There’s a big difference between trying something and using something.
Trying something is more common than using something. That’s why most products are optimized for trying.
Trying something is looking at some screenshots, signing up, playing with it for a couple of minutes, forming an opinion, and then moving on. Trying is mainly about first impressions and surface appeal.
Most product reviews are based on trying something, not using something. That’s why many reviews are pretty thin or don’t get to the core essence of the product. The real deep knowledge of a product can only come from using it. Using it is what reveals greatness or failure on an intimate level.
You don’t notice the quirks and shortcuts when you try something. Those revelations only come from real use. Eye candy shines during trial, but fades fast during use. Cool wears off quick, usefulness never does.
Think of the difference between something painted gold and something made of gold. They’re both gold now, but once the paint wears off the first one you’re looking at something different. On the other hand the solid gold one continues to be gold no matter how much you use it.
In some ways it’s the difference between meeting someone and knowing someone. You don’t know someone until you’ve really spent some time with them. How do they react in certain situations? Are they kind or only friendly on the surface? Are they smart or can they just recite a few facts? The same goes for a product. How does the product react? Is the product just clever enough or is it too clever? How does the product make you feel when you use it?
... I don’t know how to end this post, but I’ve been sitting on the content for about a week now so I figured I’d share it as is. It’s been a frustrating post to put together and I’m not sure why. I’m having a difficult time clearly explaining why the difference between trial and usage is such an important distinction. Anyone care to finish my thoughts?
Chrison 06 Dec 06
Perhaps it’s the same when you interview a new employee. On the surface anybody can look great, show a sweet portfolio, and dress for success.
Only after that person is hired and all of the strings are pulled do you realize they wake up late every day, and take long lunches, and half of their portfolio was done by a team and they didn’t do much to help.
mandyon 06 Dec 06
It has something to do with commitment, I think. Most people won’t think twice about trying something, but to stick with it and use it requires being convinced that it’s worth your investment of time and energy. Like the difference between a fling and a relationship.
Paul Ingleson 06 Dec 06
Not sure, but reminds me of the Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola blind testing – that the sweeter taste of Pepsi was felt to be better in taste tests. But, it was only when you actually tried drinking the whole thing you realised Coca-Cola was (clearly) superior :)
With regards to software, I think it demonstrates the clear benefit of agile iterative approaches – involving the customer early, building quickly and getting feedback incorporated. At ThoughtWorks, a recent proof-of-concept project really brought home just how important that was – our goals on the first day of week 1 were completely different to the goals half way through. By the end of the second week (and the end of our project) we’d built something really, really cool that actually worked (it wasn’t prototyping – this was a small cut of a real app).
It was awesome to be part of. And a lot of the success was our ability to react and tune our focus as we understood more about our environment and (more importantly), our clients saw the product.
Collinon 06 Dec 06
I remember the first time I tried a very “trying” unfriendly application.
As a kid, after the first half hour of use I was thoroughly convinced Photoshop was the least useful piece of software in existence.
It wasn’t until a few months later when I watched my mother use a few times that I started to turn on to the idea of it.
Magnus Hjelmon 06 Dec 06
I agree with mandy.
It’s like learning to ride the bike. You didn’t stop trying just because you crashed the first time. You had the feeling that this might just be worth it.
I guess the trick is to make people crash as soft as possible and give them a glimpse of what the product can do if they just hang in there.
Make them feel this isn’t so hard and they will come back. Eventually they will become users and some even masters.
Michealon 06 Dec 06
... Successful products and services are those that engage the person to use the product/service.
I challenge all of you to make products that engage people. Products that excite people, make them happy and make their lives easier are all good starting points.
Jason – For what it’s worth, with this post you have turned an avid reader into someone who now comments on a 37svn blog post. That alone is a great example of how someone can engage a person to use vs. try.
Des Traynoron 06 Dec 06
This idea reminds of what Joel Spolsky wrote on Learnability versus usability. How good something is at the start, versus how good it is when you’ve been using it for a while.
