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Two things every product person should do before starting work on a new feature

Recently, I've been experimenting with my feature development process for dpadd. Here's two tasks I've stared doing that I believe are invaluable when starting in on a new feature.

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Write a thesis.

The first step is to write a quick thesis. I recently got this idea from Jason Evanish when he appeared on the Product People podcast in March. Jason explains that a feature thesis should help answer two questions:

  • Why am I building this now?
  • Why problems does this solve for users/customers? or what common usecases does this address?

This is a great way to make sure you're on the right track in terms of building the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. If the answers to those questions are too hard to find or seem like they don't need to be addressed right now, then you probably shouldn't be building the feature.

Write a press release.

I don't send out press releases but I do write them. Writing a press release (even if you have no intention of distributing it) helps you organize your thoughts, iron our important details and keep you focused on why you are building what you are building.

I recently learned that this is a common practice for product teams at Amazon. Ian McAllister wrote a great post on Quora about this all the way back in 2010. I totally recommend that you check it out. Specifically look at the 'example outline for press releases' where he explains how your press release should address problems, solutions and summarize key benefits to the user.

The press release can also be a frequent guideline to refer to throughout the rest of the feature development process. It can help you simplify your decision making and keep you on track with your original goals for the feature.

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The rise of the niche social network

I recently realized that I now spend more time on niche social networks than on general social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Sites like Dribbble, Goodreads, Letterboxd and of course my own creation, dpadd, are permanently pinned to my browser and visited often throughout the day. I find that it's beginning to feel like a chore to keep up to date on the big networks and filter down to find information I actually care about. Let's explore why...

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Personalized experience

The functionality of a niche social network is designed for a specific vertical and thus provides more bang for your buck than "one size fits all" functionality. Niche social networks create personalized, curated experiences that you would need to work hard at to achieve on Twitter or Facebook. It's everything the user wants, be it books, games or movies, on tap and in abundant supply.

Tangible features

Features are more engaging because they directly relate to a user's passions. When I say I've read a book on Goodreads it relates directly to something thats happened in the real world. For what ever reason, it's also somewhat comforting to record all the books I read or games I've played. It feels good to know that I have a place to record and save that information. It also strokes the ego a bit to show off your list of "accomplishments" and it's nice to play the critic every once in a while by rating or reviewing titles.

Focused utility

Many niche social networks include tools to help manage your interests. Lists of what you want to watch, play or read are great examples that provide actual value to a user beyond just being a place to connect with others. This may be because many of these sites started out as tools and then built social features in to encourage engagement. What ever the original reason, niche social networks provide a ton of value beyond just connecting with others.

Like-minded user bases

I have lots of great friends on Facebook but they live in a totally different world than I do. Facebook is not the place I'm going to go to read peer reviews of the latest first person shooter or to gather feedback on a UI design I've been working on. Niche social networks connect you with like minded individuals, many of whom you likely don't know in the real world. Some people may even be embarrassed to share certain things on Facebook, but are happy to share within an audience they know have the same interests.

Niche social networks have been around for a long time but are continuing to flourish. They provide a ton of value for their users beyond just being a social hang out. And, as we learned with the recent Goodreads acquisition (with a rumored price-tag in the hundreds of millions), are becoming serious businesses.

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