App review: Meerkat

The other day is saw a discussion about whether Meerkat will or won’t last. Meerkat is a simple video app which lets people stream live to their Twitters. It launched about two weeks ago and has been talked about (and used) a lot since. Let’s do a quick review of the app:

  1. How did the app come to my attention? – Simple. My wife told me about Meerkat about a week ago. I also came across the app on ProductHunt.
  2. My quick summary of the app (before using it) – This app lets me stream live to my Twitter follows.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – The first time I open the app, there’s a screen that introduces Meerkat’s ‘rules of conduct’, explaining that “Everything that happens on Meerkat, happens on Meerkat” and thus making it clear that my Meerkat recordings will be shared on Twitter (see Fig. 1 below).
  4. How does the app explain itself in the first minute – The Meerkat login screen says “Tweet Live Video”, which clearly suggests that I’ll be able to tweet live video streams. At the top of my personalised screen I see a text field which says “Write what’s happening …” with two big calls to action – “schedule” and “stream” – underneath (see Fig. 2 below). I’m not quite clear about what will happen when I write something in the text box, or what to expect when I click on “schedule” or “stream”. Nor am I clear on why certain posts appear under the “upcoming” header; I’ve got three upcoming streams from Index Ventures in there, but I don’t understand where these posts have come from. Are they based on Twitter accounts that I follow or are they just placeholders to deal with an initial ‘cold start’ problem? Also, I know I’m not a designer but the light grey font used for the “upcoming” header doesn’t work particularly well against a dark grey background in my opinion.
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like – I type in “Playing with Meerkat” (see Fig. 3 below) and then click on “schedule” to put in a time that works for me (see Fig. 4 below). Et voila, a tweet announces my live stream and off we go (see Fig. 5 below).
  6. How easy to use was the app? – Fairly easy. I guess I personally could have done with a bit more to better understand how Meerkat works and perhaps see some examples of other live streams. For people like me who don’t do video that frequently or who are who conscious of the things they share on Twitter, a bit more context on the app would be helpful. For instance, I can see on the Meerkat leaderboard that Nir Eyal, who I know and trust, is an avid Meerkat user (see Fig. 6 below). It would be good to see some of Nir’s video streams directly from the app.
  7. How does the app compare to similar apps?Qik, which is now part of Skype, and Periscope, which is currently in private Beta are similar to Meerkat in a sense that enable live video streaming from a multitude of devices. It will be interesting to see what Periscope will look like when it goes live and to learn how easy to use the app is in comparison to Meerkat.
  8. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Yes. The app is simple – perhaps a bit too simple in places – and does exactly what it says on the tin, nothing more and nothing less.

Main learning point: It will be interesting to see what Meerkat’s usage is like once the current hype has subsided and once competitors like Periscope have entered the fray. The app is easy to use, but I feel it could yet do more in terms of its explanatory interface and enabling users to discover content. Considering that this is only the first release of Meerkat, it feels like a good and effective product.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the Meerkat screen which introduces the Rules of Meerkat

Meerkat 1

 

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat 

Meerkat 2

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat after I’ve typed in something in the free text field

Meerkat A

Fig. 4 – Scheduling my live video stream via the Meerkat app

Meerkat 5

Fig. 5 – Screenshot of my tweet announcing my live video stream on Meerkat to my Twitter followers

Meerkat B

Fig. 6 – Screenshot of the leaderboard on the Meerkat app 

Meerkat C

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://quibb.com/links/on-meerkat-and-why-it-won-t-last
  2. http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/9/8164893/meerkat-live-video-streaming-twitter-yevvo-periscope
  3. http://www.producthunt.com/posts/meerkat
  4. http://www.wsj.com/articles/twitter-acquires-live-video-streaming-startup-periscope-1425938498
  5. http://hunterwalk.com/2015/03/14/meerkat-the-value-of-slow-graphs/

Why ‘single purpose’ apps are en vogue

As I’m currently investigating how to best simplify the ways in which user discover new content – as part of my day job as a product manager at Beamly – I have been thinking more about so-called ‘simple purpose apps’.

The words ‘single purpose’ indicate that the apps focus on a singular user ‘job’ (I’ve written about ‘jobs’ previously). For example, Facebook’s “Paper” which concentrates solely on one job; enabling users to upload and share stories. It’s almost like we’re decomposing multi-purpose apps and recreating them into smaller, single task oriented apps.

