Assume That Users Are Smarter

Edward Tufte:

Several of the critiques began with a user model that described users as superficial, impatient, and inefficient managers of information. What users are impatient about is low-content throughput and space-hogging admin debris, commercials, and lousy interface design. Several critiques relied on a concealed version of the irrelevant Magical Number +/-7 notion.

Well, I don’t do Lowest Common Denominator Design.

Lowest Common Denominator Design is a sure road to dumbed-down, content-deprived, interfaces that feature themselves. LCDD is based, at its heart, on contempt for users and for content.

Instead, assume that users are smarter about the content at hand than interface designers. Such is often empirically the case; thus the best that design usually can do is to get out of the way and at least do no harm. More can be expected only at the very highest level, such as Apple.


The True Definition of Rich

Moumouren on Reddit:

As a middle class person, I used to think that I was poor and that I needed to have enough to not worry about money tomorrow to be rich. Visiting new places and meeting new people from around the world has taught me that not everyone shares this view. Every culture has its own unique view of rich; a WW2 veteran is satisfied with recycling old parts in city run by a stable government; an Asian grandmother is satisfied to live to see technology at this rate; a maid is just happy she got into the country at all; a millionaire aspires to have political and social connections.

When you expose yourself to other people’s lives, you’ll realise that not everybody shares this common goal of being a millionaire. In fact, if you drive a half hour in any direction, you’ll probably find someone who couldn’t care less about having a million dollars. In reality, middle class people only comprise a small percentage of the world population. We’ve been living in a bubble, a “middle class bubble”, so to speak, where being a millionaire is the end game. Just like how the rich live in their “rich bubble”. The moment you achieve a million dollars, or you lose all hope of being a millionaire (e.g. taking care of a sick loved one), you stop ‘feeling’ all the things associated with being a millionaire as “rich”, because you’ve stepped out of that bubble.

If different people can have different ideas about being rich, it just exposes the fact that being rich is not an absolute thing, but relative to whatever position you are presently occupying. It’s just that the world is so very vast, and few of us have actually had to make that paradigm shift to step outside of our own bubbles. The one thing which connects all the above examples in their respective definition of ‘rich’, is actually happiness. When you realize that, you’ll realize that you haven’t actually been chasing money all this time. You’ve actually been chasing what your culture considers as happiness. In reality, there’s no such thing as being ‘rich’. You don’t actually need a million dollars to feel that ‘rich’ feeling (and from what I’ve observed, millionaires rarely actually feel rich). And if you pursue happiness instead of money as a goal, you’ll find that ‘rich’ feeling to be a lot more accessible.

tl;dr: The true definition of rich is happiness. It’s all relative.

Thoughts on App Store Pricing

An interesting thread discussing App Store pricing on Hacker News. There’s an unfortunate amount of noise on Hacker News nowadays, so here’s an attempt to collect the few good signals. Emphasizes and formatting are mine.

wisty argues that a good pricing strategy is to give plenty of information to customers first:

[…] when customers have very limited information, and side-by-side pricing, they’ll always minimise risk by getting the cheapest app. The cheapest app is free. And eyeballing statistics on sales, $1 apps don’t do any better than $2 ones (depending on the platform and app – iPhone buyers can be very elastic). Many customers aren’t so stingy they’ll balk at paying an extra dollar, they simply flock to free apps because you can’t beat free. Especially for an app which has lots of substitutes (todos, games).

If customers have good information (they are already using the app), and only one price (your IAP), or pricing you control (your IAP, with dummy prices – feature by feature unlocks, and maybe a premium feature or two), they’ll be more likely to spend money.

The big money is in exploitive IAP. Skinner box games which use psychological tricks to goad big-spending “whales” (addicts) into spending more. But the small money is probably in IAP too – unlocking the demo.

