Yesterday I watched the live stream of Y Combinator’s Female Founders Conference. 12 female CEO’s took the stage, sharing their story, learnings, and challenges building a tech company. Watching from afar, I appreciated the positivity and genuine support from the speakers and crowd.
I’m a white male living in Silicon Valley. For better or worse, my physicality doesn’t stand out in the tech industry. Hearing Jamie Wong, founder of Vayable, retell her story of being called “incredibly good looking” when first meeting an investor and being slapped in the ass by a VC, gave me perspective of the context and discomfort women in technology sometimes face. While she admits these were extreme, rare cases of mistreatment, it only takes one instance to cement distrust and skepticism in the heads of female founders.
Situations like this can cause emotional distress for female founders and turn women away from predominantly male, tech entrepreneurship. We need to encourage all types of people — women or otherwise — to pursue entrepreneurship if it’s their calling.
Furthermore, and independent of the gender gap, I can’t stress the importance of treating people with respect and kindness enough, especially in the startup community. Silicon Valley is driven by its pay-it-forward culture and relationships.
What you do and say, good and bad, will be known. Make it the former.
Last week someone asked me:
How do you build a community?
I paused. I hadn’t thought about it before. For the past three months, much of my time and focus has been on growing the Product Hunt community. I never considered myself a “community builder” but in retrospect, perhaps I am. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I answered:
To be honest, I wasn’t particularly calculated when building community. I simply treated others the way I would want to be treated.
Before Product Hunt, I’ve been fortunate to form relationships with several people in the startup community by actively blogging, engaging on Twitter, offering my help, participating in communities like Quibb, organizing Startup Edition, and hosting brunches and happy hours with entrepreneurs. I do so for fun and with a desire to learn from others.
Along with Nathan Bashaw’s help, this experience and network helped get Product Hunt off the ground, now reaching thousands of product-loving folks. It would have been far more difficult to attract a large and connected community nine months ago and frankly, I’m not sure it would still be around if attempted before building prior relationships because ultimately, the community IS Product Hunt.
I love you guys and gals
This is where I get sappy…
I’m proud of the Product Hunt community and its positive, constructive dialog. We’re all product enthusiasts, empathetic of the challenges in building and growing a company. This shared understanding is evident in the discussion as contributors provide thoughtful feedback, critique, and compliments to product builders.
But it’s more than that.
Several designers, coders, and marketers have reached out to offer help:
…and many others extended their hand to support (sorry, too many to name but you know who you are!).
What I learned: When you build something people love, they want to be a part of it.
How I think about community building
Ultimately, you can’t build community without authenticity. The best community builders exemplify a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy. While I don’t claim to be the most emotionally intelligent or empathetic person, I consider myself higher than average and recognize this as paramount to Product Hunt’s success so far.
Here are some of the things I’ve done to cultivate a strong community:
People want to be heard. I try to reply to every email and tweet, helping where I can, although more recently I’ve been overwhelmed (sorry!). Buffer does an amazing job of this — just look at their Twitter account and the support team’s absurdly fast response time.
2. Cognizant of Peoples’ Interest and Talents
Product Hunt is primarily made of entrepreneurs. The great thing about this is that we all have different talents and complimentary skills. When possible, I make light introductions to people that may be able to help one another. For example, Jonathan Howard, CEO of Emissary, came to mind in the discussion thread with Tyler Hayes, CEO of Prime. They are both awesome guys, in the early stages of their healthcare-related startups.
I also pull people with expertise on a particular topic, into the comments or highlight products relevant to others in the community.
3. Give Props
Many of the people on Product Hunt are doing awesome things. Occasionally I call out these contributions and achievements, whether it’s an insightful blog post on a relevant topic:
…or a new product launch:
They deserve the attention and doing so helps create a culture of reciprocation.
I also extend opportunities for the community to become a part of the story through a series of blog posts called “Product Hunt Favorite Finds,” highlighting their top product discoveries. Those featured appreciate the attention and the creators of products mentioned — many of whom are also product hunters — love the support.