Taken from User Interface Design For Programmers
Paul Armstrongon 06 Dec 06
Considering web sites/applications, this is a very important issue to understand from the development side. First, we need the copy, the buzz, the action to get our potential customers to try the site/application. Once we know that they are trying it, we need to know how to optimally convert them from someone trying it, to someone using it.
We’ve got to find the essential time, feature or action that will make them take that extra moment to make a bigger consideration; change them from thinking “I want to try this,” to “I want to use this.”
Isaac Weinhausenon 06 Dec 06
That’s part of the reason I enjoy and value user reviews.
Eliot Landrumon 06 Dec 06
Thank you for that excellent quote, Des. The comparison between driving and using a professional writing program is quite apt.
However, I get frustrated on my computer when certain applications mistake their role in life is to be my only application. I do not have time to be an extremely proficient user of my IM client, email client, music player, or my word processor. I don’t use those things to make a living. The easier they are for occasional or “non-power-user” use, the better in the long run for me. Even though I am a “power user”, I don’t have the mental energy or time to understand every single application I use on my computer as thoroughly as some applications want me to.
For instance, I only occasionally have short documents to spin out to describe how to use a particular system, so I get frustrated when I have to step through so much to make a simple outline.
Johnon 06 Dec 06
Habituation is a lovely word that doesn’t get used nearly enough. It is essentially the process of your brain getting used to (or bored with) a particular stimulus, such that is doesn’t cause a reaction any more.
Once you’ve used a product for a while, you don’t care about the surface effects (appearance, sound, smell, whatever) because your brain is clever enough to already know what to expect. It’s not new, so it’s not information you need to pay attention to. All you’re left with is the interaction itself.
Whether I’m looking at Craig’s List or Stylegala, I don’t care how the pages actually look, because I already know how they look. I’m just interested in identifying and digesting interesting content.
To put it another way, a brushed metal refrigerator looks amazing for the first week, but after that I’m just interested in trying to figure out where I shoved that last beer.
Mark Websteron 06 Dec 06
It’s the difference between getting someone’s phone number and going out to dinner with them.
That first time, the way they look, the initial things they say, might seem very appealing. So you exchange numbers, and plan a first date. You now decide to make an initial investment.
You go out on the first date, and get to know them. No bar atmosphere, real conversations (hopefully). That’s when you decide to go to the next step. If there was no difference between the two, you’d marry the first person who gave you their phone number.
So, in summary, Dating is like a Basecamp subscription. The first meeting is the free trial, the first date is the first monthly payment, the second date is the second month, etc. The person needs to keep you consistently happy to get your next months payment, or you’ll cancel and find a new project management app :)
(and thus ends the nerd-iest analogy I’ve ever made).
Sinuheton 06 Dec 06
I think about VIM editor. All is optimalized for heavy use. Very confusing for first try. Even hard to exit aplication. But when you use it over slow phone line, all is logic, and fast. Not ordinary cursor arrows move, just jump to first letter “c”, or go 20 lines forward, etc.
Sean Evanson 06 Dec 06
I find the Rolling Stones express this quite succinctly:
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need”
That may sound smarmy, but it’s meant in all seriousness. I think we all run trials almost daily:
Does taking that side road get me to work faster?
Maybe if I shave in the shower it will save some time?
Perhaps I can make coffee whilst toasting the bread simultaneously?
Can I read my newspaper while driving and taking a conference call on the interstate at 90mph?
Not all of these trials are successes, obviously. Some of them are successful for some time, after which we stop using them due to change. For me there isn’t a bright line between ‘trying’ versus ‘using’—we tend to go with what gives us what we need.
Traceyon 06 Dec 06
I like this post, wether complete or not and I agree with Mandy. This is one of the primary problems that free and open source software faces. (regarding mainstream adoption)
Many people clearly understand the benefits and appeal of Free software, but why hassle with learning something new? New menus, different installation methods, using repositories of packages instead of downloading separate apps from all over the web.
I personally believe that there comes a crossover point that drives people beyond the “trial” basis. One point could be difficulty, another could be some type of frustration. Even then, there are people and/or customers that will not try anything new regardless of how much easier or better something may be.
