Release Early, Release Often. Not quite

Quite often I have come across the mantra of “Release Early, Release Often” , a philosophy that says developers should release their products early and gauge user response to the app and make frequent changes based on user feedback. The benefits of such an approach are obvious, you get early feedback from users telling you what they like and what they don’t and what features they would like to see in the product. It ensures your development is headed in the right direction and doesn’t oscillate out our control. It helps you focus and get to the right features faster instead of releasing something into the market and realizing you have gone all wrong. For many developers this had yielded good dividends. It does work.

But then, there are areas where this philosophy wouldn’t work. Say you are creating the next Facebook. A RERO philosophy would imply that you would release a MVP (minimum viable product) and get user feedback, iterate and improve. Well, I doubt if that would work at all. Users will compare your product to Facebook and will find it lacking, the feedback would be negative, interest would wane and you would never get to the point where you really have a credible product which can compete with Facebook. You see, users have very limited attention span. If I don’t like it in the first 4-5 hours, chances are I would just not use it again. Even if you added new features, I would be predisposed to discount those. This was undoubtedly one of the reasons Google Wave failed (and Google+ isn’t yet the awesome social network that we all want it to be). Google Wave was released too early and to too few people; the novelty factor soon wore off, users got bored and left. Something similar happened to Google+ a few weeks after it launched (I still use Google+ because people share really good content there but the content is increasingly more stale). When you are creating a Facebook competitor (or the next evolution of email as Wave was claimed to be) you have a very big shoes to fill, the bar is set very high, people expect awesomeness. With such expectations, a MVP would hardly work. While Facebook got many years to reach this level of finesse, a new comer would have to hit the ground running and come up with something that’s revolutionary and not merely evolutionary.

The same goes for apps. When people can download and remove apps in a matter of minutes, you really have like 10 minutes of user attention and in that time you need to make an impression. A MVP will very likely not make that impression. You will need much more than that. I have over 50 apps on my Android phone and I use may be 20 of them. The rest I had hoped would be useful but just didn’t work for me or simply disappointed me. This would be the case for most users. You, therefore, need to be present a really compelling proposition at the very first sight because you will not get a second chance.

One company that really understands this better than others would be Apple. They create revolutionary products and eschew market research and user studies. And when they come up with a product it is usually miles ahead of competition. Sure the first version of iOS had many shortcomings but the first version of Android had even more. They don’t release a MVP and instead release far more well thought out products than the competition.  An MVP can get evolutionary product because you are highly dependent on the user for feedback and direction, and users cannot always foresee the possibilities and more often don’t even know what they want. So if you want to create something evolutionary, you might think again about RERO and MVP. Are they really what would get you there?

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