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Facebook is in the press lately because the company is forcing users to communicate with friends through a separate Messenger app instead of the main Facebook app. The former is #1 on the app store but people are rebelling by slamming it with 1-star reviews. Privacy is also a common rallying cry, the accusation being that the app is too aggressive with permissions.

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Nobody likes to be forced to do anything, so it’s not surprising to see people react negatively. Many are still wary about online privacy, even as it is an increasingly illusory concept.

We think those knee jerk reactions are overblown. Facebook Messenger is a decent product and it’s no more aggressive in its privacy policies as other messaging apps.

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Instagram is testing their new app Bolt in Singapore, New Zealand and South Africa for iOS and Android, and I got my grubby hands on it.  Bolt is one-tap photo messaging, like a simpler Snapchat.  And you know what…I kinda like it, though I don’t know how defensible it would be as a business.

It’s attractive and single-minded.  There’s no confusion to the app’s purpose.  One tap to send a photo or video might not seem much different than say, Snapchat’s three taps, but surprisingly it’s increased the number of messages I usually send.  Maybe that’s because testing Bolt is top-of-mind, but I don’t think so.

One tap messaging feels so effortless — it’s easier than typing a text and yet can say so much more.  Sending dozens of photos and videos throughout the day to let someone know how things are going doesn’t feel like work.  With Bolt, it feels natural.

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“You have to be in mobile,” venture capitalists will instruct you.  “We have to be in mobile,” tech giants like Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo will echo.  Obviously, it’s because we’re living in a mobile-first world.

Yet, becoming the next Instagram or Snapchat is insanely difficult and increasingly so.  A hit app is a rarer unicorn than a hit website.  Why?  Unlike websites, apps aren’t linked to each other; you can’t click on a link to discover a new app, you have to purposefully search and download it from the app store.  Then you have to learn how to use the app before finally getting some value out of it.  Some apps — especially on Android but even from bluebloods like Facebook — behave badly and mistreat your phone’s battery or privacy settings.

The result of the above is that, according to Nielsen, most people use only 30 apps on their phone.  What are the chances your mobile app can make a person’s top 30?  Let’s break down how difficult a threshold that truly is.  What are the 30 apps you’d typically use?

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Twitter has a new analytics tool that lets you see how many people actually saw your tweets.  Danny Sullivan of Marketing Land reported that of his 390,000 followers, only 1.85% saw (not even necessarily read) a random tweet.  Ouch!

When we started feecha, one of the early decisions was what data to show users.  To be like YouTube, where you can see how many viewed a video; or to be like Instagram, where you have no idea how many actually saw a photo.

We decided to go the Instagram route because content creators need to feel like they’re being read to continue; once that illusion is gone, only the most strong-willed can keep going.  In the beginning, and especially with all that’s out there, most new start-ups will struggle getting engagement from users.  When the crowd is sparse, no news is better than bad news.  It’s better to keep your users guessing on how many they’re actually speaking to.

So why did Twitter make this kind of analytics tool available?  Advertising. I find advertisers’ interest particularly ironic; if they only knew just how many really saw their ads on TV or print…  390,000 Twitter followers sounds amazing, but it’s the 7,215 that actually matters.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the 1.85% seen ratio applies to TV ratings and print circulation numbers too.

Yesterday we used Snapchat, Instagram and Candy Crush as three examples of apps that were just as much about great marketing as they are great products.  The implication being that there are many good products that failed because the marketing didn’t connect.  Today we’ll present three examples of that.

Let’s start with a major product from a major brand that failed: Google Reader.  True story — a year ago an excited friend pitched me that “Jeff, this a billion dollar idea.  What if we could invent a way to keep track of websites, so you can get all the latest updates from the websites you follow all in one place?”  LOL.  That product exists of course; it’s called RSS and it’s already widely supported by our industry.  Yet, very few outside the tech world know what it is; even when its leading product was from a titan like Google (Reader was shut down in June 2013).

My start-up, feecha, organizes content from websites, blogs, events databases, etc. into neighbourhoods so you can easily see what’s happening in the area you care about.  Part of that is utilizing RSS feeds.  When we contacted bloggers to get their permission to use their content, we were shocked to discover that most hadn’t even heard of RSS.

