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Project vs. Product

When you start a program as a programmer, you generally start a new project. The term already implies what it is: A plan in the making, something that you intend to be something, but which isn't. Some people just finish a project and ship it. That's not a good idea. There are some important changes that are needed to turn a finished project into an actual product. And most of them don't really have to do with the actual code.

Yes, a new product needs to go through testing, you may need to decide on a final name and make at least a rudimentary effort at verifying that the name isn't already in use. There is documentation to be written and text to be written for the web site, advertising all the features. But that's all pretty obvious and is done after that one important thing I've seen the producers of several programs get wrong:

You have to decide on your product's focus. I'm not talking about focus as in "Am I writing a text editor or an IDE?" Focus is rather the art of describing your app in one sentence, or maybe two. And when composing that sentence, keep in mind the following things:

  • You want to attract new users. So, make sure they can read this one sentence and immediately know what you're offering.
  • You want your customers to recognize your app. That means making sure this one sentence contains what makes your app better than your competitors, or other apps that have traditionally used for a task that your app is specialized for.
  • Recognizability also includes corporate identity: Develop your own style,both in graphic design, sound design, in-program text messages, but also for the text on your web site. Don't just copy your competition's tag line and change it slightly, or you'll just be 'that Photoshop clone' or similar.
  • Ignore your app's features. Instead, focus on your app's solutions. Find practical uses for your app's features, and find use cases where a user would use many of the features in your application in concert to achieve a goal that is familiar to your target audience.

If you now say that your program is too complex to be summarized like that, you do not have a product, and you certainly don't have a real Macintosh application. The Macintosh has always been not about individual features, but about solving a problem, scratching an itch. Selling a product means making people aware that they need your program. If you do not know the problems your program will solve, how are you going to find the people who need it and sell to them?

Not to mention that, once you know what focus your application has and what concrete problems you are trying to solve, it will have an effect on your application: Just like the state of the seemingly-finished project may have made you realize that your problem and solution are slightly different than you originally thought, that the focus is on a different spot, you will also be able to streamline your application. Don't be afraid not to add a feature, or even to throw out a feature that doesn't quite fit the focus, or postpone a feature until you've had time to re-work its user interface.

And this newly-gained focus will help your whole product: You will have the first line to go on your web site, and you'll know what secondary features should make it onto the front page. It'll be a lot easier to be concise and short, so people can quickly scan the site and know your product without having to read paragraphs of text.

When a user is looking for a program, they usually have a problem they want to solve. They type those terms into Google and get a dozen of search results, one of which is yours. Then the user will go to each web site, quickly scan the text and check whether it addresses their problem. They will not thoroughly read long paragraphs of text. They will skip from headline to headline, and maybe read the beginning of one or two paragraphs under headlines that might fit the bill.

That is why you have to be short, to the point, focused. You can always have 'more...' links to additional pages or a screencast or whatever to provide more detail (and provide more opportunities for Google to find something), but if the user doesn't see you can help immediately, they'll just go and check one of the other eleven competitors' pages.

Also, while a demo can be very useful and important, don't let the demo do your work. Don't just say: "This is Frobnitz 1.0, it's a great program for anyone who works with a lot of text, try the demo to see." Tell people what the app actually does, in short. Someone who has the prospect of 11 other apps waiting will not try out your app just to find out what it does. Installing and running an app, as easy as Mac OS makes it, is still effort, and requires more time. People will go to the other web pages first, and if another seems a better match, they'll just get that before they bother installing something that may not be relevant at all.

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Created: 2008-06-06 @994 Last change: 2008-06-06 @000 | Home | Admin | Edit
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