As my relative silence and lack of discernible progress would indicate, we are stalled a bit on the release of our first beta.  I blame it totally on one of the rarely mentioned negatives of building social apps.

What if our app proliferates beyond our control?

Perhaps it is a bit optimistic of me to think this way, perhaps it is absolutely necessary thinking.  Maybe it is a little bit of both.  But the reality of launching apps in social media is that good ones are inherently viral.  A good app is like a funny video, a clever joke shared via e-mail, or anything that Burger King is doing these days… destined to be shared with friends and friends of friends and even enemies.  You can’t control what happens once they are released, not if you want to get a decent idea of how people will use your app.  Social apps are, after all, designed to be used with friends.

You have to be ready for an onslaught of traffic, users, strain to your databases and UI.  This isn’t like the old world of software development where you could release to a few friends or lighthouse partners and work out the kinks later.  Social apps have to be right the first time or you’ve failed.  Second chances are feasible but difficult.

And that’s just the features side of the equation.  One of my good i-banking friends in the Valley told me recently

"You have to scale.  If you don’t worry about scale at this point, you’re sunk."

He is absolutely right.  Even though you and your bootstrapped organization are only ready for Beta, you have to be prepared for a runaway success like you are established and well-funded.  It is the ante in this game.  If you hit on something folks really need, you’d better have a plan for scaling to 50k users or more.

The only caveat I’d add to my friend’s comment is that you have to be ready for heavy scrutiny as well.  My moment of clarity came earlier today when I was looking at our UI and I said to myself

"Self, what would happen if this screenshot appeared on Techcrunch?"

So back to the drawing board for us, at least for another day or two.  As eager as we are to launch… we can’t launch with a substandard user experience.  It isn’t worth the extra day or two of proliferation we won’t get because our UI sucks, but it will be worth not getting embarrassed.  It doesn’t need a ton of rework, but it needs enough to look like it was produced this century.