I recently bought my first TiVo (the baseline Roamio), and was excited to get it up and running so I could start collecting shows. I started the process last night and only finished this morning, after investing about 3 hours of my time. Granted, it didn’t help that I forgot to plug the coaxial cable in when I first turned on the machine, but everything that happened after that was a bona fide shit-show, from the cryptic error feedback of the device, to the hit-or-miss activation of the cable card, to the dreadfully long support call with Verizon.
Knee-deep in the trouble, I kept second-guessing my expectation that TiVo would actually turn out to be of value to me. Why was I investing hundreds of dollars into a product that treats me like a grade-A jerk from the start? Ardent fans of TiVo assure me that once it’s setup it truly is a better experience than most of the clumsy cable-company DVR boxes provide, but my confidence was eroded by a “first launch” experience that seemed hostile in every respect. I tweeted:
Inspired by TiVo to improve the first-launch experience of my apps. I'm sure it is easy for TiVo employees to overlook how shitty this is.
— Daniel Jalkut (@danielpunkass) September 11, 2014
But as I’m also trying to turn over a new leaf with respect to blogging, I also added a note to my TODO list:
- ▢ Blog about “the first launch”
The idea being, I bet I have plenty to say on this topic and I should sit down with MarsEdit and write about it! Great idea, except … I already did that six years ago. From the Red Sweater Blog’s Designing for the First Launch:
Every product has shortcomings that will cause some users to run away screaming. The best we can do is try, with each iteration, to make fewer and fewer people do so. If 100 people download your product, and 90 of them run away screaming after launching it once, then you’ve only got a chance of selling to 10 of them. We can assume that statistically, some fixed percentage of the people who remain will end up buying. So cut the flee factor down to 80 and you’ve just doubled your sales.
And my post was itself a response to Brent Simmons’s On the Design of the First-Run Assistant:
Present as little friction as possible—don’t overwhelm the new user so that he quits without trying the app. Ask for just the minimum required to make an account: username and password.
Given that I barely remember reading this, and barely remember responding to it, how likely is it that I’ve followed this sage advice over the past six years? Looking back at how MarsEdit treated new users then, compared with how it treats them now, I have definitely made some improvements, but these have come in fits and starts. There were long lulls during which I just took it for granted that the current “onboarding” experience was good enough, and focused on features that, unfortunately, will only be appreciated by users who don’t run away screaming.
My experience with TiVo, and review of these old blog posts, reminds me that good enough almost never is, and that the single most important feature of any app is keeping new users engaged long enough to appreciate the rest of them.