Ask yourself this, have you ever started to build your own Web Application only to never get close to finishing it? If that’s a yes then don’t worry you’re not the only one. Creating your first web application is incredibly difficult to do, and I’ve got dozens of unfinished pet projects! Finally, however, I’m about to launch my first Web Application outside of client work. I wanted to share my experiences and some simple steps to help you get your application out the door.
OK this sounds a little counter intuitive but DON’T think big! Think teeny, tiny if you ever want to complete your web application. When I first started creating web applications I always thought I needed to come up with some incredible new concept that would rival Facebook or Twitter.
The fact is that it’s incredibly unlikely that you will for your first ever application, you need to focus on completing the job rather than wasting loads of time trying to come up with something new. Facebook wasn’t Zuckerbergs first ever project, he created loads of random stuff before he ever did anything with Facebook, you should do the same.
Use 37 Signals “Scratch your own itch” methodology, think of something that YOU would use so that you can be the end user and make sure you build the right functionality. Think about a problem in your own space, personal or business related and think about how a web application might solve it.
A lot of people build to-do lists as their first web applications. Yes, I know what your thinking, everyone has done one of these, but so what!? Think about what you’re trying to achieve, who cares if it doesn’t set the world alight, far better to have something out there launched than to just have pipe dreams about what you might of built.
Once you have a problem statement turn this into some sketches. Everyone says they can’t draw – but don’t worry about that – just put some pen to paper.
Sketch out your thoughts, maybe it’s just some brainstorming, fleshing out the concept. You might follow this with a simple activity process flow showing what a user would do in your web application. Finally you might want to sketch a few examples of the user interface, anything that helps to make it clear in your mind what you are going to build.
You might want to do this right at the start but it depends on what your idea actually is. Either way, take some time to look at your development tools, what you’re going to use and why. Think about a database, usually MySQL is most appropriate as it’s free with most hosting companies these days. Secondly think about the development language you’re going to use. I’ve recently starting using CodeIgniter PHP framework which is a great framework to develop with and has a fantastic level of community support. PHP is also free with pretty much every hosting provider so again it’s a good one to start with.
Once you have some sketches and you’re clear on what you’re going to build, get stuck in and start coding. This isn’t necessarily “best practice” for web application development but for your first application it’s sometimes just better to get started than waste time speccing things.
Focus on core functionality, DON’T get “featuritis”, a common problem for a lot of developers is that they try to pack their application full of whizzy features. Avoid doing this at all costs as it will not make your application great and will probably make it incredibly difficult to complete, less is more. If you start saying things like “oh but it would be an easy bit of functionality to add in” you’re on a slippery slope stop thinking like that!
This is your first web application, don’t sweat too much over testing. Make sure it’s stable and get it out the door! Accept it wont be perfect just yet but don’t worry you can work on this, for now you need to get it launched and start using it.
You will learn a lot about your application once you start using it for real. Note down your findings, keep a list of the things you like and don’t like, these will become part of the next step. The most important thing right now is to get a V1 of your application launched, use it yourself and ideally start letting others use it too.
Based on your findings of using your app create a mini road map of things you will do for V2. If your app is available online for other people to use, even better, post this roadmap online and show people what your going to do. Posting this list online will help keep the pressure on you to make sure you deliver on these road map improvements. You might even want to make a big splash about these future plans but remember these improvements don’t have to be huge new features. They might be simple wording tweaks or specific functionality changes such as better visual feedback when a user completes a task
Finally, keep iterating your application based on your road map and ideally feedback from other users. Aim to make simple improvements every month or even better every week. These could be really simple changes such as wording improvements or button colour changes. Whatever it is just keep refining, the web is a fluid place and there will always be improvements you can make to your web application.
If you want to launch your first web application you need to keep it simple, it’s as simple as that! Focus on core functionality and don’t get distracted by trying to build nice to have features. Don’t try and create the perfect application, there is no such thing, get it launched and start using it. Once you do that you will learn much more about the improvements you need to make and can continue to iterate to improve your application all the time.
What is your experience in building web applications? Have you struggled to launch your own application too, would love to hear what the problem was?3 Comments