“I’ll tell you what to do.”

"Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn." – Charles, describing how to ski the ‘impossible’ k12 in Better Off Dead.

I had a big response to my last post on web annotation. One sentence in there sticks out as similarly accurate, but useless advice: "you can build it, and they won’t come, unless you get marketing and distribution right too." So here’s some more concrete analysis of why people don’t come.

There are three reasons someone might use your product; because they like playing with new technology, because they have a painful problem they need to solve, or because it looks like fun.

Geeks are driven by a lust for technology, business customers want to stop the pain, and consumers want to kill boredom. OneNote is the only tool that’s totally focused on the business market, the others are after consumers, but actually seem to be mostly limited to geeks so far.

I did find another good summary of the annotation market from techcrunch. One related tool I didn’t mention before was Stumbleupon, and compared to the others it’s got a stellar adoption rate, with around two million registered users in April.

What’s different about Stumbleupon? It’s instant fun. All of the other services require the user to invest some time and effort before they get a reward. With SU, you install, answer a few quick questions, and it starts showing you sites straight away. That’s fun! That’s what pulls in consumers.

One of my first jobs was helping to port the PC game Diablo to the Playstation 1. Gary Liddon, a programming god from the 8-bit days, explained to me a big reason why it was so successful; every monster you kill explodes in a big, flashy, noisy shower of gold and goodies. It’s like an infinite series of pinatas, people respond to quick and frequent rewards.

Diigo is a beautifully crafted tool, but it doesn’t offer a reward until you’ve spent some time setting things up, linking with friends, and creating your own content. That’s fine for us geeks, or people who have a strong enough need to invest that time to solve a problem, but it’s not going to be something that grabs the idle masses, even though a lot of them would like it once they had put the effort in!

Trailfire takes a bit more of a consumer-focused approach, with popular trails right on its front-page, giving an immediate example of what reward you’ll get. Diigo does have a ‘what’s hot’ page, but it’s deeper in the site.

This may sound like I’m treating consumers like idiots, but the truth is that most normal people don’t enjoy playing with new technology, they need a strong reason to try it, and they find any setup or installation really annoying, even things we’d not think twice about.

PC games don’t sell, apart from a few blockbusters, and even they have tiny sales figures compared to pretty much any franchise sports game. A lot of people who buy consoles already have a PC with comparable power, so why do they bother? The difference is, you (or your granny buying your christmas present) makes sure the sticker on the game’s box says Wii in the store. Then you put the disc in the console, turn it on and play. People buy the game because they anticipate a quick and reliable reward.

With a PC, you take a notebook full of specs to the store to make sure you reach the minimum requirements, then you sit through eight screens of installation mumbo-jumbo and requests to make choices about indecipherable technical details. Then you realize there’s a DLL conflict, and Office no longer runs. There’s no certainty of a reward at the end, and it takes a long time to get there, so most people don’t bother.

Most Web 2.0 tools seem doomed to a geek ghetto, unless we can get the time-to-reward down to seconds rather than minutes or hours.

2 responses

  1. Hi Pete,
    Thanks for your comments on Diigo. Indeed we have put a lot of thought into our product design, and we’re gaining more and more support from growing die-hard fans. Your points are well taken: to date our focus has been making Diigo a killer personal tool for online research and personal productivity. What sets Diigo apart from other web annotation or simple social bookmarking services is that it handles *Knowledge*, rather than mere sticky notes, clippings, and links.
    We are planning a major re-launch of Diigo shortly. So, in addition to significant improvements of Diigo as a research tool, the new Diigo will introduce not just one or two simple features, but rather a whole array of very exciting innovations and further improvements on ease of use to facilitate greater user interactions! So stay tuned 🙂

  2. Thanks Maggie, I’m really looking forward to the re-launched Diigo. It’s already a very fully-featured tool, I especially like the search integration. I chose it as an example precisely because it is so good, and seems to offer such an obvious benefit, but is still taking longer than I’d hoped to reach the mass consumer market. Good luck with the relaunch, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from seeing how you approach it!

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