Success, Process and Failure

Sunday, 17 June 2007
by hannahdonovan
filed under Tips and Tricks
Comments: 14

Yay! Having started this post a week ago, I win the “slowest to blog about @Media” award. (Like usual, it’s been busy at last.HQ)

Last Friday I spoke at the @Media conference alongside the veritable roadrunner-speaker Simon Willison, about how we helped build successful websites. When it came to, I really had to give the truth: “Sometimes we fuck up a lot.”

Success is just finding out what works and doing that consistently. How do you find out what works? A lot of trial and error. If you’re interested in what works and what doesn’t, check out the slides. (podcast will be linked here shortly).

The conference was quite a lot of fun. I didn’t get to see all of it—as I was back and forth between the office, but of what I did catch, here are the highlights: Internationalisation guru Richard Ishida (I was quietly laughing through most of his talk recollecting some of our own i18n nightmares); Jason Santa Maria, who has designed some absolutely beautiful websites < wee sigh of jealousy/ > and (eee!) one of my favourite typographers Mark Boulton! (Do check out his slides, it’s a lovely presentation). I was a little worried about meeting him, because heroes always seem to be disappointing in person, but Mark is an exceptionally cool down-to-earth guy.

On the last day, I was looking forward to sparring with Jeremy Keith on the Hot Topics panel and injecting some real-world experience into the proceedings. (The speakers had undeniable experience, but most of the attendees I met had more commercial than theoretical concerns).

The Hot Topics panel didn’t happen for me however, as the conference organisers and Jeremy had different ideas about who should be on the panel. A bit unexpectedly, this led to Jeremy raising the issue of the panel’s diversity.

I wasn’t fussed about not getting to be on Jeremy’s panel (there were small fires to put out at HQ anyway), and it really wasn’t a question of having a woman on the panel either. Jeremy’s point is that all factors in choosing a panel need to be carefully weighed, and in his opinion, they weren’t.

By now you’re probably groaning… the issue of diversity always comes up at conferences and we’re all a little sick of hearing about it too. Nonetheless, good on Jeremy for bringing this up; it’s sort of like being the one to tell people to stop playing drums in the office at 2am because the police have been called… not exactly fun, and not something that should really be an issue anyway.

Still not quite sure to make of this non-issue/issue, but for the record, one of my most moving memories was hearing Paula Scher speak for the first time; it completely changed my perspective on my career.

Where was I? Right, process and not being afraid to fuck up. Because the real world is a messy place. Get your idea out; put perfection behind you (as long as you refine it later). There’s often very little room for ideals and balance, especially in this industry.

Additionally, it sounds like Jeremy did a great job of moderating the panel dispite being unable to pick his exemplar group of panelists.


  1. Popgurl, I mean Nancy
    17 June, 19:54

    I know people like to groan about diversity, but the underrepresentation of women in music 2.0 businesses is about as bad as it gets. Shockingly bad, really (e.g. in the Facebook Music 2.0 group fewer than 10/140 members are women). At the risk of getting stereotypical about informational vs. relational communication styles between men and women, I can’t help but wonder what sites like this might gain if there were more women behind the scenes guiding design decisions.

    [FWIW I know the research lit on male/female communication styles and don’t buy into the Mars/Venus bull — we are FAR more similar than different. But I think there’s excellent evidence that in most cultures, girls are trained from early ages to specialize in relational maintenance which seems awfully relevant for sites that have “friending” as a major component — and perhaps related to the fact that friending is such an inadequate system for handling the diversity of on-site relationships in most sites.]

    So rock on for the rest of us, Hannah.

    Popgurl, I mean Nancy – 17 June, 19:54
  2. Jelle
    17 June, 21:32

    Well, this looks like quite an interesting presentation. I would have loved to have been there!

