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Seth Godin is wrong, n00bies are everyone.

Boy when Seth Godin gets it wrong he really gets it wrong. Seth postulates that people should be willing to ignore n00b (new) customers or decide that some people are not a good customer fit for a product because they don’t “get it right”.

Seth is saying this because he wants to make sure that people don’t “bake the magic” of the product out in attempt to dumb down the product for the noobies.

Seth makes a key, common, fatal error. He assumes the product has to be the same for everyone.

Seth offers a few strawman arguments like “should symphonies have applause signs” or “not obvious what to do when you walk into a church for the first time”. Completely ridiculous statements that miss how society has evolved to handle n00bies in precisely these situations. A n00bie at the symphony or church looks around and sees what others are doing and they follow the lead of the crowd around them. If others are clapping after a masterful solo performance, the musically clueless claps as well – and learns to pay closer attention to the soloist. In the Roman Catholic church, a Protestant will learn to make the sign of the cross and kneel in the right places.

What great products need are what society uses in real world situations. Someone who spots the new people and offers to introduce to help them out. Microsoft’s bob was a lame version of this concept, but the principle remains a good one.

Think about the mental rewards of having pieces of the product reveal themselves to expert users. Rather than show everything all at once, hid the advanced features. Make it hard to find the advanced features. Keep the advanced features, even the link to the advanced features hidden. Make a little icon over in the corner unobtrusive for the new user. But as the new user becomes experienced, have that icon brighten and become more obvious.

The user gets curious and clicks on it. The service or program then reveals cool new features or expert settings options. All of a sudden, the user is in the in-crowd. They know something about the product that their friends don’t. They now feel special. They get to call up their friends and say “hey go to the second step and click on that little square.” or “move the mouse to the lower right”.. Whatever it is it doesn’t matter. Your users will now go on a easter egg hunt using your product. They will be actively incentivized to really become fans. They will go on message boards spreading the word about how to get to cool new features.

Think Easter Eggs not RTFM.

Remember most people are comfortably mediocre (intermediate uses) with your product. They start off as n00bies and they can easily transition to mediocre. But they have no iterest or desire to become experts. Their bonus is not determined by being an expert in the program or service.

The hard part isn’t getting n00bies to intermediate. The hard part is making them want to be experts.

Make your customers want to become experts — don’t turn them away when they are n00bies.

I used to work at LinkedIn. At the time I was there, one of the hardest problems they had was they did not know how to spot when a user would go from a few connections to thousands — or would always stay at a few connections.

Similarly you do not know who is going to be your future power users.

Posted in marketing, starting a company.

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