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Taking Your App in a New Direction

By Nick Epson on September 9, 2021

So long as you’ve been regularly listening to your users, it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself in need of an overhaul at a fundamental level. While heading in a new direction is essentially required of a failing app, it’s also something that can arise out of opportunity or simply because a new feature helped redefine an app, intentionally or not. As you can imagine, it works out for some but for others, the shift in momentum topples the business.

There have been notable major changes in a couple of longstanding apps that have significantly changed the platforms themselves and influenced design in many other products. You might not be aiming for something that significant but it’s easy to see how one great feature earns homage through imitators and those who want to take things one step further. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples then we’ll take a look at a couple of upcoming changes that have the potential to make waves.

Features that pushed platforms in new directions

A couple of the most notable examples are found in the history of two of the biggest names on the web today: Facebook and YouTube.

The Facebook timeline changed social media

Soon after Facebook first became available to the masses (meaning you didn’t need a valid ‘.edu’ email address to register), it absorbed Myspace’s userbase with a less customizable platform. It was just kind of a way to keep in touch – instead of mirroring Myspace’s roadmap, Facebook would deviate and bring forth the News Feed in late 2006 which would serve as a foundation for what was first called “New Facebook” that surfaced in 2010.

Like all new things, this overhaul wasn’t beloved by the entirety of the userbase. To mitigate issues stemming from change-resistant users, they allowed users to continue to use the old version of the app at least for a time.

To be fair, the timeline becoming the hub was a major shift – suddenly, the activity of other users became front-and-center which ultimately served to engage users and attract other groups (namely businesses) to the platform. Everyone’s activity took center stage, serving as a new, widely used mechanism that would fundamentally change how people interact. Today, the idea of the “timeline” or “feed” is a central component for all different types of platforms, aggregating and displaying content from people and entities that are essentially “scored” based on how people interact.

This is also what allowed Facebook to become an attribution network and evolve into a super publisher, which has paved the way for other features like Facebook Watch, Facebook Marketplace, and more. Today, we see this style incorporated in a wide variety of platforms like the project management app, Asana, payment services like Venmo, and many more.

The evolution of YouTube

The evolution of YouTube’s core offering has stayed much the same, but it’s interesting to see how its layout has changed over the years. The founders originally felt YouTube had an application for dating. But as we can see, YouTube was developed around users’ behavior which would take the platform in a different direction.

The Evolution of YouTube

YouTube was launched on February 14, 2005Track:Brazilian Disappearance – The 129ers

Layout changes from over the years only tell part of the story as YouTube has shifted to accommodate a much broader purpose and thus, one of the userbases in existence. Interestingly, YouTube got its start as a way for people to upload videos that can easily be embedded into blogs which were a popular outlet for people to publish content on the web without hosting their own site, thanks to services like Xanga and Myspace’s blog component, among others.

The platform itself grew quickly in its first few years after a near-immediate purchase by Google in 2006 from its creators, a trio of former PayPal employees. YouTube managed to do what Google Video couldn’t and attracted the attention of major publishers like SNL which helped create a synergy, along with content from “average” people, that generated traffic far and wide. It was a video service that was both free and had amassed enough content such that there was something for everyone – YouTube emerged as an early constituent in a video consumption that now overshadows basically everything else on the Internet.

More video is watched on YouTube today because even though they’ve managed to successfully offer gated content, most of it is still free which is a big reason why they produce such staggering statistics. YouTube also manages to offer paid content and subscriptions to its premium service that also allows it to compete with services that have emerged over time like Netflix, keeping it securely positioned among the top few most popular websites in the world.

Groupon: from fundraising to digital coupons

Before we had Groupon, the company was known as The Point and it aimed to solve issues with investing by leveraging a central concept in their site known as the “tipping point.” It’s something we see today in platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo in the form of a “goal” – a project has to receive a certain dollar amount before funds are released from either platform’s escrow or funds are returned to backers (in most cases.)

The Point had the right idea but it was failing so founder Andrew Mason and his team brainstormed new ideas and landed on the idea that would become Groupon. As a kind of spiritual successor to The Point, Groupon originally centered itself around the tipping point concept but would instead serve as a tool for businesses to offer discounts using a similar design we see in today’s fundraising platform – businesses set a certain threshold for their Groupon (e.g., “X number of funders for a deal to go live”) to help ensure that it’s cost-effective.