I’ve thought about this a bit more and looked at some recent examples:

  1. Why single-purpose? – The other day, I heard about a quote from Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, whose company has just split its app into two: “Swarm” (for keeping up and meeting up with friends”) and “Foursquare” (local search personalised to a user’s tastes). “What we’re starting to see is that the best apps tend to be the simplest, the easiest to use and the fastest to use” Dennis Crowley told the Guardian. “I think there’s a larger trend towards unbundling apps and making very easy, simple, clean and elegant single purpose use case apps, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”
  2. What do users want? – In my ongoing conversations with users, it always dawns on me how much people seem to value simplicity and/or ‘structure’ in products. Whether it’s a physical product or a digital application, my perception is that people like to know exactly what a product is for and what it doesn’t do. Users don’t like getting confused by tasks which aren’t core to the key reason for wanting to use the product in the first place. I really like the “Laws Of Simplicity” by John Maeda (see Fig. 1 below). I believe that the current move towards single purpose apps ticks at least four of John Maeda’s Laws Of Simplicity: Context, Time, Organize and Reduce.
  3. Other benefits of ‘unbundling’ – I learned a lot from Taylor Davidson’s views on the benefits of unbundling and him taking Facebook’s current strategy as an example. Taylor points out a number of valid touch interface reasons which accommodate single support apps (as outlined in Fig. 2 below). Touch interfaces make it easy to surface and access multiple apps, and the data capture of specialised apps. Taylor also highlights some constraints and risks to consider in relation to single purpose apps (see Fig. 3 below). Both risks that Taylor points out – lots of single-purpose apps competing for user attention and capturing data in isolation – make a lot of sense and need to be taken seriously.
  4. Facebook’s ‘social conglomerate’ strategy – Rather than creating one product or app which does everything, Facebook seems to be following a so-called ‘social conglomerate strategy’ whereby it makes targeted acquisitions to include specific services in its portfolio (and which continue to exist under their own brand name and within their own ‘home’). Good examples are Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Oculus Rift. As Taylor Davidson explains in his aformentioned blog post; having a social conglomerate strategy in place enables the likes of Facebook, Dropbox and Foursquare to use different brands and applications “to reach difference use cases, demographics, and desires.”

Main learning point: The unbundling of apps seems like a very logical trend, with companies such as Facebook and Dropbox looking to both simplify their apps and to address different use cases / audiences through separate apps or brands. It will be interesting to see how recently acquired single purpose apps such as WhatsApp will be integrated within the Facebook ‘conglomerate’ and whether there will be cases where the single purpose app strategy backfires due to a plentitude of apps available to users.

Fig. 1 – The Laws Of Simplicity by John Maeda (taken from: http://lawsofsimplicity.com/tag/laws/)

  • Law 10 – The One: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.
  • Law 9 – Failure: Some things can never be made simple.
  • Law 8 – Trust: In simplicity we trust.
  • Law 7 – Emotion: More emotions are better than less.
  • Law 6 – Context: What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.
  • Law 5 – Differences: Simplicity and complexity need each other.
  • Law 4 – Learn: Knowledge makes everything simpler.
  • Law 3 – Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity.
  • Law 2 – Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
  • Law 1 – Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

Fig. 2 – Benefits of ‘unbundling’ (taken from: http://taylordavidson.com/2014/apps)

  • The touch interface of mobile smartphone operating systems makes it easy to survey multiple applications to select from: easier than opening up a single app to dig through a menu and list of features.
  • Mobile operating systems unlock a data platform for specialized mobile apps to leverage in a way that isn’t possible on the desktop today.
  • Contacts, calendar, photos, location, storage, and more are all available for an app to access with ease, and that accessibility makes it easy to build a valuable specialized application on top of mobile platforms.

