(Noah Kagan recently left Facebook, and writes a blog at Okdork.com)
This might seem contrary to what most online community experts tell you or just against your normal intuition. Think about it for a second…
If you had a child would you give into everyone of their requests?
No! That child does not see the big picture. The child may think it knows what is best but the parent needs to make the final call sometimes.
Would you buy your spouse a Rolex if you were living on welfare? They really want it!
No! Maybe for some but most people would not buy the watch. You need to make decisions based on semi-rational decisions and not just on emotional demands.
I saw these types of behavior daily while working at Facebook. People complaining we did this, others wanting that and never being able to please anyone.
Receiving over 15,000 email requests for features becomes overwhelming. The largest group in Facebook was the 35+ Customer Support team. If Facebook were to do everything that the users wanted,
the site would have:
– customizable backgrounds
– naked pictures of Mark on the top right corner of every screen
– music playing on every page
…and literally any other wild idea you can think of
I am not saying to discount these ideas completely but there was just too much.
Mark and the rest of us felt we knew what the product needed since we were a part of the community. We understood most of the needs and delivered features that matched our vision and the always everything for the user development.
A notable tiff was with Feed which showed everything going around your community. Which friends broke up, which pictures were added and other random things. There was a huge upheaval in the student community but Mark knew this is something that would win over time. And yes, it seems that people have not left Facebook and have appreciated this new feature.
Occasionally some really popular and clever ideas came from the users would keep popping up in the queue and eventually get implemented.
One improvement I noticed recently was the multiple IM screen names on profiles to satisfy international users (People wanted MSN, Skype, etc, not just AOL, which originally had exclusive rights.). This was due to a deal signed that gave AOL exclusive rights for more than a year.
Compare this with Meebo.com, which bases the majority of their product decisions on their community.
They do this by:
– Solicitation. They ask and list. They constantly ask for input blatantly within their product and provide responses on what they did because of their community.
– Forum. They have a place which is actively managed for new ideas and developing current ones.
– Institution. They set up their company around the user and not necessarily around the product.
It wasn’t something they read on a blog and then implemented. It was there from the start.
– Communication. The way you talk with people matters. The fact you call them a user instead of a friend, matters. Think about that. Meebo did a great job keeping a friendly, playful tone that really connected with their friends aka users.
Their users really get the gravy. They get the empowerment of knowing they can say things to make the product they use daily better. They know what they say counts, even if only a little bit.
I know what you are thinking now. What do we do? Here are two ways I would go about thinking about this:
– Do what you want! This only works if you are active and involved in the community. If you are in the Ultimate frisbee group then you know what they would want. Stats on the latest frisbees, cool Google mashups of courses people play with, and maybe store locations for ultimate gear. Steering the direction becomes easy.
– Let the community decide. This could go either way because they can choose something you don’t want or the loud few will just make themselves happy.
What do you do?
Overall, I think a Facebook + Meebo = Feebo. That will be the answer. You want to incorporate your users like Meebo so they feel special and more attached to your site. I was at this comedy show last week and the comedian used some material from the audience in his skit. I know those audience members went home and talked about how awesome that comic was. See? They were a part of the process and care more about the show cause they got that opportunity.
Here are a few takeaways:
Balance it: Make some calls based on user input. Not entirely but partially.
Decide it: Your baby doesn’t know what it wants for dinner. Make that call for them. Your users may not know how great this feature is or realize what the company’s overall purpose/vision is and you have to do things to get there. Then go do it!
Allow it: You may have always hated doing x or y but it is the #1 request of your users. Think of a way to get it in to keep them happy. You may not love it, but you will get more overall from it.