4. Meet IRL
Although we’re more connected and communicate more personally online than ever before, it’s not a replacement for face-to-face interaction. We’ve hosted two Product Hunt happy hours in San Francisco, attracting over 60 attendees each time. It’s a great way to get to know people behind the screen and help others form real relationships with one another.
I’m proud of the product we’ve built with the help of the community. It’s come a long way since it began as a simple email list. I want to sincerely thank everyone for the support and if you have suggestions of how we can improve Product Hunt, don’t hesitate to reach out via email (ryan[at]ryanhoover.me) or on Twitter (@rrhoover).
P.S. Speaking of props, I have to give credit to Quibb’s Sandi MacPherson for some of the inspiration and indirect guidance she’s provided in community building. Thanks, Sandi!
P.P.S. I’m cognizant that some people may be frustrated that they do not yet have the ability to post and comment on Product Hunt. We will open it to a broader audience but not until the product is ready to scale. If you’re interested, add your name here and I will keep you in the loop.
Readers ask me this question at least once a week so I figured I would write a short post with my answer.
In the past year, I’ve written over 100 essays scattered across the web on publications like The Next Web, FastCo, Pando, Medium, Svbtle, Quora, LinkedIn, and of course my own blog hosted by tumblr. Unless I’m writing a guest post for a publication, I typically post my essay on my personal domain (ryanhoover.me) and promote the piece on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Quibb. The following day, I cross-post the essay on Medium, Svbtle, sometimes Quora, and most recently, LinkedIn’s Influencer program. When I tell people this, they often ask:
But isn’t that disingenuous?
I wholeheartedly disagree. If the content is relevant to the community, why should it matter? Bloggers spend a lot of time writing and it’s in their best interest to maximize distribution. You never know what posts will take off — much of this is outside writers’ control, dependent on timing and luck. By posting on multiple destination, bloggers increase their exposure and opportunity for their writing to spread within those communities.
Does Medium, Svbtle, et al allow cross-posting?
Yes, as they should. They would prefer to be the first to publish original work but consider this: you, the writer, are offering free content with no guarantee or promise of distribution. How can they be mad?
What about SEO? Aren’t you hurting your domain’s search ranking and future inbound traffic by cross-posting?
Perhaps, but really that’s not what I’m optimizing for. Ultimately, the growth of my email list is most important, that is why you see a call-to-action to subscribe at the bottom of nearly all of my articles. Regardless, the type of content I write often isn’t typically something people are searching for.
I’d love to hear from other bloggers in how they distribute their work. Let me know on Twitter (@rrhoover).
Product Hunt was born 100 days ago. From the beginning, I wanted to share its story in public along the way. Storytelling done well is fantastic marketing but that’s not my only motivation. I do it to give back by sharing the learnings, thought process, and strategies used to build and grow the product. Entrepreneurs rarely share their story in public — and often for good reason. But I admire those that do.
No company is more transparent than Buffer. It’s founder, Joel Gascoigne, has blogged about his company since the beginning, sharing how he came up with the idea to an apologetic postmortem of a security breach. And Joel’s not the only one. His cultural influence shines through in his team as they write with transparency and honesty.
In early 2013 Danielle Morrill announced the death of her “zombie startup”, Referly. Few have the courage to admit this to themselves, let alone in public. Over the next 10 weeks, she blogged every day, writing the kernels of what eventually became Mattermark. Although she infrequently publishes new essays now that she’s operating a company, her recent essay captured her startup’s struggle, undoubtedly resonating with other founders that have faced similar challenges and fears.
Adii Pienaar is one of the most generous entrepreneurs I know, frequently offering his help to others. His generosity and empathy extends into his writing, sharing his strategies used building PublicBeta and his decision to put his startup on pause.