Has there been any product like Google Reader and RSS that added so much value yet remains largely unknown?  Lack of awareness is a marketing issue, and one that the RSS community has yet to figure out.

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In yesterday’s post, we casually mentioned Tinder as an example of how a successful app is both great product and great marketing. Nothing just sells itself. There are lots of wonderful products that die a quiet death because nobody knew about them.

“Marketing” might be a misnomer, because technically product is part of marketing. What we mean is a go-to-market strategy: price, single-minded proposition, awareness building and distribution strategy.  Not only do you need product-market fit, you need an effective way for product and market to find each other.

Take Snapchat as an example.  Snapchat, despite being the same essential product from inception, puttered along at first without any traction. In fact, Murphy, one of the co-founders, got a full-time job elsewhere while the other, Spiegel, returned to finish his final year at Stanford.  The two had basically given up on Snapchat. Then they got their lucky break: Spiegel’s mom introduced the app to her popular niece who went to a school where Facebook was banned; soon, all the students there used Snapchat.  Murphy and Spiegel saw the numbers and realized they had a hit, and that the way of achieving it was through teens and schools. The rest is history.

Note: the big break wasn’t a product change, it was simply marketing.

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Perception is a powerful thing.  When something isn’t popular, like Path anywhere outside of Indonesia, people have a lot of opinions on why it’s a lousy product.  When something seems to be a hit, like the Yo app, people have a lot of opinions on why it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

It’s all done on the altar of success.  Traction is the only truth that matters, and people will do whatever mental gymnastics is required to work their way backwards to explain that success (or lack thereof).  Our tech culture prides itself on being smart, but it is still one where outcome rules logic.

I already wrote about Yo, an app so unsubstantial that Apple didn’t even want to publish it to their store.  Yo didn’t make some kind of technological or usability breakthrough — it is successful because it’s so stupid in its simplicity that people find it a hoot to download and talk about.

Remember those “wassup” Budweiser ads that got everybody going wassuuuuup?

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I’ve been using Facebook’s new app, Slingshot, intensely since it launched last week.  It was initially thought of as a Snapchat competitor and the successor to Poke – which I argued could have beaten Snapchat – but it’s actually quite different.

It’s hard to describe Slingshot and that’s the biggest problem.  It’s difficult to understand its purpose, and few will invest the time needed to do so.  Even after much thought, it’s still not clear why one should use Slingshot over other apps.

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Yesterday, Path launched version 4.0 of its app.  Version 4 is an incremental improvement over version 3 and there is now a new standalone messaging app.

Path is supposedly doing alright, growing from 1.5 million DAUs at the beginning of the year to 4 million.  A TechCrunch article further states that:

Southeast Asia is now its biggest market, with the U.S. coming second, but Path is also seeing some user growth from the Middle East.

While TechCrunch will readily accept Path implying it’s popular in South East Asia, data from App Annie shows that it’s really just Indonesia.

I spoke to a couple of friends in Indonesia on why they use Path.  The country has distinct characteristics that make Path a useful product there — perhaps uniquely — but that usefulness isn’t in messaging as the company believes.

It would be a mistake for Path to extrapolate too much from Indonesia into a company-wide bet.  Though I suppose they have to go somewhere.

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When Facebook first started, the homepage was essentially your profile.  You navigated by viewing a friend’s profile; and then a friend’s friend’s profile and so on.  Facebook was about jumping from one profile to another.

Then Mark Zuckerberg debuted the news feed.  Instead of having to check each person’s profile to see what’s new with that person, your friends’ updates were all pooled into one page.  People then consumed the news feed regularly, and only visited an actual profile when they wanted to go in depth on a person.  This was a fundamental shift in how people used Facebook and it’s hard to imagine going back the old way.

Profiles are static while the news feed is dynamic.

Profiles are “what is” while the news feed is about “what’s changed.”

Profiles are X, the news feed is ΔX.

I hope this distinction makes sense, because I’m about to apply it to mobile phones.

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