In retrospect, The Point provided a kind of framework that would not only serve Groupon by allowing it to quickly grow into a billion-dollar company but also strongly influence modern crowdfunding platforms. Today, the tipping point is no longer necessary in Groupon as most deals reach high enough volumes and the platform has also expanded to offer more customization such as allowing businesses to add specific stipulations as well as limiting the timeframe that deals can be redeemed. 

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Facebook and YouTube are extreme examples but it goes to show how changes can radically change how users engage with a platform for the better. In the case of YouTube, it essentially opened the doors for anyone with the drive to grow and command a large user base, creating a whole new kind of user-generated content that gets equal or better engagement than some professional productions. 

Potentially disruptive changes on the horizon

Facebook and YouTube spurred immense changes that go much deeper than the technology itself but keep in mind, m ost new directions don’t yield quite the same result. However, some have the potential to unlock a new segment of business that can substantially alter a digital business as it proves to effectively solve a problem.

Here are a couple of changes in the works that we think have the momentum to become something much more than just a cool new feature.

Tickets through Spotify

Spotify today is a beautiful thing for everyone from music lovers to casual listeners. It managed to get some of us to stop pirating music just because it’s easier – pay a small fee a month and you can listen to anything you’d like and it makes it easy for artists to easily publish their own albums for the world to hear.

They’ve had an interesting road and faced some controversy over the last decade and now, they’re working on selling tickets to live performances/shows. Right now, they’re hosting live streams of certain concerts on their network for about $15 a head. They’ve also managed to link with a ticketing selling service for concert seekers and are in the process of becoming a first-party hub for concert tickets.

This is a big deal as it can put a squeeze on services like Ticketmaster, a business that people have historically griped about. With enough support, they could cause more disruption to the entertainment industry by supplying low-cost tickets (or at least providing the appearance of not having so many extra fees) which, if done securely, could help users, venues, and artists alike.

If Spotify would take care to link tickets to real humans, this could help thwart scalpers. Plus, it would offer the same convenience as other digital tickets, meaning there’s one less to think about as you’re shot-gunning beers in the parking lot before a show. 

Speak freely and anonymously with Yik Yak. Maybe…

Yik Yak was an early entry in a small pool of apps that allowed users to share information publicly but anonymously. Not surprisingly, it received a ton of backlash, as did others that would follow in their footsteps like Profoundly, Sarahah, and Whisper (to name a few), because people do and say weird stuff when they think there won’t be repercussions.

Yik Yak’s first run met its demise following incidents after authorities got involved with certain headline-making issues. For example, one man who made a terrorism threat was arrested which made multiple headlines. This and other similar stories catalyzed dwindling engagement until mimic services mention above appeared and gave the notion another wind. But eventually, everything started dying off around 2017 with Yik Yak ultimately selling for pennies

Fast forward to today and they’re back under new ownership with a facelift as well as a “no-bullying policy” and access to counseling tools. The newest version of Yik Yak will allow users to publish anonymous “Yaks” that anyone can read in a five-mile radius – the app intends to offer their users a private system that will facilitate anonymity but this time moderation to oust the people who abused the last incarnation into the ground. But of course, there’s already some backlash to the very notion of the idea.

While Yik Yak will likely garner more negativity than anything else, it’s interesting that these services still manage to amass so many users. There is some kind of value in anonymity, and users gain something that they can’t with many other platforms, for example, a place where they feel safe being honest. Reddit has managed to do an excellent job of this for years as they don’t require any personally identifiable information to be part of a user’s profile which helps keep a user’s real-world identity safe in a community where no one cares that you don’t have a profile picture or use your real name.

As such, there’s certainly room for Yik Yak to spool up their spin on “anonymous sharing” but only time will tell how (or if) the platform will evolve with its new offerings in tow or have a substantial impact on the market in years to come. With that said, there

We understand the impact change has on your userbase

Some apps will manage to stay in their lane and follow the original roadmap closely but this isn’t the case. You can plan for big changes early on but most often, the ideas originate from data you collect as you observe your platform. Our services are centered on strategy and growth, meaning Blue Label Labs helps drive businesses to make decisions that will help apps reach new heights, much like we did with iHeartRadio among many others. For more information or to get moving on your idea for a digital product, get in touch