Product Hunt in 5 Stories
I’ve published five essays on Product Hunt’s story. Here they are:
Announcing Product Hunt (November 6, 2013)
The Wisdom Of The 20-Minute Startup (December 9, 2013)
Hunting for habits: Keying in on smart design to make an irresistible product (December 19, 2013)
How We Got Our First 2,000 Users Doing Things That Don’t Scale (January 7, 2014)
Five Hard Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Starting Up (February 10, 2014)
I’m not saying everyone should write their startup story in public. Many should focus on building over blogging. That said, I encourage founders to do so and in turn, they will gain respect, attract attention, and contribute to the startup community.
If interested, more of the Product Hunt story is shared in the press, through editorials and interviews:
To follow along, subscribe or follow me on Twitter (@rrhoover).
Product Hunt began as an experiment, inspired by my desire to share, discover, and geek out about new and interesting products with smart folks. The “20-minute MVP" was surprisingly well received. Turns out I wasn’t the only one that enjoyed the daily email as more people subscribed and shared it with their friends. The positive feedback and early traction encouraged me to build it into a real product so I reached out to my friend, Nathan Bashaw, and we designed and built the product over the Thanksgiving break. What started as a simple email list of 30 entrepreneurial friends and has expanded to an influential community of 9,000 and growing.
But Product Hunt isn’t a happy accident and certainly not my first startup idea. I’ve experimented with various ideas over the years and refined the qualities I look for before jumping into my next startup idea.
Evaluating Startup Ideas
We all come up with startup ideas day-to-day but choosing the right idea requires introspection and careful thought. While I’ve enjoyed experimenting and learning from various projects, asking these five questions would have saved me time wasted on unviable ideas that I didn’t really want to pursue long-term:
Am I excited to pursue this for several years?
Despite the perception caused by demo days or product launches on TechCrunch, startups are never an overnight success. It takes several years of building and marketing to create a prosperous business. During this time, entrepreneurs face inevitable struggles that, without passion, are incredibly difficult to overcome.
Over a year ago, I considered building “Uber for laundry.” I called it LaundryMate (I know, terrible name). As San Francisco residents know, an in-home washer and dryer is a luxury. Knowing how busy SF professionals are, I saw a need for a service like this so I created a landing page to collect email address to measure interest and start a dialog with potential customers. My confidence in the idea increased after receiving positive feedback in the service from those that signed up. A few days later I killed the project.
Despite my confidence in the problem hypothesis (busy professionals hate to do laundry and are unsatisfied with existing solutions), I didn’t want to be in the laundry business. Surprisingly, linen and the smell of freshly ironed clothing doesn’t excite me. Thankfully, I recognized this quickly before investing more than a weekend on the idea. Ironically, a year later on-demand laundry startup, Washio, launched.
Do I have the right skill-set and team?
I fully support ambitious entrepreneurs but sometimes ambition and excitement blinds them from reality. We’re not all Elon Musk. Wise entrepreneurs evaluate their ability and team honestly.
A friend of mine once pitched an idea for a social, restaurant discovery app. The concept was similar to Yelp but with more emphasis on recommendations from friends. Let’s assume people want a more social Yelp. Even if that were true, the product must be adopted by a massive audience to become a successful business. Not to mention, it would be in direct competition with Yelp, Foursquare, and other incumbents in a crowded space. Some entrepreneurs have the experience and capital to pull this off. With upmost respect, my friend who had never worked in a startup environment, did not. Like many, he underestimated the level of effort, capital, and marketing required to succeed with this particular idea.
I’m not advocating entrepreneurs to avoid swinging for the fence but sometimes a base hit is the best strategy to score. Consider solving a “smaller” problem first and before swinging, be pragmatic, evaluate the market, and recognize your strengths and weaknesses.
3. Existing User Behaviors
Are people doing this already?
It’s very difficult to change user behavior, let alone create entirely new ones. Most successful startups leverage existing behaviors, enabling people to do something they are already doing but better or more frequently. Ev Williams articulates this best:
Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time… identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.
Rarely do successful startups drastically introduce new behaviors.
