Sticky is (still) a good thing

The phrase “sticky website” feels like something of a throwback to me. I remember first hearing the phrase and debating it as a product objective when I worked in the search industry. At the time Ask Jeeves (yes, I am that old) was popular and well used but not habitually used. Search was and still is a staple benahviour for online users and a vital tool to making sense of the choices available. In this regard, a lower frequency of use search engine has a weakness to address. And so it was for Jeeves. It was a familiar and high reach product but only a habit for the few. (The search advertising industry did, however, support a very profitable business as a result).

That frequency of use metric was drummed into me early in my career in online services as result. A small increase in frequency could have a dramatic impact on the profitability of the business. Ever since, I have regarded frequency, loyalty and depth of use as critical signs of the health of a product. How often your users return (daily, weekly or monthly), how many of them come back over the period and how much they use your service (whether searches, page views, orders, applications, message or whatever per visit) are vital in assessing how useful you are to them.

We spent quite a deal of time, money and effort at Jeeves in various marketing campaigns to persuade users that the product was the equal of the competitors or, at minimum, worthy of consideration, versus them. The best of these efforts did increase reach and nudge users to gives the Butler a try. Rarely did we retain those users, however. They would try but then return to Google. The proof of the pudding being relevance, speed, accuracy and simplicity. No advertising effort could mask those experiences relative to the engineering power of Mountain View. They did not stick.

That stickiness goal is still crucial, I think and the stickiest services are those that are useful. They reward repeat and frequent use. This is one good test of the “if we build it they will come” model. That may be true (if very unlikely). Will they, though, stay around and come back soon and often enough to return that building effort.

Stickiness equates to utility more than anything else. Be wary of a primary goal to engage users. Being engaged is rarely a primary user need. I suspect that our attempts to engage users often mask the fact that there is a weak primary interest in our offer. Being useful or interesting is much more fertile ground. From that foundation, it will be much easier to be engaging, if engagement is needed at all.

 

 

 

The whole UX and nothing but the UX

Some recent workshop sessions and user (learner?) research with a client have made me wonder about a possible wrinkle on the smooth baize of UX thinking in the corporate world. In the wild public world of product design and delivery, we are free to design our best solution to user challenges and make it available. We do have to offer that product in the messy and compromised digital world we inhabit and fight like crazy to win attention and draw traffic/downloads/sign ups. Other than that struggle we can carve a purposeful proposition and make the most of it. Where similar or related services exist, a distribution deal or conversation might be available to mutual benefit.

In the corporate world, the landscape tends to be filled with larger less well defined features. Often these phenomena (for they are rarely products or tools as a user would recognise them) mark a departmental territory and purpose, rather than a potential problem solved for a user. Often too, they carry the purpose of a system and a process designed for the benefit of the organisation and not pointed at resolving a user need. An LMS, an intranet or a finance system, in its many and varied incarnations, often appear in this form. As a user we have to negotiate them, navigate through them and hope for survival at the other end.

From a users point of view their relationship to your own product may not be clear. The same language, labelling and content may well appear on them.  If you are in the learning game then the boundaries could well be blurred. User guides, comms campaign material, policy documents and the like can rightly be the answer to a “finding something out” question. The product they are available in may not be discernible or of interest to your user. This presents a tricky challenge.

A proper investigation of user epxerience needs to account for the whole experience of a system or product. This needs to include the possible, or likely, confusion of arriving at your carefully crafted content through the confusing boulders around it. That is part of the epxerience of fulfilling a learning need. It is part of the whole user epxerience and should not be ignored.

Lobbying the owners of these other products to change them can be a complex and wearing experience in some organisations. Where it is simple and close at hand, it may still not be a priority for resource or time. Do give it a try though. I doubt that the owners of these services have much genuine UX data to hand or are aware of possible and real confusion. Failing that, stick closely and clearly to what you are about.

One option we always have is to make our own services and products crystal clear in their purpose form the very fast click or swipe. Define that purpose and stick closely to it in all iterations. Even in muddy and ugly surroundings, your users will respect you for the clarity you show them. They will know, quickly and clearly, what to expect.

The mess around our products and content is part of the reality of the UX and it is our responsibility to respond to it, irritating though that may be.

 

Learning on the web – Can it be as simple as that?

I was reminded of one of my early exchanges of views on arrival in the BBC this week. I was curious about the deliberation of the commissioning process and about the edifice that was being created under the learning banner. Coming, as I had, from the rapid fire and restless world of search, this all seemed like a lot of trouble and effort. Having “had my ass handed to me” (as my indelicate US colleagues would say) by Google for seven years, left an impression. An impression of simplicity, function over form, relevance and speed.

There isn’t much, if anything. you can’t learn from a combination of Google, Wikipedia and YouTube.

My recollection is of saying something like “there isn’t much, if anything, you can’t learn from a combination of Google, Wikipedia and YouTube”. I had not been around for long and was struck by how quiet the room had become. In my prior life (as in my current one) this would have been heard as another remark along the lines of “Is there nothing that Google can’t win at?”. That was not the thrust of my point. I was trying to open the idea that an edifice for learning was already there. The curation problem had been solved (in the late 1990s). The content production system was built. Why all the effort to replicate this within the corporation. Not just that corporation, but any corporation.

I remembered this exchange on Thursday over lunch and then later over tea (yes, I took tea and will do so again). Both conversations were about the corporate learning world being trapped in a mode of planning and production. A world that focuses on creating and recreating infrastructure that is better made in the open to publish content that is already there, in the open. And to publish it into a Portal – a digital product format that lost currency around the turn of the century.

I know that security is a major concern for many. Not all sectors are liberal enough to exploit these, now historic, changes. Not everyone is allowed YouTube at work. That will change and we need to help make it change. The temptation to hide behind policy is powerful – it is warm and dry there. I doubt for too long, though. The revolutionary change in learner behaviour came from the outside and the change in providers to corporates will come form the outside too. I suspect new customers with different budgets will open the doors for them.