My older sister is a busy writer/producer that coloborates with many people across many companies and different states. I mentioned Basecamp to her and what does she say? Ta-Da Lists are the best thing ever. (She probably didn’t spend much time exploring Basecamp)
My younger sister visits the same websites/blogs everyday, so I attempted to introduce Firefox/Flock/tabbed browsing to her and teach her about feeds and such. She tried it for a day and went back to IE 6 bloated with various search bars and multiple open windows within 48hrs ???
Ruby on Rails and Apple computers could easily join this party. How many stories have you heard were developers installed Rails, tried a couple tutorials and dismissed it as a waste of time, or it won’t scale?
We all know the story of Apple. Beautiful, well designed and secure OS. Some gains in market share, but essentially still small in the the overall scheme of things.
This is why I think the Apple ads are a complete waste of time and money. They should be touting what the Apple/OS X experience is really like instead of comparing itself to problems that occur in Windows.
I have been typing this post for five minutes and I do not know how to end it… so I guess I’ll release it.
Danielon 06 Dec 06
I really like this line, and it reminds me of when I bought my first Mac ever this summer (15.4” Macbook Pro). As a programmer, I didn’t buy it for the eye candy, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t impressed by it.
However, it was the MANY details discovered after using it for months as a MySQL (development) and RoR (learning) platform that I really grew to love the computer.
Some of the shiny remains, but there are smudges on the monitor, and scratches on the case.
It’s still the most useful computer I’ve ever owned.
Alex Bunardzicon 06 Dec 06
This ‘try vs. use’ strikes me as being a false dichotomy. I think Jason’s view has been blurred and tainted by his business agenda (he makes a living by offering trials to people who he hopes to convince to start paying for the subsequent use).
So the real dichotomy is ‘try vs. buy’. But the ‘use’ is moot in this context.
Everything is ‘use’. While I’m trying something, I cannot do it without using it. Same goes for after I buy it. I continue using it.
And as one commentator rightly pointed out, everything we use is one big honking trial period. Even though I’m a long time regular cable TV customer, I’m still treating the cable company as if it’s on trial with me. The moment something better, or more affordable comes along, my trial period with them is over. I’m canceling the sucker!
This applies to everything else in life. That is, unless you’re not a conformist, in which case your fundamentalist attitude will force you to keep using whatever it is you’ve bought into initially.
Charles Martinon 06 Dec 06
The exact issue you are describing is what makes 90% of product reviews performed by websites and magazines useless. Honestly, how many of these companies give the person assigned to review the product the time to actually become a user instead of a window-shopper? They have deadlines to meet. They have limited time with the product. Thus, it behooves the product developers to produce a “window-shopper’s view” of the goods since the product review is more important to them than the customer review.
After all, most marketing departments focus on initial sales counts, not customer retention. This is all part of how management measures profitability and growth of new products. This singlemindedness then filters through the organization until all we have are beautiful products that are nothing but empty shells which get rave reviews and then have a high-turnover of a customer base when the shell is cracked open.
If companies, FROM THE TOP DOWN, focused on products that would not only engage the user, but keep them as a customer, then we might have fewer useless reviews because time would be spent making GOOD products, not GOOD-LOOKING products.
And reviewers should also be allowed to truly review a product by becoming an engaging user of it. Not a cursory glance.
Ryanon 06 Dec 06
I think you’ve explained it quite well. The best way to explain something like this is with examples/scenarios, so I’ll add to it.
For whatever reason, I love Google Talk. I love the simplicity, and the fact that you never sign on, sign off, or reconnect. It does everything I want and need in an instant messenger.
Well, at work (and otherwise), a lot of my co-workers/friends use AOL instant messenger. To me, AIM is a really, really annoying instant messenger. I don’t want the option to select emoticons, or format text using a WYSIWYG editor, or look at what appears to be a modal IE window all day. And not to mention if you hover over the wrong part of your buddy list, you get flying ad’s that cannot be stopped and blast music in your face for no reason. It’s just annoying.
