One of the many interesting talks at the exceptional Mind the Product conference in London was by Hannah and Matthew from This is My Jam, a new music startup that allows you to share your current favourite song (and discover those of others). They were previously the product team behind Last.fm.
In their talk they highlighted the responsibility we have when creating the next generation of online products. How do we create experiences that are informed by our past? They demonstrated how to choose the right constraints for your product and build a story that will attract users.
For their own research whilst developing This is My Jam, they looked at why some music startups (such as Turntable.fm) initially gained some traction but quickly lost interest from users. One explanation is that they reproduced the offline experience too faithfully, and didn’t take advantage of existing online behaviour.
They introduced the the notion of a MacGuffin, as coined by Alfred Hitchcock’s film studio when they created a new type of detective story, inspired by the Maltese Falcon.
A MacGuffin is ‘an object in a story which serves merely as a trigger for the plot.
MacGuffins have effects that ought to interest us as product makers, as they ‘attract an audience, trigger action and everyone has fun along the way’. Think of them as your product’s hook.
When Hannah and Matthew were brainstorming ideas on what their version of ‘records & friends’ would look like, they broke their ideas down into outcomes, behaviours and constaints (as shown below).
In their own words:
The next time you, or someone you work with, gets the urge to build something like “That _______ we used to do before the internet”.
Don’t sweat it.
Go from “this is the product itself” to “this is our product’s MacGuffin”
Interrogate the real-life experience. List the outcomes, behaviours and constraints. And pick the smallest number of constraints you feel are necessary to evoke the experience. Also experiment by building prototypes to see if these constraints elicit the same behaviours and outcomes of the real life experience.
Sound advice. Often less is more.
Try out these techniques and you may well create a product delightfully informed by the past but not weighed down by it.
What’s your product MacGuffin?
If you need help turning your startup idea into a successful web product, visit www.spookstudio.com or contact me via Twitter @welovelean. I offer a free 20 minute sanity check for startup founders to share and discuss their ideas in confidence via Skype.