Before Instagram, amateur photographers snapped photos and uploading them to their computer to beautify them with Photoshop or similar photo-editing applications.
Joel Gascoigne wasn’t satisfied with his current solution for sharing on Twitter and other social networks so he created Buffer, a better way to share updates and links. Joel built it for himself but also the millions of others tweeting, posting to Facebook, and sharing on the web.
Mobile messaging app, WhatsApp, didn’t grow to 430MM active users by changing peoples’ daily behavior. Communication and desire for social connectedness is innate in all of us. The service simply made communication easier and more accessible.
Once you’ve identified an existing behavior, you have to provide a much better solution than what they’re doing today. As an active blogger, people often share my writing on Twitter, sometimes pulling quotes from the essay. But I wanted to encourage my readers to share even more by making it easier. So I created REQUOTE.
4. Growth Engine
How will I acquire users?
As we all know, building a great product is just part of the challenge. You also need users. Without traction, even the best products die on the vine. Go-to market and growth need to be considered on day 0.
Having a thesis for your startup’s growth and an understanding of your business economics will help identify opportunities. For example, many e-commerce companies that sell expensive merchandise, leverage paid channels such as Google Adwords or Facebook ads to acquire users and generate revenue on the direct sale. Massive growth may not be important or realistic to achieve success when each user generates hundreds of dollars in revenue.
Advertising-based businesses have a very different trajectory and require a large user base to become a big business. In part, this is why startups like Pinterest and Twitter didn’t focus on monetization in the early stages. Relative to the high-end e-commerce business, revenue per user is much lower and rely on word of mouth, press, SEO, App Store distribution, and other non-paid channels to grow.
Consider asking: How many users do we need to reach our revenue goals? Can I acquire users affordably through paid channels? What will encourage people to spread the word?
How will I make money?
Turning mindshare into money is often just as challenging. In 1999, Nick Swinmurn famously conducted a “Wizard of Oz” test to prove he could make money selling shoes online. At the time, e-commerce was relatively new and it was unclear how many people would be willing to buy shoes before trying them on in-person. Before investing in a sophisticated e-commerce platform and buying inventory, he put up a simple website and hosted photographs of shoes from local stores. If people made a purchase through his online store, he would return to the shop to buy the shoes and ship them to the customer. To his delight, people bought them proving there was an opportunity to build an online marketplace for shoes. Nick’s experiment became Zappos, one of the largest online retailers of shoes.
I went through this thought exercise on another project of mine called Wall of Awesome. 2012 was a good year for PlayHaven. We were growing fast, doubling headcount within a six month period. Having seen the importance of nurturing a positive company culture, I sought to build a simple product that enabled people within the company to recognize and appreciate each others work, delivered as a weekly email digest.
I created a landing page and promoted it across my network (I had a much smaller audience at the time). Within the first week, I received over 200 email signup and far more interest than my REQUOTE project. But then I took a step back and asked myself, “How will I monetize Wall of Awesome?” I recognized how difficult and slow it would be to convert companies into a paying customers, especially when there’s little-to-no direct measurable benefit from the service. The path to revenue was unclear and I lacked the passion to sell Wall of Awesome to companies, so I ended the experiment.
New, creative monetization models may be an innovative advantage but if unproven, they may lead to a dead end. Find a way to validate those monetization ideas cheaply as Nick Swinmurn did and learn from the success or failure of similar businesses.
Before embarking on your next startup adventure, ask yourself:
- Am I excited to pursue this for several years?
- Do I have the right skill-set and team?
- Are people doing this already?
- How will I acquire users?
- How will I make money?
Subscribe to follow along on our journey building Product Hunt.
Photo credit: Dennis Brekke
This article originally appeared on FastCo.
Secret is my new favorite obsession. As expected, the anonymous secret-sharing service notifies users when new secrets are posted by friends and when someone comments or loves posts. This common re-engagement trigger to bring people back to the app. But there’s a another type of push notification used by Secret that I find particularly interesting. On its surface, it seems like all the rest and potentially annoying, but in reality it’s well-thought and purposeful.
