When I received an invitation to join the latest social network as it took its fledgling steps, I promised that I’d give it a month to see how it worked out.
Fast forward six weeks – not only have I discontinued use but I’ve deleted my account as well.
Here are the five reasons why – and some advice for future social media start-ups.
Reason One: The technology wasn’t ready.
When I originally blogged about UNTHINK, I criticised the load times.
This hasn’t improved – today’s load for example took around 8seconds on IE over a 10mg broadband line. Firefox meanwhile took 9.522s.
This wasn’t even to get logged in. This was just bringing up the home page.
Aside from the speed, there have been many other issues dogging the network. Someone sent me a Connection request – to actually form the connection took about a week because the link went nowhere and/or the system couldn’t see who was asking who to do what.
Reason 2: The User Interface wasn’t up to it.
Look at the cleanliness of the Google+ UI, the ‘newnew’ Twitter or even (gasp) Facebook. All of these networks share a common point – it’s easy to get connections and to see what you’re doing.
I found the UNTHINK UI perpetually confusing. Once I’d found where to change a setting, share/import something, I invariably forgot all about it and had to spend hours looking for it again.
I simply don’t have time to learn something that isn’t intuitive and which might not take off anyway.
Reason 3: The Privacy controls were ridiculous.
Privacy is the big buzzword these days – and one of UNTHINK’s claimed USPs was that it allowed you to be totally private about everything, unless you chose not to be.
All very well and good – but this included not finding people in search results, connections – the people you’d proactively sought out or had accepted requests from – not seeing status updates and so on.
The network’s privacy settings killed the user experience.
Reason 4: Too many other networks competing for my time.
I’ve got a fair following on Twitter and Google+ and am slowly building up my Facebook contacts. If I was to swap to another network, I’d need something fast, lean, great to use and which provided me with value that the existing stable lacked.
UNTHINK missed all of these goalposts by a country mile.
Reason 5: UNTHINK weren’t using it.
In the top right hand corner of my profile was a box claiming to display updates from the UNTHINK network itself.
And when I created my account, the first ‘connection’ was the system autobot.
Neither of these displayed a single update in the 6 weeks that I’ve been keeping an eye on the network.
Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not even a ‘We are working on page loading times – bear with us!’ message.
To add insult to injury, I asked the autobot a question when I couldn’t locate a particular option. Never got a response back.
If the people who built the system aren’t using the system to communicate with the community, why the hell should I?
Enough whinging. Here’s five pieces of advice for anyone feeling brave enough to attempt a new social network.
1) Get your technology right.
Sort out your page load times, make sure that emails between users arrive. Provide a decent Help Wiki.
Users know and understand that beta tests will be full of holes and niggles. Heck, that’s why we get involved in the first place – so that we can say we were there first and helped to kickstart a new venture.
But we don’t expect something so glacial or difficult to get around.
If you’re not sure about your load speed, ask a teenager (they seem to have the shortest attention spans on the planet. Subjectively speaking). If you’re not sure about the UI, ask your less-than-tech-savvy neighbour. If he/she can’t work it out, you’ve got something wrong.
2) Use your own system.
That should go without saying. If you’ve got an opportunity to keep the community up to date, use it. Don’t let a box sit there with “No Updates”.
That’s the kiss of death for anything.
Don’t overload your users, however. Just make sure that they know you’re in the background, hovering for when you’re needed.
3) DO NOT, under any circumstances, ever, offer a feedback opportunity in the form of a blog post.
This is one of the true killers from UNTHINK. Check out their “Give Us Your Feedback” post here.
You’ll notice that the last user comment was 21 November (at the time of writing).
I therefore assume that the community has simply given up.
What you SHOULD do is have a user community forum, where users can post questions in different areas.
So you’d have a “How Do I?” area (reset password, export Facebook data), a “I’ve got a problem with…” (receiving emails, load times), a “I’ve got an idea…” area and so on. You can get one of these VBB systems for free, and it’s not that hard.
You NEED to ensure that your community has an area to have their voice heard and for comments to be easily ordered and replied to by a qualified member of the team. Skimming the 500+ replies to the UNTHINK blog post leaves me non-the-wiser as to who is a site builder and who is just a community member.
4) Be clear about your ideals and points of difference.
UNTHINK were scuppered almost straight away on privacy – as they launched, both Google and Facebook tightened up on their privacy controls.
And they positioned themselves as a network for people who want to be revolutionary.
Well, revolutionary-ness isn’t platform dependent. Plus the UI/UX issues shot any chance of meeting like minded people anyway.
Any new start-up needs to ensure that it is suitably different to engage the imagination of the community and then follow this up with a good enough UX/UI so that the community sticks.
Communications internally around the user base need to reinforce these key values, as well as providing updates and progress reports.
The moment that you go silent, the community will leave.
5) Be totally, 100%, unequivocally, certain that you’re needed in the market place.
UNTHINK couldn’t have foreseen Facebook and Google tightening their privacy – but they should have expected it.
Without that major USP, UNTHINK is just another network offering a slightly tweeked remix on existing offerings.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Pick Your Battles” – if there is one piece of advice that I can offer, based on years of experience, that would be it.
Pick your battles based on your USP, on home turf and with tools that you can use to win the war.
Only once you’ve beaten the enemy back a bit and cemented a toe-hold in the market can you afford to take on other skirmishes where the outcome isn’t too certain.
If you don’t think that you can win the battle ahead, you’ve already lost it.
So find something you can win, and start there. You’re guaranteed a much stronger future doing it that way…
6) Recognise that change is painful.
No-one will ever leave a service that they’re used to and jump ship to another provider (unless they’re really, really hacked off) – because change comes with pain.
From having to remember another website address, to another password combination or UI, users of any service will often stick to what they know to avoid having to get their already crowded brains to take on any more information.
To get over this, you MUST ensure that the change is worth is and that you’re there to support the new community members in their transition.
The more you can do to lessen their pain, the more loyal they’ll be in the long run.
And this is true whether you’re a new social network or a new brand of washing powder.
So there we have it. 5 reasons I’ve left UNTHINK and 6 bits of advice for you to take away and apply as you see fit.
Are you an UNTHINKER? If so, what’s your experience been?
Or have you tried to build a new network? How’s that gone for you?
UPDATE: Just tried to leave a comment on the UNTHINK Feedback Blog. It’s disappeared. All I can assume is that everything’s moderated.
What a waste of time that was!