A call for developer-driven product development


Do developer driven start-ups drive product faster? And, if so, what does this mean for publishers and content producers?

If Mark Zuckerberg's much-lauded Facebook is the prime example used in making such argument, then it makes some sense. Jason Calacanis relays a story about meeting a couple of early developers at Facebook. They shared that in the early days of Facebook there were no product reviews, no product managers -- just a culture that encouraged pushing through changes straight to the server.

In his latest Launch newsletter, Calacanis formulates what he calls The Zuckerberg Doctrine, based on that meeting. The doctrine states, "developers design products with significantly improved speed and functionality compared to product managers and designers, outweighing potential mistakes and drawbacks." The interesting -- and debatable -- conclusion of the post is that developer-driven start-ups always produce product faster.

It's a controversial theory, to be sure, and Calcanis allows himself just enough wiggle room. Developers, he adds, don't always make better products than non-developers -- but they always move faster. While what Calacanis calls "non-technical people" are "having discussions and debates, Zuckerberg is coding his next feature." MySpace, Yahoo and AOL -- where he was once a senior VP -- are given up as prime examples of companies in near paralysis that also happen to be non developer-driven.  

Calacanis, a serial entrepreneur in tech and media, is something of an expert on the subject of speed. At the tender age of 40, he has already founded and sold several companies and is presently CEO of the human-powered search engine Mahalo -- "equal parts technology and content" -- the 160th largest site in the United States. As a result of his epiphany, Calacanis moved Mahalo to a more developer-driven product process. He outsourced product design and eliminated formal wireframes. Also:

"In under 30 days, we completely overhauled our product-development process, removing everything between the developer and iterating on the product.

We eliminated positions and process. We made it clear the developers were to make the decisions even if those decisions resulted in a developer being 50 percent slower because they were busy *thinking* about the product (as opposed to just transcribing features from the product manager wireframes)."

What such a practice should demonstrate to smart publishers is that technology and developers must be leveraged to the max. It is not enough to rejigger editorial content toward topics -- financial reporting, gadget reviews, etc -- that are vital. The actual technology -- and not just from a design team POV -- is now equally vital.

Developers in this new digital age are more important than ever to iterating the published product. As Glenn Dureene, the senior technology editor at Popular Mechanics reminded us at a recent panel on apps, "if you are a media company in the 21st century, whether you know it or not, you are a tech company." Popular Mechanics, one cannot fail to note, has a programmer present at all editorial meetings so iPad opportunities are integral to all stories. A capital idea, don't you think?

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