Apps are like bands. Word of mouth is always a better way of hearing about one than through media coverage.
When it’s word of mouth it feels cool like your friend is helping you discover something. When it’s media coverage it feels like the machine is telling you about something that is already guaranteed to be big.
Instagram feels like you’re involved in a community of people discovering just how something works and figuring out what makes it cool or forgettable. It’s the same as a band you hear about through word of mouth. There is some collective ownership of the people who catch them on the way up.
This notion feels directly in line with what Lucius Kwok wrote last week about The Slow Company Movement on Felt Tip blog. “The idea behind the Slow Company movement is that instead of trying to be the first or to get the most mindshare or market share of any company in your vertical, you try to make something that people genuinely find useful and are willing to pay for it.”
The bands that play the bars, get a following and then grow from there, discover who they really are and learn about their fans. Phish is a great example. Love them or hate them, they know their fans and they’ve been packing arenas for nearly 20 years. Apps that come out quietly rather than launch, give themselves the opportunity to be discovered and grow a fanbase that is proud to share the app with their friends seem to have a better chance at longterm success. Facebook seems to be a reasonable example of this model.
Young bands that sign the record contract get distracted from the real work of becoming a great band. The contract may bring some initial cash, but is also exposes the band to a lot of people at once, many of whom may not be the right audience at all. The same thing can be said about a big TechCrunch article that becomes a distraction for an app or web service that is just trying to walk, but all of a sudden is expected to fly.
It’s as though my first interaction with Color has to be a reaction to what’s been written and what’s expected from the app that got more money from Sequoia than Google did. Whereas my first experience with Instagram is just me hearing about something new and taking time to discover what it’s all about.
With Color, the conversation is – “This app got $40 million. There’s a lot of hype. I don’t get it.”
With Instagram, the conversation is – “I’ve heard good things about this. It’s a rad way to take cool pictures and share them. My friends should check this out.”
Both of these conversations may be right or wrong. It just seems to me that developing a groundswell of users to become advocates of your app is a better way of “launching” than coming out as the next big thing with a bunch of dollars behind you.
Color may be a great app. It’s just a question if we’ll give it time to mature.
What do you think? Do you see the parallels? Any other examples of bands or apps?