Failing to Scale

Years ago, Google did something brave, bold, and innovative. They opened up GMail to a miniscule number of people and gave them a couple handfuls of invites to share with others. At the time, I assumed that strategy was as much about marketing as about scaling the service up. These days – when the tiniest, most obscure, single-use web apps are ‘closed’, invite-only, betas – this pure marketing strategy has become a parody of itself.

Cause every web apps thinks it needs to manage hockey stick growth out of the gate. Um. No.

When Twitter started, they did something more innovate and bold. They didn’t go invite. They went Fail Whale.

Open the doors, let everyone dance. When the servers stop, restart them.

No need to build and manage a temporary invite system – put those energies into solving performance problems.

“Building something people want is much harder than scaling it….If you solve the what-people-want problem, they’ll use you no matter how bad your interface is, how slow your site is, just give them somewhere worth waiting for.” – Matt Mullenweg

Invite-only launches aren’t a marketing strategy or a scaling strategy. It’s an arrogant strategy betraying how useless the actual web app is.

If the strategy is to be arrogant – at least charge for it.

One Reply to “Failing to Scale”

  1. Gmail’s situation is somewhat unique. Google, being Google, knew their system would gain a relatively huge audience simply by being announced. Rather than be popular and the same, they chose to be game changing by providing an enormous amount of storage (for the time) that would be nearly impossible for their competition to match overnight.

    There were also reasons related to spam prevention and performance (twitter being down is less critical than email) that could be scaled over time by limiting invites.

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