Usage vs. Users: Facebook’s Smart Experiment
Everyone who builds an app, especially a free one, wants users. As in “registered users,” or people who have signed up with a unique name or email, or used an identify service like Facebook Connect.
The registered user count is a good metric to be able to throw around (Evernote has tens of millions!) and there are a lot of things you can’t give users without assigning them an identity. Important things, like synchronizing data across devices.
However, a push to asking users to register themselves at the outset can have a negative effect and turn them away. This is obvious, right? You’d probably have the same critique of the new app I saw at Le Web this week that I really wanted to get into, save for the five-field signup (on an iPhone — ouch) before I could use it. That was enough to get me to put off the account creation task, and I probably won’t be back.
You’d never do that. But, you know, it is a matter of degree. Too many apps ask the user to create an account too early, before the user is really bought in. So when should you make the big ask for the account creation? Maybe there’s a different question: What if you decided that you wanted to delay the requirement to create an account as long you possibly could, or even eliminate it?
Then you might have to redesign your app. You might have to store more data locally, on users’ devices. There are clear downside to that, but also some big upsides: You’ll probably improve app performance (no connection required to retrieve data or preferences) as well as app usage, since you won’t block users who get a random authentication timeout and forget their password one day when they’re in a hurry.
Idan Cohen of Boxee, the guy behind the supremely useful private video sharing app, Cloudee, says that his product is, “moving to the point where creating a user account is no longer necessary.” He says that Cloudee will, instead, make it automatic, picking up identifiers and credentials as people use the app. He hopes to drop the requirement that users register through either Facebook or Twitter. He believes this will improve both first-time and repeat usage of the app.
Even Facebook (Facebook!) is experimenting with a login-free app. In an interview at Le Web, Peter Deng, a Facebook director of product management, said a new version of Messenger for some non-US markets will let people communicate with others without a login. Faceook has a lot of users. What it wants with this new product is use. One thing leads to the other, but the equation isn’t symmetrical.
Which do you want more: Users? Or use?
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