    Jelle – 17 June, 21:32
  3. coxy
    18 June, 09:05

    Simon Willison is ace; he supplies me with my Open ID.

    coxy – 18 June, 09:05
  4. marcos
    19 June, 02:08

    I just don’t get your approach to i18n, specially the different url thing.
    Flickr’s solution seems so much better.
    What is more the portuguese translation is awful.
    Ok, I will stop complaining now.

    marcos – 19 June, 02:08
  5. stranger
    19 June, 08:07

    How can I build a blog?

    stranger – 19 June, 08:07
  6. Joe Wilson
    19 June, 22:37

    the truth is the best policy, even if there is “fuck up’s” just shows the human side of things… and shows where there could be some improvements. Sounds like it was alot of fun..

    Joe Wilson – 19 June, 22:37
  7. HannaMS
    20 June, 20:56

    So there’s an HQ for :P Keep up the good work, then…

    HannaMS – 20 June, 20:56
  8. roto
    21 June, 03:59


    roto – 21 June, 03:59
  9. Dan Trenz
    21 June, 20:46

    What if you get your idea out, and it’s buggy and clunky to the point that it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of users?

    Isn’t there a valid fear that users won’t give you a second chance once they’ve written your idea off as shoddy and amateur?

    I’m honestly asking, not just trying to be contrary. -d

    Dan Trenz – 21 June, 20:46
  10. Matt
    22 June, 12:42

    Yup, Dan, fair point.

    There’s obvious a certain baseline for quality that you have to try and reach. The thing is, if your product is built around an amazing idea or set of features, users will generally forgive amateur shoddiness — as long as you’re candid about it and communicate about what’s going on.

    Witness the early days of Audioscrobbler, which had insane scaling issues and criminal amounts of downtime… we pulled through because we tried to be as open as possible and people really appreciated the service we were trying to build and the visible weekly/monthly progress.

    Not without some gentle ribbing, of course… ;)

    Matt – 22 June, 12:42
  11. Dan Trenz
    22 June, 15:17

    That makes sense, of course all of this requires that you have a really great and original idea… which is really the hardest part, no?

    Also, this directly opposes what Mark Fletcher (Bloglines) considers to be the first Startup Commandment :

    Your idea isn’t new. Pick an idea; at least 50 other people have thought of it. Get over your stunning brilliance and realize that execution matters more.

    I’m not saying that this is the law, just that there seems to be to very strong views on the subject, and they are directly opposed.

    Dan Trenz – 22 June, 15:17
  12. Matt
    23 June, 00:41

    Eh, I’m not sure we disagree with Mark Fletcher actually. While “newness” does vary (we were relatively lucky), it’s all about how you define “excution.”

    I think Hannah’s point is that your execution should happen sooner rather than later. Right place + right time, for better or worse, seems to frequently win out over “best possible execution” in general.

    Matt – 23 June, 00:41
  13. Simon Pascal Klein
    24 June, 14:35

    Lovely read.

    Although I wasn’t there, having never been in London and knowing even less about this event I just wanted to deliver some kudos for the the diaphaniety in what you guys do; working in a similar technical environment of geeky, talented and creative people, looking up at those who’ve done so much awesome stuff is inspiring.

    Thanks for keeping the servers up, the scrobbles concatenating and posting the insights into what goes on behind the scenes at Last.HQ.

    Simon Pascal Klein – 24 June, 14:35
  14. halnine
    26 June, 15:25

    I know this is not the place for what I’m about to say. Or the time.
    You could even call it ancient history.
    But looking at Hannah’s presentation PDF and got stone cold to see the comparison between the old and new profile page as a shiny demonstration of the ‘good & shiny’ way to develop a site.
    Looking back, not in nostalgy but just on the visual side of things, the plain and self-evident design on the old profile page seems like a web designer’s wet dream (the way I see it). The biggest mistake is to show it and right after show the ‘result’ – a shiny clutterred bunch of large-inscriptions with little to do with intuitiveness. And it’s even quite easy to see how the new features would have been implemented into the old format.

    Personally and professionally, I couldn’t agree less with the “don’t release new visuals without new functionality” concept. And forget which “styling” or “skin” is better. New visuals require learning curves, especially when the “skinning” is mainly complete layout shakeups. New features tend to get overlooked when old functionality becomes an issue to handle, eventually overshadowing the old, ‘basic’ functionality to a point of losing a website’s original course – and core users.

    halnine – 26 June, 15:25

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