I just received this push notification:
This number continues to increment as more of my friends - those in my contacts - join the service. This subtle notification elicits a few emotions, making receivers feel:
Every new person that joins, is someone who found Secret after the recipient. For the early adopter, product hipsters, this is rewarding, knowing you discovered the app first. It’s the equivalent of having a low user ID number on Twitter or other popular services (like Product Hunt. ;)
The number of friends that join Secret is similar to the number of friends on Facebook. Each addition, reinforces a feeling of popularity. A few times people have asked me how many friends I have on Secret, inspiring offline conversation and subtle competition among friends.
3. More Engaged
I received this text message from a friend a week ago:
Are you sure you’ve got 118 friends on Secret? Bc I’ve got 4. So basically every secret in my circle is you. Don’t worry… I won’t tell anyone. ;)
This is a problem and may prevent early adopters from sharing as much or as frequently. But as one’s circle - the number of friends using the service - becomes larger, their secrets become increasingly obfuscated.
The moment a new friend joins, one might wonder the identity of the new user. Secret’s growth is predominantly through word of mouth (afaik), surfacing memories of past conversations. “I wonder if my friend, Jane, just joined.” This mystery can inspire more thought and attention toward the brief notification.
Many social apps inform users who joined the service but I have yet to see an app display the number of friends within the notification. This subtle difference communicates progression, liveliness, and potential FOMO.
These push notifications are just one example of many clever, subtle design decisions driving Secret’s early success.
Can you think of other creative uses of push notifications? Let me know on Twitter (@rrhoover).
This article, an adaptation from the book, Hooked: A Guide to Building Habit-Forming Products, was co-written with Nir Eyal and originally published on TechCrunch.
Earlier this month, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone unveiled his mysterious startup Jelly. The question-and-answer app was met with a mix of criticism and head scratching. Tech-watchers asked if the world really needed another Q&A service. Skeptics questioned how it would compete with existing solutions and pointed to the rocky history of previous products like Mahalo Answers, Formspring, and Aardvark.
In an interview, Biz articulated his goal to, “make the world a more empathetic place.” Sounds great but one wonders if Biz is being overly optimistic. Aren’t we all busy enough? Control for our attention is in a constant tug-of-war as we struggle to keep-up with all the demands for our time. Can Jelly realistically help people help one another? For that matter, how does any technology stand a chance of motivating users to do things outside their normal routines?
We hope a few insights gleaned from user psychology may help the Jelly makers improve their jam and provide some tips for anyone building an online community.
Lesson 1 – The Right Reward
In May 2007, entrepreneur and Internet celebrity Jason Calacanis launched a site called Mahalo. A flagship feature of the new site was a Q&A forum known as Mahalo Answers. Unlike previous Q&A sites, Mahalo utilized a special incentive to get users to ask and answer questions.
People who submitted a question would offer a bounty in the form of a virtual currency known as “Mahalo Dollars.” Then, other users would contribute answers to the question and the best response would receive the bounty, which could be exchanged for real money. By providing a monetary reward, the Mahalo founders believed they could drive user engagement and form new habits.
At first, Mahalo garnered significant attention and traffic. At its high point, 14.1 million users worldwide visited the site monthly. But over time usage stalled.
Calacanis blamed Google’s algorithm update for having a major negative impact but said Mahalo was, “growing very slowly” even before the change. As Mahalo struggled to retain users, another Q&A site began to boom. Quora, launched in 2010 by two former Facebook employees, quickly grew in popularity. Unlike Mahalo, Quora did not offer a single cent to anyone answering questions. Why then, have users stayed engaged with Quora but not with Mahalo, despite its monetary rewards?
In Mahalo’s case, executives assumed that paying users would drive repeat engagement with the site. After all, people like money, right?
