Joshua Schachter, creator of, has some advice for building a better Web app. Things that stuck out to me…

“Understand the user’s motivation: ‘You have to understand the selfish

user’ – user #1 has to find the system useful or you won’t get user #2.

Systems that only become useful when lots of people are using them

usually fail, because there’s no incentive for people to contribute

themselves. The real trick is to make the user base you have want to

invite more people in to the system. Manage your effort – be careful

where you spend your efforts. Don’t waste time building features nobody

uses.” This speaks directly to Workspace. If it isn’t useful/popular

before we roll out collaboration, we can’t expect it to become popular


“The features you put in are as important as the ones you leave out.

There’s no ‘send a note’ in feature because e-mail already

exists. I don’t add features that are available elsewhere e.g.

messaging.” Explains why the Send to a Friend feature on our NetNotes

is never clicked. People already know how to forward e-mail.

“Measure behavior rather than claims. doesn’t have [link

ratings] because why would you bookmark something that was no good?

This way people bookmark things that they really care about rather than

trying to tell the system things.” Say’s we’re on the right track now,

and that any popularity-based ratings should not require explicit

rating of links.

“With tags, people ask for ‘A and B and NOT C or D’ – but less than 1%

of queries even use more than a single tag.” Something to consider in

our tag search plans.

“Tagging is mostly user interface – a way for people to recall things,

what they were thinking about when they saved it. Fairly useful for

recall, OK for discovery, terrible for distribution (where publishers

add as many tags as possible to get it in lots of boxes). Automatic

tags lose a lot – doesn’t help the user really achieve their goals.

That’s why the ‘add to’ badges don’t let you suggest tags.”

Interesting, since our tagging plans run precisely counter to this.

“Make sure the URLs follow the path of the site. DON’T include session

data, drop ugly details that are to do with the system, not the user

(.php, .aspx, ?, &, etc.) URLs are prime real estate – respect

them.” Our sites are particularly awful about this.

“Aggregation is often a focus of attention (latest, most active, etc.)

As the population gets larger, the bias drifts;

becomes less interesting to the original community members. Work out

ways to let the system fragment in to different areas of attention.

‘Spam is attention theft’ – that’s one of the reasons

doesn’t have a top 10 links of all time – it’s an attractive nuisance.”

Something to consider as we design popularity-based features and lists.

“You have to speak the user’s language. ‘Bookmarks’ are what you call

them if you use Netscape of Firefox – most users these days know the

term ‘favorite’ instead. Half of his population (? users) didn’t know

what a bookmark was.” Makes me nervous about Workspace and Project as

feature names. What exactly do they mean to our user base?