I believe we were focusing on the wrong things this quarter. Two weeks into class, our team had a basic agreement on our minimum viable product (MVP)

  • Users use real identities
  • Users can share news articles
  • Users can discuss news articles on a comment page
  • Users can invite friends into these discussions

We looked at several technologies that could be used to build the MVP

  • Ning: (-) Didn’t support our feature for sharing news articles. (-) It also didn’t allow us to customize the registration process.
  • WordPress: (+) Allowed us to easily build the features for the MVP. (-) Locked us in for future customization
  • Drupal: (+) Had significant experience using Drupal (+) More customizable (-) Takes longer to get to MVP
  • Ruby on Rails: (-) Had little experience (+) More customizable (-) Takes way too long to realize MVP

We picked Drupal, obviously with some bias due to our experiences. From a technology perspective, Drupal was a good choice. However, we were stuck on our MVP. As we agreed from the start, we wanted to provide a platform for having intelligent conversations about news. The features we picked for our MVP were just one way to accomplish these goals.

Our goal should have been to focus on testing the community, not the features we thought were needed for building a community. The features provided by WordPress, Ning, and many other systems were good enough for commenting. The real problem was that the community wasn’t.

If I were to work on this project again, I would have done the following things differently:

  • Install a base installation of WordPress and install the Facebook plugin.
  • Install analytics.
  • Brainstorm different potential niches within news consumers based on topic and persona. Examples could have included suburban parents interested in education, journalists looking to discuss current events, or bloggers who blog about global events.
  • Try to run experiments on these different niches and see which niches gain traction.
  • Talk to these users to get feedback.
  • Iterate!

To summarize what I learned.

  • Don’t obsess over features. Usually, the existing technology is good enough to get the job done.
  • Obsess over your users. Who are they? How can we keep them engaged? You can’t answer these questions with features.