Creating websites that work

It’s all about the user

So you are about to create the next big web phenomenon. Let’s say you are the person who is going to redefine the news model on the web. You are going to have to shake things up a bit. Here  is how you can get that movement started on your own.

The first rule you need to fully understand: It’s all about the user. It has less to do with you and more about what service you bring to the user. The first thing you need to think about is how can I make life easier for my users?

Let me give you a few examples. Pandora made it easier for me to find good music. Skype made it easier for me to talk to friends. Google made it easier for me to use email. Facebook and Twitter help me connect with people and The New York Times via their Times Reader made it much easier to browse through the news every morning. Netflix lets me watch movies on My Xbox, Netbook and TiVo. They are simply adaptable to my lifestyle. There are so many more great products that I can elaborate on, but I really should keep this brief.

When I surf the web, I see a lot of sites that think more about how they can create a site from their own corporate point-of-view versus how they should have created their site from their user’s point-of-view. Guess what site gets the most traffic in the end?

To me, each site epitomizes the difference between old and new media. Old media companies produce products in a way that is convenient for them, expecting the users to adapt. New media companies create their product in a way that is more convenient for the customer to consume. That is why the sites I mentioned above work. They are user centric.

Sometimes this concept is easier said than done. I just spent the last three hours in a meeting trying to uncover the secrets behind this one rule. We refused to leave until we were able to figure out how to meet our corporate goals by first completing the first rule of creating online sites that work: It’s all about the user. We left at 10 p.m. only after discovering our answer.

Here is where it got tough. Sure, it is easy to throw up a ning.com site and say our intended targeted audience needs this social network, its the only one of it’s kind. To me, that is a lot like saying, people need newspapers, we are the only one in the neighborhood. Creating quality content is immensely important, but it is only one of three elements that need to come together to make your site a success.

I have created a few social networked sites and I’ll admit, I have completely failed on some. I fell flat on my face, but I have found a way to learn from them. It is my hope you can also learn form my mistakes.

Creating social sites are not just about throwing people together to consume the product as it is convenient for you to distribute. It is all about creating the product that makes life better for the consumer. It is not about creating news that people will want to read. That is the old media mindset. It is about creating a service that people cannot live without. That goes beyond the delivery of a paper on the doorstep. We have seen what direction the Rocky Mountain News went earlier this year. It was an amazing news product. In the end, it was just delivered in the wrong format. People were not consuming news in a paper format as much as they did in before, subscriptions went down and the paper folded. The consumer found a new platform. A good product can go wrong on the wrong format. You have to know your user and target your product accordingly.

Think of it this way: did you happen to see the uproar on Twitter after AT&T buried a huge price increase,  for owners of the iPhone 3G into the fine print of the Apple store? Apple created a service people have a hard time living without. I know I am an iPhone addict. AT&T created a barrier to that service and people then became outraged. I realize it was a subsidy and the details that went on in the back ground, my point is that you need to create a product people feel so passionately that they feel the need to speak up when it is gone.

Stability requires these three main elements. When you can pair the right content on the right platform targeting the user in a way that is convenient to them, you will create demand.

It’s the first rule of creating sites that work. Don’t screw it up.

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