There’s no money (IMO) in $1 apps – they are too expensive (compared to free apps), and they sell themselves short.

clarky07 points out that despite the race-to-the-bottom situation, people do pay for apps:

[…] the overarching point that isn’t really spelled out, is that people do actually spend money on apps. There are important pricing considerations in that going from .99 to 1.99 you don’t normally lose >50% of buyers. Once you’ve crossed the barrier from free to paid, another dollar isn’t a big deal.

Also, IAP and other methods of giving people trials helps. Overall the point is though that people do in fact spend money on apps.

jonnathanson suggests a freemium model:

Big game publishers can afford to give out their games for free, then harvest millions of dollars a week from in-app purchases, pour that money back into paid user acquisition, top the charts, and repeat until their next game comes out.

That business model is all well and good if you’re a game publisher, and especially if you’re a well-funded game publisher. But it kind of sucks for anyone who’s not in a category that benefits so dramatically from in-app purchases. In-app purchases are not a magic-bullet solution to pricing problems for most other categories of apps.

(Now, one could certainly argue that games provide more value to the user than other apps do. While there’s something to that argument, it’s not sufficient. Surely the solution to this problem isn’t “every app becomes a game”).

So what should you do if you’re an app developer, and you’re not making a game? To be honest, you’re in a tough spot. The deck is stacked against you. Prices are converging on zero, in-app purchases probably won’t keep the lights on, and the prospect of flooding your app with advertisements probably makes you (or your UX designer) cringe.

This is where the freemium model should make sense, IMO. Create something of general value to a large TAM, but of extraordinary value to a smaller slice of that TAM. Give away the basic version to the TAM, but upsell the power version to the power users. It may be the case that your app is better for the power users than existing solutions for which they’re paying hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to charge higher than $.99 for the premium version.

If the delta in utility between Your App and Existing Solution is extremely high, and the price gap between Existing Solution and Your App is big, you’ve got a lot of room in pricing, and that pricing will be justified.

Unfortunately, absent a fantastic way to do trial versioning, the existing methods are pretty inelegant. Apple needs to get better about allowing developers to do trial versions, or this overall pricing and monetization problem is going to get worse.

NateDad suggests that an app should be part of a bigger service, ideally with recurring payments:

If your paid app can’t compete against a free app… that’s hardly the fault of the user or the app store. It’s the fault of the app maker. What you’re basically saying is “my app is so easy to make, that someone could make it without even caring to get paid for it”.

It’s competition. Yes, if someone can recreate your application for free, then your application wasn’t as valuable as you think it was, by definition. Make a better app, or turn it into a service that generates revenue past app deployment.

I think many app developers have gotten spoiled by tales of people getting rich off of P.O.S. apps, and expecting that to happen to them. That happened back in the day because there was a scarcity of applications and app developers. That scarcity no longer exists. Most of the easy stuff has been done, and a lot of free versions have been made because, let’s face it, most apps really aren’t terribly complex.

So, make something big and hard to duplicate. Make it part of a service you provide with recurring charges and give away your app. It’s a better model, anyway.

Touche adds that developers should stop making trivial apps:

I have my doubts that prices are going anywhere but down. You can stubbornly keep your app’s price high if you want but a couple of dozen others will gladly step in your place.

I think the author is wrong here; apps do offer real value but they are still close to being worthless economically. What developers should start realizing is they shouldn’t spend so much effort on todo lists, podcast clients, rss readers, or any other trivial app category that many people do as side projects for free for fun.

As a result we might get more genuinely innovative apps as developers look more closely at what niches are being underserved.

kemiller offers an opinion about the relationship between apps and customer attention:

I have a somewhat different perspective on this. Apps cost people something much more valuable than the small amounts of money in question: attention. Most people find learning new software to be a chore. So every app they download has a cost in attention, in learning how to use it, however simple that might be, and some of them have a cost in money as well.

If the app is free, they know they can abandon it instantly if it doesn’t give them value right away, and lose almost nothing. If it costs money, they will feel obliged to get more value out of it, but that means committing to spend even more attention.

