Delighting users is incredibly hard. Most startups don’t even try. That results in boring (although occasionally effective and useful) web applications. Some startups try too hard and end up overloading their applications with flashy funkiness that doesn’t add any real value. They might get an A for effort, but they won’t keep users happy through a “shock and awe” campaign.
When you successfully delight users it’s magical. They love you, you love them, birds chirp beautiful music and the clouds literally part in the sky…
The rewards are immense. Loyal, rabid fans tweet shamelessly about how incredible you are, how valuable your web application is, and how successful your startup will be. Awesome stuff.
The interesting thing about delight is that it doesn’t have to be constant. Part of delight’s magic is surprise. Anticipation too.
Anticipation + Surprise = Delight
So you don’t need to delight someone with an “Aha!” moment every single time they use your web application. The experience overall has to be delightful, but there’s a difference between a satisfying, “Damn straight,” and a “Holy sweet mother of God that is amazing!” We’re talking about the latter here…
Digg used to delight a lot of people. Me included. I loved Digg back when this blog hit the front page 3 or 4 times within the space of a few months. It was insane. The traffic spikes were monumental. Server crashing. The spikes lasted two days at most, and very few people stuck around, but it was still awesome. Delightful in the truest sense of the word. (Valuable too, because a chunk of people did stay around, people linked over like crazy, SEO improved, etc.) Digg was delightful.
But then it stopped. Things changed. Doesn’t really matter why at this point, although their story is well-told and interesting. I think Sarah Lacy does a great job recounting that story in her post, RIP Digg. It’s less depressing than the title insinuates (and certainly not anti-Digg like a lot of what we’re seeing out there). The folks at Digg did some amazing things and I’m certain they will continue to. But one of the areas they failed was in delight. They stopped being delightful.
And that’s one of the biggest risks when it comes to delight. If you manage to find a way to provide an insane amount of delight (even in rare, short bursts – and in some cases, rare short bursts are better!) be very, very careful about taking that delight away. Or even changing it a bit. There may be legitimate reasons to change your product, which results in changing the delight factor, but it’s a huge risk. People are fickle. Blame the Internet (to a degree) for that. We move insanely quick, turning winners into losers in mere moments, moving with a powerful herd mentality. And your product goes from delight to downer.
It’s hard to recover from that. Add a second risk to the equation: Believing your own hype. That’s gotta be one of the single biggest killers of startups. Hype is often legitimately fuelled by delight. The more delight you create, the more hype you make. The more hype you make, the bigger your head gets. If your head gets too big, you can very quickly start making unreasonable, untethered assumptions and decisions. That can impact the overall perception of your startup as well as the quality of your product. And ultimately, affect the delight of your users and customers.
There are very few cases where you can argue against delighting users, or at least trying. But be careful just the same…