“You can’t make your app viral”

“You can’t make your app viral as an afterthought, like pixie dust that magically gives you a ton of users. It has to be designed into the app’s core functionality and features.”

Smashing Magazine is a great website about mobile app design. The quote above is from their article Key Ingredients to Make Your App Go Viral.  Here’s how I summarized it on LinkedIn:

Good apps, and the ones that I use regularly, follow these simple rules:

(1) Allow meaningful sharing, (2) Be transparent about privacy, (3) Make connecting essential to the user experience, (4) Reward your users and their connections, (5) Offer meaningful ways to engage users, and (6) Always be useful.

As I think more about what I like or don’t like about the mobile apps I use, and the reasons for that like/dislike, I find that a lot of the Smashing Magazine ideas make sense to me. I will post more on this in the future, since it raises so many interesting questions about why I gravitate to some apps more than others.

Healthcare.gov: It’s all about the business rules

There it is, above the fold, on today’s Wall Street Journal: “Software and Design Defects Cripple Health-Care Website.” Since the October 1st launch of Healthcare.gov, which coincided with the first day of the current government shutdown, the website has been plagued with problems. It’s been bogged down by bad or lazy code, unfriendly design, and other issues. Hopefully, some of these glitches will be addressed by simple fixes before the enrollment rush of November.

However, the main problem isn’t just flawed codebad design, or page speed. Insurers participating in the health insurance exchange are reporting that 1% or fewer of the applications sent from Healthcare.gov have enough information to enroll applicants in a health plan.

The industry jargon is “batch corruption.” Batch corruption is a sign of data quality problems. Applicant enrollment data submitted through Healthcare.gov isn’t sufficient or accurate enough to process the applications. For instance, insurers are saying that they can’t associate applicants with their user IDs. There is also bad address data for applicants because of a problem with state name abbreviations. 

In other words, the culprit isn’t the technology or the design of Healthcare.gov. The problem is that the fundamental business rules, around the process of applying and enrolling for a health insurance plan, have not been addressed. 

Despite all the fanfare and controversy around health care reform and Obamacare, turns out it’s the boring stuff like data quality and business process that are tripping up the Healthcare.gov launch.

Usability guru Jared Spool was right: Web sites and apps (like Healthcare.gov) should not let the business rules take away from the user experience. Get the business rules right, don’t let them affect the user experience, and then make them invisible to the user.

You are not a ninja (or a maven)

I’ve noticed people around the web calling themselves a “product ninja” or a “networking maven” or even a “social media titan.”  Sorry to burst your bubbles, but something must be said about this trend.

A ninja in feudal Japan was a pretty scary person. He or she had deadly skills. Using stealth tactics and disguises a ninja could destroy their targets and disappear without a trace. They were also trained in espionage, arson, assassinations, and other nefarious arts. In short, you did not mess with a ninja.

Ninjas were skilled in uzura-gakure — a disappearing technique where the ninja curls into a motionless ball to look like a rock or stone. Is that something that you, self-proclaimed ninja, do regularly in the workplace? No? OK then.

So unless you were trained in traditional ninja skills, some 800 years ago in Japan, you are not a ninja.

I have data to back this up. There are more than 20,000 people on LinkedIn with the word “ninja” in their job titles, in either their current or previous positions. That constitutes a global ninja army. Yet none of them are truly ninja certified according to the ancient ninjutsu ways.

In my mind, there are only two acceptable reasons for you to call yourself a ninja.

1. You are a musician associated with the Ninjatune record label in the UK.

2. You were granted the title of “ninja” by your employer or colleagues, AND (this part is critical) you show up to work every day dressed in traditional ninja attire. This consists of, at a minimum, a black robe, lightweight armor, and lots of ninja tools like ropes, hooks, spikes, and wooden shoes (needed to walk on water when the situation demands). If you do not meet either of these criteria, you cannot call yourself a ninja.

By the way, you are also not a “maven.” More than 1,000 people on LinkedIn have that word in their job title. You are only a maven if Malcolm Gladwell himself has specially anointed you as one. If he hasn’t, and as far as I know it’s not a blessing he has bestowed on anyone, then you should not call yourself a maven.

Here we go

So this will be a place where I will write about topics that interest me, and hopefully will interest more than maybe 5 people. I’ll write about stuff like:

  • Agile methods
  • Product management
  • Apps (possibly reviews)
  • Music and music technology