Brent Simmons writes about designing the first-launch experience for NetNewsWire 3.1. I find his reasoning especially interesting because MarsEdit also has a strong incentive to provide users with a smooth first-launch experience.
One of the points that resonates most for me is Brent’s point about friction:
Present as little friction as possible—don’t overwhelm the new user so that he quits without trying the app. Ask for just the minimum required to make an account: username and password.
I think about friction a lot, both when designing features into my products, and when thinking about how to market them. If you’re an indie software developer and you get me talking for more than about 30 seconds about business, I’ll invetiably start talking about the first-launch experience and how it relates to sales. I call it the “run away screaming” factor.
Every product has shortcomings that will cause some users to run away screaming. The best we can do is try, with each iteration, to make fewer and fewer people do so. If 100 people download your product, and 90 of them run away screaming after launching it once, then you’ve only got a chance of selling to 10 of them. We can assume that statistically, some fixed percentage of the people who remain will end up buying. So cut the flee factor down to 80 and you’ve just doubled your sales.
The easiest way to make a user run away screaming from MarsEdit would be to require that they perform some tedious and complicated setup process in order to get up and running. The truth is, most of the time MarsEdit can figure out how to configure everything just by peeking at your blog’s home page. So I try to alleviate that fear with MarsEdit’s very simple first-launch dialog:
The first screen is intended to be inviting to both established bloggers and curious users who just happened to download a copy of the app before they’ve even started blogging.
For users who already have a blog, they proceed to the second screen:
By the time users have stopped laughing with joy at how easy the process was, MarsEdit is asking them for their user name and password, and proceeds to download the last several posts from their weblog.
Don’t believe me that it’s so simple? Go ahead, I dare you to try it!