When you’re building a company, you sometimes have to leave your original user base behind and focus on mass appeal

See, Twitter decided early on that it wasn’t going to pander to its original base. Smartly, Twitter decided to ignore the demands of edge-case geek users like Robert Scoble, and instead focus on mass appeal, celebrities, and building out the core platform. The robust and easy-to-use Twitter API has spurred a flourishing ecosystem of third-party apps.

Tumblr’s doing the opposite. Rather than focusing on expanding its audience and making it into a valuable platform, it’s coiling in on itself, doubling down on the un-monetizable memes that its core users love — like pictures of sharks and cats. A non-Tumblr user joining the site would have no idea what the fascination with cats and sharks is all about. It’s totally self-referential.

 

An interesting article about how Tumblr is really focusing on their core user base and adding features *those users* find valuable.

This is definitely an important concern when building a new company, but not as black and white as this post makes it seem. Posterous was always meant to have mass appeal, get millions of *new* people blogging. But at the same time, we have to take care of the early adopters, without them we wouldn’t be here today.

We’ve had to make some hard decisions already, to work on features that will really help us grow rather than features that are fun or were requested by a prominent user. This is only going to get harder from here. It’s all about balance.

17 comments

  1. (Sachin, stop posting interesting articles so I can get back to work.)If you haven’t heard it, Caterina Fake goes into similar history during the early development of Flickr in this podcast:http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail1755.html(at least I think it’s that podcast, I’m going on my recollection of it from hearing it a couple years ago)The flickr team had a bunch of micro celebs (doctorow, et al) involved in testing it and they had all these crazy micro celeb requests regarding (for example) the granularity of privacy.They finally just dumped all of that stuff and designed for the 80%. Smart move.

  2. I used to be a member of The Well from around 90 through 97 – I cut my first web pages there. They didn’t expand their user base – where are they now? For a time, it could be argued that they were the intellectual heart of the internet. Now, The Well is just a sad carbuncle on the bottom of Salon.com – they were too inward-looking to popularize themselves and faded to genial obscurity. timh@well.sf.ca.us – now *there* was an email address!

  3. The problem with the pamper-your-customers approach in the Internet is that customers do NOT know what they want, since many features just haven’t been created yet. A new cool feature comes along and they change their minds immediately.

  4. As the most prominent user of Posterous (at least in terms of the number of times I have bothered you via email ;-)) I demand that you add tagging to picPosterous! 😉

  5. <html><body style="word-wrap: break-word; -webkit-nbsp-mode: space; -webkit-line-break: after-white-space; ">You can tag on PicPosterous! Just do it like in email. ((tags: food, new york)) in the title<div><br><div><div></div></div></div></body></html>

  6. Aha! So you did decide to pamper the prominent users after all, in fact to the point of going back in time and implementing stuff they whine about. You are doomed! 😉 Good work, Sachin. I should have thought of adding the tags in the title/name, myself. One question: any way of selecting more than one picture?

  7. <html><body style="word-wrap: break-word; -webkit-nbsp-mode: space; -webkit-line-break: after-white-space; ">Ravi, right now you have to select one photo at a time. The iPhone SDK is partly to blame here. But also, the app is designed around live, event based photo uploading. So the idea is to upload photos as you take them. But i hear you!<br><div><div></div></div></body></html>

  8. Sachin, fair enough. I figured that the problem is that the iPhone (SDK) doesn’t let you select multiple images in the browser, though they now support it in the Photos app. Figures. Well, I can live with this: picPosterous for live-photo-blogging and good old email for the other stuff. picPosterous is a great app, btw.Have you folks considered a GetSatisfaction or UserVoice or some such forum or would that distract from your own rollout agenda? (which is fine with me — you understand both the feature selection process and coding intricacies better that we do). Apologies for the comment drift.

  9. <html><body style="word-wrap: break-word; -webkit-nbsp-mode: space; -webkit-line-break: after-white-space; ">We definitely prefer email. It’s more personal and we can answer questions faster by just replying from our inbox. Plus 90% of the questions we get are specific to an account and we wouldn’t be able to answer them on a public forum.<div><br><div><div></div></div></div></body></html>

  10. dodgy situation at best, after research you often find that, those hard core members drive the majority of your pageviews sometimes and completely ignoring them isn’t always a great idea.

