Saturday, October 11, 2008

"If there's gold in them hills..."

"If there's gold in them hills, people will find it."

I'm sure that quote's been used many times relative to software applications, but it keeps coming up in my life so I thought I'd take a moment to blog about what it means.

If you knew there was gold in that hill over there, you'd go get it. Software's the same thing. If you know there's gold (meaning something really fun/useful) in an application, you're going to do whatever you have to do in order to use it. Obviously, that's a tad absolute, but bare with me. You'll pay money... you'll register for it... you'll fill out a profile... etc.

People spend inordinate amounts of time trying to streamline the barrier to entry to their applications. Minimizing registration processes and building entire API abstractions (e.g. Open Social) on top of social applications is a constant pastime these days, and it's eating up mass amounts of energy that is often better spent on your true value proposition. I'd like to suggest that if you believe the barrier to entry to your consumer facing application is either the user creating an account, or filling out their profile information (for the 100th time), your application isn't worth your target demographic's time.

Streamlining these processes (OpenID, oAuth, Open Social, and the like) is a nice-to-have feature, but it ain't going to make or break your product.

Think about the "real-life" parallels. You'll spend an hour in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles in order to get your driver's license so you can drive. You'll spend 15 minutes on-hold to get the concert tickets you really want. Users will spend large amounts of time to get to your product if it's worth it, so focus on your _product_, not the one-time chunk of time a user has to invest to get to it. I gave Fly Clear scans of my eye's iris, and my fingerprints in hopes of saving a few extra minutes in-line at the airport (not to mention the intense/lengthy application process).

User's have spent the past several years creating potentially hundreds of accounts to get to what they want online. For the truly worthwhile products (facebook, myspace, amazon, etc), they'll invest hours on their "profiles." These nuissances have become understood and are accepted patterns (unfortunately).

OpenID, oAuth, & Open Social are fundamental as infrastructure components, but don't get lost in your product roadmap thinking you need any of these to make or break your application. The only exception would be if your application's target consumption is within an environment that only supports these standards. Smart people are working to make these standards easy to implement. Smart people can implement them without much energy. But, again, if you're finding your spending a lot of time building these things into you product in order make your product successful, pack it in, and go find a different product idea.

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