Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Who Can Learn What From Vine

Vine is a service that allows you to create itty bitty videos (like this one). It's a service that received plenty of buzz, but I hadn't played with it till this last weekend. As case studies go, I think the service offers plenty to learn from. But who should learn what?

Entrepreneurs

In my day job I frequently talk to people about their ideas, and how they can best be turned into software. One of the first things I try to explain is that my little company builds software out in relatively small stages or versions. Figuring out what should go into Version 1 is often tricky. To help, I give my customers three guidelines to work with, all of which Vine appears to have nailed perfectly. They are:

1. Build as little as possible. Playing with Vine, especially on Android, you quickly realize how many features are missing. You can't save a video as draft, control it's privacy access or go back and edit a video. I'm sure there are folks clamoring for these features, but Vine has stayed disciplined (or maybe they have so few resources, they have no choice), that they have yet to build them in.

The negative side of this is that customers are going to kvetch. The positive side is that with all those features missing, you can focus on producing a quality user experience with the features you do create. In this case, Vine is so simple, that you can't stop playing with it. Creating a video is a one touch affair. Another bonus: by building less, Vine has had to leverage existing platforms to pick up the slack. Rather than reinvent a network broadcasting tool Vine uses Twitter. (Of course, Vine was bought by Twitter, so it's no surprise about that relationship.)

Make the tool general purpose. Which community is going to find Vine to be a killer app? It could be obvious ones, like new parents or travelers, but it could just as easily be unexpected groups like ER Doctors or football coaches. By creating a general purpose tool, they leave the door open to attract a number of potentially surprising audiences.

Put another way: by changing their message, Vine can potentially reach a new market; all without any software changes. That's a huge feature if you're software budget is limited.

It really solves a problem I have. This is absolutely key. Building an application missing lots of features you should be a recipe for disaster. But, if it truly solves a problem, folks will stick with it warts and all. They'll even love it. You can even expect your audiacne to find creative ways around these problems. Just as importantly, as you grow, you can add in missing features. So what problem does Vine solve so elegantly? Well, it's a First World Problem, but still a problem: how can I tell my story in a way that's efficient for me to create and efficient for my audience to consume.

Let's say I'm at my kid's soccer game. Sure, I could take out my cell phone and snap a few picture - but will that capture the scene? Probably not. I could capture 15 minutes of video, but who the heck wants to watch all that content? I could edit my 15 minutes of video down to just the good parts, but who has the time for that? Or, I could pop-open Vine, hold down the screen a couple of times, and I'm done. The experienced is captured, and even if it's awful, it's going to be at most 6 seconds long. Surely everyone can stand to lose 6 seconds, right?

By balancing the above three criteria, Vine can afford to build a minimal application, yet still gain a significant enough following. The result: customers will hang around as it grows into a full fledged app.

One of the challenges beginners have with creating software is that much of software they use has far outgrown it's Version 1 days. Facebook, eBay, Quickbooks, etc. are now mature products with millions of dollars invested into them. For the entrepreneur trying to do big things with few resources these are horrible examples to follow. Vine, on the other hand, is in those early stages. But better pay attention quick, my guess is that they are growing a rate where their early-day status will be behind them in no time.

Camera Manufacturers

For years, conventional wisdom was that a cell phone camera would do in a pinch if you didn't have a "real" camera on you. With apps like Vine, though, it's becoming clear that one day people are going to prefer the functionality of their cell phone over a relatively dumb camera. Vine may not be the camera killer app, but I think it certainly is part of a trend.

Consider the Galaxy S3's panorama feature. You can use it to quickly capture a 180 degree or even 360 degree view of a scene. Even when I'm carrying my DSLR, I find that I pull my Galaxy S3 out to capture panoramas. Sure, I could use desktop software to stitch together DSLR images together, but why go through the hassle?

When I shop for a camera I'm considering the following:

  • Image quality
  • Shutter lag
  • Battery life
  • Focal length (zoom lens) choices
  • Compactness

My Galaxy S3 now has all of those bases covered, except for the focal length options, as well as point and shoot cameras. Heck, in many respects it competes well with my DSLR. Now when I factor in the nifty software tricks and easy sharing my phone offers, and gets harder and harder to justify buying a separate camera. When someone figures out how to add a 28-200mm lens to a cell phone, the race will be pretty much over.

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