Relay #70, Panel F

don't just know technology, understand it

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The update we want, not the update we need

A couple weeks ago I updated my long published Anonytext Android app in the Play Store. In addition to the regular bug fixes, because bugs, this version introduced a brand new feature. Unlike previous updates, and other apps that I've developed that tried to be useful, this version's new feature didn't solve any problem whatsoever.

The feature in question is the ability to chat with other Anonytext users. It was a lot of work, and a lot of fun to implement, but at the end of the day I can't put my finger on what value this feature brings. That however, hasn't deterring users. In the days following the launch the app realized a 1000% increase in engagement (using various metrics), and by all indications it wasn't just a post-update bump. Time will tell how sustainable this uptick is but for the time being I would say my time and efforts paid off.

Now before you start to dig too deep into the feature and the numbers to come up with some theory that aligns with the modern-day tech startup mantra "Find a problem and solve it", let me save you the time. I'm aware that as social creatures, people love to engage with others, and I'm also aware that being anonymous is a tangible draw. What I hold to however is that my execution doesn't actually "Solve a problem", or at least not for the vast majority of potential users. It's highly plausible that some psychology journal out there speaks to the value of ephemeral relationships and their positive impact on the psyche, and it would be great if I could point to such a study as the basis for this feature. The truth is however, that I just wanted to try my hand at a chat application, and figured I'd use the anonymity theme that Anonytext already had (as well as the user base) as a spring board.

Right now, and until the numbers say otherwise, I'm using this as a learning and teaching experience. When building something, you don't have to solve a grand problem for it to appeal to users and gain traction, and you certainly don't have to be first to market. The post-PC era (typing that burns my fingertips) is a new game for which no one has the rule book. You can be driven by anything, and whether or not your idea becomes a success is as dependent on luck as it is on anything you control.

I'll keep that in mind as I build the things I love, and it might not hurt much if you do too.