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Mouth Wide Shut

Another great article.

Thanks Joel.

Triggered memories of
a funny story about folks
talking way way early
about a project:

About 14 years ago I was
working on early design R&D for
an MS project we were provisionally calling
the App Factory. We were
in a very preliminary, exploratory

All of a sudden, I started to see articles in
the press about the App Factory.
MS execs were talking about things as if
decisions had already been made,
and a product with certain features
was well under way. It was all
fantasy, but believeable published

Very strange feeling, I'll tell ya.


Stan Krute
Thursday, January 16, 2003

"Always tell people what you are going to do...but show them first"

fool for python
Thursday, January 16, 2003

Isn't there at least some room for a middle ground here? As a reasonably intelligent customer--at least I hope so--I appreciate having my suggestions recognized and on occasion being told "we're working on it".  (Or, in the case of a true bug, "that's fixed in the next version".)

I recognize the advantages of a consistent policy, but there's also something to be said for letting tech support communicate honestly with customers who are, ideally, providing feedback that helps build a better product.


Dave Scocca
Thursday, January 16, 2003

'Mouth Wide Shut' may be (and likely is) the best strategy for your average company.  But I think Joel has already told us why it works so well for Microsoft:  Fire and Motion.

A constant barrage of announcements for new products and new features is all cover fire.  Best of all, it's inexpensive cover fire.  They may be firing blanks, but the industry still ducks.

Lucian Smith
Thursday, January 16, 2003

Joel, interesting points you raise (as always).

I guess there are more situations than open-source, when pre-release publicity helps a lot, and Segway actually is the perfect example. Sure, nobody could buy the product when all the hype started. But they needed a lot of hype to make sure that state and city authorities all over the US were convinced this was the next big thing, which in turn led almost all of them to pass legislation to make the Segway a driving device that is allowed to be driven on sidewalks. Didn't fully work out (SF banned it, and other cities are considering it), but they sure needed to pre-announce. Check this quote from a CNET article: "During the past year or so, the company has won exemptions to sidewalk safety rules in about 30 states, with more expected to go along before the first consumer models ship to customers in March."

As for Microsoft and Apple: My guess would be that Apple mostly markets either independent apps or hardware / electronics devices, whereas Microsoft has many (most) products also catered to a huge developer network. The latter needs to be supported with pre-announcement, otherwise, they'd be scrambling to get together their business when the surprise app is announced.

Stefan Smalla
Thursday, January 16, 2003

Keeping shut doesn't really help us sales guys.

It's hard enough selling vapor.  Imagine trying to sell non-vapor.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

There is a happy middle ground.  Users of my software are very interested in which features I plan on adding, even if I can't give a definitive date. 

I don't promise features that I don't plan on implementing, in other words, I don't lie.

I have found that being upfront and open about the development process and future plans (even when tentative) fosters not only trust but a closer relationship with the user.

It also builds excitement.  There is nothing wrong with exceitement as long as it is based on honesty, and time *usually* exposes those who aren't honest. 


Michael Silver
Thursday, January 16, 2003

I think that Apple has to keep it's mouth shut because of Microsoft (Note: I'm not trying to start an anti-MS flame). Safari, for example, completes head-to-head with IE.  But, Apple needed MS's continued support of IE for the OS X platform.  If Apple had let news leak of any software that compete's head-to-head with IE or MS Office, you can pretty figure out what MS would have done.

Nick Hebb
Thursday, January 16, 2003

There's some valuable insight in Joel's article.  However, I think the decision as to whether or not to introduce some buzz before release is dependent upon the features of your product, and additionally whether you think you can live up to the expectations generated.

If the product/features are complicated enough such that it will be difficult to easily replicate, then some pre-release publicity is a good thing IMHO.  i.e. The Segway would be hard for competitors to quickly reproduce within a year or two.  And even when you do decide to generate pre-release buzz, you shouldn't tell all and keep them guessing as much as possible.

If the new product/features can be easily duplicated then it's probably not a good idea to say anything about it until you release it, to avoid competitors gettting a head start on you.

