Interestingly enough, this post was supposed to be a mash up of book reviews I finished reading recently about habit forming, among them are Power of habit, Hooked and early impressions of Contagious (I'm all about the habit train recently) and it just so happens that life threw an actual use case my way to make that analysis all that better.
Last week we announced the gradual shut down of ooVoo, a 10 year application and the product I was actively working on for the past 6 years. Over the course of the week since the announcement I found myself mostly talking to users, listening to amazing stories and sharing some of my own. I'll tell you this though, being the "last guy who goes out the room and turns off the light" and escorting a powerhouse of a product into shutting down is a powerful experience professionally.
I'm humbled and grateful that the community I was waking up for every morning also gave me a great experience saying goodbye 🧡
Gushing aside, let's talk habits!
Over my career at ooVoo, I've been a part of some really strong, needle moving, up-and-to-the-right releases and some not as successful. There were a lot of words written about the latest ooVoo release where the company basically pivoted and changed the focus of the app from a communication tool into a social sharing network backed up by video calls.
While early testing and focus were not perfect but not heavily alarming (at least on the user facing side of things) the community response once the upgrade went live to production was very explicit, numbers went down and reviews were one star all day every day.
I had some time to process and reflect on the latest product moves at ooVoo while reading those books I mentioned above so even though I can probably write a short book about those 6 years of product managing a video communication app targeted at young adults, here are some recent, fresh takeaways.
Green dots matter
One of the hottest debates between design, product and engineering that would raise its head every couple of months is whether should we remove the green dot icon that indicates a person is online.
The argument on one side was that green dots are obsolete: In the age of push notifications, VoIP push notifications, Apple CallKit and the Android counterpart that needs better branding, there is a basis for the claim that everybody's online all the time. When you video call someone, it's on us to make sure the other person gets the call from a technical perspective and do a good work in communicating the process for the person that is making that call.
In real life, users revolted when we took out the green dot. From a technical perspective we saw the same amount of calls connect but a decrease in the number of calls actually being initiated. In addition "Seeing who's online" went to the top of our community requested features.
Green dots used to be ooVoo's habitual cue for video communication.
Other than giving users a sense of "hey, I'm not alone out here, some of my friends are actually online and there's an community connected to this service", the green dot was the element that kicked off the habit of starting a group call with your friends. Using the framework presented in "The power of habit", the loop would look something like this:
I crave for human connection ► I see a green dot (cue) ► I ooVoo a friend (routine) ► I have good time talking (reward)
Too fast, too furious 🔥
Another thing that caught people by surprise was the discrepancy between the positive reaction for making ooVoo a social network based on collaborative stories and the actual community resistance at scale. From initial user groups and power users small group testing, the concept of collaborative stories made sense and was well received but in real life, people steered away from the new and shiny and felt like the ground was dropped beneath their feet.
From a habitual perspective, the change was introduced fast and too aggressively to a point that even though the UI was slick and the feature was conceptually appealing, users were scrambling to find the old and familiar and feeling shifted between confusion ("How do I find my friends?") to anger ("Why did you change my ooVoo?!") to desperation ("This whole update is confusing").
Keeping one hand in the old and familiar while "sandwiching" in new and innovative changes was most likely the way to go.
From conversations I had post launch with users, the sense of confusion became more evident that all this new-ness was maybe nice but took out one of the most important assets of ooVoo, that fact that is "Just works". Making ooVoo "just work" took a lot of time an effort and included very subtle changes to the UI and automating common pain points in order to remove as much cognitive overload as possible.
Once the new update hit production, it was a new product a user had so take all in, make all the judgement calls whether he like it or not, go through the learning curve instead of just picking it up, use it and go.
To be continued 💡
My notebook is getting filled with ooVoo shutdown insights every day so I'm sure there will be some follow up to this post. 1,000 words is my rough limit between something I'd digest over a read and something I'll chuck into my reading list as long-form.
I'll close out with this though: ooVoo was an amazing product to work on over the years, outside of the great people I met along the way, my heart goes out to the hundreds of thousands of people who's life we got to touch and change for the better using technology.