I finally convinced a few friends to download Google Talk and use it instead. And after 15 minutes I heard “I don’t see what’s so special about this – AIM does everything this thing does.” Oh but it does so much more. However, 15 minutes of use doesn’t reveal that. What about the Textile-ish text formatting? Or the fact that the IM boxes will snap together and form a little collection, allowing you to collapse each one independently? Or what about the ability to send messages even when someone isn’t online? Or the ability to change the chat appearance to 10 or so different styles? Or the fact that it checks your Gmail every 30 seconds? Or the popup messages (optional) when it’s minimized? It’s light weight and doesn’t interfere with what you’re trying to do on your computer. My point wasn’t that it’s the best out there, just that it’s better than AOL’s version.
Anyway, the point is, those friends won’t give it a couple of weeks to see if they like it. They made a quick decision and took the other path because nothing obvious smacked them in the face. I guess that kind of relates to the individual, though. The inability to appreciate a design/product takes away from a person’s ability to stick with it for a while.
Erik Schmidton 06 Dec 06
You hit something very important, Jason. I think it can be explained in a variety of ways. Somewhere I read that movie and music reviews usually suck because the job of a reviewer is to review. They are provided these films and albums by their employer, and their task is to run the creative work through a filter to determine if it ultimately succeeds or fails.
But when I’m using Keynote, I don’t need to or want to go through all the various bells and whistles, the feature-by-feature comparison with PowerPoint or some other product. The universe of options is unimportant to me. What is important is my ability to use Keynote to do what I need it to do for my selfish needs.
Furthermore, I want it to succeed. I want Keynote to work. Why? Because I spent money on it! Unlike the reviewer, I have a built-in desire for it to be of benefit to me. Even if I simply downloaded and installed freeware, I still have an emotional invesmtent in it. This is no abstract exercise. It’s my life, my time, and in some cases my money. I’m not trying to prove my critical theory chops or become the next Pauline Kael. I’m also not trying to objectively compare one product to another. I am subjectively trying to find what works for me.
Patrick Don 06 Dec 06
I think the real thing you’re getting at here is quality vs. superficial appeal. Many people make the mistake of thinking that design is about the superficial appeal, when it’s more about the quality.
Unfortunately, there is so much emphasis put on being the best, the flashiest, the most expensive, the most popular, the richest, etc. that consistency and true quality are undervalued. And in most cases, people are not willing to invest the effort if they are not wowed right away.
Brenden Bixleron 06 Dec 06
Trying = Free, no personal commitment.
Using = Reaching into your wallet and paying for it.
There is a vast gulf between trying and using.
engtechon 06 Dec 06
This is the problem I have with most review sites—they base their review off of their initial impressions (or worse, from reading press releases and other websites).
Unless it’s obviously crap, you don’t know for sure until you’ve been using it for a while.
Give me the gadget review site of someone who uses the item every day for a month before posting.
Marisaon 06 Dec 06
As an admin, one thing I really appreciate is having either very long trial periods (e.g. 90 days) or the Basecamp model where costs are limited and month-by-month. For a 30-day trial, I’m trying something – after a couple more months, I’m either using the product or I’ve given up on it altogether.
JFon 06 Dec 06
I also meant to write something about flashy demos getting people all worked up (positively or negatively) before they’ve even spent a second of their own time trying the product.
A demo is a demo. It’s not a decision.
Steve Ton 06 Dec 06
Yes, trying out new Web 2.0 and collaborative products can become an addiction. A successful trial to me is when you have the ability to model a real business scenario and get collegues involved in the trial too. So the more quickstart tours, best practice samples and invite buttons as possible the better! And more reviews talking about how related products can tie together.
Al Changon 06 Dec 06
Using is Trying with time and commitment. But hey, i’ll go with your metaphors.
Trying only gives an idea of how well something works in the right now scenario. Mostly that’s a problem because people can’t usually picture the secondary effects of a new item integrated in their life and only so much is going to happen in the next hour. There’s also a thoughtfulness component, thoughtless reviewers are similar to thoughtless companies spending investor (other people’s) money.