However, Quora demonstrated that social rewards and the variable reinforcement of recognition from peers proved to be a much more salient motivator. Quora instituted an upvoting system that reports user satisfaction with answers and provides a steady stream of social feedback. Quora’s rewards have proven more attractive than Mahalo’s because the incentive to answer a question is driven by the anticipation of social, not financial, reward. When it comes to online communities, the need to connect and contribute turns out to be a more powerful motivator than collecting cash.
Lesson 2 – Frequency Matters
Think of the products and services you would identify as “habit-forming.” Odds are most of these services are used daily, if not multiple times per day. For instance, in December of 2013, a remarkable 61.5 percent of Facebook’s 1.23 billion monthly active users returned to the site at least once per day. A survey conducted by IDC revealed Americans checked Facebook an average of 14 times per day.
When it comes to forming habits, frequency matters and studies have demonstrated that how often a behavior occurs is a key factor in the likelihood of creating a new routine.
On Mahalo, only one person was awarded the monetary bounty, often days after submitting their answer. If payouts were meant to take the form of a game, then the rewards came too infrequently to matter. The same can be said for those asking questions. Relative to the results delivered by Google, Mahalo Answers took an eternity. Services that can deliver quick rewards encourage higher frequency of use and have an easier time forming new habits.
Though still not as fast as a Google search, Jelly provides feedback relatively quickly. It is not surprising given his Twitter pedigree that Biz Stone understands the power of frequent interactions. On Twitter, the feedback is fast and often furious — a single tweet can generate favorites, retweets, and replies within seconds. For Jelly to succeed, users must receive frequent reinforcement.
Within 60 seconds of submitting the question, “Why do you use Jelly?” four people responded, pulling me back to the app before my grip left my iPhone. When asking a question on Jelly, friends and friends-of-friends receive a push notification, prompting the recipients to help.
Unfortunately, to get the notifications, users need to have the app. As one would expect of a fledgling service, Jelly has not yet reached the critical mass of people needed to provide the quick Twitter-like feedback users crave. For the reward to come fast enough, not only does Jelly need enough users, but it must also build the right kind of community.
Lesson 3 – A Community of People Whose Opinions We Care About
We are a species that depends on each other. Social rewards are driven by our connectedness with other people. Our brains are adapted to seek rewards that make us feel accepted, attractive, important, and included. Many of our institutions and industries are built around this need for social reinforcement. From civic and religious groups to spectator sports and “water cooler” television shows, the need to feel social connectedness informs our values and drives much of how we spend our time.
Sites that leverage these kinds of rewards benefit from what psychologist Albert Bandura called “social learning theory.” Bandura studied the power of modeling and ascribed special powers to our ability to learn from others. In particular, Bandura showed that people who observe someone being rewarded for a particular behavior are more likely to alter their own beliefs and subsequent actions.
However, social rewards are not as meaningful if they come from just anyone. Notably, Bandura showed that when people observe the behavior of people most like themselves, or those who are slightly more experienced, social learning worked particularly well. This is exactly the kind of targeted demographic and interest-level segmentation that industry-specific sites such as Stack Overflow apply.
Stack Overflow, the world’s largest Q&A site for software developers, generates a staggering 5,000 answers to member questions daily. Many of these responses provide detailed, highly technical and time-consuming answers. Users invest effort into what others may see as the burdensome task of writing technical documentation.
Like Quora users, Stack Overflow users are not rewarded with money, but recognition within the community. Each time a user submits an answer, other members have the opportunity to vote the response up or down. The best responses percolate upwards, accumulating points for their authors. When they reach certain point levels, members earn badges, which endow special status and privileges.
Stack Overflow works because, like all of us, software engineers find satisfaction in contributing to a community they care about; turning a seemingly mundane task into an engaging, game-like experience. But on Stack Overflow, points are not just an empty game mechanic, they confer special value by representing how much someone has contributed to their tribe. Users enjoy the feeling of helping their fellow programmers and earning the respect of people whose opinions they value.
Jelly: Sweet or Sour?
