Sat, 29 May 10

Rebalancing and Culling

Two years ago, over the summer, I put out several social games on Facebook, Hi5 and Orkut.

It was fun to brainstorm ideas, get something out, and watch the rush of users hitting your servers. The whole process of maintaining, updating and expanding your apps and increasing user engagement was instructive. Another bonus was understanding the intricacies of building on top of other platforms and the headaches of dealing with ever-changing API and policies. In short, it was a great experience.

Experience is what you get, when you didn’t get what you wanted. That’s absolutely true.

We didn’t get millions of users, only thousands. Our ad revenues never went beyond a monthly coffee or two. But it instilled in us the discipline for designing features, writing code and shipping it, all while managing deployments, monitoring servers, optimizing response times, and the whole end-to-end, full-stack thinking inherent in successful web app and services.

Over time, though, it becomes necessary to rethink, reassess and let go. This is as certain (and perhaps more important) for software, as it is for physical items or other assets. While the space and resource cost for software - in terms of bandwidth, storage or other rents - is negligible and easily amortized over other activities, the mind-space requirements are costly, and get more expensive over time.

In addition to your own code complexity, you also have to deal with changes in underlying libraries. Some, such as OpenSocial and Google are good at API versioning and stability. Others change API, break functionality or undermine app features through policy changes, requiring continual investment.

As an investor in code, I am rebalancing my portfolio. As an app maker, I am culling my stock of apps. I am delisting the apps from the respective directories, and putting in a notice that they are going to go away. Soon, they will be gone.

Happily, modern web apps, especially third party apps that live on other sites and platforms, are impossible to mothball. I will perhaps keep a few screenshots to remind myself of all the design atrocities.

Sat, 29 May 10