A metaphor for your product
Finding the direction and voice of a technology product early on can be one of the most challenging tasks an entrepreneur faces. Human beings are pattern recognition machines and, as such, products that make direct reference to objects or experiences we have in the physical world tend to resonate better with users.
Numerous examples of this phenomenon litter the landscape of tech:
- GUIs: Apple introduced to the general public a GUI with a directory structure based on a familiar organizational paradigm: folders, files, desktop, etc.To some extent, Dropbox has extended this metaphor to the cloud.
- Tabbed browsing: Amazon popularized the ubiquitous notion of tabbed browsing that we now see everywhere on the web. Even the browser itself now has tabs. The physical metaphor was obviously the file cabinet.
- Profile pages: When Zuckerberg created the Facebook profile page, Harvard still had its own physical facebook that was handed out to freshmen. The use case for the physical facebook I observed (finding the hottest classmate in your dorm) was the same one I saw online when I registered for Facebook my sophomore year.
- Journals and scrapbooks: Path and Pinterest have more in common than their first letter and nasty user growth. They are both digital manifestations of an offline activity: the chronicling of one’s own life through personal anecdote and memorabilia. Path is the journal you keep. Pinterest is that dusty pinboard in your bedroom. The only difference is that many more people now see these artifacts of your personality.
- Constant updates: Dick Costello of Twitter recently said he wanted to make checking Twitter “like checking your watch.” This is a physical metaphor of a compulsive behavior many have that translates well. Checking the time is one step removed from checking what’s happening right now.
- Doing things with friends: Apps like Turntable.fm or even Draw Something are direct metaphors of activities that friends used to do together offline: get together and spin records, or play a party game together.
This list is just the beginning. I’d love to hear some additional examples you guys can think of and will add them if you tweet me at @ataussig.