Will Jelly succeed where other Q&A services failed? It is always hard to predict the success or failure of new still evolving products. We hope Jelly and other community-oriented sites will take lessons from the examples above to provide frequent, meaningful rewards from a community that users care about. By looking to insights from psychology, product designers can increases their odds of forming new user habits.
There’s been a buzz in the undercurrents of Silicon Valley about Secret Inc. Yesterday the appropriately named mobile app, Secret, launched. Using one’s phone contacts, the service creates an anonymous network with friends to share secrets and photos freely.
In a post on Medium, its founders describe their motivation:
We built Secret for people to be themselves and share anything they’re thinking and feeling with their friends without judgment. We did this by eliminating profile photos and names and by putting the emphasis entirely on the words and images being shared. This way, people are free to express themselves without holding back.
Anonymity reduces our hesitation to create and express ourselves. Last night I stayed home alone. I wasn’t in the mood to be social on a Saturday night like all the cool kids. Instead, I watched standup comedy and played with Secret. I posted a few “secrets” and commented on others. I didn’t have to worry about being judged for hanging out on the internet when I “should be” getting drunk with friends at a bar and meeting women.
Secret and other anonymous social apps provide an outlet for people to fight loneliness and boredom without risk of judgement. We use Facebook, Twitter, MessageMe, and other identity-based communication services for many of the same reasons; however, anonymity avoids social pressures to impart an accepted, desirable persona.
Secret’s not the only new anonymous social app to emerge. Several others have recently appeared on Product Hunt, most notably, Whisper, which raised $21 million, led by Sequoia last September. Whisper shares many elements with Secret but without the friend connection. Other than the location it was sent from, messages on Whisper are completely anonymous, shared among strangers.
WUT calls itself a “semi anonymous chat.” After logging in with Facebook, you’re presented a simple text field. Everything broadcasted on WUT is sent via a push notification to other friends using the service, anonymously. Other than the history of recent push notifications saved on the device, there’s no record of the conversation. It’s dead simple and curiously fun.
Shortwave launched just over a month ago. “Waves” — messages or photos — are shared anonymously for others to view nearby. Open the app and you’ll find an auto-playing stream of communication. Hold the screen to “like” it and promote it to more people.
Viddme, Popcorn Messaging, and Lulu are a few more recent additions to this space.
I’m fascinated to see how this trend evolves and the behaviors that emerge through new forms of expression. Let me know what you think on Twitter (@rrhoover).
Recommended read: The Age Of The Social Network Is Ending by MG Siegler
A few weeks ago Mike Cunsolo from CDNify interviewed me about Product Hunt. Here it is:
Remember Nickelodeon GUTS?
How do you feel right now? Did reading those words stimulate any emotional reaction? Did it bring back memories? Excite you? Make you smile?
Nostalgia is powerful. Simply mentioning the names of childhood toys, old TV shows, classic video games, and other pastime activities often instigate an emotional response, reminiscence. But why? Why is nostalgia so compelling and how can product creators use this to build more engaging products?
The Influence of Nostalgia
The term nostalgia was coined by 17th century physician, Johannes Hofer, based off the Greek words nostos (return) and algos (pain). He prescribed nostalgia as a mental illness, attributing it to Swiss soldiers’ symptoms of anxiety, homesickness, insomnia, and anorexia. Hofer believed “continuous vibration of animal spirits through those fibers of the middle brain in which impressed traces of ideas of the Fatherland still cling,” was the cause of these ailments.
Since then, we’ve acquired a better understanding of nostalgia, now defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” Nostalgia generally instills positive emotions of happiness, social connectedness, confidence, and optimism of the future. When feeling down, people seek nostalgia to raise their spirits. Dr. Clay Routledge, a Professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University, posits that “nostalgia increases positive mood, perceptions of meaning, and a sense of connectedness to others. Thus, people may naturally turn to nostalgia if positive mood is threatened, a sense of meaning in life is undermined, or feelings of social connectedness are compromised.”
