At the Future of Web Apps conference Kevin Rose (Digg, Pownce, Wefollow) gave a cool presentation on the top 10 down and dirty ways you can grow your web app. He took the questions he's most often asked and turned it into a very informative talk.
This isn't the typical kind of scalability we cover on this site. There aren't any infrastructure and operations tips. But the reason we care about scalability is to support users and Kevin has a lot of good techniques to help your user base bloom.
Here's a summary of the 10 ways to grow your consumer web application:
1. Ego. Ask does this feature increase the users self-worth or stroke the ego? What emotional and visible awards will a user receive for contributing to your site? Are they gaining reputation, badges, show case what they've done in the community? Sites that have done it well:
Twitter.com followers. Followers turns every single celebrity as spokesperson for your service. Celebrities continually pimp your service in the hopes of getting more followers. It's an amazing self-reinforcing traffic generator. Why do followers work? Twitter communication is one way. It's simple. Followers don't have to be approved and there aren't complicated permission schemes about who can see what. It means something for people to increase their follower account. It becomes a contest to see who can have more. So even spam followers are valuable to users as it helps them win the game.
Digg.com leader boards. Leader Boards show the score for a user activity. In digg it was based on the number of articles submitted. Encourage people to have a competition and do work inside the digg ecosystem. Everyone wants to see their name in lights.
Digg.com highlight users. Users who submitted stories where rewarded by having their name in a larger font and a friending icon put beside their story submission. Users liked this.
2. Simplicity. Simplicity is the key. A lot of people overbuild features. Don't over build features. Release something and see what users are going to do. Pick 2-3 on your site and do them extremely well. Focus on those 2-3 things. Always ask if there's anything you take out from a feature. Make it lighter and cleaner and easy to understand and use.
3. Build and Release. Stop thinking you understand your users. You think users will love this or that and you'll probably be wrong. So don't spend 6 months building features users may not love or will only use 20% of. Learn from what users actually do on your site. Avoid analysis paralysis, especially as you get larger. Decide, build, release, get feedback, iterate.
4. Hack the Press. There are techniques you can use that will get you more publicity.
Invite only system. Get press by creating an invite only system. Have a limited number of invites and seed them with bloggers. Get the buzz going. Give each user a limited number of invites (4 or 5). It gets bloggers talking about your service. The main stream press calls and you say you are not ready. This amps the hype cycle. Make new features login-only, accessible only if you log in but make them visible and marked beta on the site. This increases the number of registered users.
Talk to junior bloggers. On Tech Crunch, for example, find the most junior blogger and pitch them. It's more likely you'll get covered.
Attend parties for events you can't afford. You can go to the after parties for events you can't afford. Figure out who you want to talk to. Follow their twitter accounts and see where they are going.
Have a demo in-hand. People won't understand your great vision without a demo. Bring an iPhone or laptop to show case the demo. Keep the demo short, 30-60 seconds. Say: Hey, I just need 30 seconds of your time, it's really cool, and here's why I think you'll like it. Slant it towards what they do or why they cover.
5. Connect with your community.
Start a podcast. A big driver in the early days of Digg. Influencers will listen and they are the heart of your ecosystem.
Throw a launch party and yearly and quarterly events. Personally invite influencers and their friends. Just have a party at a bar. Throw them around conferences as people are already there.
Engage and interact with your community.
Don't visually punish users. Often users don't understand bad behaviour yet as they think they are just playing they game your system sets up. Walk through the positive behaviours you want to reinforce on the site.
6. Advisors. Have a strong group of advisors. Think about which technical, marketing and other problems you'll have and seek out people to help you. Give them stock compensation. A strong advisory team helps with VCs.
7. Leverage your user base to spread the world.
FarmVille. tells users when other players have helped them and asks the player to repay the favor. This gets players back into the system by using a social obligation hack. They also require having a certain number of friends before you expand your farm. They give away rare prizes.
Wefollow. Tweets hashtags when people follow someone else. This further publicizes the system. They also ask when a new user hits the system if they wanted to be added to the directory, telling the user that X hundred thousand of your closest friends have already added themselves. This is the number one way they get new users.
8. Provide value for third party sites. Wallstreet Journal, for example, puts FriendFeed, Twitter, etc links on every page because they think it adds value to their site. Is there some way you can provide value like that?
9. Analyze your traffic. Install Google analytics, See where people are entering from. Where they are going. Where they are exiting from and how you can improve those pages.
10. The entire picture. Step back and look at the entire picture. Look at users who are creating quality content. Quality content drives more traffic to your site. Traffic going out of your site encourages other sites to add buttons to your site which encourages more users and more traffic into your site. It's a circle of life. Look at how your whole eco system is doing.
- StackOverflow- also talks a lot about higher level site design strategies.
- Digg Architecture
- Building Scalable Databases: Denormalization, the NoSQL Movement and Digg
- Lessons from Pownce - The Early Years
- We Just Undid Three Months of Dev work. Here's What We Learned.