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How to build a product in 7 days

Building things quick (yet good)
A couple years back, I was very inspired by the following article on very rapid prototyping: How to prototype a game in under 7 days. It’s a great article about how 4 students from CMU were able to create 50 games in 1 semester.

The other fascinating data point comes from the fact that web products often are created very quickly as well, in days or a week. A very successful example is that of eBay, which was launched over Labor Day weekend in 1995 – creating a $40B+ company through a “core mechanic” perfected over just 3 days.

Why build something in 7 days?
Building products in a very short period of time makes you really boil down what the core mechanic is. What do I mean by core mechanic? I mean the thing that you’re doing 90% of the time. On YouTube that’s watching a video. On MySpace, that’s browsing from one profile to another, or possibly commenting/writing to other people. Everything else, like blog subscriptions, or ratings, are just nifty add-ons for your product.

What happens when you disobey the core mechanic? Well, you might end up wandering for months adding features to your product that don’t fundamentally change the main experience. That’s bad because if your video viewing experience sucks (like if you throw a downloadable client in there), then no social networking features will save it. Or if your email reading/composition experience sucks, you can never add more features to an email client to save it.

What kinds of products can you build?
When you build something for 7 days, you really can’t build anything too complicated. You have to focus on new forms of interaction, rather than building a better mousetrap. If you’re building a new search engine, you can’t just launch something after a couple days. In the case of a better mousetrap, you have to build a superset (or a drastically improved) version of the product category.

But, if you are instead focusing on a new type of interaction, your interaction can be pretty dumb. One way to look at this is if you’re creating a “new” core mechanic for the world to try. Obviously eBay was such a case, but so was Friendster, and Craigslist, and wikis. These are simple technological things that drive new forms of usage, and these can be potentially huge products. Twitter is obviously another one of these products.

In a lot of ways, Web 2.0 is all about this – Rails allows people to try new ways for people to input and manipulate data, but oftentimes there’s very little actual technology in the background.

What’s next
Well, obviously I have to break down the steps you might have to go through to put something together in 7 days, and then try it ;-) More later.

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