Dan Hough

Is it a Product, or a Feature?

Published 26 August 2014 in London, UK

When I show people StreetScout, the route-finding-cum-place-finding app I created a couple of years ago, I get a variety of responses. Usually it’s positive: people like how it’s designed, or they think the idea is super useful and fairly well executed. Obviously I also get negative, or “eh, whatever” responses too, but one of the most common responses is this:

Very cool! I like this, it’s really useful. But is it a product, or a feature?

The first time I heard this, I was a bit taken aback. “How dare they!” I exclaimed silently to myself while nodding in polite appreciation, surprised that they could put down my hard work with so little tact.

The second time I heard it, it was from a friend. The third time was someone who approached me for advice, and as they began to say it, I finished their sentence for them.

The fourth time, it was me.

It didn’t take much thought to start recognising what the original critic had meant by that. Of course it wasn’t an insult, nor was it tactless. It was a helpful, thought-out criticism and in hindsight I should have been less hurt.

The truth is, StreetScout is definitely a feature. Obviously, it is technically a product, too: I built the API, the web app, and with some help I built the iOS app and put it on the App Store. But the need it fulfills “should” be a feature in a different application. Foursquare, for example, or Yelp. Citymapper. Google Maps. Whatever. A widely-used and mature routing or place-finding application would be better poised to solve the problem which StreetScout exists to solve.

But, will they? Why would they? They have other priorities, and StreetScout exists to serve a niche.

And yet, I’ve been told by many people that I could position it as a “way to uncover hidden gems”, but to be honest, you don’t need StreetScout to do that. Other apps are perfectly capable at uncovering hidden gems. Yes, StreetScout can too, but in my opinion, the thing it does best is the same thing it was built for: finding places on your way to somewhere. It’s a power-user tool. It’s a tool for “life hackers” who can’t be bothered to make big detours when they need things. It’s a tool for commute-nerds, not for social trendsetters or tastemakers.

Foursquare, Google Maps, Yelp and Citymapper aren’t about to implement StreetScout in their product offering. I’d love it if they, or someone similar, did - but for now, it will sit online and I will sometimes use it to solve the problem that it solves quite well.

Should I broaden its appeal? Maybe. Should I force it? Hell, no! If it’s going to evolve, it’s going to do so in an organic way.

(thanks to Elli and Jon for providing feedback on this post)

Heckle me on Twitter @basicallydan.