Avoiding the Redesign Fail

As I write this, Mirple has not yet launched.  We hope to launch our new service soon.  While development continues at a feverish pace, we also have to look forward to the future of the service.

No website, service, or application is ever really done.  It is in a constant state of evolution – reacting to changes in the market and consumer behavior, but also innovating new ways for consumers to make the most of the Internet.  It is a symbiotic relationship that can amplify success or turn a misstep into a death spiral.

Last year, the popular content aggregator Digg released a major redesign called Digg 4.  It changed the way the user ecosystem worked to such an extent that users quickly fled to other sites like Reddit.  The exodus of users led to a death spiral as fewer people were posting and fewer people were reading Digg’s content.  Digg quickly became irrelevant.

Recently, Gizmodo and related Gawker sites such as LifeHacker, went through a major redesign with many problems leading the sites to lose  33% of their traffic in a matter of days.  Whether this leads to a death spiral is still to be seen.

There are a few lessons to be learned from these high profile redesign failures:

  1. Users have many alternatives and are thus ready to switch if changes detract too much from the essence of a site
  2. Major redesigns don’t just change the site, but affect the user ecosystem, leading users to feel betrayed.
  3. The network effect is critical in the world of social media.  Connecting people will rapidly grow your site; disconnections will just as easily kill it

Specific to Mirple, our philosophy is to introduce major new features every few months and continually add smaller improvements.  This will let us avoid the risks of the “big bang” effect.  It will also let us co-create new features with users, rather than unleashing a new design on users and expecting them to adjust to it.  In other words, Mirple will be a bit better every day.

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