Over the last couple of years I’ve watched a good friend of mine develop a keen interest in astronomy. He’s purchased numerous telescopes and other gadgets that have enabled him to produce some impressive amateur astrophotography.
Leo is a technically savvy chap. By day he’s a graphic designer. He uses a modern smart phone. Obviously he has the nous to set up and configure his complicated astronomy equipment. So I was a little surprised when he asked me to help him set up a web site to share his hobby. I suppose one of the reasons he asked me is because he knows I’ve a history building web sites, but it also suggests that taking the first step to creating one for yourself can be intimidating.
We organised an evening to spend some time creating a simple web site on WordPress.com. As we worked through registration and setting up the site it quickly became clear to me why someone might be intimidated by this process. Even someone with a technical background. Of course this isn’t restricted to our industry, but it is so easy to become complacent around concepts that seem simple once understood, but are in fact a lot for new comers to take in.
We ran into so many technical stumbling blocks. Things like “Domains”, “Themes”, “Menus”, “Widgets”, “Featured Images”, “The Customizer” all needed explaining. To effectively do so I found myself sharing a history of WordPress development – it took way too long. Ironically, once Leo understood them his general response was typically; “Yeah… I don’t need that”.
The overall journey was unnecessarily complex and fraught with technical hurdles that I don’t think Leo would have bothered to negotiate if I hadn’t been there to guide him. But these hurdles are insignificant in comparison to the true tragedy of this story.
To begin with Leo was enthusiastic about his site. He updated his “Gear” page when he added new pieces of kit to his collection. He uploaded new photos and even blogged a couple of times. But in a surprisingly short period of time site activity dwindled away to nothing. Now it’s gone. But why?
I haven’t spoken to him in detail about this, but knowing Leo to be a social guy, I perceive the lack of interaction on the web site to be the main reason he quit it. When Facebook posts and Instagram images are attracting lots of likes, comments and attention whilst your web site remains a ghost-town you might begin to question why you bothered setting it up in the first place. Feedback provides validation, insight and encouragement. I think this is especially true for folks who just want to share their hobbies and experiences. They want to connect with other people doing the same thing, share knowledge, learn and enjoy each others progress. In the past, a web site / blog was the de facto way to do this. Nowadays social media has redefined the Blogosphere. Unless you’re extremely passionate about ownership of content, running a blog may feel like a questionable endeavour.
The conclusion I draw from this tale is probably transparent enough, but I’ll write it up anyway:
It’s easy (and common) to obsess about new user experience and we can refine our setup processes to perfection. On the face of things it makes sense – first impressions count for a lot. But if the holistic end-to-end experience of running a blog falls short then it’s all for naught. Setup is step 1 of a marathon and the starting line is one small detail in the overall journey. What about the cheering crowds? The volunteers handing out water? The safety stewards? The finishing line? If building an audience and encouraging interaction is the top priority for bloggers we should be doing everything we can to help them achieve that. Only by listening to user stories and communicating with customers can we develop a deep understanding of their mindset and purpose. Fuelled by the acquired information we can begin to deliver a service that meets and exceeds their expectations, from their first interaction to their last.