Fred Wilson is the guy whom you want to listen to if you are in web application business. Not just because he is one of the principals of Union Square Ventures which happens to be one of the Venture Capital firms that invested in Twitter and many other very successful startups since early stages, but it is because he knows what’s working and what the trends are in web technology since he fails in some days, and succeeds in other days on a continuous bases– he lives it first hand.
Here is his list of 10 key success factors (KSF) with my comments on each individual. I also highlighted the keywords that are part of the 6 Degrees of Separation in design which are associated with each KSF;
Speed. This is basically a function of Usability. Clean and smart code is vital to increase speed. Ajax technology is a reliable tool to get faster of course, but there are many aspects to increase the speed, starting from databases. e.g. Reddit memcache everything for better user experience.
Instantly Useful. Another Usability aspect. One of the top reasons why most of the applications fail since they are not useful get-go. The worst thing that can happen to a user is to see a blank page when first sign up. Mint is awesome in this sense, because the first thing it asks you is to set up your bank information. Then it automatically brings you all your financial transactions, history and trends in 5 minutes and you are ready to get the benefit of signing up immediately.
Voice. This concept was interesting for me first, but when you think about it, it makes perfectly sense. It is not just the Communication aspect, it is also the Design, the copy on the page plus the policies altogether to have a common voice to the user that you get familiar with. Zappos is a great example for having a remarkable Voice. It is associated with 100% customer friendly and you can get the same Voice not only on the design, on their copy on their website, also by customer service, on their packaging and any communications. Very difficult to be copied by competitors.
Less is more. Design aspect. No need to talk much because everybody agrees now (what a change compared to a decade ago). Tripeedo is a good (and simple) example for that.
Programmable. This one is the key from technical perspective and for the longevity of the application. What Fred means here is that it should be open to other programmers via open APIs and services so people can build other applications or widgets on top of it. Facebook is one of the pioneers on this arena; by using Facebook connect, you can integrate your application with Facebook on both ways – either get Facebook data (like friends or demographics data) and use it to show a customer profile immediately when signing up for your app (a good way make it instantly useful) or post any actions they take on your app to their Facebook account so all their friends can be aware of your app as well. I put this concept under Networks effect which I’ll explain later in another post.
RESTful. Even Fred agrees that this may be confusing because usually RESTfulness is associated with web services and the previous concept. What he meant here was to have accessible meaningful URLs for each function and page on your application. Twitter does it the best, every function, every twit page, whatever you do have different URLs which also mean the more people join to the application the website presence of twitter goes up exponentially as well. Good for SEO, good for friends to share the page – social interaction, good for the application. Simply Design aspect.
Personal. We all love our name. No wonder we also love apps that know our name as well – mostly. Customization in web applications work. Of course you gotta be careful for privacy concerns but mostly a unique customization on the app – Design and Communication – for the user pays off significantly.
Discoverable. Of course even the best application is worthless unless people find it. I am talking about Network effect here, not necessarily just the search engine optimization. We still (thankfully) listen to our friends in our buying decisions and not only rely in media buy.
Clean. He refers mainly to the cleanliness of the code to sustain the ever growing web applications. Especially after the first phase growth, with the addition of new team members, developers, designers, this aspect gets more important for any web app to be successful in the long run. This is again a Design aspect in my view, not a design element that a user can ‘see’ but a design element that affects the architecture and structure of the coding and databases – all the back-end eco-systems. Twitter uses functional programming, trains all their developer consistently to be able to keep up with the changes and to stay efficient.
Playful. User Experience. No matter how old we are, we won’t stop playing. Web applications should be fun and at the end regardless of how beautiful your design is, how functional it is, only one thing matters for the user – how good time did she spend with your application. It is all about User Experience.