When you buy a cup of coffee, you’re getting attention back because someone else is taking on the slightly fiddly business of making coffee, and once you have it, there is nothing to learn, you can just enjoy it.

Viewing software transactions as paying attention, rather than money, for value, makes a lot of these markets make more sense. Because if you offer something that will reduce the net amount of attention they have to pay, they’ll often gladly give you money for it.

macspoofing pretty much concludes the whole thing:

The 99c app business, is shit-business. I feel for app developers. You can’t build a company around that price point. Either you charge more or you go down the recurring revenue model. Neither is easy. If you’re a game developer you go freemium, and you try to squeeze as much revenue out of your customer base.


How Adding One Button Tripled “Bilingual Children” app’s Revenue

How we tripled our revenue by adding one button:

Raising our prices and adding a convenience option paid off big time for us. Giving parents an easy way to purchase all of our content at once at a discounted rate proved to be the most attractive option even if the price point was much higher than most of our competition.

Also, I really like the app name: “Bilingual Children”.

What’s great about that name is that it immediately shows benefit.

Had the name were something like “Teach Your Kids Spanish”, I imagine it wouldn’t be as successful. Because then the app became a verb, now it was something you need to do. It became a chore.

On the other hand, the name “Bilingual Children” evokes a certain imagination to potential users. It conjures a thought, “with this app, I can have bilingual children? Yes, please!”

That’s good writing.

Lessons From an Accidental Twitter Campaign

It started when I noticed that the iQuran iOS app was discounted from its usual $5.99 price down to $1.99. The app was pretty much the de facto best Qur’an app available for iOS, and that discounted price was incredible compared to the amount of information, polish, and care that went into it.

Without thinking much, I went to Twitter and offered my followers to gift them a copy of iQuran, free, no question asked.


Now, I am just a common Twitter user, nobody famous, and my followers are mostly just friends and families. What I didn’t expect was that a couple of famous Twitter users found out about my tweet. These guys had a lot of followers in my country, and with that, a lot of influence.

After the dusts were settled, the tweet ended up with 80 retweets, with more than 70 people requested a copy of iQuran for their iOS devices. It was truly an overwhelming surprise for me, but thanks to a friend, Nizamil Putra, we ended up joining forces and created a separate Twitter account (@freeiQuran) to handle the deluge of requests.

Here are some lessons that sticks out to me after the experience:

Viral effect is unpredictable, prepare for the best

The number of requests were simply beyond our imagination. A retweet from a big influencer can affect the reach of a campaign immensely. We were fortunate enough to be able to afford the cost of the whole campaign. However, had another one or two influencers spread the tweet as well, things will get a lot more overwhelming.

It’s difficult to handle a lot of interactions in a short amount of time with the default Twitter apps

We got a lot of replies in a short amount of time, and it was hard to keep track of them. There was no way to mark a reply as read, and while I tried to keep up by copy-and-pasting people’s data to Google Spreadsheet, new mentions kept coming in. The real-time nature of Twitter makes it hard to keep track of things.

In hindsight, it is probably better to handle the data *after* the campaign is done. Which brings us to the next two points:

Have a clearly defined campaign terms and limits

My tweet was not intended to “the outer world”, so to speak, so I didn’t really limit how many gifts to send and how long my offer should stand. When it explode, it became clear that things would be better if we had a clearly defined terms and limits beforehand.

This isn’t just to help keep the campaign starter’s sanity. We also had a bunch of questions from people asking about the validity of the terms, and other things. This added more to our tasks, and having the terms ready should have helped eliminate that.

If you want to gather data from Twitter users, use alternative methods instead of using Twitter mentions

The default Twitter apps were not designed to help us process a lot of rapid information at once. After certain update per minute, it simply is not possible for human mind to keep up. Therefore, if with the campaign you want to gather data from Twitter users, don’t do it via mentions.

Something like a custom Wufoo form should be a good help, or even a simple Google Docs form that saves information directly into a spreadsheet.

