The Economics of Attention: Why There Are No Second Chances on the Internet

15 thoughts on “The Economics of Attention: Why There Are No Second Chances on the Internet”

  1. Great couple of posts and totally agree on your formula “MVP + Happiness + Utility = Early Traction”. We actually started right with that approach (sharing virtual gifts on Facebook: MVP, utility, happiness) and got the early adopters. Then we evolved the app into a very complete sharing platform. With that approach we have been in the Top 10 social networking for over a year and half.
    We just started blogging about our experience (http://www.sivola.com/blog.aspx) that matches under many aspects your train of thoughts here.

  2. There are some very good points here, but I would argue that saying “app devs should focus on a single platform initially” (I paraphrase) is off target. For certain categories of app, that does indeed make sense – Flipboard, for example, where you’re building as great a UI as possible and having a fixed target is helpful. Even games, like Angry Birds – it’s sensible to make it great on one platform first, have it prove itself, and then get it out everywhere else.

    But for a broader category of apps, those that act as the delivery portal to the company’s services, this makes less sense. I’m thinking of things like Catch/Evernote, the Kindle/Nook apps, cross-platform messaging apps, etc. There are more and more of these out there, and they thrive on their “anywhere-ness”, the ability to run on web, on desktop, and as apps on multiple platforms. Part of what “grabs attention” here, and provides that utility/enjoyment factor, is that everyone can use them. The dropbox app isn’t very intuitive or slick to use on mobile devices, but the service behind it is wonderful, and that’s what keeps us coming back for more.

    1. I think if you look at all the names you brought up, they all found success on a single platform before expanding into multiple platforms.

      I think most underscore the complexity of handling multiple products – different OSes are different products with different interaction behaviors and you can botch it up nicely — for a small company launching a product.

      Of course, once you get the first platform right, it is time to scale really really fast.

  3. I totally agree with the “focus on one thing and do it exceptionally good” part. The core experience of the product must be there and working properly. But further than that, anything else can be added later on, so “release early and release often” is still the way to go, as shown by the likes of hipmunk, airbnb, etc.

  4. I think the most common misunderstanding about the start-up mantra “release early and release often” is that this means that you don’t have to have a quality product.

    Well, you do ! However, you should release with a minimum set of features because you really don’t know what people actually want – so you start out with the basic features, release it, get feedback from *real* people, and then adjust, customize and improve.

    But if the quality on the “minimum viable product” is lousy, the social media will make sure that if you’re among the “lucky few” to get any attention at all, then this attention will be *negative* (and the “waves of negativity” will last for a long time, as you say) .

    In a world with an overload of new services and products, getting any attention from anyone is *hard*, so if you’re lucky enough to get it, you should have a quality (even if simple) product to avoid getting buried.

    Now, compared to a hollywood blockbuster, you can actually use the feedback and improve your product – and then release V2.0 of your product later and try to get some attention once again.

    I guess a good example of your “do one thing and do it well” combined with the “focus on one market at a time” is Facebook; start simple at Harvard, improve and extend reach to other colleges, improve and extend to the rest of the world etc.

    I’m therefore slightly more optimistic than you – I do believe there can be second chances on the internet, but not if you screw up at the beginning (“no second chance to make a first impression”) 🙂

  5. If there are no second chances for apps, then surely the same applies to the mobile operating systems that ride beneath them.

    Windows Phone 7 comes to mind. The quote about Colour also applies to WP7: “Now if there was only a little competition on the market, then [it] could find its way back to the forefront, but these days there are just too many options”.

    Mobile is an absolute cut-throat business, and that applies to every level of the stack, from hardware, OS to apps. A lackluster effort will get nowhere.

