Obvious But Important


Being a post on why I probably wouldn’t actually do what I asked Foursquare to do yesterday.

Yesterday I vented via feature request, noting that Foursquare has the potential to offer me more information about why I might want to be “friends” with people that I don’t know in person. But in talking with a few other people yesterday I realized that—while it felt good to write that little rant—were I Foursquare I would probably ignore my request.

Here’s the deal. When you’re trying to figure out what features to add for your users, there’s often a trap waiting for you: data.

Because you’re already generating a lot of stats about your users for your own use [You are, right? If not you’ve got an entirely different problem…], it’s incredibly easy to say something like “hey, we’ll add value for our users by giving them a chart that shows what days and times they post most frequently,” or “we’ll give users access to those statistics on the flux capacitor usage of the people they’re tracking!”

So what’s the problem? I mean, those are important metrics, right?

Well, sort of. For you, they’re information. Unless your users can actually do something with what you’re offering, though, you’re just dumping data on them. Charts are pretty, of course, and a screen full of numbers can make it look like your product or service is advanced and space-age, but if users can’t look at what you’ve added and say “oh, wow, I should really…” then you’ve probably wasted some effort.

The classic example for me is Linkedin. On the rare occasions that I log in to the service, I’m invariably told that “someone in the Internet industry has viewed your profile.” Really, Linkedin? I know you’ve got real estate to fill up in that right hand column, but that’s really the best use you could come up with?

But there’s another thing to consider, as well. While what I want Foursquare to do [show me the people and places, if any, that link me to this person making this friend request] does involve transforming data into useful information [would I as a Foursquare user benefit from becoming friends with this unknown person?], there’s an underlying issue here.

You see, if my feature were implemented, Foursquare would be tracking to see whether the change resulted in people adding a greater number of friends; because you’re giving people additional reasons to accept any given friend request (I don’t know X, but they regularly visit five of the places that I regularly visit), users should start accepting a greater percentage of their friend requests. If that starts happening, the change worked! Great, right?

Well, sort of. The issue underlying my feature request is a big one:  is it actually good for Foursquare to nudge people towards accepting more friend requests? Are Foursquare users, on balance, happier users when they have a greater number of connections within the system, or should we be looking somewhere else to improve the experience?

It’s not just a question of whether users can do something with the information you offer them, it’s whether that information has the potential to help them make their experience better.