You Should Never Feel Good About Statistics

Paul Ford

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

Photo by Naser Tamimi on Unsplash.

First things first: For those that have been asking, TestFlight access for iOS is coming soon. We’re still working on a few issues, but we’re hoping for next week. We appreciate your patience! If you’d like to be added to the list drop an email to We’re using Aboard to track invites. It’s very recursive.

And now: On statistics. 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 this newsletter. 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!



A Great Board

A screenshot of a board titled "Art Inspiration" with the subhead "These are the artworks I like to think about, from museums around the world." Features rows of cards depicting various works of art.
Curate your own virtual exhibit.

Digitized museum collections are a gift to humanity—how wild is it that you can see close-up details of art that’s sitting in buildings (and maybe even buildings’ basements) halfway across the world? But digital collections still live in their own sort of silos, on the individual websites of the museums that own them.

This week’s featured board offers a template for looking at and saving art from across the entire web, using stacks to sort by medium and tags for more subjective descriptors. And a reminder that Aboard isn’t just for web links! You could upload your photos from museum trips and put them side-by-side with official catalogue images. (Why did you take a photo of the Mona Lisa anyway??)

Going forward, we’re hoping to feature more user boards in the newsletter and on our social channels, so if you make an art board—or any kind of visual collection—please make it public and send it our way!

Links We’re Collecting

Another thing we’re going to start doing here: sharing non-Aboard links. Which, uh…we’re keeping track of with Aboard. Have a link you’d love to see here? Share it with us and we might make a card for it.

Some interesting things we saw on the web this week:

Make the internet yours.