Web 2.0 v. Doing Things Right

Joel on Software has some interesting things to say about setting your priorities when creating software products, the basic conflict being between doing things quickly and doing them correctly.

Listen, I know that everybody is saying that the cool thing to do these days is Ship Early and Often, but when you ship half-baked ajax calendars that don’t do much and then get Scoble to go nuts about how great they are, well, you’re going to have a lot of people like me checking it out and realizing that, for example, no thought whatsoever has gone into printing, which is fine, it’s a 1.0 release, but you know what? I’m not going to look at 30 Boxes again — I’ve spent enough time evaluating it. G’bye.

A very wise person once told me that nobody will remember how quickly you get things done. They’ll only remember how well you do them. This goes pretty contrary to the dot-com-boom/Web 2.0 thinking that “first to market wins,” or, as Joel points out, at least gets purchased:

Why so many Ajax calendars? My theory is that about a year ago, there was a lot of buzz (possibly true, possibly false) about Google shipping a calendar, and everybody thought, oh gosh, it’s gonna be really good, like Gmail, and then Yahoo! is going to be embarrassed again, and run out and buy the best Ajax calendar company they can find, just like they did with Oddpost, making those very funny kids millionaires overnight.

(It’s funny because it’s true.)

Anyway, I think Joel’s thinking here is long-run correct if what you’re trying to do is build a quality product that people enjoy using. Yes, client feedback is important. It’s absolutely essential, in fact. Just try to get feedback on something that work. If the product is bulletproof and well-thought-out, the feedback will tend towards making a good product great than towards making a crap product acceptable. You want your users to think of new features that you could implement, not bugs that you really should fix.

In terms of interacting with clients and ending up with a product that everybody (myself included) is happy with, I’ve always had better luck spending more time on things — up front time writing quality tests and putting research time in to tools as well as just being more thoughtful when actually writing the damn thing — than I have getting things out the door ASAP. Long run, I’m betting that the companies that follow this line of thinking will be the successful ones.

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5 responses to “Web 2.0 v. Doing Things Right”

  1. Christopher Smith
    Christopher Smith
    February 9, 2006 at 12:15 pm |

    Dude, you are totally missing your point. Web 2.0 is fueled by the Greater Fool Theory. You leverage your knowledge in a scripting language to wire together a prototype that just barely works and then you get real paid for someone else to own it. Then you go laugh at them as they realize they have to rebuild the thing from scratch if they want to actually make it work for them. ;-)

  2. cp
    February 9, 2006 at 12:59 pm |

    Yeah, you’re right. I guess I shy away from Greater Fool operations because you can only do it so many times before people catch on to the fact that you’re a total sham.

  3. SLS
    February 9, 2006 at 3:29 pm |

    Perhaps the maxim, “Nobody will remember how quickly you get things done. They’ll only remember how well you do them,” works in software, but it definitely doesn’t hold true in the writing world.

    When I was first starting out, I can’t tell you how many awesome gigs I lost out on by turning in great copy slightly after deadline. (Next morning after a COB deadline.) The editors would much rather have had B+ copy on time than A copy a few hours late. Perhaps this is because they were already planning on taking a second pass at it after it was handed in? That is, in their eyes the first draft that came in would never be an A.


  4. cp
    February 9, 2006 at 5:28 pm |

    Oh, definitely. I make no claim to have even a vague understanding of any industry other than my own.

    Along the same lines, though, if you ask the Agile folk, they’ll tell you that you should always deliver software on time. Some times you have to drop features to make that happen, but it’s better to have a quality subset of your features done on time than to have crap that meets the spec fully or nothing that can be considered a product increment.

  5. gavin
    February 17, 2006 at 1:41 pm |

    I think Joel Spolsky just has his (martini-glass emblazoned) boxers in a bunch because users flocked to his desktop web-publishing application in… well, notice how he doesn’t talk about the roaring success of CityDesk at his site much. By all accounts it was excellent at what it did, yet the horrid bungle of patches that is most dynamic content-building websites just kicked it around the block.

    Anybody remember WordPerfect 6.0 or Norton Desktop for DOS? These elaborate, professionally-and-expensively-developed applications attempted to make character-mode DOS behave like Windows after Windows 3.1 had been on the market for monts!

    Planning and executing carefully on something nobody wants, especially in a way where nobody can see what you’re doing and course-correct you, is a disaster too.

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