January 23, 2010

Hard But Smart Decisions: Blogger Tackles The .5% Problem

One of the most difficult decisions a product manager can make is one that could possibly negatively effect a loyal, but very small, population of users. Whether it be the reaching of a crossroads around supporting a legacy product or feature, or finding far too many engineering resources are spent with little or no return, it can be tempting to refuse compromise and continue foolhardily ahead, trying to be all things to all people. But sometimes, it is smarter to draw a line in the sand, and make a decision. With a proper amount of foresight and communication, the impact can be reduced, and for the most part, the potential tsunami can be reduced to a mere trickle.

Quietly, on Friday afternoon, Google's Blogger division pre-announced the group's plan to phase out support for FTP publishing to the service. The company explained that FTP publishing in Blogger will be unsupported after March 26th, and the service is working in the interim to provide a simplified migration tool for impacted users, as well as a dedicated blog and help documentation, extending beyond what promises to be an "all hands on deck" approach from the team's members.

Blogger, widely considered to be the largest blogging network in the world, has at times been seen to trail competitors in capability and features, even as the service has more recently introduced a comparative barrage of new options in the last few months, coinciding with its ten year anniversary. As product manager Rick Klau communicated, the team has seen a drain on resources which has impacted the ability to improve Blogger beyond its current state, and much of that drain has been from a .5% share of users who have relied on FTP.

Without going too much into detail on the technical side, it is clear that among Google's strengths in its array of services is the ability to scale and have no bottlenecking, including dynamic access to content from an array of servers. As a recently converted FTP Blogger user, I know the experience I had on the FTP site was less robust and less dynamic than the Google experience I've long been used to. Switching, though a non-trivial process last fall, which also saw me migrate from www.louisgray.com to blog.louisgray.com, has been nothing but good news for me since, with greater access to all the new Blogger features, and near-instant publishing without outages that used to plague the FTP service. (See: Google Blogger FTP Publishing: Out for 12+ Hours from June of 2008)

Having worked for the past decade plus with technology companies who have seen significant upgrades from product generation to product generation, there come times when you have to announce the end of life for a first generation product, or make it clear that a specific software release is code complete, and won't move forward with the rest of the family. This can seem like the end of the world as an individual, especially at first, but, as part of the bigger picture, it is almost always the right idea, or else you suffer from a never-ending engineering drain and endless testing for compatibility ahead of feature leadership. A good example of this that most can remember was when Apple announced work on Mac OS 9 was complete, and the rest of the world moved to Mac OS X, laggers be darned.

Klau's post promises "a number of big releases planned in 2010", many of which would no doubt be available only to those users not using FTP. In order for Blogger to move forward, they know they need focus and they are starting the process by talking to a vocal, non-trivial minority of folks who should be learning in the next few weeks how they can make the change and what that means for their future. While some may say they are fed up with Blogger and find themselves staring at a new WordPress install, Blogger is doing the right thing by taking a hard choice and looking ahead to the future. (See also: Rick Klau: Turning Off Blogger FTP)

I hope to be talking a bit more on this with the Blogger team and look forward to seeing their new announcements. If you are a Blogger user on FTP now and see this news as the end of the world, let's talk about it. I survived, and it looks like it should be even easier for you.

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