Fig. 3 – Risks to consider in relation to ‘unbundling’ (taken from: http://taylordavidson.com/2014/apps)

  • The problems of customer acquisition and engagement are magnified. In a world where customer acquisition and engagement on mobile are major challenges (read a million other articles about the problems of app store discovery and search, download metrics and tracking, and more), the proliferation of single-purpose apps increases the competition for homescreen and top-of-mind share.
  • Single-purpose apps amplify the amount of siloed data and reduce the data scale held by any one app. Single-purpose apps build deep understanding about interactions about our actions and behaviors in very specific ways (i.e. what we read, what we listen to, how much we work out, where we go), which makes them very powerful sources of data, but also locks that data away from other apps.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://lawsofsimplicity.com/
  2. http://taylordavidson.com/2014/apps
  3. http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20140226/TECHNOLOGY/140229904/whatsapp-deal-exposes-nys-soft-underbelly
  4. http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/29/one-app-at-a-time/
  5. http://stratechery.com/2014/social-conglomerate/
  6. http://techcrunch.com/2012/05/16/nielsen-u-s-consumers-app-downloads-up-28-to-41-4-of-the-5-most-popular-still-belong-to-google/
  7. http://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2014/04/03/why-facebook-is-spending-billions-on-companies-it-doesnt-need/
  8. https://ca.news.yahoo.com/facebook-s-mark-zuckerberg-is-building-a-conglomerate-201436689.html
  9. http://pando.com/2014/05/01/by-splitting-in-two-foursquare-joins-facebook-google-and-dropbox-in-the-great-unbundling/
  10. http://curiousmatic.com/heres-why-facebook-google-and-dropbox-are-unbundling-apps/
  11. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/29/mary-meeker-2015-findable-data-mobile-sensors
  12. http://blog.foursquare.com/post/84422758243/a-look-into-the-future-of-foursquare-including-a-new

 

Discovering more about social collaboration software

Recently I found myself looking into the world of ‘enterprise collaboration’ tools. The key thing I love about such applications is the amount of transparency they offer. Suddenly, discussions, thoughts, suggestions and documents become a lot more visible and accessible.

In a previous role I had worked a lot with tools like Jive and Basecamp and I’ve recently been ‘collaborating’ a lot through Asana and Yammer. It made me realise that even though a lot of these tools set out to provide a similar value or proposition, there are nevertheless some differences worth looking into:

  1. Online collaboration vs online project management (1) – People can collaborate around ideas or specific projects, or both. Yammer is great as a tool to collaborate around ideas whereas Basecamp and Asana are more geared towards project management. As my ex-colleague Daniel Siddle – who specialises in this area – put it: “real-time collaboration is a hard one to get right since the concrete end goal can be much harder to define and less tangible compared to using online project management software.” With project management software the tangible outcome is that you can deliver a project faster but with social collaboration software things can be a lot less tangible.
  2. Online collaboration vs online project management (2) – What I like most about using tools such as Yammer, Jive, Chatter (Salesforce) and Confluence is that they enable full transparency, keeping all relevant communications in a single place. When working on specific projects, tools such as Podio (see Fig. 2 below) and Basecamp (see Fig. 3 below) can provide visibility on project progress and on who’s doing what. One thing I learned from having another play with some of these tools is that most online collaboration tools also seem to have at least some project management functionality. Good examples in this respect are Yammer, Tibbr and IBM Connections. Employees can have lengthy discussions on these platforms but are able to switch into a more project management related part of the system if required. In contrast, some of the online project management tools that I’ve looked at seem less geared towards open collaboration.
  3. Some tools in the online collaboration space and what to look out for – Tools that come to mind are: Chatter, SocialtextIgloo, Jive, Yammer, Confluence, MangoApps and daPulse (see Fig. 1 below). As with any digital application, key things to look out for are (1) ease of use and clean interface design and (2) management of information. With some of the tools that I mentioned above there’s a risk of information overload, with the application becoming one long activity stream. Also, I’ve learned from implementing some of these tools with clients that the more intuitive it is to share and comment on ideas, the higher the uptake of these tools. I like tools such as Yammer and Jive because they are so intuitive and easy to use.
  4. Some tools in the online project management space and what to look out for – When managing projects of any scale and with a number of different people involved, Gantt charts or emails are no longer sufficient in my view. Tools like Asana, Basecamp, Podio, Trello and SocialCast provide private workspaces dedicated to specific projects and make it easier to keep track of project progress and outstanding tasks. Whereas a tool like Yammer is continually strengthening the project management aspect of its application (see Fig. 4 below), I find that Asana, Podio and Basecamp (see Fig. 2/3 below) can really help in assigning tasks as well as understanding the status of a project and its individual milestones. Another aspect to look out for is the secure sharing of documents. Most of the applications I mentioned above do have that capability, but there also platforms out there such as Dropbox and Box that do just that: securing storing and sharing of documents.

