Thursday, January 11, 2007

On usability, adoption rates and deadpool for Web 2.0 services

There's been a number of posts on the net about the fate of RawSugar since we announced that RawSugar stopped its R&D operations. See for example these blog entries:

Besides the journalistic headlines (I felt like David Beckham for a day or two), and the number of good words for the RawSugar team from users; what mostly interested me was the reasons mentioned either in the blog posts or in the comments for RawSugar's failure. Here are the leading causes of failures that are cited:

  1. Poor marketing (weak focus on blogs, no differentiation with delicious, poor communication, poor positioning, etc.) - 5 mentions
  2. Poor UI design (colors, homepage, coolness, overall usability) - 5 mentions.
  3. Simply a victim of the bubble - 4 mentions
  4. No business plan (nor revenue plan) - 2 mentions
  5. Poor innovation - 1 mention.
  6. Ofer Ben-Shachar (Founder/CEO) stubbornness :) - 1 mention.

As RawSugar's former VP Engineering, I find this very interesting to see what people really think about this. The first conclusion I draw is that the technology was not to blame, indeed, as I write this blog, RawSugar's investors are negotiating with several potential buyers of the technology. So I believe that the RawSugar tag-search technology will find a new home and that's a good thing.

However, what stroke me most on the comments of people above is that I don't believe any of these is responsible for RawSugar poor adoption levels. When I look around at other services I see all these points in successful services. See for example:

  • Did Youtube have a business plan?
  • Did Delicious havea good UI design (starting from the hard to remember domain name)?
  • Is gmail a model of usability? Maybe yes, but only after you get it.
  • Was Craig's list done with a great marketing strategy in mind?
  • Where is the innovation in myspace?

No, I don't think these are the real reasons for RawSugar underperformance. I don't think you need a business plan, a great UI design, a solid marketing plan and a huge innovation to make a winning Web 2.0 service. I am not saying it hurts but I don't think these are necessary nor sufficient criteria.

I have my own explanation but I won't share it on my blog right now, maybe in a later post. What do you think? Leave me a comment.



Anonymous said...

I agree with you that marketing, UI, and a business plan are not mandatory for the success of a web 2.0 initiative. I don't know what happened inside the company, but i think the site had a lack of one of the internet important ingredients: coolness!
Maybe the technology was awesome, and you hade a decent UI, you did not have a cool factor in the site. Delicious had a cool factor since they one of the firsts who brought something new, so they rise abouve thier poor UI.

What do you think?

MbayeSmadja said...

That's true - We were lacking coolness. It's interesting that you believe that when you are an innovator you can rise above other weaknesses.

I completely agree with that. What do you think of other services? Do you believe coolness is a must?


Anonymous said...

Hi Frank,
Collness is not a must but it is an important ingredient if you are approching a cool-seekers audience, which are usually the web 2.0 services.

If i may, can i approach you by personal contact (email or IM) in order to interet you on a personal matter?

What do you say :)?


MbayeSmadja said...

Hey Amir -

email me at (reverse each string in place in linear time):

Frank -