Thanks for coming tonight. Just back from Vegas. Oops, I mean Vancouver. IA Summit, baby! I've got a bit of a snippet to share from Kathy Sierra's SXSW-inspired post about lightning releases.
So I asked what made myspace so compelling... why didn't she fall in love with LiveJournal? Her answer is a lesson for software developers (especially Web 2.0-ers), and was a theme of SXSW:
"myspace keeps doing what everybody really wants, and it happens instantly."
She said they respond to feedback, "As soon as you think of something, it's in there."
Then she said the weirdest thing of all: "myspace is like a whole new plane of existence." She wasn't kidding.
Kathy Sierra, speaking with her daughter Skyler
from Ultra-fast release cycles and the new plane, Creating Passionate Users, March 16, 2006
Going on to explain that Threadless and 37Signals are proponents of the approach, Sierra seems to get a little carried away with her post SXSW brainwave hangover.* Herein lies an assumption that adding instantaneously to the functionality equals rabid user loyalty.
Au contraire. Reality is slightly more mundane, but no less powerful. By starting small and building piece-by-piece, these sites actually know their users well enough to observe activity and add in small additions that follow naturally what their users seek.
There's even a danger inherent in following the crowd so closely, especially in social software. The engaged masses can help you spark their fickle bomb and derail your quickly growing organism.
You might say that myspace and 37Signals have gotten lucky so far by not tripping too badly. Or, you're seeing excellent "generalists" showing both their user research, product manager, and design skills on their small, dedicated user base.
Hourly/daily releases are not prerequisites to creating the kind of passion. Do your homework (user research, activity monitoring), then pick the things that will have the most impact and focus like a laser on those things. I'd argue that inability to prioritize is the bane of most organizations and projects, both on the web and off.
That's the real motivator here - if you ask for feedback and generate interesting solutions to problems and new ideas, your users trust you more to deliver what they need and have less time to become disillusioned. The cycle feeds upon itself. More trust, less opportunity for problems, more help to keep on the track, MORE trust, LESS problems, MORE help, and so on.
Make progress, and the users will even cut you some slack if there is a missed step.
One thing: most situations call for release frequency based on best effort. Most websites can reasonably release new functionality or fixes a few times a month or more. A sports team usually has to wait until the season is over to make significant changes in your gameday experiences. Large public works projects can take several years.
Should you follow the wrong path, you will go the way of Friendster. Get buzz, have the attention of a rabid set of users, then off the rails you go!
* I can relate. I'm still drawing flux capacitors all over the place after returning from Vancouver. More on that in several upcoming posts.