The brand new FastCompany.com homepage design that debuted today is sure to change quite a lot over the coming months.
Not because we don’t love it — we do — but because we’re adopting a business strategy based on agile development, a movement embraced by the open-source software community.
With agile, the idea is to move quickly, launching changes in a constant flow rather than accumulating a bucket of new features and releasing them all at once — what the software development community somewhat disparagingly calls a waterfall.
Everything is just moving too damn fast to wait around for “Business 2.0” to finally become “Business 3.0.” Snore. By the time you wake up, Business 2.0 is already dead.
So what does doing agile business mean for FastCompany.com?
Vision, release, test, iterate. Repeat. Quickly.
Agile is the logical consequence of the open-source movement. Powerful, open source (read “free”) software platforms such as Linux, MySQL, Ruby on Rails, and Drupal are now helping to fuel the growth of tens of thousands of websites, from giants like Facebook and Google, to up-and-comers like Digg and Viewpoints.
An army of open-source developers have joined the fray. These developers, motivated by everything from altruism to the search for excellence, are giving away so much free code every day that the notion of an annual update is positively antiquated. Why wait around a year for 2.0 when the coolest new little FREE widget in the world might make your website shoot to the top of Google search?
Getting back to the new homepage design. A few months back we thought we should wait to release it with dozens of other planned changes we have been working like crazy to get ready. But it seemed a shame to wait since everybody liked the look so much.
The look and feel is influenced by sites like Digg and the redesigned NewYorkTimes.com: easy to browse; lots of info; not overwhelmed with huge images; the newest, latest, and greatest on top of each section; new blogs and stories constantly appearing throughout the day. Simple but elegant.
Pre-agile, we were worried it wouldn’t quite have the big bang effect we wanted, or come together as well, without releasing all of the other new features we’re working on. Nonetheless, we decided to first let loose with one of the other changes, the FC Experts Blogs. We were somewhat afraid because the blogger line up wasn’t really ready. And the blogging software platform was (and is) in need of an upgrade. In January, we started with just six FC Expert bloggers. Now we’re headed to a well-chosen 100. The system is creaky all over. But boy, are we glad we did it.
Last week we won the EPpy award for best magazine-related website in the country. It probably didn’t hurt that when the judges looked at the site they saw that at any particular moment we were writing about everything from the Web 2.0 conference to the ouster of Jet Blue’s CEO to webcam job interviews.
And the voices being heard? Not just the usual professional journalists and writers, or the occasional op-ed columnists. Our FC Experts are drawn right from the readership of Fast Company — designers, marketers, cartoonists, futurists, and filmmakers.
There have been and continue to be plenty of issues to work out. How about RSS feeds for each blogger? How about internal feeds linking the blogs to our Resource Centers? How about bio pages and indexes for each blogger? Yikes. People have had loads of feedback. And we’re installing a new software upgrade for the FC Expert blogs in a few weeks to address these issues. Even though we know we are working on yet another very major blog platform release for just a couple of months after that!
What if we had waited to get it all just right before we released FC Expert Bloggers? We’d still be in the dugout. We’d have been guessing instead of seeing what the market actually thinks. In an effort to make our product perfect, we probably would have been forced to spend loads of money fixing problems that might not have mattered to our readers.
Then we discovered agile development as a metaphor for how we should run our business, as well as a literal way to practice software development. And we’ve become even more determined to introduce new features quickly and then iterate improvements.
So while we know the homepage design still needs work, we decided to let it go live now. Still to come, a suite of social networking, interactive media and killer widgets that will keep you coming back day after day. A team of highly skilled engineers, designers, information architects, usability testers, market researchers, online community experts and editors are working like crazy to roll out new features over the next year.
But the way you use the site will profoundly influence that road map. Along with whatever else might pop up as a great opportunity on any particular day.
Best magazine website? That’s nice. A year from now, how about just best website? That’s the vision.
In the meantime: Release. Test. Iterate. Repeat. Quickly.