Startup Lessons – Viral and Scaling
A small case study on viral. I write an article about a web service called ScheduleWorld because it can do something I want to do: synchronize all my apps with Google Calendar. The owner and I were no way involved before I wrote about it. I wanted to do something, found his site by search, found it could do what I wanted, and wrote a guide about it as link bait for my blog.
Because I’d written such a good post about it, it directs traffic to his site. He links to my post from the ScheduleWorld website which now gives me more authority and more traffic. This is synergy and win/win. He even takes it to another level where he stops by the comments section on that post and answers questions, which ups my authoriy. Not only did viral drive business to his site, he rewarded it by getting involved with it, including giving me announcements of updates before anyone else.
Along comes lifehack.org, lifehacker.com, del.icio.us, and digg. A big traffic spike originates from my blog that forces the owner of ScheduleWorld to have to buy another server. That’s where scaling comes into play. :)
The problem with viral and scaling is that you never know when it’s going to hit. I can’t predict my post will get dugg, and he can’t predict the spike in traffic. It’s an anomaly. Where things fall down is that the spike can happen at a bad time (code updates were happening to ScheduleWorld and my article was out-of-date), and the servers can degrade poorly. This gives a bad impression to first time visitors.
You only have one shot to make a first impression, and with viral traffic you end up making a *lot* of first impressions in a short period of time, on their terms, when the sheer load of them might mean you aren’t performing at your best. If you don’t do a good job of it, that can start generating negative press. Either way, once you’ve made a bad impression it sticks and you may have lost a potential customer for good.
Read this article at 37 Signals for a different take on “scaling” and the culture of fear that surrounds it.
 For an example of bad timing and negative press: I was writing a short piece about web-based time tracking applications and one of them was in the middle of a server upgrade. I’d never visited the site before, and it gave me the immediate impression that they had poor service, which I mentioned in my post.
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