I think most new products will fall into the second category and should probably follow Joel's advice of keeping their mouths closed.  It would take a lot innovative engineering to create something that isn't easily replicable.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Another advantage about the Mouth Wide Shut policy is that you save a lot of marketing costs, which is rather handy if you're small and want to keep your burn rate low.

Jan Derk
Thursday, January 16, 2003

Imagine selling realware.

fool for python
Thursday, January 16, 2003

The less you talk about new products, the more inclined people are to buy your current product. Certainly true for me. If I know a new/improved product is forthcoming, I'll wait and not buy the current one.

Joe Hall
Thursday, January 16, 2003

Before you make a commitement to a product
don't you want to see a roadmap? It shows
forward thinking and vision.

eyes wide open
Thursday, January 16, 2003

I think it depends somewhat on the market you're in. I've worked for a company in a very competitive, basically two company market.

Get wind of what your competitor is working on? Then you can do development by press release. Simply issue a press release announcing your next update and it's going to feature "Product X." Steal their thunder for the cost of a BusinessWire subscription. And then it looks like they're copying you.

And to the sales issue brought up earlier, preannouncing is the worst thing to do to sales. Confuses things and causes some sales people to start pushing the next version, you know the one you can't sell right now?

Thursday, January 16, 2003

It's a tough issue to balance.  If you don't announce upcoming features, customers who want that feature and are inclined to buy from you due to their faith in your track record will buy from a competitor who has announced the feature.

On the other hand, the comment about selling vaporwhere and non-vapor really does apply.  My company sold a product that we hadn't even designed yet!  All we had was "hey, wouldn't it be cool if we built x?"  Then the  salesmen started literally making up specs on the spot and committing to budgets and delivery dates!!

Needless to say it was a big mess.  Nobody was driving the boat with regard to a strategy, so nobody knew what they should (or shouldn't) say.  As a result, people would say just about anything.

Friday, January 17, 2003

There is the old war story of the demise of the Osborne computer. The Mark I was selling very well and work started on Mark II with geat new feautures. M II was announced prematurely so everybody stopped buying MI's in anticipation of MII. So funds to finish MII never materialized. I was surprised for Joel not to refer to this.

Friday, January 17, 2003

I think it's a case-by-case thing - there is no default answer. As long as you understand what you're trying to achieve by broadcasting/not broadcasting then either (or anything in the middle) *can* be the 'right' answer.

A good example in the UK is the upcoming release of Champtionship Manager 4 (Football, sorry soccer, management programme). It's got a large hardcore fan base and they've been releasing tibbets of information for some time now (released end of Feb - so they say . . .) .

It's got to the stage where they announce dates when they'll be releasing more information and have even published a separate magazine which was the first detailed look at the new product. The magazine (£5, $8?) sold in the bucket load - despite costing about 25% of the probable game selling price!! Each time more information is released the bulletin boards come alive and the web site strains under the load.

This is an excellent example of how 'pre-broadcasting' can be used effectively. There is a real anticipation around the community and I think this is due to the way that have released this information

They also use this, as suggested in Joel's article, to collect feedback - in fact the whole game is very much developed with input from customers.

Friday, January 17, 2003

I think you have two opposing forces here.

First of all, you have the "we'll ship when we're good any ready, dammit" mentality of developers. They don't like deadlines, because deadlines inevitably lead to pressure.

On the other hand, you need to build up customer awareness and expectation, otherwise you run the risk of releasing something to a general lack of interest and awareness and turning it into a damp squib.

You can reach a good compromise though, providing you have a good spec and schedule to hand. This goes back to Joel's article on picking a ship date. Once you've fleshed out a schedule and got a ship date, I don't see any risk in starting to create a buzz about the product, but resisting the urge to move the ship date forward because of interest.

Many years ago, there was a company called Ultimate who released brilliant games for the Sinclair Spectrum that sold by the bucketload, despite having absolutely no pre-publicity. What's interesting to note is they had several good games that sat around for nearly a year, and were just suddenly released when they though the market was ready for them. I can't imagine any games company doing that these days!

Better than being unemployed...
Friday, January 17, 2003

Talking about pre-publicity in a completely unrelated field, I can think only of two words:

Harry Potter.

Full name
Friday, January 17, 2003

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