A technique that many early-stage startups use to test feature changes or price alterations involves creating a sandbox of users on which to test these changes. By rolling out new features to a small beta group, the company can analyze how the changes are working and whether they would be successful for the entire group. Tumblr is using this technique in a bit of a different way, building their sandbox around new users and removing some features that some might find confusing.
Sabet, a member of Tumblr's board, says that newer users to the service aren't as interested in features such as the Radar, the follower count and the number of "likes," so Tumblr has found a way to keep things simplified for them. After signing up, extraneous feature like these are hidden until the user adds a few posts to their Tumblr. Then, as Sabet says, the features "elegantly appear."
"I think that's brilliant and not intuitive," writes Sabet. "I love the new approach that they are taking to balance keeping things simple while adding new functionality."
Tumblr is a perfect example of the type of startup that can benefit from this kind of system. Facebook, with over 400 million users, can and does roll out site-wide changes, usually to the chagrin of a select group of users - but Facebook can handle it. Smaller startups would risk losing their entire user base if they changed things too drastically or became too bloated with features.
Tumblr is at a point where it needs to keep growing to maintain its popularity, but it doesn't want to lose the simplicity that attracts new users. By making the new user experience slightly different, they've managed to continue to acquire new users while appeasing their long-time fans with new features. Sometimes all users are not created equal, and easing people into the advanced features is a great way to make the on-boarding process as simple and as painless as possible.
If you know of any other services using a similar tactic to on-board users, lets us know about it in the comments!
Photo by Flickr user Raphael Goetter.