There are no version numbers on the web. No one asks you what version of Facebook you’re using or if you could just install a 200mb update. What we create is what the user sees and this is, of course, one of the most beautiful features of the web.
When you move to the next version of Photoshop, it’s obvious that the app has been updated. They’ll tweak the UI in a way that makes the app feel different. They add new features. It feels new.
When you’re using a web app with no version numbers, updates aren’t necessarily as noticeable. Sure, things might be changing in the backend, but if I can’t see visual changes I’m probably going to assume the app is stale.
I hate the thought of using a stale app. Who knows when it will be updated next? Or what happens if it’s hacked? Are they going to close the app next week or sell it? There are hundreds of apps that fall into this category and I use as little of them as I can. I want progress, but more than that, I want reassurance. Reassurance that the app is being invested in, that it will be around for the long-term, and that the people behind it care about the product’s future.
Basecamp deal with this problem better than anyone else I’ve seen. When they add a new feature that’s worth talking about, they add a ’New stuff!’ link to the navigation. Once you’ve clicked on the page the link disappears until the next time they’ve got something to tell you about.
It’s a wonderfully simple idea but I smile every time I see it, and of course, I click the link every time to investigate what’s new. While I love playing with new features and watching an app evolve, I also get the feeling that the app is being invested in. It’s a little way to remind me that they still care.