The first question I asked myself a year ago, sitting down to write the first line of code, was admittedly wishful-thinking, but it influenced my work more than any other factor: “What will happen if I build a microblogging service and it’s an overnight success with a million users?”. It doesn’t take long to realize that if each user subscribes to 10 other users and each one of them generates a single message a day, the message rate is enormous. Then add to that some smart filters, search, and content browsing and the platform is already in a scaling crisis, and that’s before adding any smarts to it.
After many years building large scale financial applications, where mistakes often cost a month’s worth of profits in an fraction of a second, I have been brainwashed to think first about scale and reliability. Sometimes this can be a problem, for example when thinking about instant messages in the same manner as stock transactions. This can create a lot of unnecessary work guaranteeing absolute reliability when the end user does not expect it. We all know that messages sometimes get lost or fail to deliver. But building a platform from the ground up, it is worth trading some time-to-market for future benefits.
In developing a new product, I had to choose both the functionality and business model. At the end of the day you need to know how you are going to capitalize on your investment. I never bought into the idea of building something cool first and only then figuring out how to make money off it. As I was working on my idea, other services such as Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce appeared and gained significant success. I found them to be innovative, creative, and cool, and even though I did not borrow my ideas from them, I always felt bad when a company creates a market only to be pushed aside by copycats (if you are not the first, you are a copycat). Planning on building a great product, I rather not compete with services I use and find valuable.
Hueniverse is focused on the platform rather than the service, and on content rather than social networking. The idea is to build a powerful platform for others to run micro-blogging services through. It is too early to tell if it will become a white-label service, a packaged software solution, or an open source initiative, but the idea is to produce an innovative technology that will allow others to enhance their services. Our first product is called Nouncer (short for announcer) and is planned for a private alpha sometime in November. Nouncer is an API-centric service providing advance content distribution and subscription via real-time channels. We plan to open the service to a small number of developers building their own micro-blogging service or feature in an existing site, and take it from there.