Identi.ca and the Art of the Launch

This article will take approx 2 minutes to read.

Ask any startup. The most difficult decision leading up to a public release is when and what? Some might argue that getting funding is the most difficult but a good startup avoids funding until later, if at all. Others might argue that the difficult part is getting the right mix of people and hitting milestones. That also is important, but not as important as the when and how.

Usually, a good launch product is the result of a perceived need. Or maybe a need not yet realized – it’s hard to say for sure. There’s some black magic involved in all that.

FriendFeed launched not long ago because there was an empty hole in Twitter – that was aggregation and conversation. FriendFeed figured out that, to be successful, it was going to target that emptiness in the highly popular Twitter experience.

Disqus and Intense Debate figured that, in order to be successful, they needed to target the missing piece in blog comments – that was reputation and reputation management across blogs. The two fight it out, post-launch, over which is going to differentiate it over the other.

In these cases, the timing of the launches was critical to the uptake. Twitter started experiencing significant problems and influential early adopters began getting itchy to be somewhere that scratched their itch.

Putting aside timing, the most important part of a launch is what. It’s feature-sets. It’s determining the balance between a fully developed roadmap of features and what is needed to “hook” early adopters and get them to stay.

Take Identi.ca, the new Twitter clone that is completely open source and is timely in that Twitter faithful are really, really close to burying the hatchet and simply abandoning it altogether. The timing could not be more perfect. Folks have been talking about distributing Twitter and relieving the strain of a centralized service at one time. Open sourcing the product does this, to a degree.

However, Identi.ca gets a big “FAIL” for its launch for a few very important reasons.

  1. There is no coherent way to deal with “replies”. Folks used to Twitter realize that when there is a river of content, and that’s what Twitter is, there must be a way to manage conversations. There must be a way to keep up with followers who are talking to you. In my working with Identi.ca, there is no way to do that and, while that might be coming, it wasn’t there at launch. Very conceivably, I’ve been lost forever and I generally have tons of followers as an early adopter. FAIL.
  2. XMPP doesn’t work. The one reliable way to reply that folks on Identi.ca were talking about last night was with XMPP, the protocol used for various IM clients including Google Talk. I could deal with replies that way if it worked but at some point, XMPP stopped working. I could receive, but I could not send. A one way conversation is a monologue. FAIL.
  3. OpenID integration must be seamless. I was pleased to see OpenID supported when I signed up. Unfortunately, today, I could not login with my OpenID account. If I can’t get in, I can’t use it. FAIL.

Some would say I’m being too hard on this startup. Screw that. Perform or get off the stage. There are very obvious and defined features that must be included in a microcontent site at launch. I’m not saying an entire roadmap needs to be worked out. No, get a working beta up and get testers in there. However, without replies, without reliable “offline” access (i.e. IM, SMS or client integration) I’m not going to stick around. Finally, direct messages would be a nice feature.

While I have high hopes for Identi.ca, I will remain there only to squat on the name “technosailor”. Bye, guys.

Comments

  1. says

    u r a dick. no, i kid, u r right. will you give them another chance after some more oss dev?? i hope it happens, love the idea. i should have been more critical of them but hey, a few *key* features aside they r on to something. so much so that i think ppl r pissed b/c they wanted it to work so bad. so give em time. if it works it will rock. if they werent open source i’d agree w u and say they r screwed

  2. says

    Well, twitter’s XMPP hasn’t worked for me for months either, so that’s not really a reason not to use identi.ca – I’ve a bit more faith that someone will fix it because the code is open.

  3. Sebastian says

    The coolest thing about Identi.ca isn’t that it’s a Twitter clone, or whatever. The coolest and most important thing is that it’s open source. Anybody can create a clone of it. Anybody can improve it. Anybody can put ideas to life.
    Especially with an addicting service like Twitter, folks would love to contribute. Twitter has its employees, only few of which are developers. Identi.ca can access a pool of dozens of interested and capable people. They can simply look at the devs and see who contributes the most useful stuff and offer them a job.

    This doesn’t change the fact that their launch pretty much was a huge FAIL. The site was unusable for some time, and it didn’t have all the features right.
    Because it’s open source, though, this doesn’t matter as much, because there are more people evangelizing it. It can become a product like Twitter and Firefox, which get articles on all major tech blogs for minor stuff. (Firefox 3 received coverage for each of their beta releases, for example.)

  4. says

    Interesting thoughts here, Aaron…and they’re scary to me, too. Launching is a scary process, and getting picked up on major sites seems both about timing and politics. But in the end, yes, it’s the features (and the fact that they do or don’t work) that will ultimately lead to launch success and ultimately adoption. I’m scared because, well, I’m going through the decisions about that now…

    On another note, I am very curious to see what will happen with identi.ca, as well as FriendFeed and Plurk. I’m a little worn out with social networks but I realize that I’m already slipping behind…