Oct 9

MORE is NOT always better.

Posted at 9:00 AM on October 9th, 2009 by Alex

We live in a world of technical advancement - and it ROCKS.

I’m about as proud as a person can get to live in this generation. I’m pumped that my cellphone is more powerful than my computer was 10 years ago, and ecstatic that I’m connected to billions of other people over the internet wherever I go.

BUT - I’ve noticed a trend lately.  Among the hundreds of thousands of new internet startups this year who just keep giving us more features and technical possibilities, most are forgetting something very important: simplicity.  Developers and designers are dreaming up wonderfully technical fixes to complex problems, but as a wise mentor put it to me, they are forgetting to “Gump it up.”

For some, it isn’t affecting their acceptance very much yet because right now they are only aimed at a very technically savvy (and ambitious) crowd.  A lot of us won’t rest until we’ve been through every settings menu to look for a way to do what we want to do.  But just because we’re that energetic about our searches for features doesn’t mean we should have to be.  No matter who the company - new, old, big, or small - everyone out there with any sort of user-interfacing needs to be on a constant search to make things easier, more efficient, and - well - gumpier.

This is the beginning of a series of posts exploring some high-profile internet startups with some huge promise, but a serious need to put themselves in a new user’s shoes.  Have any suggestions for future posts? Leave a comment below!

Start-Up #1: Foursquare

Foursquare.com is making waves right now as a big potential player in the micro-blogging market, especially after Twitter-inventor Jack Dorsey made a substantial investment in them last month.  It’s been called by some the first true evolution in micro-blogging.  Sounds exciting right?  That’s what I thought (and still do, to an extent).  But, they suffer the standard tech problem: it’s another awesome web and mobile application with a serious need for simplification.

When I visited Foursquare.com for the first time a couple weeks ago, I was pretty excited.  The graphics are slick, and everything looks about as simple as possible.  The main page predominantly displays some huge text with a seemingly useful message:


Find Your Friends

Unlock Your City

GREAT! Those sounded like awesome promises. I was ready to go, and doubly excited when I saw they have an app for my Android phone.  So, I scrolled on down to see the live streaming updates.  They looked something like this (with the bottom update added for emphasis):

I was expecting to see updates telling me about the hottest spots in town, reviews from my friends, and requests for meetups.  Unfortunately, things weren’t that simple.  I was a bit taken back by some odd mention of mayors and an “adventurer badge”.   What’s going on?  I looked around the page but didn’t see any explanation.

Point of Simplification #1: What the heck is this app, and why isn’t it explained on the front page?  Give me an intro video, 3-steps to usefulness, or something else. I don’t want to click around to figure out how things work, and (worse yet) many will just leave if they don’t understand what they see.

So, I decided to give things a chance and sign-up.  I figured that would at least be straight-forward and the interface should be easy enough to use and figure out how things work from there.  So, I clicked “Join Now”.

In the sign-up process, I was a little taken-a-back when I saw that Foursquare was only available in 20 cities throughout the US.  Luckily I’m in one of those cities (Detroit), but would have been a little bummed if I got that far and my city wasn’t in the list.  I was one of the lucky ones able to keep going though.

After a few more clicks, I was signed up and logged in.  I immediately saw a dashboard that looked like the screenshot below:

I know that shot is a little small, so I’ll explain: there was a Top-12 list, a To-Do list, several scorings, and a mention of “badges” and “mayorship” on the right.

What in the world?  At this point I felt like I was from a different generation or something.  I’m a tech-nerd, and I still didn’t have a clue what’s going on.  I looked around for links to a “tutorial” or “how-to-use” video - with nothing in site.

Point of Simplification #2: Again - what is going on?  I don’t have a CLUE (or any instructions) on how to use this. Foursquare: you have to spend a few bucks to put a how-to-use video up.  PLEASE.

Because I was SO interested in the buzz around Foursquare, I kept going.  I found the Foursquare app for my phone and installed it - hoping that would give me a clue.  BUT, again, nothing resembling anything familiar, intuitive, or simple.  It’s not that there were overwhelming options like some apps, it’s just that I had NO idea what the few available options did.  There was a list of local places and a map supposedly showing my friends (none shown - I’m a newbie), but nothing else.

I decided to try clicking my menu button, and up popped a couple options to add a new place.  I was at a coffee-shop not already list, so I added it.  That was simple enough, but once it was added I was again lost.  I had the option to add a “tip” or “todo”.  What are those?  I didn’t want to give a tip — I wanted to leave a review!!  And what’s a to-do?

Point of Simplification #3: The mobile app doesn’t give any clue on how to use it.  Make some tool-tips or SOMETHING - just tell me what to do!

I still haven’t figured out exactly what this app does, but I’m still searching.  It turns out that “tips” are something like reviews, but I’m still not sure about the to-do’s, badges, or mayorship.  If I end up falling in love with this service, I’ll let you all know how great it is.  But as it stands, this tech-nerd is just about scared away from using one of the supposed “next-big-thing” services.

The verdict: Foursquare needs some serious simplification and explanation.

If Foursquare really wants to be the “next big thing” in micro-blogging, they need to be as simple as Twitter’s original “What are you doing?”.  Perhaps a “Where are you?” or, since Foursquare is built around auto-geolocation features, maybe a “How do you like ______?”

Whatever it is, there needs to be something to make it easy for every to start (and understand) in LESS than 3 or 4 steps - and it just isn’t happening yet.

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One Response to “MORE is NOT always better.”

  1. Tonya Kay Says:

    Great perspective and great blog. I am a smarty pants, not necessarily a professional geek though, and I have let many new buzz apps go or pass on by for this very reason. And hey, why is there a random Youtube video at the end of this post? As you wrote earlier; “no idea what’s going on”.

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