Don’t release early, release often (all the time)

I’ve recently been talking to a number people about the “release early, release often” mantra. If you’re working on a new web app for the mass consumer market, be very wary. “Release early, release often” was written with open source software in mind.

If your first public release is too raw and too hard to use, there’s a risk of it not “going viral”. People won’t start shouting off the rooftops about it. The first blog posts and reviews that appear may have a negative tone, and this sort of thing is so hard to wash off in later releases.

In the open source community, people are keen to pitch in and help with the development in whatever way they can. They are tech savvy people who will put up with bugs, teething problems and constantly changing user-interfaces. They will happily give you their feedback and opinions – open source code is a worth cause. This is the world where the saying comes from.

If you are making a web app for the mass consumer market, “release early, release often” is dangerous. Sure, you want to get it out there and get some momentum, but first impressions count. In this day and age user-experience is one of the key differentiators between similar services. Also, your early adopters aren’t going to appreciate you forcing a poorly designed UI on them just because you were too tight to spend a bit more time and money in the design phase. Your early adopters are your nearest and dearest customers. They will make some effort and give some you feedback but you have to begin the relationship by giving them something that’s up to scratch.

So, throw away the old mantra, here’s what you should do:

  • Involve users early, involve users often (do UCD!), but do it behind closed doors until you’ve got something you’re proud of.
  • Cut back to a core set of functions, and concentrate on making them work well.
  • Release to the public only when feedback from your test users is mainly positive.

I realise I may be preaching to the converted here – but if this article is helpful to just one or two people, then it was worth it … :-)