File Under: Programming, Software, Web Apps

Forget Perfection, Release Your App to the World

fail whaleMost developers are probably familiar with Linux founder Linus Torvalds’ motto: “release early, release often.” The reason is quite simple: Shipping something useful is better than withholding that usefulness until it’s reached perfection.

Of course, there are exceptions. If you’re developing flight control software or a heart monitor interface, we sincerely hope you do not ship imperfect software. But when it comes to web applications, getting your software to the public is often more important than making sure it’s absolutely perfect.

The reason shipping a flawed version is often better than shipping nothing is summed up nicely by blogger Jeff Atwood, who recently wrote a post entitled, Version 1 Sucks, But Ship It Anyway.

As Atwood writes, “instead of spending three months fixing up this version in a sterile, isolated lab, you could be spending that same three month period listening to feedback from real live, honest-to-god, dedicated users of your software.”

The result in that scenario is that you end up with not the software as you dreamed it, but as users really want it. There’s actually a third sentence in Linus’ motto: “Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.” And it’s impossible to listen to your customers if you don’t have any.

While it’s become something of a joke in Google’s hands, this is where the “beta” moniker serves a real purpose — to let users know that you have something, but it isn’t perfect.

The tradeoff for users is (or should be anyway) that they have some influence on the product’s future. In this scenario, “release early, release often” means your app gets feedback when you need it most — before it’s fully baked. The end result might not be your application as you imagined it — the internet is littered with web apps that started out as one thing but became quite another in the hands of users — but you’ll have delivered something people find useful. It might be hard to let go of your vision, but sometimes your users are smarter than you are.

As Atwood puts it, “it’s saner to let go and realize that when your software crashes on the rocky shore of the real world, disappointment is inevitable… but fixable!”

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