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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Scaling a startup

Richard McManus has noted that Bloglines is losing ground in the RSS world, noting that they are "already no longer the market darling amongst bloggers". I like the simplicity of Bloglines and use it almost daily to keep tabs (literally!) on the world.

Richard's complains that Bloglines isn't adding new features fast enough. I agree that vendors need to keep their first-to-market edge. Bloglines has a large user-base and many of us a very devoted fans.

Mark Fletcher started Bloglines after already developing another excellent program, ONElist, which Yahoo bought (and is now well known to many people: Yahoo Groups). Mark responded directly to a post from Russell Beattie saying that Bloglines has been "...working hard on the back-end of the system." Russell was also noting that Bloglines has been "...really suffering since it got bought by Ask Jeeves".

The issue at this moment for Bloglines seems to be one of scaling. This is what I'd like to talk about now.

Developing a web application is relatively easy these days. Especially with the fantastic tools available and access to data ala web 2.0-style apps. Making the application scale requires a bit more work. Really making it scale requires a lot more work.

I don't know Mark, but I'm sure he knew this when he started. He had previously built, released and subsequently sold an amazing tool. He must have gone through the startup scaling lifecycle (I'll talk more about this in a subsequent post). Given what he knew, and given that he must have had access to at least a little bit of money to help get Bloglines off the ground, it's interesting to note that he still built Bloglines on the cheap.

In March of this year, Mark presented to eTech. I didn't attend the presentation, but I read through his materials and really enjoyed his approach. In his presentation materials he talked about his "garage philosophy" of startups. He talked about using "cheap technologies" and one note that I really liked was to "release early/release often". I believe a lot of folks have this same approach, and it serves them very well at the start.

What happens next though? Can a startup application scale quickly for rapid adoption as Bloglines has, then successfully transition to a truly scalable and stable architecture?

Again, I don't know Mark. But I do like that he's sold Bloglines to Ask Jeeves and he's still actively involved with the business - especially now that they have to do the less-than-glamorous job of trying to make the tool scalable and stable. I hope he/they succeed!

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