Main learning point: having used social and project management tools for a while now, it’s interesting to see an overlap in functionality and in proposition arising between the different tools. Like with most products the main challenge to the user is to be clear what they want get out of a specific tool and to establish whether it can deliver on that expectation. For instance, if one’s end goal is to deliver projects faster, some of the open collaboration solutions might not be appropriate. In contrast, if one likes to collaborate around ideas then the more traditional project management software might not be the way to go.

Fig. 1 – An introduction to daPulse by daPulse

Fig. 2 – How Podio can be used for Project Management by Podio

Fig. 3 – A review of the Basecamp project management functionality by Joel Milne

Fig. 4 – An overview of new Yammer features by Yammer

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://venturebeat.com/2013/04/22/jive-yammer-competitor-shows-its-moxie-by-making-paid-service-free/
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_collaborative_software
  3. http://www.ombud.com/product/compare/yammer
  4. http://www.quora.com/Who-are-the-competitors-to-Microsofts-Yammer
  5. http://www.cio.com/article/598122/15_Free_Enterprise_Collaboration_Tools

Stop losing stuff with Tile

I was really intrigued when I found out about Tile, an app that helps users find their lost items. People talk a lot about the “Internet of Things” and Tile is a tangible example of this concept. So what is Tile?

  1. A small hardware device – A “Tile” is a small white device that you can easily attach to any items that you wish to track (e.g. a laptop, a wallet or a bicycle – see Fig. 1). With its GPS-like functionality users can track their items through their Tiles. Tiles doesn’t have to be recharged and they come with a built-in speaker so that you can hear whenever you’re getting closer to the item that you’re looking for.
  2. An app to go with the device – The main idea behind the Tile app on your phone is to make it easier to find your Tile(s). For example, the app remembers where it last saw your Tile or you can use the app to ring a specific Tile to find out where you’ve left it. Also, the app lets users turn on a range view when they are within 100-150 feet of a Tile. This view will help you figuring out whether you’re getting closer (or not) to the Tile that you’re looking for (see Fig. 2).
  3. A community of Tile users – A user’s ability to retrieve their valuables through Tile will largely depend on the wider network of Tile users. The idea is to create a distributed network of Tile users who all receive an alert in case a fellow Tile user marks one of his items as lost. It sounds like the team at Tile aren’t initially highlighting this functionality, arguing (quite rightly) that users don’t need a whole community to hunt down the set of keys that they might have lost in the house.

Main learning point: Tile is the latest exponent in a recent trend involving connected objects, where the device is connected to an app that the user can control. The main proposition is a simple but an appealing one; helping you to find your lost items. I can see Tile becoming a success and building up a group of loyal users fairly quickly.

However, I believe that Tile’s success rate will depend largely on two factors: price and community. A Tile is currently priced at $25 which could pose a bit of a financial hurdle to users. Secondly, for a user to get the most out if his Tile, the presence of an ‘alert’ Tile user community is critical. I guess that’s the question I’m curious to find about the most: how many people will soon be tagging their personal items through Tile?

Fig. 1 – Tile’s small device that helps you track real-world items

Fig. 2 – The app lets users turn on a range view to work out if they’re getting closer to their Tile tile-signal-strength Related links for further learning:

  1. http://techcrunch.com/2013/06/20/tile/
  2. http://www.thetileapp.com/

Developing my own product – Creating a Minimum Viable Product

Now that my efforts to develop the HipHopListings iOS app myself had not provided me with the desired results, I decided to seek help. I got as far as creating a basic app version of my existing HipHopListings (‘HHL’) blog and installing it onto my phone. However, it became pretty clear very quickly that Apple weren’t going to accept my app or that “AppMaker”, the 3rd party tool I was using, were going to submit the app for me. Alex, an experienced end-to-end developer, was happy to help me with developing the app in return for a modest fee. One of the first questions that he asked me however was whether I could provide me him with a short brief of what to build.

