A friend of mine saw a recent blog post I wrote about Smart Search and said to me, “I liked what you wrote, but aren’t you going to do anything with your site design?”
My friend concluded, quite rightly, that I am using a default out-of-the-box WordPress theme with no customization.
The obvious question is why someone who has been building websites since the 90’s and is writing a blog about web development would not want to do more to customize the site. Can I really be satisfied with a bland generic design for my blog?
The answer comes down to three letters that anyone in the software development world should know: MVP. MVP stands for “minimum viable product”, and it encapsulates a strategy of focusing on the smallest amount that is absolutely required for a product to perform it’s most basic function.
Everyone in this business knows that scope creep is a budget, timeline, and often product killer. The more features you insist are required for a product launch, the more time and money you’re going to have to put into the project. The more features required for launch, the greater chance that even after all of that time and money is spent, someone will be unhappy with the way at least one of those features is implemented and cancel the product launch.
Scope creep is especially a killer for personal project like a blog, or an app you’re coding in your spare time.
By focusing on the minimum-viable-product you can actually launch something that works, and then improve it over time. In addition to the “win” of an actual product launch instead of a perpetual discovery/development cycle, you have the added advantage of getting actual usage data about your product. You can begin to prioritize “fixes” (whether coding bugs or UI challenges) over “new features”. You can concentrate on improving the features customers already use over enhancing the features that your customers largely ignore.
The same MVP approach should apply to a blog.
The most basic requirement of a blog is that it’s a mechanism to allow a writer to easily publish information for a reading audience. Full stop.
Generating content is always much harder than people think it’s going to be. Almost everyone I’ve known who’s taken on the challenge of blogging vastly underestimated how much time they have to spend writing. This is why so many blogs have three entries:
- The initial entry excitedly announcing the launch of the blog.
- The second entry, dated one week later. This is usually a well written article that was prepared before the blog launch.
- The third entry several months later apologizing for not having updated more. This entry often promises to update more frequently in the future.
After that it’s often radio silence.
This is not through any fault of the bloggers, mind you. It’s just that generally an organization will be excited about creating a blog when they hear how it can benefit them with marketing, SEO, etc. But while they pay a designer and a developer to build the structure, they forget to have a solid plan in place for a writer to dedicate the appropriate hours per week for the life of the blog.
Having seen this pattern repeatedly, when I started blogging this year I decided the most important thing I could do is focus on the content and table everything else (design, SEO, whatever) for “phase 2”.
My logic is simple: if I can’t generate enough content to keep a mediocre blog implementation going for a few months, all the fancy design and coding won’t help me.
In other words, a blog is better off having good content and no design, than good design and no content.
Oddly enough, in the old days of blogging when these were mostly “hand-rolled” and written by amateurs, a blog undergoing a redesign was often a sign that the blogger was out of ideas and couldn’t think of anything to write about. Redesigning the blog gave them something to play around with and helped them feel connected to their audience – but more often than not a redesign presaged a long unintentional hiatus from blogging.
With a blog, the minimum viable content you should be concentrating on isn’t even the blog or the design, it’s content.
Once I’ve got content down, then I can start worrying about things like design, themes, plugins, and even basic tagging and categorization strategies.
But to focus on all of those things first in the hope of launching a perfectly branded, big splashy blog is putting the cart before the horse.