Feedback is the real king

Feedback is the real king

tl;dr

Don’t make it hard for users to tell you what they want

Feedback is important. It usually tells you what you did wrong and if you’re lucky what you did right. I really like it when users reach to me and ask questions, make remarks and suggestions. That is exactly the whole point. I’m trying my best to make their experience on my products as simple and as useful as possible.

Everybody has to learn from their mistakes. I have to thank one really persistent user for pointing out the most elementary flaw possible.

e-mail signOne of my projects is a site called myLPG.eu that is all about alternative fuel LPG in Europe (fuel stations, prices, adapters, etc.). There were some sites that provided some of that data, but I couldn’t find any that could be really user friendly and with a map of fuel stations, so I’ve done it myself.

I thought everything was going smoothly, the basic functionalities were working without any problems and I could start adding more advanced features when suddenly I received an e-mail telling me one comment is waiting for my moderation on this blog. This wasn’t just an usual comment about a blog post. A user from myLPG.eu tried to contact me and give me rather important information but he couldn’t reach me through the contact form on the page. I still can’t reproduce the problem and I would be really glad if he would have told me what the problem on the comment was (he wrote a fake e-mail address). After that error on the contact form I believe almost everyone would just blame the page author and move on. But not Eric. He took the time to find the Author page, followed the link to this blog and used the most relevant blog post to submit the message he wanted me to read.

Because by default very little percentage of users actually take the time to help you build better products, every user counts and you can’t afford any malfunction of the means to contact you. The least I could do was to put my e-mail address below the contact form. Maybe I will get more spam, but just maybe I will get a helpful mail I couldn’t afford not getting.

PS: Eric, if you’re reading this, I would really like to thank you. You are the user everybody wants.

June 27, 2012 1 comment
Where to draw the line in adding functionalities to the product

Where to draw the line in adding functionalities to the product

tl;dr
Use the wooden bucket water method (the diagram is at the bottom)

The problem

I come across this issue all the time. Even though specifications about what the product needs and what are the necessary “ingredients” usually exist, there comes a point in the middle of the project each and every time, when somebody involved in the project finds a functionality that could be better than previously discussed and specified.
The main concern is always about the future users. Every project has to be as easy to use and as useful as possible. But at what price? What do you do, when you’ve already done better than projected but can still find some functionalities that would make life easier for the user?

The example

One good example is my company’s last product that we are building at the moment. I can only show you the landing page for it Knowledge Management System – KMSadmin, but I must say that I am really proud of it. Its purpose is to help institutions, e.g. Universities, to manage their know-how more effectively.
But it is impossible to make a perfect product because of its sheer size. There will always be yet another functionality that could help the users. Just recently we’ve finished polishing the connection between researchers and their projects. According to the specifications we’ve done it far better, but we still found some improvements on how a user could find the right researcher for a new project by knowing his previous projects. Do we implement these or not?

The solution

The first filter to define how much work will be put into the project is of course money. If nobody wants to use the product, there is no sense in upgrading existing features. The same goes for the fixed amount of money that you get for a product. It is possible to try a different approach, but if you run out of time/money, it doesn’t matter anymore.
So now we’ve figured out we have the motivation and somehow limited amount of money/time to continue improving. I like to imagine the project as a wooden bucket filled with water.

Wooden bucket

The water are users and wooden staves (wooden boards that make the bucket) are the functionalities. Each stave has the height proportional to the quality of the functionality. So the water level in the bucket is only as high as the lowest stave or user happiness is only as high as the least useful frequently used functionality. The trick is to find the lowest stave and make it higher until you run out of time, money and/or motivation.
How to find it? Usually you or other developers will already have an idea where the low points in the product are, but when you need a proof, ask other stakeholders and actual users. It is also wise to implement tools for later analysis or to prepare metrics that will help you acknowledge the actual usefulness of the product.

The diagram for the wooden bucket water method (yes, I just made that name up):

June 11, 2012 0 comments
Why are HN and other similar pages a blessing and a curse

Why are HN and other similar pages a blessing and a curse

tl;dr
There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path

Information was and always will be important in our lives. We can’t even imagine being without the constant contact with our news sources.
There are a lot of different channels where we get our daily dose of highly valuable and useless data (respectively). I mentioned Y Combinator’s Hacker News in the title because at the moment it is one of the most useful news aggregators in the field of technology and entrepreneurship, but the following also applies for all other blogs, news sites, etc.
All this can and will help us make that next project/business that we are thinking about all the time.

The blessing

They can show you the way

It is highly noneconomic and unwise to reinvent the wheel each time when we try to do something. Why should we, if there are so many examples of good practice we can read about. That’s why Hacker News is a blessing for people who want to learn from experience of others and don’t want to repeat the same mistakes somebody already made.

The curse

They can only show you the way but you must do it yourself

Each and single day there is more information than we can process so we try to save good articles for later and to build our to do and wish lists.
This pile of info, which is just waiting for us to go through it, makes us feel that we still don’t know enough and that we need more, MORE. That we aren’t ready to do something and we have to put more time into research.

Conclusion

The Matrix quote from the beginning of the article gives us the real reason why all the news aggregators are a blessing and a curse. Let’s face it: We all know the path, we have enough info to know how to get started and where to search for answers when we are on the way. But not everybody can walk the path. Let it be fear, uncertainty or “because of reasons”.

If you are one of the latter, come with me and let’s start walking. This is me, taking my first step.

June 3, 2012 2 comments
Hello world!

Hello world!

Welcome to My little sandbox. This is my first post. Let’s start blogging!

May 19, 2012 2 comments