You Should Never Feel Good About Statistics

Photograph of three large red translucent dice against a black background.

Photo by Naser Tamimi on Unsplash.

We have our engagement and analytics meeting every Tuesday morning. In a good analytics meeting, there can be absolutely no good news. If you see that suddenly 20% of people are doing what you want them to do—adding cards, say—that means 80% are not, and whatever you did to get that 20% wasn’t enough. If you see 25% user growth one week, you shouldn’t get excited, because that rate of growth is unsustainable—you should try to hold onto it, but if you make decisions based on it, you’ll risk too much. If you ever feel good looking at statistics, you’ve made a mistake.

Then I sit down and write this newsletter, which is supposed to be all good news. This always scrambles my brain a little. So I thought to shake things up a bit I’d share some “bad” news and ask you all what you think of it.

So! We built features to share and collaborate into the product—chat and commenting, plus anyone can move tags and cards—and right now they’re not landing. If you didn’t know that, well! You’re not alone! A few users are currently chatting away; one teacher is using these features with a class, for example. But for the most part, the “collaborate” part of the product has very low interest, while the “save links and data as cards” part is doing comparatively well. I’m wondering if:

  • People simply don’t know Aboard is a collaborative tool.
  • People don’t know why they’d share a board with someone else; it “feels” like a personal tool for them.
  • The collaborative parts of Aboard just don’t work that well.
  • People would chat more via a mobile app, but not on a desktop web browser.
  • Something else.

Obviously we’ll be investigating and thinking about these nonstop, but the easiest thing to do is just ask users, so I’m asking you!

A little context: In a past life I was an editor at Harper’s Magazine (the war crimes one, not the fashion one) and I built an archive of their entire print run from 1850 onwards online. Scanned many of the pages, wrote the code, wrote for the site, on and on. And after I launched it there was this huge influx of emails—thousands—of people with questions about log-ons, subscriptions, corrections, letters to the editor, and so forth. People would call on the phone and demand to speak to me. I interacted with thousands of strangers over the time I was there. I remember hundreds of them, and people years later would say, “Hey, I yelled at you once on email, and you replied to me!” It went both ways: I still remember great chats with the guy we ordered computers from at PC Connection. Hope things are going great, Lane!

So look! We’re in a weekly product newsletter in an endlessly transforming tech industry! But these relationships are meaningful even so. The person I hired to help me back then building that archive…she’s here 14 years later helping me with the newsletter and blog. She’s about to edit it. Hello Elizabeth! [Ed. note: Hi Paul! :-)] 

Our industry may tend towards the disposable but the relationships we’re building here are going to last a long time. We’ll throw some parties and I’ll get to know a few hundred or thousand of you. You’ll tell us why the collaboration tools aren’t working and what you wish they did instead. We’ll try to make them better. That’s collaboration too. We’re looking forward to it!