Dave Winer needs better Product Management, and a “user before developer” strategy.

A few days ago I downloaded Dave’s new app “FlickrFan” … a kind of wired up internet screen saver but designed with Dave’s trademark ‘organic flexibility’.

Context: Ambisonia’s Podcasts is a direct result of Winer’s trademark ‘organic flexibility’. The podcasts use an XML format designed for blogs (defined by Winer). This XML format was then extended (by Winer) to include links to media files. Applications (like Azeurus) can ‘subscribe’ to this XML file (called RSS) and then systematically download any media files defined within. The result is an extremely simple distribution system. But it is also designed very simply to allow flexiblity. Add Bittorrent files to the podcast (instead of the media file itself) and you now have an extremely powerful large file/cheap bandwidth distribution system. This is how Ambisonia distributes terabytes of data, at very little cost (well, at shared cost).

So you can see why I downloaded, with excitement, Dave’s latest little adventure, “FlickrFan”. But I think Dave is doing himself a dis-service with his product management. Here’s why:

  1. I downloaded FlickrFan. The downloaded file, however, was not called FlickrFan.dmg, it was called opml.dmg. What the hell is OPML? (I know exactly what it is but most dont).
  2. So I opened the dmg and looked at its contents… thinking that the FlickrFan app must be inside. It wasn’t. I could in fact find no evidence of anything anything called FlickrFan inside.
  3. At this stage I thought that I must have downloaded the wrong package. I have played with Dave’s OPML app before, and eventually gave up on it because the user experience was really frustrating (on windows). I thought I must have downloaded OPML instead of FlickrFan by accident. Ofcourse, in the back of my mind, I knew that FlickrFan must be built on top of OPML, but I thought there is no way that Dave would do that Java /Air thing, where you are forced to install a whole other platform to get an app running.
  4. So I went to FlickrFan.com to get the proper package. But FlickrFan.com is one of those spam parking sites. At this point, you realise, ok … its just a little side project for Dave. Nothing serious, no money behind it.
  5. I go back to scripting.com thinking I must have spelt the name wrong. There’s no link to FlickrFan on the front page, I have to go looking through the archives. I didn’t spell it wrong, its a .org site. Hmmm … .org sites typically take more mucking about than .com sites.
  6. I get the installer again, and realise that yes, I did have the right file to start with … OPML. Its not FlickrFan, its OPML.
  7. I found the instructions as a link on the FlickrFan.org. The instructions are actually spread over 2 web pages … hmmm … why 2 pages?

From then on, Dave had it all working well. The AP photos came up in startling reality…

But what I dont get is:

  1. Google already has a product that does slideshows of photos of RSS feeds
  2. Slickr is a product that turns Flickr RSS into slideshows
  3. and the screensaver on OSX allows you to subscribe to RSS feeds!

OK, at this point I’m starting to think that this whole FlickrFan thing is really just Dave trying to show people how you can use OPML to do funky things.

I think this is exactly what is needed for OPML… because OPML is a platform and platforms dont win without good products. But I  would take it much much further.

Users are not interested in platforms, they are interested in products, or new user experiences… and when you push a platform into people’s faces, they don’t like it. This is why, I believe, AIR applications wont be popular (download the application, then download the platform it runs on … yuck). And end users really dislike Java for the same reason (“urgghh … I have to install Java, do I have the right version?” etc. etc.).

Give users the end product (bury the platform!). The developers will discover that there is a platform under there once the users have ‘exposed’ the product.

This is my recommendation to Dave:

  1. Hide OPML for the end users. The download should be FlickrFan.dmg.
  2. The app should be called FlickrFan. This would solve the “what do I do now” problem once the app is installed.
  3. Dramatically simplify the  menu on  the OPML app… its confusing as all hell.
  4. Buy “FlickrFan.com” … or use a different name (maybe too late?). ‘org’ sites are not empowering.
  5. Logo and simple site design? The FlickrFan.org site is very very forgettable. I dont get excited when I go there, I dont get an impression of how powerful this product is. The site gives the impression that the product is drab and boring. ‘Branding’, they call it.

If a user installs FlickrFan and really likes it, and they recommend it to their friend… they will give that friend the URL of the site. That friend will land on the site to check it out … and at that point I reckon Dave will lose 75% of his audience. Compare flickrFan.org and skype.com.

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