How do we know when a news app is successful? Since joining BuzzFeed a few months ago, I’ve learned that there is little consensus within our industry regarding how we define and measure success. So I started speaking with people outside of news to learn how they know when to celebrate or commiserate. One of the most important lessons came from conversations with those responsible for building incredibly addictive games: Optimize a person’s first 45 taps.
Mobile gaming publishers reliant on in-app purchases, like the studios responsible for Candy Crush or Clash of Clans, obsess over each individual thumb tap a player makes after first downloading a game. I’ve heard this referred to as optimizing the first 45 taps.
(Why 45 taps instead of 30 or 60? Honestly, I don’t think there’s a precise science behind the first 45 taps. My best guess is that 45 hinged on the rules and mechanics of a specific game and this became a useful heuristic for game developers. For editors and product managers leading their news organizations into this discussion, the real number might be closer to 15 or even 10. What matters to me is learning how mapping taps can help improve decision making, and then figuring out what number range is applicable to news.)
Game designers plot a player’s ideal first 45 taps to increase the likelihood that a player will enjoy this new game, crave more rewards, play the game again, and start spending money.
Designers observe new players by mapping where these players actually place their thumbs, collecting data to reveal where players deviate from an expected path. This data is used to identify exactly where a player is more likely to fail or quit, pushing designers to start iterating on this specific part of the game. Finally, this data becomes the basis for benchmarks used to evaluate the next crop of new players.
Let’s assume I launched a candy-themed puzzle game roughly three months ago and wanted to evaluate a player’s initial tap flow. Here is an excerpt from a first 45 taps report:
Something is wrong with tap 28. Why are new users not detonating their candy? What happens if we replace wrapped candy with candy covered in neon Christmas lights? What if we move detonating candy to tap 23? This data helps inform a game publisher as to what isn’t working and what changes should be prioritized and tested.
The first 45 taps helps reinforce process over outcomes. As mobile eats the world, we need to figure out what our first 45 taps are for news. In 2015, I expect more of your colleagues to care about user paths and actions. I expect your bosses to ask what is a reader, listener, or viewer expected to do next? How do you know they should do this? What do we learn when they surprise us? How do we learn as our audience changes?
Are your answers ready?
Noah Chestnut is the product lead for BuzzFeed’s upcoming news app.