Remove Friction, Add Value

Recently I read a great piece in GQ called The Viral Me by Devon Freeman. The article takes a look at a non-digital obsessed journalists quest into social media - from Facebook to Blippy, Twitter to Quora - it's a great look at what drives people to use these services. More importantly, it looks at the powerful VC's and incubators who take ideas from smart, young, enterpenuers and turn them into massive companies.

Brian Pokorny, an angel-investor, is interviewed in the later part of the article and discusses how he evaluates 'social' companies. The core of his thinking is about services that reduce 'Friction' to as low as possible (in other words, make the service as easy to use as possible and it will scale quickly - resulting in viral growh and potentially major revenues). Freeman describes it as:

'Friction is what you don't want. Friction is what keeps people from signing up for your site or downloading your app. Because it's too expensive, because it's too embarrassing, because it's too difficult, because it's difficult at all. The Internet has been working to reduce friction. To make everything easier to use, easier to sign up for, easier to navigate, cheap, free, freer than free. In a perfect world, there'd be friction if someone didn't sign up for your thingy. Again, FB has it right: It's frictive to not have an FB account; just ask anyone who has to explain six times a day why he doesn't have one.'

When you think about different types of friction on the web, there are many - it takes time to register a profile, to validate an email address, to go through steps. But beyond that, it takes time to think of a photo to upload to Facebook or even a 140 character Tweet to write. That seems almost insane (that a Tweet would be considered Friction) but it is. That's why sites like DailyBooth are on the rise (more on this below).

When you think about this idea, it makes complete sense. The more friction (or steps) that you make me go through, the less chance you have of making me complete the journey. When you apply this to a site journey or Facebook application, you quickly see that every click results in a drop off - somewhere between 10-20% depending on the user ask. Applied to 'rich' experiences that ask the users to click 8-12 times and you've got a fraction of the people who made it to the landing page in the first place (which is a fraction of those who you might have been running ads against). This friction counts and hurts many of the brand experiences out there.

The second theory of Brian's is a perfect additon to Friction - with any experience, the user must get more out of it than they put in. So simple.

But think about it applied to photo-upload contests (as one, frequently-used example). We ask users to go through the app, register, think of a photo that applies to the theme of the contest, upload and then beg for votes. If they're lucky, they will look at the other photo's that users have uploaded and be entertained. But in reality, they won't. They'll just canvass votes or - more commonly - forget about the experience.

Reducing friction and adding value are buzzwords of the digital world. But just because everyone talks about them doesn't mean that they are actually being applied to experiences.

As an aside, I've started using a few sites mentioned in the article, specifically:
  • Dailybooth: One of the easiest experiences I've had. Create a profile, take a picture of yourself. Upload. People comment. Repeat. Hugely popular among mobile users. It's like a mix of Flickr and Twitter but easier to use than both.
  • Blippy: It was scary to give my iTunes password, Gmail and Credit Details, but I'm intersted to see how live, social tracking of my purchases changes my behaviour. I figure I'll either delete the account in a few days or be obsessed for the year.
Test them out if you've got a sec.