I'm a developer in Melbourne, Australia, and co-founder of Hello Code.

Published Sun 16 December 2007

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Removing barriers to adoption

Image credit: J Konig

One of the hardest things to do when it comes to web services is to get people to just try your site out. If you have a good, compelling service then once you've got a new user in, if they like what you do they're going to return. But getting those users to try your service in the first place is one of the more difficult parts of the process.

As I was out walking today I passed a little shop selling old furniture and knick-knacks. These sorts of shops probably don't get a great deal of purchases, but they do get a lot of people wandering in and browsing through their collections. But as I passed this particular shop I noticed a sign on the closed door saying "ring bell to enter", with an arrow pointing to the doorbell next to the door.

The problem with this is that it immediately makes the potential customer rethink their decision. People are lazy, and they don't like being pressured into buying things. So a large portion of casual, potential customers are going to keep on walking, because having to signify their intent by pressing the button is more than they want. These customers just want to browse, but pressing the doorbell to get in is like announcing, "Yes! I am a customer who would like to purchase from your store". They have a notion that it might be fun to have a look, but the effort and the formality of announcing they'd like to come in is just going to make them change their mind.

The lesson applies equally to web services. If you put barriers in the path of people who just want to look around, you're only going to get those users who don't mind announcing "I'm here — I'd like to see what you have". All of the passers-by are just going to keep on walking.

The answer to this, of course, is to allow free and open access to your service — to anyone. No signups, subscriptions, "we-just-need-an-email-address"es. Sure, you lose the ability to draw your potential users back by emailing them, but to think you need to is missing the point. If you need to ask people to come back, you haven't made your service irresistable.

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