Using is what something is like when you depend on it over time.
And when you depend on something, either: something breaks, something will break and be fixed, or it’ll be subjected to a lot and not break. In any case, only now can you feel free to adjust other things around the first thing and that’s when the magic happens. It’s all very holistic, really.
It’s different when you depend on something. You and your expectations change. Trying doesn’t take that into account. It’s like a friend. It’s different when you know you’ll be there when you need each other.
Carson McComason 06 Dec 06
Jason, you’ve nailed a huge challenge I struggle with when on WorkHappy.net and the reason I solicit reviews from users of the products. It’s one thing for me to give something a quick blush, 15 min trial – it’s quite another to work with something for hours/days/months and gain an opinion that matters and is helpful for other folks who will presumably end up using it long term.
Sandyon 06 Dec 06
This is related to Alan Cooper’s concept of ‘Perpetual Intermediaries’ where people very quickly graduate from being ‘beginners’ withe a software system, to being intermediaries. Yet very few people really graduate to being experts. In gemeral most people, for almost all the time they use a product, will be intermediate-level users. So, he suggests, usability is based on people who are perpetual intermediaries.
This tallies to the ‘trying vs using’ in that with continued use people quickly graduate past trying a product, to actually using it.
cjcurtison 06 Dec 06
why is it such an important distinction?
as a consumer, the more you “try” the product, and the more you try and apply its features to everyday problems, the more you become a “user.” and while a user’s requirements of a product aren’t necessarily more rigorous, they are always more practical.
so as a designer or developer, if you can’t see past the “required elements” or “official market strategy” of a product, and use it as a complete outsider, it will most likely lack the usefulness it needs to transform testers into users.
there are several good anologies here…painted gold vs solid gold, meeting someone vs knowing someone, etc.. but in our business, i think it’s the difference between the developers’ goals vs. the users’ goals.
you give a team member (or your supervisor) a product that he helped you build (or made you build), he’ll tell you whether or not it does what it was supposed to. which shouldn’t tell you anything…you should already know that. give it to a complete stranger and you’ll learn something.
Craig Daveyon 06 Dec 06
Trying reveals the intention of the softwares. Using reveals the opinion of the software.
Stuart Willison 06 Dec 06
Trying to me implies that you are playing with the software and not putting it through an actual project. Using means actually deploying it on a project and making it work.
For a while I had been playing with OmniPlan but didn’t have any projects to schedule… so I only had a superficial “wow looks neat” reaction to it.
As soon as I started using it to schedule a paying job that I began to really see its strengths and weaknesses.
Its like comparing a Britney Spears song to a Shostakovich symphony.
Andrewon 06 Dec 06
And yet ‘tryability’ is important.
When trialling new software or systems, there are two tests it needs to pass:
(1) Installability. This is more for server stuff than user apps. Installing your server doesn’t interest me, nor does administering it. Using it does. I don’t want to have to read extensive documentation for installing four different components; I want to say unpack – install – maybe enter some bleedingly obvious options like a password or target directory – and then immediately go to user mode.
(2) Simple tasks – while ‘long term use’ might be important, so is the learning curve. Generally, I download an item of software with a specific task in mind, and “test” it by asking it to do that task. The fewer hoops and dead ends, the better.
Des mentioned Joel mentioning wizards. In many ways, wizards approach things from exactly the wrong direction. As a new user, I only want to make decisions when I have to. If you need a “wizard” to lead the user through a complex process, fix the process so it’s not complex.
Several years ago, I was evaluating diagramming tools. My “simple goal” was “I want to draw blobs and connect them with lines and arrows and have the tool make them all look nice”. Among other tools, I looked at Visio. It supported all sorts of interesting stuff, but was terrible. Why? Because I didn’t want to use system X or style Y or method Z – I just wanted boxes and lines and couldn’t figure out what template to use to get them. In the end I used Smartdraw (windows program), because that was easy to just do boxes and lines (and also supported all the tricky stuff once I was comfortable enough to use it).