  6. Om, great article! In product development, this is a brutally difficult process that’s dogged us for generations. Getting to the minimal product can be a painful process because invariably there are hard debates about what features need to be in the first product. What’s important to the UX for one person may be totally unimportant to another.
    Ultimately, I’ve seen the need for a “Steve Jobs” character in charge of each product. Someone with a product vision that unifies the team. Someone who is brutal – “we MUST improve this aspect of the UX and will not ship without” and “those features are totally unnecessary, cut them”. I believe this is where design by committee fails.
    Once an excellent (but imperfect) product is launched, you can start iterating, but you better have a compelling product from the get-go. As you say “there are no second chances on today’s Internet.”

  7. I agree, focus is where success lies. Like you said focus on one goal and outcome. The problem lies when you try to please everybody without focusing on your main targeted group. Do your diligence, understand your product and service, know your demographics and stick to it. Then you can branch off and expand

  8. The wonderful world of attention:
    Let me demonstrate a few things about it:
    Please follow the link to Havard vision lab in a new tab.
    Follow the instructions and come back:

    This is basically what publish early and often meant in the past the part without motion. Only App stores with their constant rotation changed the rules. One might loose track of changes.
    Now one could bring the following hypotheses forward:
    Things in motion do not change color or form, so the brain in its evolutionary process focuses on motion and filters things which are rally happening in nature out.

    Only math tells us otherwise. So if you haven’t already broken it, all engineers brake things as soon as they have the slightest idea how they work, that’s why they are not MDs. Let’s brake it. Go back and do not follow the rules, look directly at the dots not at the static middle point, another way is to blink in rhythm with the change, distance to focus, or many other ways.

    Woops, now one can see some parts change at all times but not all. Why? Attention is feedback based, like all context, it has a past present and future. Every time you focus you alter perceived surrounding reality, that’s why there is a Steve Jobs reality distortion field. He knows how to focus people. Focus on moving parts and it filters moving parts, focus on static and it delivers static, magician know that intuitively without the math. Emotions are a really really strong feedback loop, use it to focus your customers and you might become Apple or brake Apple.

    Problem is most people and specially in marketing have really weird ideas how attention works, why do they put moving parts where people focus on text or visa versa? That might work only where one hasn’t focused yet, after focus game over. Or distract from focus, in which case it annoys, since if gives the feeling of cognitive dissonance (predicts to do something but doesn’t or different, … for an over simplified explanation)

    The point is: Developers focusing on one thing is well, one thing. Developers focusing their customers is a whole new ball game.

  9. “better to release half a product than a half-assed product”
    — the book “Rework”

    Excellent post, Om!
    Novel and screenplay writers have kind of a similar notion… “Start well. Because you can’t sit next to your reader and say, ‘no, stick with it, trust me, it will get better later on…'”

  10. Thanks for the thought-evoking post. Your point regarding “promoting a new consumer usage behavior,” describes the predominant ingredient for market adoption. A perceived or real reason to change consumer behavior. I had no idea why I needed Joost. Cool, sure, but Joost wasn’t enough of a mind changer add something to my already over-digitized day. Consumers change slowly – not abruptly – even in the fast world of “social media amplification,” good or bad.

    I know why I keep buying iPhones – I perceived I needed a single device for my music, and my phone, and my photos. Yes, I am an Apple junkie; the 12-step program didn’t work. Apple already trained me like a circus monkey to download portable digital media and understand apps with iTunes and iPods (and widgets to a lesser degree). Also, it wasn’t so very different than my mobile phone at the time which was a RIM Blackberry – it had a screen and apps too, but those keys were so SMALL and I hated the thing. Now I was familiar a new form factor: the touch screen. So lo and behold, when the iPad came out, I was not a virgin to the technology and snapped one right up.

    The same holds true for applications. What makes me use apps and stick with them? At least right now, an app takes real world behavior (gaming, printing, signing PDFs, booking travel, reading) and moves them in a useful way to the new platform and even a big brand that I use in my daily life – like my bank. But to keep me from tapping the little “x” on the nervously shaking apps on my screen and flushing your one-trick pony from my precious screen-top real estate…don’t make me change to understand what you do. Understand what I do instead and you’ll be one of those shaking apps that won’t be so nervous the next time I hold down my finger on the screen.

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