Monday, September 05, 2011

finally: launch day arrives

In January of last year I began work as the product manager for something called the Encyclopedia of Life.  A version of the product was already online at

Today, the new version went live at that same URL.

And I'm having all of the standard product management emotions.

Emotion #1 - Loss.  The work we were doing was secret, and now it is not.  The team was galvanized by a common objective, and that objective has been reached.  There are a number of other dimensions of this most unwelcome of emotions that I won't bother you with.  But they're all a flavor of "it's over", even though in reality "it's just beginning".  Don't expect it to make sense, it's a feeling.  A Bad Feeling.  The Worst Feeling.  Like someone died.

Emotion #2 - Fear.  What if no one likes it?  What if it breaks?  What if the press doesn't think it's super-fine?  What if we misinterpreted some of those requirements?  What if the beta testers were all "just being nice"?  What if someone else does it better and launches next week?  The never-ending cascade of "what ifs" feels like someone throwing rocks at you from waaay up on a building.  The hits just keep coming.  You want to cover your head with a metal garbage can lid and move quickly through your day, because you don't know when the next rock is going. . to . . land.

Emotion #3 - Defensiveness.  I'm sorry, such-and-such a feature wasn't in the release plan.  I'm sorry, we weren't able to ship with that capability.  I'm sorry, that's on the known issues list.  I'm sorry, we'll be sure to get that into the next release.  I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.  There's never enough time to do it all, and inevitably there are people who are sad.  And I'm sorry about that.

Emotion #4 - Detachment.  OK, what's on the list for the next release?  Yes, I know, the new version still has that clean baby / new car / spring morning smell, but, you see, product managers are Tomorrow People and I've been working on the next release for, gosh, a month now, and let's start talking timetables.  Thank you, we're all very proud.  It's wonderful.  Now, about that Next Version.

We're wired differently.  We don't take victory laps.  We don't linger on current successes any more than we pore over current failures.  We move on.  If we're lucky, and we've got a) the support of people who love us, and b) a team we respect, admire and enjoy, we can c) move on without feeling like the one guy at a party who doesn't seem to get the fact that HE'S AT A PARTY and the point of the party is to BE HAPPY.

So with all that said, I am actually happy.  At least when I'm not parsing emotions one through four.

(PS - Gosh, the new Blogger editor sure is swell.)

(PSS - Travis Jensen (@softwaremaven) believes I am suffering from "Post-shipping stress syndrome" or PSSS.  I prefer to think of it as "Corrigan's Disorder".  But it might explain why people think I am PSSSed lately.)


Bruce McCarthy said...

Hi Bob. I like the look of your new encyclopedia site. I, uh, hesitate to mention it, but I assume you know "EOL" is also the acronym for "end of life," as in when you shut down a product.

bob said...

Yeah, Bruce, I know that. And all the techies know that. But the vast majority of users don't. And that's OK.

Put it this way. Would you have preferred "Library of Life"? "Big Timmy's Pile-o-Critters"? "All God's Creatures Great and Small"?

EOL it is. Thanks for playing.

Bruce McCarthy said...

It is very catchy spelled out...

And, actually, it's a very interesting information aggregation model. Volunteer curators gather credited info from around the web, sort of a cross between Wikipedia and Google?

bob said...

Aggregation happens three ways:

1. We harvest from content partners per an XML transfer schema. Very automated, very efficient.

2. Volunteer Curators enter content into the product directly.

3. The general public enters content, which is marked "unreviewed" until a curator approves it.

We have other ways. But they're secret.

Some qualities of the EOL USP:

1. It is focused on All of Life;
2. It has a curatorial community;
3. It has a taxonomic backbone for organizing content;
4. It has a "collections" concept for creating non-taxonomic relationships;
5. It connects those collections to content pages.
6. It's affiliated with and supported by leading research orgs and museums around the world;
7. It is fully internationalized, and currently localized into English, Spanish and Arabic
9. It aggregates not just text, but pictures, sounds, video and maps;
10. It is the most rewarding, most impactful product I have ever worked on.

Bruce McCarthy said...

Interesting. What's the difference between a curator and the general community? What gate do curators pass through that, say, Wikipedia editors do not?

bob said...

An EOL curator:

1. Uses his or her real name on the site (a requirement)
2. Declares credentials on the site (also a requirement)