Feedly: Doing it right – serving market needs and user-centric interaction design.

Digging what Feedly has been doing to fill the vacuum (soon to be) created by Google Reader getting a bullet to the head.

Like 3,000,000 other Reader users, I gave Feedly a go initially when the news was announced. Didn’t like it at first – didn’t want a whiz bang visual presentation of information for every type of feed – no thanks Flipboard. Some of the interaction design just didn’t make intuitive sense to me. I’d find myself applying an interaction design pattern that worked in one place but not another. Consistency matters for accessibility and ease of use.

Since then, the Feedly team seems to be updating the product on a continuous development basis. The gut responses to these changes is “Hell Yeah”. I’m using it as my primary Reader replacement across platforms (Web, Android, iOS).

Another important consideration in interaction design – users don’t necessarily go through a spreadsheet based blow-by-blow comparison in making decisions to adopt or not. Continuous development is such a beautiful model of product delivery compared to traditional release cycles or enterprise software – user wakes up, good morning here are all the improvements and fixes you’ve been waiting for. Have joked with colleagues before that this is the dream for a product leader.

This is a great example of a product team stepping up to fill an unmet market need and designing solutions with end user goals in mind.

Firstly, Feedly started to incorporate the mental models and interaction design patterns Google Reader users have been using for 8 years – keyboard shortcuts, condensed headline presentations, etc. Reduces cognitive switching costs from one solution to another. Equalize/neutralize first in competitive strategy.

Secondly, they’ve gone beyond that equalization to think of how users are consuming content and improve upon even what was in Google Reader. Love the big “Mark as Read” button when you reach the end of a list of feeds, automatically switching to the next unread category and how category view settings are retained. Why should I have to do any of that manually when I do this every time I use the solution? This is good interaction design – thinking of user goals and anticipating what they would want without them even asking. Alan Cooper would be proud – good software has the personality of a smart, helpful and considerate person.

Thirdly, it seems they’re responding to the criticism that Google Reader was killed because it missed the social overlay that Twitter, Facebook, etc. provided on sharing content. It seems you can integrate feeds from these accounts to get “one stream” around content and buzz, and I’ve noticed the RSS articles indicate sharing activity – a feature that many Google Reader users hated to lose when the GOOG decided Google Plus is what people should use. This is great. I don’t want to go to 5 places no matter how much any one of them want to be the only place I get information.

As a product geek/leader, I have to call out praise to the Feedly team for stepping up to solve unmet market needs and continuously improving upon what is already looking to be a solid alternative to what was lost. There are rumblings around premium / paid versions of the service and I think I’ll be all too happy to give them my money for something I use all the time.

3,000,000 users earned from Google Reader in 2 weeks. I agree with some of the residual resentment kicking around – why should people start using a new product from a company if it might just be killed off in future in spite of usage?

One of the ideas from the Lean Startup camp is around engineering stickiness and retention in products through users creating personal content that keeps ’em coming back. Why would people invest in building up personal content and coming back to a solution if they can’t trust it will be there in the future regardless of use? I use(d) Reader every hour every day I’m awake. I share content that others find valuable. I’m proudly one of the hubs/connectors that enjoys sharing things might help or be interest of others.

Product leadership takeaway: Product level decisions can have portfolio / company level implications. Think about the job customers / users are hiring you to do and you’ll ensure they don’t fire you for someone who does it better. And try not to fire customers if they’re using your stuff a lot – of course, business cases rules and smart product teams / the market will step up if a meaningful vacuum is created.

Rev. Lovejoy: No Homer, God didn’t burn your house down, but he was working in the hearts of your friends be they Christian, Jew, or… miscellaneous.

Apu: Hindu. There are 700,000,000 of us.

Rev. Lovejoy: Aww, that’s super.

Great read on rethinking product design.

The inside story of Lenovo’s ThinkPad redesign.

“When you talk to end users about ports, they’ll tell you how much they need them. They’ll talk about the vast number of USB devices that they have. It’s easy to hear that and determine that you need five or more ports based on what these people report. When you watch these people work, however, and you’re more overt in your methods — you rarely see that happening. Sometimes, there’s a conflict between what someone reports they need and what they require.”

“The nature of this research — perhaps unlike some other research where you check a box for everything you need on a notebook — was much more about understanding users and their behavior,” said Proctor. “From there, we sought to telegraph those observations into design.”

This is why it’s important to actually watch how people are solving the problem today – observe things they don’t articulate verbally, match up potential solutions you’re aware of that they are not.

Dig this too:

Instead of just plopping a few paid participants down and asking them to fill out a form detailing their ideal laptop, the company “shadowed” individuals to see how they actually used a machine. Only a small segment of each group were genuine ThinkPad loyalists — the rest were early adopters of consumer technology, as well as those ardently opposed to selecting a ThinkPad as their primary machine. After all, one’s biggest opponent often provides the most truthful revelations.

Parrish described a familiar refrain when folks waltzed by one particular machine — a blissfully red ThinkPad. The initial response? Unanimously positive. Around 10 seconds later — practically without fail — each critic changed their tone. “This is pretty, but I couldn’t see myself actually owning it and using it on a daily basis.”

And on providing choice and flexibility to customers – specifically on trade offs between all day power and device thickness:

“We actually addressed that very topic in our study, and the feedback that we received was essentially the following: ‘If it’s my choice to add a thick and bulky case, that’s fine. If the device arrives thick and bulky, that’s not fine.'”

Making things better as a never ending process:

“It’s a little like editing a book — you never feel like you’re done,” she said. “But, of course, there are realities like schedules and roadmaps. We were very fortunate in this project to have started it early, so we didn’t have to rush through it. Along the way, we kept a close eye on how things were progressing — if something wasn’t up to par, we kept going.”

Building things to Clarke's Third Law.