 90 billion page views in the month of March 2009 that implies the average page view for a Facebook user is over once per hour.

And when you think about it, the introduction of the original news feed in 2006 was a successful attempt to go from being an occasionally updated rolodex for a large chunk of their users into a social utility to keep up with what’s going on in the lives of family, friends and coworkers. The switch to a real-time stream is how Facebook is addressing the fact that they have slowly become an every hour app instead of just an everyday app for their users.

A number of services I use online could learn from how Facebook has evolved their experience over time increase the engagement of their user base by making sometimes small and sometimes huge changes to the user experience to encourage people to make the service a regular part of their lives.


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