I made the mistake of reading this post from Jeff Atwood's blog Coding Horror. What was the mistake? Well, it was clicking on the link to Geni - a family collaboration site. Not only did the developers at Geni remove the login barrier, they also made a very addictive application.
So go ahead. Do it. Click on the link. And then come back in an hour or so and read the rest of this post if you can stop trying to remember your uncles third cousins middle name.
I have shared this site with several people and they all have the same reaction - they immediately start adding all of the family members they can think of and they usually get 20 or 30 people deep before they stop. What is it about Geni that is so addictive? Well I think there are several things:
- It is extremely easy to start
- The main interface is graphical and immediately makes sense.
- Collaboration is encouraged
- Users are encouraged to contribute
- It is applicable to a wide array of users
When you first visit Geni, the interface is just inviting you to start inputting information just to see what happens. I don't want to repeat too much of what Jeff said in his post, but when it is this easy to start (and you aren't asked for tons of irrelevent information up front) I think users are much more likely to sign up. In addition to being easy, the initialy start page is does not force you to do something that you don't want to do. It is not saying, "you must enter all of the data we are asking you for or you may not enter!"
Just the fact that Geni is a family tree application who's main interface is actually a tree, makes it much more comfortable to use. Contrast this with another recent family tree application Family.Show which displays the information in a tree, but you have to edit and view most information in a pane on the right side of the window.
Collaboration Is Key
The killer feature of Geni is the fact that it is family tree meets social networking. Anybody in your family can log on and add/edit information. This allows people to work on part of the tree that they are most familiar with. Also, there are other fun myspace like features like friends lists (people not in your family), picture sharing, and leaving messages. It is also extremely easy to invite somebody. Anytime you enter somebody's email address, it allows you to invite them. This will send them an automated email inviting them to join Geni. While this feature is not totally new and innovative, it is usually a one click operation which makes you just that more likely to invite people.
Don't Underestimate the Power of Competition
Do you have a little rivalry in your family? Geni allows you to use that competitive streak for good. The most obvious way it does this is by posting tree awards. Once my family members see this screen, they immediately want to be #1. This is such a great way to get people to participate. If they just add a couple of more people or upload some more pictures they can move up in the rankings. Not only is there competition between people in the same tree, I have found that there is a little game between me and friends to see who can get the most people in their tree. Just so you know, I think I am currently in the lead in this department.
I guess this also just proves my addiction since I have added the vast majority of the 207 people currently in my tree.
Even my Grandma can use it
Do you ever get tired of people using your mom or your grandma as the typical uninitiated computer user? Me too. I hear the phrase "This is so easy that my Grandma can use it!" Well, with Geni this is true from a UI perspective but I am talking about something better than than. Not only can Grandma use it, but she would really want to! Since family is such a unifying theme, having an application that taps into that is just brilliant. I have yet to have showed Geni to a family member who didn't have an immediate interest.
Is Your Application Addictive?
The crazy thing about collaboration on the web today is that so many factors can contribute to the success or addictiveness of your application. It is not just a nice interface (see myspace), and it is not just purely usefulness. Users have to connect with your application and feel welcomed. They don't want to have to think too hard and to conform to the restrictions of the apps they are using.
I mainly worked on boring enterprise business applications, does this apply to me? Absolutely. Just because somebody is using an app on the intranet and they have no choice on whether or not to use your app or not, it does not mean you should not think about how to make their experience with that app the best it can possibly be. Can you make data entry or running reports fun? I think so.
What other addictive applications / user interfaces can you think of?