Monday, October 3, 2011

The amazing speed of Facebook's development!

In July I wrote a bold prediction that Google+ will soon be more popular than Facebook. I have been following the popularity contest ever since. According to Alexa last week about 3,1% of Internet users visited G+ and 43,4% visited Facebook. The number of G+ visitors has increased since it opened up to the public, but not very fast. The number of Facebook visitors has remained stabile.

But what I want to write about is the amazing speed of Facebook's reaction to Google+'s launch and how fast FB has built new functionality ever since! I have been working in different product development organizations and must say, that this speed is truly impressive for an organization with 2000+ employees like FB currently is. Probably most of the startup community don't understand my excitement, but I will illustrate the phenomena with some of the issues a big product development organization has to cope with:

Firstly, if you have a democratic organization with specialists who put their souls into their work, then all the employees have a very passionate opinion. Agreeing on what and how to do gets slower and slower the more people you involve in the decision. So in the end it may take weeks or months to agree on a proposed change.
An authoritarian organization on the other hand can make changes fast. Such organizations however have other kind of problems as most skilled specialists don't like the "Maul halten und weiter dienen" culture and leave. We can be pretty sure that FB is not such an organization.

If you have 500 million daily users then shouldn't you do an analysis before doing even the smallest change in the user interface? FB most certainly did major changes in the interface and functionality. Did they do a study before starting to develop them? Well looking on how fast the changes were developed then I doubt that there was time for any analysis.
But if you skip user studies and don't implement objective decision methodology then who decides what and how you develop? The CEO? The engineer with the most authority? So here you also run to problem number one.

Then you have the development cycle and roadmaps. These are useful measures that are in place to ensure technical quality on and avoid key developers from burning out. Changing the plans is costly, takes management decisions and re-location of resources. Do you want the moments when a boss walks into the office and tells the hundreds of developers: "Drop everything you are working on and here is the new featurelist that we copied from Google+"? You get responses like:
- "Again?"
- "We just agreed on the plans last week?"
- "This is the third new strategy this month, maybe I'll just wait and do nothing until the next one?"

Then there are of course administrative constraints. For example if you need to suddenly triple your development budget for July and August then it might be a challenge.

But one thing always helps! A common "enemy", be it a competitor, a new big customer or the threat of bankrupcy. The mutual challenge always mobilizes the whole team to stand as one. Google+ most certainly is this one big enemy for FB.