  11. Original user base vs mass appeal – evergreen question! Curious about working ratios – does posterous have a core original user base of say 40% and a newer group that comprises the balance 60%. How does the ratio change as the product/ company gets more successful? What are the precedents on this? At what % does the company ‘lose’ its core?CheersAnita Lobo

  12. never thought about it in this way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have my own tumblelog but was curious to try posterous since @sita (I don’t if this works) told me about it. I agree that tumblr has its own universe. My tumblelog seems not being read, though I loved to reblog stuff from others and still like to just endlessly browse my dashboard. But on the other hand they are still missing features, that made me come back to posterous after my first … saddening … experiences with it. Posterous lacks themeing (in a way i’d love to theme my blog), but tumblr lacks an integrated comment feature. Comments make blogs interactive. When looking at tumblelogs it’s like watching someone else’s work from the distance. Posterous seems inviting, while tumblr seems like there’s a big sign in front of it saying "Private Party". Though this doesn’t have anything to do with the content inside.Give me markdown and themes and I’ll switch completely. Until then I’ll stick to both.Greetings,LMAA

  13. @Imaa, good summary. I tend to agree with you regarding Tumblr, and to an extent with the Business Insider writer that Tumblr’s approach is one of exclusivity (I think this might go back to the roots: if I understand its early usage it was popular among design, photography and similar types) which shows up in various aspects (such as the one you mention: the lack of commenting).Ultimately, IMHO, a business succeeds (most of the time) not by manipulating or creating an image of itself but by offering valuable services designed with usage in mind.The CW on Apple (especially in the general non-Apple-using public), abetted by the fanboyish behaviour of Apple users (including me!), is that it’s devices are a fashion product that sell on the basis of exclusivity and snobbery. The truth is quite the opposite. Apple’s success is based (IMHO) on offering brilliantly designed devices with essential features at an affordable price.Perhaps because of Sachin’s (and others at Posterous?) past, a similar approach sets Posterous apart. Like Apple, they don’t deliver every possible feature and tweak, but (again like Apple) they are doing a good job of (a) hitting the ones that count, (b) making [micro]blogging a natural part of a lay user’s Internet activities (for instance, by going against the grain and building email interfaces), and thus (c) subtly guiding the user into better usage patterns.Regarding (c): despite spending the last 20 years tweaking my computing environments to death, I am now, as an Apple fanboy, quite comfortable with letting someone else nudge me, even via limitations, into better design and productive use. In other words, despite my attempt at humour above, the lack of theming does not worry me much (though I do wish I could use FancyBox for photo galleries!). The minimal interface of Posterous works for now and I trust that the UI will grow richer over time.What is more worrisome is when the design is not consistent with [what I would consider] other elements or natural usage patterns. An example: currently you can post to Posterous via email and contributors and subscribers are notified of this new post via email. But this notification occurs only for posts created via email. What could have been a brilliant feature to bring in the technically under-sophisticated members of a group (in my case, older family members) by offering an interface that they are comfortable with (email) turns out to be half a feature, requiring me to fall back instead to external RSS to email gateways. If anything, selectivity in what is emailed should be broken down not by how the content was created, but by the creator: there are some Posterous sites that I subscribe to, to glance through via my RSS reader or on site, but others that I follow with more attention and want delivered in my mailbox.I do not dare predict Tumblr’s future but I think great things are ahead for Posterous. It’s one of those simple and interesting ideas that cause most of us in retrospect to exclaim: Duh, why didn’t I think of that! 😉 Which is why I disagree with the Business Insider writer about Twitter: most humans, I wager, even if they use Twitter, often scratch their head in puzzlement: "what is the use of this, again?". I do.

  14. This’ll get more interesting if/when Posterous rolls out Premium accounts. I’m guessing casual, mass-users won’t pay if they can at all help it, whereas power users will. But having tons of casual users will also bring the mindshare that attracts power users to come sniffing around.As it stands, you guys do a good job with Posterous improvements. I scratch my head at some of the sites you guys integrate with, as they seem of marginal use, but undoubtedly they are absolutely necessary to someone else. And some are just cool/fun/easy. As long as I see new features constantly implemented–whether useful to me or not–I’m happy, because inevitably some of them will be useful things I would never have thought of.

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