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Designing a User Experience for a Modern Hosting Service

One thing I’ve been particularly focused on over at Packet HQ has been re-thinking how end users interact with cloud hosting services.  The ever expanding Packet engineering and design team has talked about all the usual stuff: nice websites, fast portals, some kind of mobile app … and even though most of us have a decade or so of experience in building hosting services, we’ve found the biggest “ah ha” moments hit us by pretty much ignoring our past.  In fact, when I sit back and think about the tools that I love and use everyday (github, Uber, basecamp, etc.), IaaS services don’t really bubble up to the top!  And I’m a guy that likes his servers.

In fact, even when I think back to the hosting services I’ve built or heavily influenced, I can’t say I ever loved the experience of using them.  I liked how they got a lot done for me or stuffed useful things into one page, but I can’t remember smiling when checking in on a cloud server like I do when I use Basecamp and close out a few todo’s on my plate.  Is it just that dealing with Cloud Servers isn’t very fun?

So, What's to Love?

In retrospect, one of the many mistakes I’ve been guilty of when thinking about User Experience is getting all caught up on making things pretty.  Nobody likes using ugly interfaces designed by engineers (see requisite dilbert reference).  In fact, the only thing worse might be ugly interfaces designed by sys admins.  However, I don’t use and love basecamp because it’s pretty.  In fact, it’s not really pretty at all.  I use it because it helps me get tons of stuff done in an efficient manner.  So the experience of being a user is great — not because the pixels are rounded or the icons are flat, but because the app itself is so darn useful!

And herein lies the problem of most infrastructure hosting user interfaces: beyond installing, deleting or rebooting a server, you can’t do very much!  And if you can, it’s probably going to get complicated real quick and its not something you’re thinking about doing when you whip out your iPhone at 7AM on a Tuesday…

Let's Challenge Some Expectations

The mission I communicate daily to the Packet team is that we’re here to dramatically increase the expectation of how engaging with one’s infrastructure services can and should be like.  How can we establish stronger relationships with our customers?  How can we make them enjoy communicating with us (hint: it doesn’t have alot to do with support tickets!)?  How can we deliver small moments of joy and not just IP packets?

We don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re listening hard to our customers and alpha users and hacking on really great stuff.   Once we’re ready to handle a bit more, we’ll open our doors a bit wider for a public beta.  Please make sure to subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll email you once we’re ready.

Photograph of two men having a conversion outside by a table of servers
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