In the News: R.I.P. Blab

In the blink of an eye, Blab has gone from “the next big thing” to the latest application dragged into the internet’s ever-growing recycle bin.

I liked Blab a lot. Members of the Internet Time Alliance and I used Blab to host an online memorial for Jay Cross a few month’s back, and I found that the application’s “seating” format was a unique take on the typical talking head paradigm that is common with most video broadcasting tools.

Whether you liked Blab, hated Blab, or are reading this thinking “What the $%^@ is Blab?”, the meteoric rise and instant demise of Blab has tremendous lessons for those in the L&D Space.

What is (or was) Blab?

Blab was a service that falls into the larger category commonly known as livestreaming, a group that also includes applications like Periscope, Facebook Live, and others. Like all live livestreaming applications, when you used Blab, your video stream was being broadcast live so that anyone could watch it, as it happened.

2016-08-25_4-27-33What made Blab unique was it’s talk-show-like seating format. There were up to four seats available in a Blab. The host could invite someone into a seat, or those watching could “dial-in” and the host would have the option to put that person into a seat.

Blab launched somewhere around April 2015 and even though it remained in BETA quickly became one of the biggest stories in social media, growing from zero to almost four million users in less than a year.

And then, just like that… POOF! Blab was no more.

What Happened?

With the publishing of a blog post on August 12th, Blab was suddenly and unexpectedly gone for good. In the post, Shaan Puri explains what worked about Blab, what didn’t, and where Blab would be going in the future. Blab was built as a broadcasting service, and while it was very successful in that regard, only a small percentage of Blab users were using it in that way. The vast majority of Blab users were using it to simply hang out with their friends.

In short, what Blab was built for was a different use case than what the majority of users were using it for, so they have decided to rebuild Blab for it’s most common usage: hanging out online with friends.

Lessons to be Learned from Blab’s Demise

There are a number great lessons we can learn from Blab’s story.

“Most Livestreams Suck”

That headline isn’t there because it’s my opinion; it’s there because Shaan Puri – the CEO of Blab – described it as the first reason that Blab went wrong.

This isn’t a Blab problem. A large portion of the livestreams broadcast today seem to exist because the broadcasters want to be seen, not because the content is something viewers want to watch.

Most of the livestreaming applications are incredibly easy to use, making it very simple to jump in and stream content. But that doesn’t mean we should. The biggest unique value of livestreaming is the LIVE part. Before you broadcast, consider asking yourself if you content has a ‘now’ aspect to it. Is your messaging something that people will feel the need stop what they’re doing to view?

There’s still understandably a huge amount of interest and curiosity surrounding livestreaming applications, and we should be exploring their potential. However, if you’re considering using one, focus more on they WHY of the livestream before you jump into the HOW.

Trust Your Own Data

By many indicators, Blab was a very successful service. It had a huge user-base and was in many ways a sensation. There were popular shows, huge media companies like UFC and ESPN were using it to engage with their audience, and it was a popular tool in the lucrative marketing world. I believe this public perception of Blab’s success is part of the reason its sudden demise has caught the internet world by storm.

But behind the scenes, Blab was analyzing its user’s behaviors. It had systems in place to track usage based on metrics that mattered. Despite the very publicly visible signs of success, these metrics spoke to a disconnect between what was built and how it was being used. Despite appearances of success, their own data showed they were on the wrong path, and required a course correction.

Think about this for a moment. Blab didn’t exist little more than a year ago, and it quickly grew to almost four million users. What they built clearly resonated with an audience, most of whom raved about the service. And yet, they killed it because the data brought to light a critical disconnect. Too many organizations would look at the data and ignore it because the data did not point in the direction he “felt” was right.

Trust your own data. That’s a key lesson here.

Show Your Work

I also have great respect for the way Puri has shared the message of Blab ceasing operations. In addition to announcing Blab is shutting down, he shares the context, including what went well, what didn’t, and some of the major milestones along the way. There are a number lessons in the post, especially for others walking down a similar path. It’s a great example of someone sharing their work in a way that others can learn from.

Buyer Beware

Another lesson here is a common one for those interested in using social media tools as part of a content strategy – including in learning and performance programs. Blab is just the latest in a growing list of popular services many people used that suddenly ceased operations. Google and other large tech companies are well-known for this. Even if millions of people around the world are using a tool, there are no guarantees that the tool will always be there. Many times tools, especially free or low-cost tools, abruptly shut down.

That’s a factor that always needs to be considered when using tools like Blab for content and learning programs. They’re powerful tools that do amazing things for little or no cost, but if you decide to use them regularly, be sure you build a contingency plan that considers what you would do if you discovered the tool you counted on yesterday was suddenly no longer available today.

The Post-Blab World

A lot of people were blindsided by Blab’s shutdown. I think the key learning in the shutdown for people who used the service comes down to strategy. If you used Blab and were caught off-guard by its shutdown, then your content strategy was incomplete. Blab wasn’t the first service to suddenly shut down, and it won’t be the last. Many people use free and low-cost tools like Blab – and rightfully so. But if you don’t consider how you would adapt if the service you count on was no longer there, you could be opening up yourself, and your organization, to considerable risk.

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