Benon 06 Dec 06
Of course, keep in mind the reasons trials and demos are so attractive, ... and why we all skim screenshots for 5 seconds before we decide whether to even sign up for the trial account….. Screenshots and demos definitely fill a purpose. Of course it is great to strive for some honesty there… maybe try to describe the little day to day helpful things in your demo video, the things that people won’t notice or need until they are a true “user”, but are evidence of your commitment to building for “use” rather than “try”.
Benon 06 Dec 06
Eh Andrew beat me to it and did a much better job of it.
Richardon 06 Dec 06
I may have missed a comment that noted this and if so excuse me, but it would seem to me that besides great design and usefulness (on the product side) the user has to be motivated to get through the process of becoming familiar with it. Where that motivation comes from is meaningful.
I was at the Boston Macworld in 1986 where Bill Atkinson first demoed HyperCard. I had played with a pre-release version that had circulated through Mac users groups but I had no clue until I saw his demo. That demo didn’t really teach me anything, it just showed me enough to motivate me to dig in.
I remember one of the appeals of HyperCard was that it was onion-like: you could use it effectively at almost any level of sophistication and still feel like you were doing fun and useful things. It certainly sucked me right in and I had no programming experience before using it. Later I talked with Bill Atkinson about this and he humbly said that he was blown away by how many people were working at the scripting level of the software, he hadn’t expected it but was pleasantly surprised. I asked him why he thought so many people went deep and got hooked and he said many of the things said above: users could get traction easily and they could easily share their work with others leading to more learning.
From that experience I’ve generalized that I like software that I can use right out of the box but which has enough depth so that as I get comfortable there’s somewhere to dig.
Jake Ehrlichon 07 Dec 06
Charles Kettering put it best when he said: “There is a great difference between knowing and understanding. You can know a lot about something without understanding it.”
Keep up the great designe work! Jake
catherineon 07 Dec 06
Ryan’s and Eliot’s comments got me thinking about depth in applications. I’m wondering if the distinction between learnability and usability is in some part an issue of layering and depth.
In trying, we experience the first layer and it must be learnable or we go elsewhere. In using, we need to uncover the deeper layers and these may be either missing altogether, or lacking learnability so we are frustrated by the complexity of trying to do more.
We need enough simplicity up front to want to try, but enough depth behind it to want to continue.
Ron McElfreshon 07 Dec 06
Down through the years I’ve hired a few hundred people for various positions. In nearly every case, I’ve told prospective candidates right up front that I can’t tell from a resume or one or two interviews if they’ll be the right fit for the job, so get ready for five, six, even eight interviews. As long as you’re being called back in, you’ve got a shot. If that’s a problem, keep looking and so will I.
Think about it. Six to eight interviews.
Through those years and candidates I’ve had the privilege of managing some outstanding people on memorable projects, with very little turnover, partly because the work environment was efficient and productive, partly because of the effort to find qualified people who could do, and want to do the job.
Familiarity takes time and effort.
I pity those poor company executives who hire based on a resume and an interview, only to turn personnel left and right. How can you tell someone will be a performer in such a short time?
Likewise, how can you tell if an application will do the job the way you want in just a couple of hours?
dawgballon 07 Dec 06
This is only a very important topic to companies that truly want to provide something to their clients that improve the action that they are trying to perform.
Your incomplete thought has verbalized many thoughts that we have tried to get out but couldn’t.
A remarkable ending to this post could be revolutionary to application delivery.
Thank you for getting us to this point. If we can bring further light to this, we will post here.
Emileon 07 Dec 06
I would think this would tie in nicely to your philosophy explained in Getting Real where you advocate that developers should let users USE rather than try a nearly full version of the product. I happily use Basecamp’s free subscription, and when the time comes (and I’m sure it will) when I have to manage multiple projects online, I will happily upgrade to a paid subscription. Howabout that for finishing off your post AND plugging your book?
