Captain’s log, stardate 20171008
Sent by Jonathan Stark on October 8th, 2017
There is an online calorie tracker that has literally the worst tag line I have ever seen.
I can say this without fear of offending the author because...
I wrote it.
It’s so bad that I can barely bring myself to share it here. It’s truly embarrassing.
That said, it’s an ideal case study of how far “thinking real hard” (i.e., slow guessing) can take you up your own ass.
For many years it has been my job to keep abreast of software development technologies so that I could reliably advise my clients on the pros and cons of the latest trends. I have a repeatable process that helps me do this relatively quickly but with an appropriate level of rigor.
When a new technology starts to gain popularity, I build an app using it. Not a different app every time, mind you. The same app every time, but expressed in different ways, with different interfaces on the front end, and implemented differently on the backend.
The app I created for this purpose is a calorie tracker that I call Kilo. It has pretty much all of the key features that a real-world app would require:
Over the years, I have rebuilt Kilo in dozens of configurations including:
... and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t even remember the names of because they never really caught on.
In late 2013, I got it in my head that I was going to publish the web version of Kilo at a public URL and invite people to use it.
A few months later, nobody was using the app. I decided that I needed a good way to succinctly describe the app in order to attract users, so I started trying out different tag lines for it. I probably went through at least fifty variations, all bad.
Here are a few that I found in the commit history:
My favorite commit from this time period is:
Feb 19, 2014: flip flopped on tag line. again.
Eventually I got sick of flip flopping and landed on the absolute worst one of all:
Kilo is a calorie tracker built for speed, simplicity, and freedom.
OMFG. For freedom?! ROFL!
So bad. Meaningless, self-absorbed, and pompous. It’s so very very bad.
As bad as it is, the thing that really hurts is how much time I wasted ruminating about what to write. I was obsessing over it. I was wracking my brain for an answer that only existed in someone else’s head.
My desired goal was to encourage people use my free webapp. So why didn’t I simply ask some potential users what might encourage them to try it?
I don’t really know why I didn’t. But I see people do it all. the. time.
It’s like we’re afraid to discover that all the time we spent toiling over our beloved thing was wasted because no one wants it. It’s like the world telling us that our baby is ugly.
We’re going to find the truth out anyway when it eventually becomes clear that no one else cares about our precious thing, but I suppose we want to delay that painful moment as long as we can.
It is understandable to want to hide from something that hurts. But it’s also a great way to waste a bunch of time that could have been spent making lives better with an awesome creation that people actually value.
If you find yourself agonizing over what to say on your website, you are probably looking for an answer in the wrong person’s head.
Stop obsessing over it. Instead, spend that time getting to know your ideal buyers.
They will gladly give you the words you’re searching for.