Tom Fallows

Tom Fallows

A weeklong electronic journal.
Sept. 2 1999 8:30 PM

Tom Fallows

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Today was spent doing the sort of Internet work that the newspapers and magazines don't write about. Reporters flock to Silicon Valley to cover innovative ideas at the hottest startups, and I don't blame them at all for not covering the basics of the endless code-writing and production work necessary to produce Web sites and software.

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I spent the day as a cheerleader and coordinator for the engineers, prioritizing the remaining bugs and balancing the workload to make sure that we'll make the Friday, 3 p.m. code freeze. That's our drop-dead point, the moment when we port all our code to the famous "WWW server" for final testing before launch. Looking around at the stubbly faces and wrinkled clothes of the engineers this evening as we gathered for a final status update, I half expect them to collapse at the finish line on Friday afternoon, barely able to hit the "return" key that one last time to upload their changes.

In the course of doing the rounds of checking up on bugs and feature requests, I talked with just about everyone in the company today. The collage of emotions comes together to form a pretty clear picture: We need to launch the site in order to re-energize the staff.

While there are a dozen outside forces pushing us to launch as quickly as possible--marketing buzz, keeping pace with the evolving market, proving our concept--I'm convinced that the most pressing reason to launch is to generate user feedback. Tech nerds though we may be, we feed off interaction with the users, and without them we're at risk of losing purpose and our sense of being on a mission.

The office was quiet when I got back from a meeting this morning. Whether the energy level has been slipping over the past week, or whether it was particularly low today, I'm not sure, but suddenly I had a pang of nostalgia for the "old days" of six weeks ago.

I remember the morning we announced our name and our idea to the public. We'd been operating in "stealth mode" in order to protect our idea, and the morning we went live I arrived to find our co-founder Nirav in sweats and a baseball hat, obviously up all night, pacing around the office with energy and purpose in his eyes as he ran the show. After we opened up the site, we all huddled around a monitor that displayed the access logs and watched as one, two, and then three users cautiously poked through the site. It was both a proud and humbling experience to watch the beginning of a community-based site. Yes, we were the creators of the platform, but it was the users--the only element over which we didn't have control--who give the site life.

It's the anticipation of experiencing those first few moments of the new site and then continuing to rediscover the excitement over the following days, weeks, and months that's driving me and the others toward the launch. We'll start by trying to get through Thursday.