When more than one person handle a Twitter account, things get messy quickly

Nizamil Putra and I both used the @freeiQuran account to communicate with the requesters. There were times when I replied to a question that were already answered by Nizamil, and vice versa. There were no clear indication that a tweet was already replied, so we overlapped each other a lot. I’m still not quite sure what’s the best solution for this.

Really famous people have it hard on Twitter

The experience also showed me a glimpse of the daily life of famous Twitter users. Once you have a lot of followers, the number of mentions will clog up your mention tab very quickly. If someone has an important mention for you, it will be hard to notice it. It doesn’t seem like Twitter is designed from the built-up to handle that edge case, yet. There’s probably a business to be made here.

Those are the lessons I can extract from the experience. To conclude, Twitter is a great tool to do a campaign and spread a message, but be prepared to think of various ways to help you if you want to *organize* it.

On Sidebars

Generally there are two types of sidebar on a website: the one with contents relating to the main content on the current page, and the one with contents relating to the entire website.

The classic WordPress widgets examples are the building blocks of the latter type of sidebar: “Recent Posts”, “Categories”, “Archives”, “Meta”. Meanwhile, examples of the relatively rare example of the former type are related videos (as in YouTube), quote highlights in interview articles, footnotes placed to the side of its corresponding sentence, or even comments (as can be seen in Medium’s brilliant context-specific commenting system).

I appreciate the former type much, much more than the latter. Website-related sidebars, especially when poorly designed, often distract instead of support the main content. This is especially true on single article pages, which oftentimes is the most frequently visited area in a website, not the homepage.

On the other hand, the former type of sidebar adds to the content instead of substract attention from it. It adds immersion. It can gently leads to other parts of the website, whereas website-related sidebars can feel forced at times (“Like my coding article? Take a look at my Personal posts category? No? How about the archive from December 2002?”).

Understandably, it requires more effort to develop a system where sidebar contents can always support the main content. It’s not always easy to gather supporting contents. In that case, instead of a fixed sidebar area, a flexible asides system can be employed. An example can be seen in The Great Discontent.

As for website-related sidebar contents? I feel that the footer area can be best employed for those. It doesn’t get in the way of the main article, but it’s always there whenever somone needs it.

Start Ugly Things

[white_box] This article was first featured in Medium’s Editors Pick. [/white_box]

I have a bad case of analysis paralysis. When I make something, I want it to be great. I want to see it from many different angles. Weigh all my options. Cover all ground.

Needless to say, I end up not making a whole lot of things.

One day I wanted to know what it’s like to work with a different mindset. I made up an experimental mindset where I allow myself to be ugly, to be maker of ugly things.

Everything went better than expected.

I tested that mindset with this idea I had for a website. I purposely told myself not to give a damn about its design. I generated the site’s color scheme from a picture I liked. A good friend of mine offered to design a logo for it and I used it without thinking twice. I just wanted to launch.

And so, in less than a week, Freebbble was born.

Initially, it was painful. I cut corners everywhere; functionalities were duct-taped together. And knowing it made me feel bad. I knew I could’ve done better. The site could’ve been prettier.

But as more people came to visit and used the site, I found that the site’s flaws, glaring as they may seemed to me, didn’t even bother anyone. Nobody complained that the layout was imperfect on mobile view. They didn’t know that the theme’s code was lacking many page templates and that in the back-end different content types were cobbled together.

It just didn’t matter. People kept coming and using it.

Another thing I realized was that I was more motivated working on the site once it launched. Turns out it’s easier for me to love something real than to love a vague idea. And that love, combined with the fact that I got actual people using the site, gave me the push to continuously improve that ugly thing.

This article is also written on a whim. Previously I have written two other articles, but I made the mistake of wanting them to be perfect. They’ve now been sitting in draft for I won’t know how long.

This article is ugly; it doesn’t flow as much as I want it to. But it’s here, and you can read it. I’ll improve it and write something better later. But that something better won’t be there, unless I have this ugly article here first.

So that’s the lesson I learned.

Start ugly things.