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Building Web Apps For Normal People

If your reading this blog, chances are you don't fall under my classification of normal. You’re an Internet person, a geek, part of the web2.0 crowd; a SMALL group of tech savvy early adopters that act as the guinea pigs for the newest stuff on the Internet.  I am tired of hearing about new things being built by Internet people for Internet people.  Its ultimately necessary, but successfully building something for normal people is infinitely more interesting

Most web apps are built for the tech crowd because it's easy, relatively speaking.  There is a better chance that they will try it, and if they like it, there is a built in promotional infrastructure as they all rush to tell each other. If you’re part of this crowd, you probably have a sense of what they'll like, what would be useful, what features the application needs, and how it should look. You have friends in this community so you can figure out how best to harness that social network. Your friends will use your web app and tell everyone else that they should too.

That’s not to say that creating an app for this market is easy, it’s not.  However, if you are going to create a web app, this is the easiest market to create it for.

The hardest market to create something for is normal people. They don't want it and they won't try it. They'll wait for a geekier friend to tell them that it's absolutely essential, and then they’ll wait some more until everyone they know looks at them with shock when they say they don’t use it.  If it's not dead simple and immediately apparent why it will be a major benefit to them, they'll never touch it again. Pe

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The normal market is the one that matters.  If your app can’t crossover, it is unlikely that it has the power to scale into a successful business.

So how do we reach normal people? This seems to be the formula:

Take a product that is massively popular with geeks, let it marinate for a year or two, and dumb it down 100%.  Then you might have something that normal people will use.

If its social in nature, you better understand how normal people are social.  If you’re a geek this may be a shortcoming.  Normal people aren't open, they don't want everything about them public, and they want exclusivity within their network. Their social dynamic is fundamentally different.

A social app for normal people needs to mirror a real life social network and the interactions need to mirror real life interactions.

Who does it:

AIM is the ultimate app for normal people. The user has friends and they talk to them in real time.  It’s the perfect real-life mirror, which is why it is one of the most popular web apps ever adopted by normal people.

Facebook is the obvious example.  It mirrored the real life social network of colleges, and then slowly grew up with it's crowd of early adopters. In Facebook you have friends, and friends have access to more information about you, just like in real life. One of the most popular features is the wall, which is analogous to the whiteboards that all college students have on their door.

After Gamil, I quickly run out of other examples because normal people don’t use all of the stuff we have built over the last few years.  Comment if you can think of examples of web applications that normal people use.

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