Building Netsob: Episode 3 – A New Idea Born, iUniport Web Portal

This is the fourth and fifth entries in a series of entries which follows Sorbari Akpea, a young, ambitious, Nigerian entrepreneur, as he tries to build a new internet giant called Netsob. The original posts were entered into his journal at 7:13pm on the 3rd of March, 2012 and 11:44pm on the 10th of March, 2012 respectively. You can find the complete entries published so far here.

After my major flop with the complex, feature-rich social network, iUnilag, I decided to do something simple this time around. I stripped away all the hundreds of features off iUnilag and left only one: the ability to post and read news update. Then I did a little redesign and launched only that one feature as a standalone website.

The result: iUniport Web Portal.

iUniport is a web portal where you can post and read short news updates of what’s currently happening in the University of Port Harcourt. Registration is not required to post news or read the news updates and except the ability to comment on posts, there is no other feature on the website.

So what I’ve launched is a website which tells students what is currently happening in their school. Nothing more. Nothing less. Any other thing I need to add, I’ll find out as time goes on.

I hope this does better than its predecessor, iUnilag. I would have launched this new site first for the University of Lagos students, but I am still too ashamed to show my face in Unilag because of my last flop so instead I’m starting in Uniport. I still plan to go back to Unilag but that’ll be later. Let’s see what students think of this idea first.


After iUniport’s first week online, I can confidently say users love it! We’re getting more hits in a day than we got in a whole week with iUnilag. I’m really excited, though at the moment I have no idea which direction the site would go from here. The site is still in its barest, skeletal form: nothing but a simple Twitter-like page where University of Port Harcourt students can read short news updates of what’s currently happening in their school and comment on them. I also don’t have any idea which new features the users will want us to add on it and, from what I learnt with iUnilag, I’m not speculating.

However, I’ve been receiving several comments about the site. Most of them simply commending us and telling us how much they love the site while others suggesting ways we can improve it. All the messages have really been helpful, but one suggestion stood out from the rest. The message was from a young lady who suggested it would be better if we simply post the news updates on Twitter and have the students follow us.

Though I kindly explained to her that we cannot use Twitter because Twitter limits users’ posts to a maximum of 140 characters and as much as we try to shorten our news updates, they’re usually longer than 140 characters, I knew that wasn’t the main reason I didn’t want to use Twitter. The main reason is simply because I wanted to build our own independent website.

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about her suggestion. Not whether or not we should go on Twitter but why she would make that suggestion. There must be something she wants that made her make that suggestion. If you check it, she really doesn’t care whether or not we come on Twitter.

But there’s indeed something she wants; something that we’re not doing and she would like us to start doing. She might not even know what it is herself. Her suggestion that we come on Twitter is not the problem she’s experiencing but her own solution to the problem.That’s the thing with users’ suggestions.

Generally, when a user suggests you do something, it’s not really that they want that particular thing. It’s more like they seem to be experiencing a problem with your product and their suggestion is the way they think you should solve the problem. The funny thing is that most times even the user giving the suggestion might not know what the problem is and because of that their solution, most of the time, may not be the best way.

I learnt that long ago from Paul Buchheit, an American computer programmer and creator of Gmail, that you should not be quick to implement users’ suggestion. Instead you should ask yourself: “Why does the user want this feature?” Or the way I like to ask myself: “What has the user found broken that he is trying to fix with his suggestion?”

If you approach the suggestion this way, instead of simply implementing it, you’ll actually discover the problem with your product that made the user give that suggestion. At that point, you’ll be in a better position to judge if implementing the user’s suggestion is a good idea or if you can come up with a better solution.

So I ask: Why will someone want us to go on Twitter? Is it because we’ll be forced to make the news updates shorter? But we already make our news very brief. Or is it because they don’t want to register on another site? But there is no need to register to read the news updates on our site. What then is it?