Possibly the most significant lesson I learned whilst developing and launching ChangesThatStick.com (CTS), my mobile- and web-based goal/habit/exercise tracking app, concerned the ever-decreasing attention span of users and how it affects app adoption.
In an increasingly-connected world, in which we carry our on-line lives in our pockets, our patience and attention span when exploring new offerings (apps, websites, etc) have decreased significantly. The number offerings vying for our attention has sky-rocketed and, as many of them are now “free”, our perceived value of them — and hence willingness to invest in exploring them — has declined.
We seem to have become jaded by the sheer number of possibilities, the learning curves, the dependencies, whether our friends are using them, whether our data will be locked in, whether the offering will be genuinely useful in our real lives (remember those?). Not only does everything now need to be “free”, whatever that means, but it needs to assimilate itself into our on-line world seamlessly, providing instant perceived value… or else we walk away.
The gap between a user who thinks your offering sounds great (and perhaps even raves about it to friends), and a user who is signed-up, using it and liking it… has become rather a chasm.
During the Beta phase of CTS I learned the hard way how one particular factor, of the few that we are in control of, affects app adoption in this attention-deprived world: friction.
Friction – Anything that slows or hinders, even minutely, the user’s path from first hearing about your offering, understanding it, choosing to use it, signing up, actually using it and finally seeing the benefits… is friction. At every point on that path, friction comes into play and a portion of your potential user base walks away silently. This may be because their attention threshold has been exceeded, because they get distracted by another aspect of their on-line life (an alarm, a notification, an email), or simply because they park your offering and intend to return… but never do. Even the simple passage of time is friction: Waiting for your registration email or staring at an hourglass because your app is slow.
Zero to Signed-Up – The moment a new potential user becomes aware of your offering, you have a fleeting window of their time and attention in which to convince them that it is sufficiently interesting to warrant their usage. Beyond a simple, attractive and clear landing page, they need to be able to sign-up with zero obstacles. That means no pre-registration, no “We’ll email you a link”, or lengthy registration forms to fill out. Recently, Social Sign-up has become the easiest way to register new users; they simply sign-up using their existing Facebook or Twitter credentials. One click, and they are a user. Great, now what?
Instant Value – Beyond sign-up, an offering needs to provide some instant value, or at least the perception of instant value. This means no initial blank home page, no arduous up-front configuration, and no “wizards” full of options to capture more about the user before they can do anything. The offering must use what little it already knows about the user to provide a little instant value. If they used social sign-up, perhaps it could show them which friends are already using the offering, or make suggestions based upon the activities of those friends.
Lack of instant perceived value creates friction. In the case of CTS, the initial blank app with the need for heavy up-front configuration and choices put many users off using it.
Offer Alternatives, but Anticipate Defaults – Users come to an application with their own mental model of how it fits into their world. For CTS, this meant their existing model of their efforts to lose weight, exercise more, adopt/control certain habits, or just a desire to find out about any of those. The differences in those models dictates the need to offer options, alternatives and different ways to use the app. But crucially, the app also needs to anticipate which of those options most closely fits this user’s mental model, and default to it. Options are great for later, but users today expect a degree of automatic customisation, anticipation and intelligence in the apps they use.
For CTS, in hindsight, offering sign-up paths tailored to different kinds of users may have helped here: runners, weight watchers, habit changers, etc. For each of these populations of potential users, the application could begin with default choices that more closely reflects the likely usage. Subsequently, the user can then choose other alternatives, once they see the app is useful.
Integration – It is no-longer enough to make an application available on a range of devices: desktops, tablets, phones. Users also want integration, either with other apps or third parties. In the case of CTS, each potential use of the app came with a list of potential future integrations: RunKeeper or “Map My Run” for running, Withings wi-fi scale for weight capture, etc. Whilst users appreciated that these integrations would appear eventually, lack of any deemed to be a deal breaker for them led to them going elsewhere. Why wait, if it is already available elsewhere? Lack of an integration right now created friction.
Integration can be as simple as allowing data to be imported from another app (one-off migration or incremental import), taking a feed from a third party (such as body weight data, run data), as ubiquitous as Facebook’s support for “Share” and “Like” links on third-party sites, Twitter’s “Tweet” links, or as complex as allowing visualisation of recent running activity on a Google Map.
For CTS, I believe some of these integrations needed to be there from launch. Promised integrations create friction.
Free, at least initially – Users will experiment with an app for “free”, learn to love it, and then perhaps be open to discussing a monthly subscription cost. But any mention of cost up-front tends to create friction and kill their adoption.
A subset of users will pay for a known app. No-one will even talk about paying in future for an unknown offering. Thoughts of money create friction and, whilst claiming an app is “free” then charging for it later is dishonest, postponing talk of payment plans or subscription fees minimises friction whilst users discover whether they actually like (and therefore value) the app. Once they value the app, providing more detail about the cost is acceptable.
I still feel a paying audience exists for CTS, but discussing a monthly subscription fee before resolving the other adoption issues above, kind of kills the appeal.
Getting all of the above lined up for optimal user adoption is a complex task. To a degree, A/B Testing can help when choosing between a few options. But there is a limit to what you can try out on potential users and the number of meaningful experiments you can run. There are simply too many dimensions, and I feel you have to “get it right” to a certain degree up-front before anyone sees it. After all, no-one takes a second look at your app. It needs to appeal first time.
Reducing friction combines elements of good app design (mental models, UX), but also psychology, marketing and a degree of creativity. CTS taught me a great deal, and my next offering will incorporate what I learned.