Who Will Use the Site?
Finally, you need to know whether there’s an audience for the product. While this may sound like common sense, keep in mind that the second step is to get far more specific. You need to know what types of people might use the site, when they might use it, in what context it will be used, and all sorts of other details.
For example, if the site is targeted for musicians, you should know what types of musicians might use it. Professional studio musicians might play the same types of guitars as the kid down the street with a garage band, but the studio musician will likely be more interested in recording tips, articles on microphone placement, effects that can be achieved, and so on; while the garage band guitarist might be looking for ways to improve stage presence, set up and break down quickly (for getting on and off the stage between bands), and market the band to potential fans so lots of people show up at the next gig.
If you’re aiming at live, unsigned, original bands, you might deduce that the target audience is generally less financially stable than they would like to be and therefore would be looking for great deals on good equipment. For musicians with home studios, you might infer that they’d be more willing to spend lots of dough on a piece of gear if it’s really worth it, and therefore offers for mid-level and top-of-the-line mixing boards might be appropriate.
In the case of Web-based software, your audience is likely going to be limited to Web-savvy users who will stumble across such software and explore its potential as a useful solution. With the recent rise of applications such as Basecamp, Blinksale, and others, it’s a safe bet that one day in the future there will be a broad market for Web-based tools (once the non-geeks of the world start to catch on), but for now, the geeks have it cornered. Make them happy, and one day you’ll be able to make others happy as well. So your applications, in addition to whatever primary purpose they serve, will probably benefit from an open source API that can be used by developers to create their own applications using your data. (Google, Flickr, and del.icio.us have all made APIs available, and the result has been a slew of useful applications, all utilizing data from the same sources.) The application should still serve its purpose well, but these extras can go a long way toward popularizing your service. Recognizing the presence of Web geeks in your audience could potentially skew the final product in ways you hadn’t previously imagined.
For the average contractor working from home, tools such as Basecamp help them stay on top of projects and get things done. For the soccer moms of the world, a tool like Backpack would probably be more appropriate. Google Maps can be used by anyone in need of directions to Friday night’s company party. If you’re in the market for a new house, however, you would benefit greatly from a more specific use of the same data, such as a Google map of houses available for purchase in a designated area, along with an at-a-glance view of their listed prices.
Knowing who is in your audience sheds major light on what type of application you’ll eventually construct, so be sure to use these precious few meetings to gain this information.