Apps need to constantly learn

About their users. About what their users do, click, type, and look at. And, if you can, what they think about.

What constitutes learning?

Web apps need to learn to keep users interested and worry free. Here are a few examples that illustrate learning about their users:

  • Learning about user interests by analyzing keywords, content they create, viewed content, etc to better target ads
  • Suggesting geographically closer businesses when searching for things like “plumber”
  • Showing a grid of my most visited websites instead of a blank start page in a brower

They don’t have to be complicated; just smart enough to save time and effort. It’s a simple concept, but easy to get wrong if you’re not paying attention.

When not learning hurts

I’m a fan of using Mint.com—it’s simple and easy enough to hook up, making continued use a breeze. But when I change Nob Hill from Mortgage & Rent to Groceries every other week, it gets annoying. Mint should be automatically creating rules around these kinds of changes, making my life easier and allowing me to spend more meaningful time with the service. These moments of frustration become more apparent when doing one type of action (editing a field on a transaction) doesn’t have the same outcome as another action of the same variety. In this case, I’m editing one of three fields on a transaction. If I edit a description, the following shows up:

Mint.com rules checkbox

But if I edit just the category, I receive no such confirmation. Either Mint.com should add the checkbox for both these instances, or it should just automatically make awesome things happen for me (read, just make the change the next time for me).

Make it a cycle

Learn, suggest, recommend, learn some more. Always provide an option to change feedback, too. It’s a balancing act, but one that is easy to get right if you take the proper steps and iterate quickly. If I don’t like what the app have done on my behalf, I’ll change it. Start with small steps to improve the experience and go from there.

Bottom line? Helping me helps you.