> > UPDATE > >
Got an email from Sean Glass, founder of Pikum. Quite impressive (1) because it was within hours of my writing this post and (2) because this blog has no readership (see graph). Talk about listening to your users...damn!
Sean informed me that the site is still in a pretty small Beta release right now and that they are still working on polishing the UI / design. He said they're planning to collect feedback from everyone testing this iteration and use that feedback to make the user interaction much easier.
Sean also made a point that
The core of the game is that it's played between people.... the social pieces like identifying friends who you can challenge, having a place to show games you are playing in or hosting (what a profile is good for) are part of what makes the experience compelling in the long term...
I agree that for Pikum social features are core, but I think choosing which social features to implement will be one of the toughest problems for their product team.
If Pikum keeps up this type of user feedback, I'm sure they'll do well.
< < UPDATE < <
This week I got an invitation to join a site called Pikum, a site where "Players compete with others in their social network to see who can best predict the results of sports and other events." I was pretty excited to check it out and had high expectations because some of the screenshots I had seen looked pretty and the company was backed by Virgin and First Round Capital.
After completing a daunting signup process with about 8 required fields (I guess they need a lot of info because they are a gambling site?), I managed to login to the site and attempted to place some bets.
Here's what I saw immediately after logging in:
All of the main focus of the body of the page deals with my profile and prompts encouraging me to invite friends. There are also a few small links to "How It Works." Instead of links to instructions and distractions like editing my profile, Pikum should present me something obvious and actionable. I (and I'm probably not an exception) am generally familiar with the concept of gambling enough that I shouldn't require a complete page of instructions in order to place a bet.
I continued checking out the site and I clicked the "Play" button in the top navigation, hoping this would take me somewhere that I could place a bet.
Clicking "Play" brought me to the page above, with more instructions and no actionable items where I could actually bet. I clicked on a "Pikum my friend is playing" hoping to place a bet there.
That brought me to a landing page for the contest where the main focus was a middle-aged man from South Africa. There was a "Play Pikum" link that looked like it might take me somewhere that I could actually play, so I clicked that.
That brought me to a very long page with lots of radio buttons that looked actionable. I clicked a radio button and nothing happened, so I scrolled down to the bottom fo the page and found a submit button. I tried to click submit, and nothing happened, so I assumed this was some sort of advanced contest where I had to place bets on everything on the page. I scrolled up, clicked about 10 radio buttons, then submitted the form.
Submitting the form gave me this confirmation page, which might be useful if I had real money riding on this game, but since I was playing with fake cash it was annoying. Plus, I had to re-enter my password ( something probably also only important if you're betting with real money ).
Confirming my password finally let me place a bet, about 5 screens later. In order to capture anyone who has as short an attention span as I do, Pikum needs to make it much, much easier to actually use their site. I should ideally be able to place a bet with one click from the page I see immediately upon logging in.
I explored the site a little more and saw a page like this:
IMO, classic mistake I see clients make all the time. Here's their reasoning as I see it:
Let's make our website grow virally by adding social elements. Social networks have profile pages. Social networks are social and grow virally. In order for us to grow virally and have social elements, we just need to add profile pages to our site.
I understand this line of reasoning, but disagree with it. Although not everyone is already on some sort of social network like Facebook, Myspace, or Bebo, I just can't see the value of adding profile pages to something like a gambling site. Pictures, profile names, and even a short blurb or some links are all great, but full blown profile pages are too much. The best social features a site like Pikum can add are sharing features that rely on existing social networks--a way for me to import my bets to my Facebook newsfeed or embed a widget of my betting stats on my blog would be great.
Adding profile pages and duplicating other features of full blown social networks are mistake you pay for many times over, however.
(1) You waste engineering and design resources actually building this stuff.
(2) Adding these things makes your development cycle longer and this means it takes you longer to get your product to market. This is an extremely important one for a gambling site, because there are lots of people looking to move into this space, and I read about smart people with strong VC backing getting into the gambling space at least once a month.
(3) Adding extraneous social networking features can distract the user and dilute the core focus of your site. I come to Pikum to gamble (perhaps socially), but I should not be required to put forth any effort into the social part of my gambling. That should be automated behind the scenes by Pikum's engineers. Just let me gamble here!