At this stage, I had thought about my product vision, assessed the opportunity, created wireframes and even started developing the app myself. What I hadn’t done, however, was define the minimum functionality which needed to be included in the app. I thought I had a reasonably good idea of my target users and their problems that I was looking to solve through the app. Also, I felt I now had a better steer on the criteria Apple use to approve an app into their App Store. I just needed to translate this is into some well-defined features and requirements that Alex could work against.

The challenge was to rein myself in whilst I was outlining the product requirements. I could easily see myself falling in the trap of overdesignining this app, now that I had an experienced developer to help me. I therefore used Tristan Kromer’s version of a mix of the “Lean Product Canvas” (by Ash Amaurya) and the “Business Model Canvas” (by Alex Osterwalder) as a technique to try to keep my requirements as ‘lean’ and ‘minimal’ as possible. This is how I broke it down:

  1. Customer needs and goals (problems) (1) – The key user problems I was looking to address through my HHL app were twofold: (1) how do I find out about upcoming Hip Hop shows in my area? and (2) how do I find out about upcoming Hip Hop releases. Both seemed like fair assumptions to make as I’ve received lot of a feedback on these problems from having done HHL over the past 4 years.  
  2. Customer needs and goals (requirements) (2) – In my brief to Alex the developer I translated the user problems mentioned under 1. in the simplest way possible: (1) enable users to easily view upcoming shows and go to a 3rd party ticketing site (see Fig. 1 below) and (2) enable users to filter listings by area and by date (see Fig. 2 below). I also asked Alex to set up Google Analytics so that I could track users’ actual behaviour and validate some of my assumptions.
  3. Keep it simple – I decided to keep the design of the app as simple as possible at this stage. Let’s get the app approved by Apple first (which can be a real pain in itself), get people to use the app and comment the functionality. Once I’ve established that users actually do find the app of value in terms of finding out about gigs and releases, I can them improve the functionality further and worry more about the user interface / visual design. In his “Lean Product Canvas” Tristan Kromer refers to this approach as ‘trimming the fat’.
  4. Customer needs and problems (3)  Based on previous feedback, I thought it would be good to add a very basic ‘discovery’ element to the app; a very simple ‘Featured’ screen which users can turn to for curated shows and releases which I’d chosen to highlight (see Fig. 3 below). I reckoned this feature would be relatively easy to get feedback on. Firstly, through tools Google Analytics and Flurry I would be able to monitor the number of views of this screen. Secondly, I felt this would be the kind of feature which would be easy to get qualitative user feedback on. I could use both feedback methods to validate one of my assumptions: making it as easy as possible for users to discover new shows and releases will be a powerful proposition for HHL’s (target) users.   
  5. Constraints to consider – One of my personal goals was to learn more about designing for mobile. And learning I did. My original design went largely out of the window as soon as I realised from testing that Facebook’s more traditional split screen view (see Fig. 4 below) would probably be easier to implement and for users to interact with. After all, all I wanted is a clean and simple interface, no frills, and it looked my original designs were probably a bit too elaborate compared to some of the simple user interfaces that are working well (with Facebook, Hailo and Vine as good examples). Also, I realised that I had to update the app’s content manually via a back-end which had to be kept as simple and intuitive as possible. I spent a good chunk of my time think about the user flow involved in uploading, updating and removing the app’s content.

Main learning point: actually putting down my functional and non-functional requirements down was both scary and exciting at the same time. Scary, because I really had to rein myself in and be realistic about technical and financial constraints. Exciting because I could apply some of my ‘lean’ lessons learned to my own app and think about the key value I could provide my (target) users with in the first iteration of my HipHopListings app. If anything, it was great to go from creating my original vision to submitting my app with Apple within a month. As scary and challenging as it felt at times, I felt I had created something tangible that I could launch, validate, learn from and build on!

Fig. 1 – My design for a “Shows” to enable users to easily find out about upcoming shows and go to ticket sites

Fig. 2 – My design for a simple filtering functionality, enabling users to only look at shows in their area or by date

0421'13 Draft Show Filtering V1

Fig. 3 – My design for a simple ‘Featured’ screen which highlights pre-picked shows and releases

0420'13 Draft main app screen (featured)

Fig. 4 – Facebook’s split view mobile app design

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://grasshopperherder.com/business-model-canvas-for-user-experience/