Even in the early days, readers really responded to online reading—and remember this was well before Kindle and any meaningful ebook market. The big change over the past 12 years is that readers have become much more comfortable immersing themselves in the content, in text and increasingly in video. A decade ago they used our service at their desk at work when they were physically plugged in, and they typically came in for a quick answer to a problem. Today we see a huge amount of usage on mobile devices, with people engaging with the content more frequently and for longer periods of time.
Q: Safari Flow, your new subscription and recommendation product, launched recently. It appears to be built around your customer, from following user-centered design principles to offering the most relevant content to each user, and helping them parse your offerings. What did you learn about your customers in the concept and build process?
Peter: We deliberately put the customer at the center, yes—both theoretically and developmentally. Our initial ideas were based around going back to basics, imagining ourselves as a startup with access to the vast library of Safari Books Online, and no other restrictions, and thinking, “As a user I want to _______.” Some really good ideas came out of that, like wanting to watch the individual clips and read the sections that were most popular with our peers, and the notion of ratings within a book or a set of videos that power some kind of recommendation engine. But we weren’t certain about these ideas, so we built them out quickly in order to get the ideas in front of customers as rapidly as possible and validate them—or not. So there was a lot of customer development as well as more traditional data capture, and that whole process is ongoing and will be forever.