Antho was a web-based desktop app that gave friends and families the ability to build each other’s life stories by building their own. I worked on this entrepreneurial venture full-time from 2012 to 2013.
It was premised on the idea that our most meaningful stories come from deep connection, when others have made a difference in our lives, or when we’ve made a difference in the lives of others. It encouraged users to record those stories, of times when others inspired, taught, or changed them. As the life stories filled out, they would be less focused on dates and events, and more focused on the deeper social and emotional narratives that weave throughout our lives.
Our initial research uncovered that many people found family history tedious, and were looking for a solution for personal and family histories that was less about names and dates and more about stories and personalities. At the time, social media was expanding into the territory of personal history. Many people, however, felt that the current social media culture and accompanying technologies were incapable of capturing the depth and breadth of our most powerful life experiences. We thought if there were some way we could create an app that featured life stories told collectively by friends and families, we would have multifaceted, thematic, engaging, and inspirational stories.
Family history had traditionally appealed most to baby boomers and senior citizens, and at Antho, we wanted to help carry that interest over to Millennials and children. We wanted to create an online platform for younger generations to build other people’s histories — and, in so doing, build their own. We would invite them to pay tribute to others by sharing experiences of when mentors, parents, and friends made a difference in their lives. It would create a crowdsourced, living family history, perpetually revisable. By digitizing and personalizing the experience, it would be accessible and engaging to younger audiences. Our vision was that the website would eventually host every last meaningful story in our personal and family histories.
In a few weeks, we learned how to code using readily available Internet resources. I learned back-end programming and my partner learned front-end. She focused on visual design while I focused on user experience and product functionality. Within a few months, we threw together a working prototype and sent it out to 25 contacts within our network we thought would be great early adopters of the app. In the prototype, users could write stories about and add pictures of one another, comment on them, and create life story compilations for other people. We created a feed of story contributions and invitation-based relationships for privacy and sharing.
Based on early feedback gathered from remote user studies, we implemented a few subtle iterations of the app. Then, we began extensive customer discovery research with those wholly unfamiliar with our app. Using Steve Blank’s model of customer development, we interviewed dozens of contacts multiple degrees of separation away from us. We asked around thirty questions about underlying motivations, obstacles to those motivations, the jobs they wanted done, and the current solutions they were using, and some of the solutions available in our prototype. Based on the aggregated insights we gleaned in our research, we decided to pivot.
Dive more deeply into the details of Antho I's interactive design through the pages below:
- When we asked people to test our app, we sat behind our computers conducting remote online ethnography, instead of getting out of the building and presenting the app to them. Observing users play with the app in-person could have led to a wealth of insights.
- We curbed the enthusiasm of some of our most enthusiastic early adopters by correcting their posts and telling them what not to do (and what to do), instead of humbling ourselves and asking them about their thoughts and insights first. After hearing them out, we could have then shared our own thoughts and concerns, and then ask for thoughts on how to resolve those concerns.
- We could have performed more extensive UX testing to confirm whether user abandonment was a result of poor UX design or a result of poor product-market fit of the product.
- After developing and launching the app and spending over a month monitoring the nascent community from afar, we finally then conducted user surveys. We should have done the user surveys in the beginning, or right as we launched our prototype. Regardless, our user research should have included in-person testing of the prototype.
- We could have tested proof of concept with a lower-tech substitute, which would have been much quicker to test — and would have undoubtedly kept us closer to our users.
- We chose a product that was not a must-have (what I interpret as saving time, saving money, or making money), and we did not follow Peter Thiel’s rule of making it 10x better than the best competitor. We could have explored more ideas until we could land on one that could have qualified in one of those four attributes.