Benon 07 Dec 06
My 2 cents: TextMate is a fabulous example of this. I keep on finding new things to love about it. And it’s a workhorse that I keep going back to. But on the surface? Uh..no. It’s boring as hell if you’re just test-driving.
random8ron 07 Dec 06
The difference is commitment. Using something involves commitment. You’re committing your energy, and staking something on it. This energy would otherwise be used elsewhere.
A lot of the “getting real” philosophy involves putting one’s full weight into small decisions: “Release early, release often.”
Trying something is basically just hanging out in a “hypothetical” world with the thing on trial. It’s not using real data – it’s using test data. One never really knows how it will behave “in the real world” or “on a real job” because it’s simply not on a real job.
The trial is the relationship-equivalent of a “one night stand”. How can one hope to really experience the nature of something if you’re just in it for a quick fix?
Granton 07 Dec 06
I’m learning blender (www.blender.org – the 3D modelling tool) at the moment and I think it provides a perfect example of this – a very difficult interface to “try”, but very powerful to “use” once you’re familiar with it.
When you first open blender up the interface looks completely alien and “un-windows-like”. It also appears to use every key on the keyboard for some function including different functions for the number keys depending on whether they’re on the main keyboard or the keypad. You couldn’t possibly just open it up for the first time and make a guess as to how to use it. Doing anything at all requires first reading some documentation and following a couple of tutorials.
But I believe (and I’m still learning it) the design is optimised to make experienced users highly productive. I also think that once I’ve invested all the time required to become proficient in it, I will be unlikely to ever change to another 3D modelling tool.
Abhijit Nadgoudaon 07 Dec 06
I think the difference is focusing on the ROI, which is what makes the product useful. More detailed thoughts here http://ifacethoughts.net/2006/12/07/trying-something-and-using-something/
Ryan Ripleyon 07 Dec 06
Trying something is aimless. Using something is purpose driven. More is gained when you have a particular need to fill.
Christopher Faheyon 07 Dec 06
A good “trial version” is an essential sales tool, one that is too often overlooked. My biggest gripe with most Web2.0 products and services is that almost none of them bother to explain or demonstrate what they are to their potential users. Almost all of them require you to actually adopt the product fully into your lifestyle in order to even begin to understand what the hell it is. Del.icio.us is a perfect example: If they spent two hours coming up with a good paragraph of copy explaining what their service actually is, I’d bet they’d double their adoption rate. If they spent a day making an illustrated demo, they’d triple it.
As it stands now, however, most new web 2.0 products simply require you to completely invest your time, energy, and work style. I think that’s lazy marketing. I hate the fact that in order to understand what a hot new product is I have to spend literally hours and weeks using it.
In light of the recent post about how Digg has, after several months of use, turned out to be useless, I can imagine why some of these products don’t have detailed informative demos or trials: because the business model relies on rapid experimental adoption of a hot and intriguing product and not long-term adoption of a good and useful product. It might be undesirable for a potential customer to be able to learn in 15 minutes that a product isn’t useful to them personally.
I agree with Jason that nothing compares to actually using something, but as a busy person who doesn’t see the value of switching tools every week when most of the time I only learn that the tool I’m already using is better.
I’ve had the same mobile phone for five years, too.
tambergon 07 Dec 06
(Referring to the original post)
Just a short anecdote.
I’m developing and maintaining a project management software which I also actively use. One day a new feature came to my mind. Excited about how this feature would boost usability I incorporated it into the software. Trying my new feature (on real data) felt good and I was convinced it should be part of the next official release.
Then, after having used it for some days in real working situations, the feature suddenly proved to render my software less usable than it was before, so I threw it out again.
Jack Chengon 07 Dec 06
In regards to first-impressions vs. deeper understanding, the truly amazing products excel at both.
When we trial a superficially appealing product and then decide to start really using it, we often feel betrayed because it doesn’t live up to our initial expectations.
On the other hand, because we’re so inundated with stuff, we increasingly rely on snap judgements to form lasting opinions of products. We just don’t have the time to try everything, so we miss a lot of great products that aren’t as appealing on the surface-level.
