When you’re first starting out, it’s so easy to get caught up in the “OMG must attract users!!!1!!” mentality. In that state, we are likely to compromise nearly everything about our business model out of desperation for attracting the first round of early adopters. There is a phase of the business lifecycle after the product is stable enough to start marketing and before any actual users have signed up.
Note that in this context i mean users who are not related to you, by birth or even loose association. This means users who have found your product because of a marketing campaign. These users are your audience, the audience you care about.
In this phase, you are especially vulnerable to your own insecurity, more than any other point in the life of your business. This contributes to your compromising attitude that much more, as you lose all confidence in your work at the first sign of anything that isn’t glowing praise. You immediately begin accommodating the interests of those you consider your “core audience” before you even have a clue who that audience really is. If you find yourself in this situation, you may find it beneficial to take a step back and assess who your audience really is.
If you don’t have a firm understanding of your audience, you will fail. You will be unable to maintain a relationship with your user community. You will find yourself in a constant state of overcommitment because you’ve promised different versions of the world to everyone. You will spend all your time trying to find ways of integrating all the fickle desires of your undoubtedly diverse user community, and you will be unable to please any of them in the process.
The key to navigating the sea of user opinion is to acknowledge that you do not want to cater to a nation of noobs. You might be saying, “wait, but i don’t want to exclude people who are not experienced… that’s my whole audience!” If you really believe this is true and your product is not a “how to use the Internet in a browser” tutoring service, please stop reading this for a moment, take a nice deep breath, and say to yourself “i am safe.”
Noobs are not the kind of user you want. You want a user who has a basic understanding of the rules of the browser experience. You don’t want your support community inundated by requests like “i clicked on something and another window opened and i cant get back to where i was. Help!!” It’s ok to expect your users to know that clicking the button marked “back” will take them to the last page they saw. By setting a minimum competency level, you can simplify your support requirements. More importantly, when you’re not spending all your energy teaching your users the basics, you can focus on the things that will improve your usability, like simple, consistent navigation.
At the end of the day, it’s far better to take a tip from language education and emphasize immersion learning. Aim a few steps above the lowest common denominator, and encourage your novice users to explore and learn on their own. Challenging them to take initiative to teach themselves will help both them and you in the long run. Your support staff will thank you.