Mid-2007, I was employed at Digital Chocolate porting games for feature handsets for the previous two years. I’d been excited about this new phenomenon of Social Networking Sites, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, FriendFeed, Tribe, Friendster, etc. Our in-house studio had tried to make a social game without much luck. Most of my friends thought it was all a passing fad, but I found it exciting, as it was finally bringing together my passions with sociology/psychology and the Internet. I’d been a big fan of Dana Boyd’s blog, and her academic and intellectual view of the space told me that there were real interesting things happening in this new world where technology melded with the social world.
I’d originally planned to take my savings from my job, quit, and travel the world in March 2008. I’d gotten a call from an ex-Dchoc employee, Jordy, and he recommended that I come check out Bebo to join their small team. I visited their new office in Soma, and he told me that he could really use my help, and that I was the right guy to help them make it happen.
I’d never done web development at that large of a scale before, and the opportunity to be in the SNS space was irresistible. I came in for an interview the next week, and I joined the team in October 2007. That world trip didn’t happen as I’d expected. I still remember seeing the Oracle conference flags from our office windows on my first day.
I was tasked with building the mobile website. No specs, just make it happen.
We called it the “m dot,” as responsive web design was still unknown to us, so I’d built a separate site just for smaller screens. The iPhone had just come out in June, and most of our users were using flip phones and likely didn’t have a data plan.
The only real boss I had was the users. Their happiness and their engagement was what mattered the most to me, and that aligned perfectly with our strategy and the company’s needs.
To stay connected with the users, one of the first features I added to was a link on the bottom of every page labeled “Feedback.” This link had a
src with a
mailto that pointed straight to my inbox. I was a one man support team that got these emails, and I was constantly on the pulse of the site. It was the first thing I checked every morning when I got in the office.
I started out replying to every email. I’d work on updates and fixes for the site that clearly a large number of our users were facing. As the site grew, it eventually became impossible to keep that up, but I’d still occasionally find some free time to reply to a couple each day. I loved reaching out to users to let them know that their words and feedback were important to me and the site.
Most of the time, they were bug reports. I made it a point to try to reduce the number of bugs I would get as much as possible.
One time, I’d noticed a trend in the feedback I was getting: many users were telling me that their gender was wrong on their profiles. Were people’s genders really changing that often? Did they need to be updating that piece of data from their profile right this minute? It was silly to consider being able to update your profile on the go. Enough users were complaining about it that it was something I couldn’t ignore.
It was an easy change for me to make: add a new field in the profile editor, update an action on a controller, and voila, problem solved. Users stopped complaining, and I could move on to the next pressing need for the users. It was amazing, and seeing changes reflected in feedback within minutes was addicting and exciting.
I would later apply this same approach of constantly listening to users and reducing their pains to my own project: little memory.