Go That Way, Really Fast

When it comes to running Stack Overflow, the company, I take all my business advice from one person, and one person alone: Curtis Armstrong.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2010/09/go-that-way-really-fast.html

Fast iteration is what in the end gets the best results (if backed by constant revision!). It is like continous improvement: http://www.mostlymaths.net/2010/05/doing-your-best-8-tips-on-continuous.html for one-man (or woman) projects, only in a big scale


"If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough."
Mario Andretti
see also: http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/36794.html

Yeah it really is amazing how Google built Chrome from scratch in only 2 years. I can’t imagine how they did it they must be so clever. And new major versions every few months - WOW! Each new version is so much better than the previous it’s incredible. Now that they are up to verison 6 they are nearly as good as IE which is at version 8. Insightful stuff Jeff.

Google went from nothing, no web browser at all, to best-of-breed in under two years.

To be fair, Google did not go from exactly nothing: By choosing the Free Software road, they were able to take advantage of the years of developement put into KHTML/WebKit by the KDE (and later, Safari-) developers.

I think Joel already wrote about this :slight_smile: fire and move. Fire and move. Fire and move. Fire and move

Google isn’t fast with improving Android, not where it counts anyway.
The paid Android Market is limited to a handful of countries that doesn’t include mine for example (Estonia). Apple had the app store working within months after its US release, but google hasn’t even announced any plans and it’s been 2 years since its launch.

Google has made it clear from the beginning that they handled and mastered their software release cycle through agile development practices and other SCRUM related jazz; That’s not a big news. Seeing it in action, is big news. Moreover one may argue that having someone good to catch (iPhone, IExplorer, Firefx, Java Browser…) makes it an even better / motivating project.
Eventually what I mean is : Google has the ressources to go fast while not doing big mistakes.

It’s a lot easier to develop a product once the user testing has been done for you. You already know what users want. Being the 60th software package within a certain genre means you can go really fast.

Google have enormous pools of talent at their disposal. It’s pretty easy to move fast when you are driving a sports car.

Love the movie reference. I agree with the approach btw, with one extra caveat - stay focussed and try to keep your goal in mind. Going fast to some people means piling on more and more features in shorter and shorter cycles until you overwhelm your customers and your ability to provide support to them. Chrome seems to have succeeded because they’ve included a heavy dose of refactoring into their cycles.

FWIW I’m concerned that StackOverflow has piled on too many features / options - I no longer know which of the 24 sites I should visit for my question, I don’t know or want to think about which OpenID provider I want to use - I don’t know if my ID on one stackoverflow site is the same on all of them, does my reputation apply across all sites, etc.

I keep trying - because I like the concept, but it seems to be getting more complicated, not easier to use…

“ancient, creaky, horribly broken bulletin board model of phpBB and vBulletin” – I am sure you must have written tons of articles before about this… Can anyone point me in the direction of such explanations?

When most people step on the accelerator to go faster than everyone else, they get a speeding ticket, or end up distributed across the freeway in bite-size pieces.

Going faster can be a definite win, no argument there, but make sure you’re driving a frikkin’ Ferrari F1 on a closed circuit, with damn good brakes, back-up engineers and no 3-year olds playing Cops and Robbers in the pits!

I can’t even begin to describe the number of software projects I’ve been on that have hit a 3-metre thick reinforced concrete wall at 250kmh.

The turning is the important part. Running faster or slower depends on what kind of race you’re in (marathon, 100m). Of course, the terminology is different: when you are going slowly, it’s not really a turn, it’s more like a jump. The important thing is to leave the good ideas of the past behind, and not reminisce.

More on that: Jumper

Speed of iteration -- the Google Chrome project has it.

1.0 December 11, 2008
2.0 May 24, 2009
3.0 October 12, 2009
4.0 January 25, 2010
5.0 May 25, 2010
6.0 September 2, 2010

I’d call that “speed of version number inflation” more than speed of iteration. The current build is hardly akin to a 2.0 release. Still impressive, but calling it “6.0” implies 6 major design variations, and IMHO does the project a major disservice. They have stayed the same course the whole time, and have a good product to show for it.

In any case, yeah, fast iterations are important when your customer base is geeks of the world. They understand and overlook imperfections. I don’t think you’re as right about Android/iPhone though. Google is making significant progress there, but they are also accruing some significant technical debt and their triple user bases (carriers, manufacturers, then customers) keep them from servicing that debt at any manageable rate. They will need to “turn” soon, and momentum has a funny way of upending vehicles which turn too quickly.

How long it took for Google to get version 1.0 out?

TBH I’ll rather get a stackoverflow CMS, even a paid one (like vbulletin) than dealing with clones.

And I wouldnt use google’s products as an example, since anyone could do amazing stuff if surrounded by some of the best engineers in the world and a budget numbered in the billions.

Mozilla with its lack of income and stand-alone platform is way more impressive: Firefox4 runs way faster than chrome does in my PC

You have come a long way from your initial view on android which was, (from memory) “it has about as much change as linux on the desktop.”

A blog entry about why you were wrong, and what google did with android which has made it so successful would be an interesting read.

Thank you for this post it is very great and I like it because it has special value in my culture. I was trying to mention some things which are import to startup building process: http://www.arekskuza.com/index.php/2010/07/think-global-start-up-in-poland/.

I think speed influence young companies the most. Also, speed comes from motivation, culture and vision. This is kind of hard to build in 9-5pm work culture. You mentioned very important point.

"If we do nothing else except help lead the world away from the ancient, creaky, horribly broken bulletin board model of phpBB and vBulletin – attempting to get information out of those things is like panning for gold in a neverending river of sewage – then that is more than I could have ever hoped for. "

Just because a product doesn’t meet your needs doesn’t mean the product doesn’t meet the needs of someone else. phpBB and vBulletin are good for holding conversations, but not at Q&A.

Similarly, StackExchange is good for having Q&A, but not good for conversations.

You seem to be aware that SE isn’t good for conversation, as you in turn added chat to Meta.SO… chat rooms which looks suspiciously like a non-threaded bulletin board system (i.e. phpBB) topic masquerading as a real-time chat.