How Building an MVP Is About Discovery

I was building the MVP of Coverlist and I was nearly done. Users could add books they had read along with a 2-3 line microreview, which would serve as a recommendation for other users who are just browsing – and every book had a Coverlist score so I could surface the best books for the weekly top 20.

It was time to do things that don’t scale – i.e., start reading out individually to people in book clubs or people blogging about books. But I was scared – what if, they went to add a book, realized you had to find the cover image on your own to upload the file, and decided it was too much of a hassle?

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The app was mimimal, but was it viable? Or would they walk away and never return?

I started with my sister – “sign up for this site I built, add a book and tell me what you think.”

She added Emma and as hoped, she picked a unique book cover via Google Images that perhaps would not be available in an API. I want users to be able to pick book covers and not be stuck with whatever the publisher wants to promote, since Coverlist is a visual place.

The downside was that she picked a cover image that was smaller than the rest, and could throw off the design.

My mom was next. She added a book cover that was even smaller so I had to replace it. Turns out she had found it on Amazon, and then offered to take it down so I wouldn’t have a “pirated image” on the site. 

As it turns out, users did not have a problem with uploading images – but opted for images that might disrupt the site design, and possibly felt they were breaking a copyright by pulling images from other sites (which is up for debate). 

I don’t want users to feel uncomfortable about adding a book and I definitely don’t want to worry about the design supporting all sorts of small and large cover images. 

What most surprised me, though, was this book, added by someone I don’t know. Instead of adding a cover image, the user simply took a snapshot of the physical book – which is actually a great experience when you’re using Coverlist in a mobile browser.

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It had never occurred to me that someone who is still reading from physical books could quickly upload their book library by simply taking photos from a smartphone. But, in order to allow Coverlist to be a collection of all your books – whether you read a borrowed copy, got it from the library, own it or read the ebook – I still would need to offer a cover database.

So I decided I would need to add an API so users could search for a book title and choose an image instead of uploading a file. 

I might be returning to the same decision I pondered in the first place, but I came to it from watching user interactions rather than just making assumptions – and now I can make a better case for investing time into making the new feature happen.