The reason it is so hard to make a great web application is because it is so easy to make it suck. The greatest ideas do not always translate into the greatest applications because of poor execution. What makes them so bad though? Let’s take a look.
Easy is a feature
Easy is always the #1 feature people look for when using a web site. Therefore, it makes sense that you have decided to make it feature #101 which will be implemented next year. A great example of why wikis never really took off is because they aren’t the easiest apps in the world to use. Imagine using the technology and design behind Writeboard to power all of the pages on Wikipedia.
Learning a new syntax (yes, even HTML is new to most of the world) requires investment and in most cases wikis do not offer a great return on investment (ROI) so there is absolutely no reason to use them. A great example of easy design is Digg. One of the major reasons for its success is that Digging (and unDigging) an item is as easy as can be. So easy in fact that it becomes addicting.
Undesign isn’t a feature
It’s 2006 yet you think your 1997 design makes sense. FranzFred wondered why Reddit didn’t make the Top 10 Web 2.0 Winners list and one of the reasons is due to its design. I know the site works similar to Digg and I have read in many places it is superior, but when looking at the site I’m not even sure what is going on. This doesn’t mean it isn’t a great application after you spend time with it, but when you aren’t the only game in town how much time do you think someone is going to invest when there are visually superior (and no worse technically) solutions around?
You can come, but you can’t leave
You don’t feel the need to open up your data to the masses or to allow them to control the experience. We are living in an era where mashups are found on every street corner. MySpace isn’t an open system because they don’t offer RSS feeds nor the ability to export your friends list. They are an open system because they allow others to create widgets to use on their pages (and if they crack down on this they are insane).
Offering something as simple as a RSS feed can get your data on other sites, which in turn will drive more traffic your way. If you offer an API, developers will create fun and interesting tools to make the site experience even more special. Passionate users are willing to take that extra step to make the experience better so why not give them the tools to make it happen?
Release early, release often isn’t a phrase meant to represent trips to the bathroom. There are always improvements to be made to your application and more than likely some features that will make it better. However, you are content to sit around and do nothing.
I ragged on Bloglines (which doesn’t suck) on the Top 10 Web 2.0 Losers list for seemingly being static with regards to updates. Apparently they have pushed out a small visual update that goes a long way in improving usability. That’s all most customers ask for.
How many people will argue that their app X differs greatly from app Y when the general user can’t tell the difference? At a time when blog networks were the hottest trend, we at 9rules went a different direction and decided we weren’t going to own the sites and we haven’t looked back since.
Being different can be scary because you aren’t sure how things will work out, but that’s what will make your web app special and that’s what people will appreciate. These sites and application dared to be different and look at the outcome.
User-generated content FTW
You think user-generated content creates itself? Users have never had a problem creating content for sites when they feel they are getting something equal or greater in return. It doesn’t have to be money and in most cases when the reward isn’t money the value is much greater to the user and the content will reflect that.
For even more things that can kill your web application make sure to checkout 10 Things That Will Make or Break Your Website. Do your part and make sure your web app doesn’t suck. Thank you.
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Originally posted on September 29, 2006 @ 11:42 am