The joy of creating for creators
“It is challenging to build not only a product that people will love, but also one that will make them produce products that others will love,” writes Piggy CEO Shaul Olmert
There is a sense of magic when someone you do not know, in another country, uses your product. It is so not obvious to me that my instinct is to contact each user, thank him or her personally and share, at length, how we set up the company before listening to their detailed feedback on our product. When the previous company I founded and served as CEO of, Playbuzz, launched its product (a platform for creating online interactive content), I sat for hours at the computer, waiting for someone to use it.
"If people tend to refer to their product as "their child", then in our case we have grandchildren: not only our product but also the products created with its help." Photo: Shutterstock
One morning, I landed in New York, and while walking to the endless immigration services queue, I checked for a moment the company's data system and noticed that while flying over the Atlantic Ocean, a content page was created on Playbuzz's platform by a creator I was unfamiliar with. Filled with excitement I called the office in Israel, where my colleagues cooled my enthusiasm. It turns out that the page was created by a friend of one of the staff, who asked him to test our platform for her.
It took a few more weeks until the first content item was created by a user we did not know. And then another one, and another one. In the company's heyday as an open platform for consumers (today the company charges for the use of its highly sophisticated and widely used platform), tens of thousands of different content items were created daily, from all across the world, in all languages, on all topics and at different levels of quality and professionalism.
Eventually, you get used to everything, even to success, and I admit that there were days when I was disappointed and even angry when "only" a few thousand content items were created on our platform. Only occasionally, during the routine of carefully checking usage data and tracking statistics, I stopped for a moment and admired the wonderful fact that strangers, whom I do not know at all, from here in the city or many other places, use a product my friends and I made. The same product that investors initially sneered at, when I presented them with the vision behind it. The same product that originally was filled with bugs and always crashed when it mattered. The same product that kept me in front of the computer screen for days and nights, refreshing its statistics page hoping to see someone really using it.
And now, a decade later, I founded a new company and once again arrived at these fascinating and exciting days, in which people are starting to make use of the Piggy content creation platform. Unlike Playbuzz, this time our target audience is young people who are not professional content writers, the creative process is much faster and simpler (the world has progressed greatly in these ten years) and yet, the feeling is the same feeling.
Again, waiting with fear and concern, to see the first users, again, getting excited when those users manage to produce something valuable that made them happy, again, gritting our teeth when the product crashed, and again, becoming addicted to constant data tracking. Meanwhile, only occasionally, remembering to pause and admire this wonder, that people find value in our product, that our vision, which sounds unfounded to many, takes shape and becomes an existing fact.
Many in the high-tech community know these feelings. Artists, chefs, and other professionals also know the immense satisfaction from knowing your work benefited other people and it has been appreciated. In Piggy’s case (and Playbuzz’s case at the time), another layer is added to the excitement: The fact our users are not only using our product but they use it to create something new, their own product.
In Playbuzz’s case, these were quizzes, surveys, interactive articles, and other forms of content. With Piggy, these are stories, schoolwork, event invitations, personal homepages, presentations, and other forms of content that people choose to produce with our app. The excitement in this case is doubled. If people tend to refer to their product as "their child", then in our case we have grandchildren: not only our product but also the products created with its help, which have their own lifecycle and use.
Managing a community of users is a fascinating and challenging craft. When it comes to a creative community, another aspect is added. A good product defines, in advance, the desired outcome its use brings or creates, and is built to direct the user to achieve that result, in games, for example, the goal is pre-defined (for example: to pass a level, defeat the opponent, etc.).
It is the same with Piggy. We have a clear purpose, although it is more abstract and can take various forms. The goal is for people to be able to produce a piece of content, however, there is no limit to the variety of forms and shapes that content can take. One of the interesting conflicts in the development of a creative platform is finding the balance between giving freedom of creation to users, in order for them to be able to express themselves in a way that is natural to them and between creating limitations and guidance that will help them reach a satisfying product.
For example, while at Playbuzz, my partner Tom Pachys decided to limit the number of possible answers in our quizzes. Quite a few users resented that fact and my instinct was to accept their request because after all the customer is always right. Tom taught me that the client does not always know best and that part of our job is to set boundaries, which will help the user to be focused, get a better result and have a better experience, even at the cost of frustration during the process.
Tom's decision was based on data showing that people who asked to add multiple possible answers to each question in the quiz, usually grew tired in the middle, and did not complete their page. He decided for them that he knew better than them what was right for them, and the limitations he created helped users derive more value from our product, even if at first, their anger rose over the limitation.
In contrast, sometimes it is better to give users creative freedom and avoid directing them. In Piggy, for example, we allow the user to produce whatever comes to mind, without deciding in advance what format he or she chooses. Meaning, you do not have to know in advance if what you are creating is going to be an article, blog post, greeting card, presentation, or any other form of content. We invite you to simply create, and sometimes, realize what exactly is produced as it happens.
Another aspect of content creation platforms is the understanding that what is right for the user, is not necessarily what you, as the developer, defined as the desired result. We see people using Piggy to produce very impressive works, adhering to well-made content and a correct understanding (in our perception) of the medium: short texts, large and readable fonts, correct spreading of the narrative in pages, stylish and accurate design, and more.
Alongside these, there are also quite a few who produce content that at first glance looks terribly poor: lots of dense text, no proofreading and a lot of spelling or grammar mistakes, the level of graphic design is unprofessional and it is clear to us that we will not link to this document on our sample page. However, the person who created this document did not create it in order for us to love it, but in order for him to express his thoughts and be right for his own consumption or that of the person with whom he chose to share the document.
Equally, if we glance at the PowerPoint presentations people produce, for example, it will seem that many of them are not polished and do not really reflect the capabilities of the program. And this is exactly the point where we remind ourselves that our users are not trying to create to our liking or to prove the effectiveness of every feature in our product. They produce whatever they want, what feels right to them, and lack of polish or lack of professionalism are authentic and therefore do not necessarily constitute a disadvantage.
Just as most of the stories that people write with the help of a word processor will not win them a Pulitzer, and just as most of the cameras will not produce images that deserve to be hung in a museum, so Piggy has no purpose for people to necessarily create masterpieces. Some do, like this invitation or blog post, and some produce content that may not get applause from a professional, but for their purpose and needs, they are no less than excellent.
Throughout my career, I have focused on content creation platforms. Personally, I really enjoy trying to produce with new tools, for years I downloaded any creative software I came across out of curiosity. My final graduate studies thesis was on content creation platforms, and the companies I founded or chose to work for, like SundaySky, Playbuzz, and now Piggy, are all engaged in this field. It is challenging to build not only a product that people will love, but also one that will make them produce products that other people will love, but the satisfaction when it succeeds is truly unique.