Negative emotions are powerful triggers, influencing our behavior. Feelings of loneliness, boredom, or insignificance prompt people to browse their Facebook feed, search for a match on OkCupid, or send a photo to a friend on Snapchat. People turn to these services, often subconsciously, to improve their mood. In one study Dr. Routledge examined the effects of music-induced nostalgia, playing popular songs and providing lyrics to participants. Those exposed to the music were more likely to report that they felt “loved” and that “life is worth living” than a control group.
Routledge further explains, “[Nostalgia] is a psychological resource that people employ to counter negative emotions and feelings of vulnerability. Nostalgia allows people to use experiences from the past to help cope with challenges in the present.” Smart product designers and marketers recognize the influence of nostalgia, integrating it into apps and services we use every day. Here are a few products that use nostalgia to spark engagement and build compelling experiences.
Nostalgia is a core component of Timehop’s design. Each day the service revives past status updates and photos shared exactly one or more years ago. Instantly, memories resurface as these shared moments encourage people reminisce with friends and family.
The other day Timehop resurfaced this photo:
This was from an incredibly fun 80’s KOFY TV Dance Party, two years ago. Instantly, I shared this with my friends to reminisce.
Heyday uses a similar approach, reminding users of the past. But it adds another dimension: location. Last month when I visited my hometown, I received a delightful push notification from Heyday, prompting me to “Look back at your photos shared in Eugene, OR.”
Using the location data stored within the photo, Heyday generates a historical map of one’s travels to surface delightful, contextual memories from the thousands of pictures stored on my iPhone.
Facebook Year in Review
Facebook amused the world toward the end of 2012 with a special year in review, surfacing the 20 most popular posts in one’s timeline. People enjoyed the digital scrapbook, reviewing and sharing memories of the past year. Facebook repeated the successful campaign again at the end of 2013.
Visit your 2013 year in review and observe your emotions and behaviors. Does it make you smile? Are you compelled to comment on these memories? This nostalgic look-back also helps communicate the value of Facebook as a destination to store and relive memories the following year.
As Dr. Routledge’s research shows, music has remarkable nostalgia-inducing powers. Mindie, a mobile app to watch and create 7-second music videos, leverages this potent power to quickly deliver an aha! moment, hooking users on day one. Browse the feed of user-created videos to listen to the classics or create your own, selecting your favorite song from yesteryear, surfacing memories and nostalgia.
Polar, a mobile app of visual polls, covers a wide range of topics from current day politics to modern memes. But many of its most engaging polls, as found in its feed of top submissions, are based on old pop culture references and childhood activities like:
Boya, a new product from the folks at Monkey Inferno, thrives off of nostalgia. After registering any account, users are prompted to describe themselves, entering things they’ve done.
These shared experiences ignite conversation as community members ask users about their experiences, further digging into the archives of the brain.
In the summer of 2013, Foursquare Timemachine, hit the internet, igniting a wave of attention in the press and social media.
People loved the data-rich, interactive map of their check-in history. My memories moving from Portland to San Francisco was most notable for me, marking a new chapter in my life. Others reminisced of past vacations as the map traveled across the world.
Glimpse, a dating app that uses Instagram photos to express oneself, creatively uses nostalgia in its on-boarding process. When first signing up, it prompts users to login with Instagram and select nine photos to express one’s personality.
Browsing years of beautiful photos from the past is delightful and although it’s not core to the product, the experience is fun and engages users when they’re most susceptible to churn, before they’ve recognized the value of the app.
Be it a one-time marketing tactic like Foursquare’s Time Machine or core part of the product design like Timehop, nostalgia is a powerful tool to re-engage users and create compelling experiences. Consider how you can use nostalgia to:
- Promote your product and provide interesting content people want to share
- Deliver an aha! moment on day one, encouraging users to return
- Build sustainable value and delightful experiences by making people feel good
To learn more about product design and influencing user behavior, check out Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and subscribe to receive the first chapter for free.
This essay was originally published on Pando.