Flokks: A Practical Example of the Power of Small Ideas

This is the fourth post in a series about the power of small ideas. In the first, we talked about why it's important to realize that small ideas can have as much or more impact than big ideas. In the second, we looked into how to re-envision your projects as a series of complete, smaller ideas making them easier to launch and manage. Last time, we discussed 2 ways to stay aware of our projects' progress and keep them on track.

We’ve been talking about small ideas for 2 weeks now! I’m aching to move on to other topics, but we need to round out this series with a practical example: a project that I started working on just under 2 months ago called Flokks, a new site for twitter chats.

This is the biggest project I've applied this thinking to, so it has a lot to teach.

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A few months ago a GChat box popped up from the visionary @SarahRobinson of Escaping-Mediocrity.com. She was noticing this budding trend of twitter chats and thought a need existed for a directory of them.

I was a bit skeptical at first, wary of twit-trends. But after seeing how many chats were going already and watching a few in action, the idea grew on me. An established user base with a common need is tough to beat.

The only thing is that I wanted more. More than just a directory. The idea was growing even before we’d decided to do it!

That’s why I ultimately decided to do it. I knew I had to conquer that beast - I had to use this project as a time to learn how to tame an idea before it grew into a monster.

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Envisioning Flokks' Initial Project Ring

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Step one was becoming very clear about what the first Project Ring was. The most bare form that Flokks could come in but still give a complete user experience.

For us, this meant a simple directory for Twitter Chats. Nothing more. Hosts would be able to add chat programs and schedule chats within them. Other users would be able to navigate through scheduled chats.

But, wait! Wouldn’t RSVPs be cool? Yeah, that'll be awesome, just not in this ring. And, a chat client would be so awesome! Yes, but it has nothing to do with this ring! If we had a chat client, though, we could automatically generate chat transcripts, how cool would that be?!

Not - this - ring.

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Staying Keenly Aware to Keep Flokks on Track

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That conversation happened in my head every time I thought about Flokks. Sticking to my guns was only possible because every damn day I sat down and wrote about what was going on and if I honestly felt that I was making decisions that were bringing Flokks closer to getting into someone's hands.

I was acutely aware of whether I was actually making progress on the Project Ring’s primary goal or just stalling by adding bloat.

When 2 weeks came, lo and behold, Flokks the Twitter Chat Directory was done! And beyond expectations: I only worked about 5 hours a day on it, came up with a design I was very happy with and added search functionality (which I left for the very end because I wasn’t sure it would fit into the 2 weeks).

By focusing on less of an idea at once I got more, better work done in less time.

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Come evaluation time when it was time to really be critical, we didn't have to be: we were ready to get some people on Flokks. It was exciting to have some chat hosts put their programs up and help us find some bugs to squash.

At this point though, although Flokks had some people on it, I really couldn't envision what exactly the draw was that would pull in users. Getting it in the hands of a few people showed us that it really did need a bit more.

After careful consideration, I decided to take two more weeks to add in some of the functionality the testers requested and a chat client if there would be time.

This past week, @GrantGriffiths hosted his #sbt10 chat on Flokks for the first time - I couldn't have been happier with how things went and how quickly we got there.

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Lessons Learned

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This the first time I meticulously kept ideas small on a project that otherwise would have been pretty darn big. Here are some specific things I learned along the way:

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You can handle working on more than one project at a time. You may notice that I mentioned we've been working on Flokks for just under two months, but only have about 5 weeks or so of work outlined here. The reason is that as Flokks got into its natural 'wait-period' (giving bugs time to shake out, waiting for users to share thoughts, etc.) I would give myself a week on another tamed project.

I love this. It's let me move more than one idea forward in one 2-month span by using my time best instead of over-working.

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Projects are fractal. Every project is composed of more projects and is part of a bigger one. Therefore, you must apply what we've been discussing in the same way.

This is also why the size of an idea is irrelevant to its impact. The scope of a project changes based on your perspective. When you're working, look at it from a perspective that makes it as tiny and manageable as possible.

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You get to the same place in the long run. Ultimately, reducing the scope of each bit on Flokks I was actively working on didn't stop the overall project for growing into whatever it actually needed to be. It just made that growth process much smoother.

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2 Weeks is the right amount of time - at first. For a new project, 2 weeks just seems to be the ideal time before a critical evaluation. But once you've got some data, you have to decide what the right amount of time is for future goals. I actually split that second 2 week period on Flokks into 2 one-weekers and I'm glad I did.

I would be wary to ever go longer than 2 weeks.

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Whew! This has been a great two week series on the Tumble Blog. I hope it's at least convinced you to reconsider the way you approach projects. To come up with a visualization that helps you reduce big ideas to small ones, to be reflecting on your work everyday and to critically evaluate your progress when the time is right.

For emphasis:

Don't just read, take action!

  • Come up with a visualization that helps you reduce big ideas to small ones
  • Reflect on your work everyday, in writing
  • Critically evaluate your progress when the time is right

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