October 31, 2008

We're Open for Testing, but Please Don't Tell Anyone!

One of the things I like best about playing the role of early adopter is getting the chance to test sites before they reach the general public. Sometimes, I can help guide an entrepreneur to consider new features, or suggest changes to their interface that I feel could help make the difference between confusion and success. Often, this process is done before a product launches, and at other times, it is done after the product launches, and gets iterated. But what rarely occurs is for the product to be open to the world and yet, we still don't talk about it - a position I've found myself in the last week.

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to meet with a sharp entrepreneur with decades of experience launching new services. He's taken one company public and sold it, and started others. He walked me through the new service, which incorporates many of the social media tools I enjoy and use.

As he passed his MacBook Air to me in Palo Alto as we ate breakfast, I clicked through each of the tabs, and tried to find holes in the product. There were some, of course. UI issues, unexpected behavior, and complicated menus that probably weren't intuitive. But despite the issues, it was intriguing to see the incoming data manipulated and displayed and filterable in new ways. I asked my unfair share of questions and got solid responses.

Of course, I asked when the service would launch to the public, and as I planned to write about it, when any embargo would lift, so I could take a note and be ready when he was. The answer? The product is live now, with no restrictions, but... please don't write about it, as it's too early.

The combination of being open but without the option to cover is unusual. Typically, you're either open for business, or you're not, so, despite my above story, I'm not yet ready to tell you about it. When it does go live, it should be an interesting player, one that brings new ways to get connected to people and topics. I can test it, and use it, and there are no restrictions on getting in for those of you who might figure it out. But it's not yet time, and for someone who likes to help spread the word, it's an odd position to be in.