Some thoughts on Path – the most visible MVP test to date

or, alternative title: “The media and your users won’t understand or care you went for an MVP”

Path has finally been revealed to the world via one of those ‘oh lets just put a post up on our Tumblr’ anouncements on a Sunday night that suddenly is joined at the top of TechMeme with half-a-dozen-or-so considered and clearly embargoed puff pieces by each of the usual suspects.

My favorite is probably Caroline McCarthy’s CNet piece because it has a photo of the view my old apartment used to enjoy before they erected the shiny green Infinity Towers in front of it. Path is housed in a condo near the top floor of Infinity II. I guess there is a metaphor in there about the new disrupting the old, but whatev’s.

So this launch was embargoed to the hilt. And we know TechCrunch doesn’t do embargos so it almost certainly didn’t get a briefing. So it was interesting that rather than have an AolTC staffer here on the West Coast write up the buzzy launch, they had co-editor Erick Schonfeld go out of his way to post a negative missive at 3am local time to him in NYC. The TC post does smell of the editor launching a politically-motivated chastisement rather than letting one of his numerous local SF subservient staffers write it up based on the service’s merits alone. TC, after all, has to do what it can to influence against embargoes (or not giving it the exclusive, for that matter).

Biggest Minimum Viable Product so far?

For me, what is so interesting about Path is that its clearly the most visible MVP (Minimum Viable Product) launch to date since the meme/concept came to fruition. If you don’t know what that means, go check out the interview with Eric Ries at Venture Hacks.

You can only use Path on iPhone, and even then you can only upload photos – no commenting for example. No other phones are supported, not even iPod Touches. There is a web-based version but you can’t add anyone as a friend (even if you know their url), they can only add you if they happen to have an iPhone.

It would have been relatively easy for Path to have added obvious features like some kind of friending functionality on the web-based version but they clearly decided they really want you to use the iPhone or not take part yet. A total MVP approach. Build the minimum needed, test the market place and learn from the reaction. Repeat until you have success.

The issue is few people really understand MVP as a strategy, even in the industry let alone the wider public.

In an era of ‘write it up in 15 minutes to earn your $20-per-post’, bloggers and journalists will analyze what is put in front of them rather than take the time to consider where a product is on its lifecycle. That lack of understanding and need to publish fast might also explain another reason why Erick tore Path to shreds and even Mashable’s Ben Parr isn’t sure either.

When you put aside the warm-and-fuzzy puff-pieces that come out of being invited into an embargoed meeting with Path CEO Dave Morin to discuss the merits of the work of Robin Dunbar (anthropologist) and Daniel Kahneman (Nobel-laureate psychologist) while taking in views of the Bay Bridge, you have to wonder whether any of the other folks writing about Path really understand the MVP concept either.

My takeaway is that Path should be communicating its MVP’ness directly, pointing out to users where things will be changing and improving – even if that does give some of the game away to Path’s competitors. Everyone wins in the long-haul as users are more likely to stick around knowing that improvements are in the works.

And MVP proponents – such as Eric Ries, Dave McClure and the startup founders who utilize it – need to do a better job of priming the pump and getting the media on-side. I just spoke to one tech blogger who had never heard of MVP, and said that she didn’t understand the point if it meant that products were being launched that users might have difficulty using.

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Path – the most visible MVP test to date

  1. It seems to me that releasing a minimally viable product and orchestrating a bunch of hype at launch are kind of incompatible with each other.

Comments are closed.