This morning I have a snapshot of one of the more elusive moments in community site building: the point at which that site fails to snag a potential member. It's just my personal experience, of course, but I think there are lessons to be learned.
I was reading the blogs this morning and came across notice of MyGameMug, which positions itself as something of a dating service for gamers. They don't actually try to set you up with a date; instead they use the dating site model to come up with a profile of you by which they can match you with other gamers for online or local multiplayer matches. It's a pretty good idea, actually; unless you already have friends who are into the same games you enjoy, it's very difficult to find an agreeable person to play with online, given that most multiplayer arenas are filled with trash-talking, homophobic, racist kids and frat boys. If there were a legitimate service out there that would allow me to find nice people to game with, that would have some appeal for me.
So I go to the site and create a profile. The test takes about ten minutes, and spits out a judgment: I'm a casual gamer. Yeah, sort of -- at least in terms of the frequency of my gaming at home. It's not totally accurate, but it's close enough that I'm not going to feel insulted. With the questionaire complete, and now properly signed into the site, I'm asked to add a list of games I own so that the service can then match me with similar people who own the same games and gaming hardware. I click on the link.
The page was not found. Whoops. I hit Back to try again, only now I'm asked to sign in again. Which I do, and then I go to my profile, but I can't figure out where I can add the games I own. I even find one page that tells me that I've added no games to my profile, but nowhere on that page is there a link or any other indication telling me how to add the games.
And that's pretty much where the experience ends, because without the matchmaking service, this site has nothing to offer me. MyGameMug had a few minutes of my time in which to convince me that I should bookmark the site and make it a part of my Internet universe. Sloppy design caused me to waste those few minutes running into a brick wall, and now -- already -- I have a poor opinion of the service. I'm very unlikely to come back to give the site a second chance.
Lesson learned: it's got to be dead easy to sign up for a community site, and the benefits of membership need to be front and center and obvious to everyone. If MyGameMug had put their site through user testing, they would have exposed this little problem in no time. But they didn't, and I'd be willing to bet a big bag of venture capital that I'm not the only potential member they're losing today. Remember that old dandruff shampoo commercial that warned, "You only have one chance to make a first impression?" That's never been so true as it is today, for those of us who make our living online. When you launch, everything needs to be right, because if it's not your first visitors will also be the first to leave and not come back.