We launched feedly on June 2008. We have since then done 280+ iterations and actively monitored and listened to see which ones worked and which ones did not. Here is a picture which summarizes the phases we went through:
Lesson #1 – Core community Special thanks to Louis Gray, Leo Laporte, Read Write Web, Mashable and Robert Scoble for helping us launch feedly. The launch helped us get the word out and build the core of the feedly community.
Lesson #2 – Listen Twitter, friendfeed and getsatisfaction allows use to get instant feedback. This was key in June because the initial version of the product did not integrate well with Google Reader and angered a few users. This is key every day because it allows us to determine where the rough edges are and which of the features we push out provide the most value.
Lesson #3 – Simple is beautiful The simpler the user interface and the more chances you have to not loose users over time because of fatigue. It took us about 4 months, post-release, to get a version which clicked with users. This is an area we still need to improve over time.
Lesson #4 – Performance and memory Street III helped us improve the performance of feedly by 10x while reducing by 5x the memory footprint. Performance + simpler UI were the key factors in increasing user adoption.
Lesson #5 – Measure, measure, measure A couple of month ago, we started to measure in more detail the install/first run/un-install behavior. We were shocked: only 20% of the people who installed feedly actually finished the welcome process. We were spending so much time and energy optimizing the feedly experience but only 1 of 5 would get to see that experience before making a decision. We decided to take a month and change our focus from the feedly experience to the welcome experience, adding better support for non-google reader users, adding better support for german, french, italian and spanish users, adding a simple intro video, providing some default content for user who were not familiar with RSS. It was very painful but the effort paid off: today more than 75% of the user who install feedly finish the welcome process and get to see the full digest experience before determining if they like it or not – and as you can see on the chart, that tuning had a similar impact to improving adoption as the UI and performance changes. Measuring is painful because nobody likes to be told that their baby is ugly but in the long run it is fruitful.
Lesson #6 – Expand the definition of the product One of the side effects of #5 is that it forces you to think of the “product” as not just the screens and user experience but also how you get people to sign up and spread the word.
Lesson #7 – Google Reader is an amazing platform Most people know Google Reader as a very efficient UI for reading RSS feeds. Under the hood, they are also an amazing undocumented RSS management platform with a very clean but stable and powerful set of API.
Lesson #8 – Firefox is an amazing incubation environment Firefox provides a rich standard-based API for building new experiences. Mozilla gives you access to an amazing culture and community. If you are able to work your way through becoming recommended, you also get access to a stream of users. A great environment to incubate new ideas and help change how people will browse the internet.
Lesson #9 – Be patient, iterate, listen, iterate Building something new is not always glorious. You have to be ready to go through months where despite working hard, things do not change right away. You have to be ready to listen to lot of negative feedback and people calling your death. The best way to address this is to be passionate about the problem you are trying to solve and build a trusted core community which can help you validate the changes you are making and steer you in the right direction.
We still have a long way to go but the good news is that it gets easier and more fun every day.
Special thanks all the feedly users: we really appreciate your feedback and the time you invest in helping us grow the user community. Special thanks to Louis Gray, Read Write Web, Robert Scoble, Mashable, Leo Laporte, Corvida for using some of their influence to spread the word and help us get off the ground.