That’s why Apple so amazing. Initially I’m attracted to how slick the hardware and software look. That’s how I develop the infatuation. However, I fall in love with the little details that reveal themselves through use.
Details like how the Software Update window in OS X closes itself when you check for updates and there aren’t any to be found. Or how there’s a different volume level for when you have headphones plugged in.
Apple sets up a surface-level expectation of greatness and it follows through. That’s rare.
Ericon 07 Dec 06
“Good from far, but far from good…”
Anonymous Cowardon 07 Dec 06
“Good from far, but far from good…”
Matt Keeganon 07 Dec 06
Trying something vs. using is easy: just come out with a product and when you identify the first bit of bugs then fix it and release version 2. In the case of my WordPress blog that would be version 2.0.5 However, I can’t complain as WP is open source!
jENGon 08 Dec 06
My problem is the opposite. I don’t look that good, but I know what I’m capable of. I’ve been designing websites since 1995, and have been working with a realtor who has a huge crush on a photographer I work with, and who got me the connection with the realtor. She knows what I’m capable of, has seen my work, but didn’t even defend me when her client felt the photographic services company I helped start didn’t have enough web experience (we do photography but have started to offer entire solutions, like virtual tours, web development, etc.). Of course we didn’t have a web portfolio as the new company, we just started offering that service. And me being overweight and bald, I don’t look like the “hip” young thing that my photographer friend is, so I don’t have a “look” that mirrors the desires of the cool marketing folks that are doing this trendy condo complex. But I know for a fact I could have offered a great solution to those folks, but even our contact, our ally, balked because of her clients’ misperceptions and did little to clear things up.
outersiteron 08 Dec 06
We have created a software and decided to sell it as a shareware (the try before you buy method). The 30-day free evaluation intention is not to show how shiny is the soft. The goal is to demonstrate that it corresponds to a need, that it works fine, saves you time, gives new opportunities, has a good usability… I understand the point that trying and using are different, but then what would be a better way for a customer to evaluate a software? In other words how to better optimize the chance of having afterwards a satisfied customer? Thank you for your further comments.
daveon 09 Dec 06
Great post. This is something I’ve also wrestled with a lot. I know I’m coming into the discussion a bit late, but maybe I can add something:
Making successful software really requires a deep understanding of several things: – the basic problem you’re solving for your customer – all about your customer—their aptitudes, skills, and the context in which they use your product. – exactly how your product is sold, including everything leading up to the decision to buy. Who tries it, who approves the purchase (is that the same person or not?).
If you understand that, you at least have a head start toward figuring out how your product should approach the try and use problems. A professional tool like AutoCAD will and should have a very different approach to something like Amazon.com.
The history of software is full of great products that died premature deaths because the people making them never figured out how to make them easy to try.
Matton 10 Dec 06
I think Jason is making an important point. In my world, I see marketers confuse awareness with purchasing or brand affinity. As there may be trial and repeat with purchase decisions.
Everrett Rogers work on diffusions of innovations, illustrates the difference as well. I’m paraphrasing on the phases, but you have (1) awareness, (2) utilization, (3) opinion, and (4) advocacy. After the trial, what type of opinion has been formed? Is it so positive that one would tell someone else to use the product or service?
Joon 11 Dec 06
As a user, I value try-before-I-buy (and not a 30-minute trial either, but a month or more), ease of installation and initial use, ease of continuing use and sometimes the flexibility of an application (can it do things my way?)
But I also value either an active user-forum with lots of input from the developer (which is why I’ve been using several HogBay programs for years) or a very responsive developer who responds quickly. (Form letters don’t count.)
A good Help document is a bonus; unfortunately a lot of them are sketchy or non-existent. Good forums are tremendous learning tools and sometimes tip me toward sticking with and eventually buying an application I would otherwise have abandoned because of not knowing how to get into its better and best uses.
Scrivson 12 Dec 06
Trialing something is like only hanging out with a girl at the club. Using something is living with that girl.
This discussion is closed.