The Curse of Meh
originally published in MediaPost's Social Media Insider
The app Oink just joined the great pigsty in the sky, or wherever apps go to die. While many apps deserve to be put out of their misery, oftentimes I don’t have the heart to delete an app. The app may have something appealing about it, or it may be an early version that’s likely to improve. Such apps have something in common: they’re all “Meh.”
Urban Dictionary defines “meh” as “indifference; to be used when one simply does not care.” That’s an apt definition, and it’s the first definition I’ve found on the site that is completely G-rated. I have enough Meh apps on my iPhone that I created a second folder called “Meh 2,” and I now have more apps in Meh folders than I do in any other category.
Almost all of the apps in the Meh folders are social in a significant way. Oink was a classic example. It was a beautifully designed app for sharing recommendations, and it was fun to use. Yet I could never figure out when or why to use it instead of some other app.
I showed a friend my Meh system at South by Southwest (SXSW) last week, and he kept saying how much he loved so many of these apps, and then noted how seldom he used any of them. When Oink died, I wrote him, “There has been big news this week. One of my beloved Meh apps, Oink, just joined the deadpool! Let the Curse of Meh begin.” He responded, “Bummer about Oink… I loved the app, though truth be told, I never USED the app much, and I guess that’s the first big step towards the deadpool, as it were.” Bingo.
This massive generation of Meh apps is an inevitability. There are more than 500,000 applications available in the iTunes store, and another 400,000 for Android (with massive overlap). How many have you used, ever? We’re far past the point of anyone beyond a few full-time app reviewers having ever tried more than 1% of all apps.
Social apps, or apps that are largely social, face an added challenge. Not only do they need to be great, but they need to tap into the network effect where the app becomes more useful as other people join. That means that it’s disproportionately likely that a social app will fail.
A colleague came by to talk about SXSW, and then asked, “With all the apps out there, how can they survive if they keep catering to smaller and smaller audiences?” He was referring to location-based services such as Highlight that seem to cater to a relatively finite base of people who are open to constantly sharing their locations and meeting new people. It’s a fair question, as apps today tend to be unfathomably ambitious (“We’re the next Facebook, but with Google’s business model”) or targeted to very specific user bases (“Rural Americans with gay cats will love sharing this with their prematurely balding children”).
And then, there are surprises. There were blogging platforms before Tumblr came around and made blogging mainstream. It was easy to share photos before Instagram made it even easier and more fun. I don’t know what there was before Pinterest, but I don’t think people were sitting around clamoring for something like it, either. These are all far cries from Meh, they’ve earned their success, and they are inspiring many more to keep trying. That’s the upside of Meh: The reason so many apps wind up there is because enough others have set our expectations so high.