Lessons learned from the first month of Slideshare: part 1

Slideshare.net has been online for almost a month, and we’ve learned a lot about running a large-scale social sharing website in that time. The first few days were frantic, but we’re settling back into a rhythm now. This series of posts will try to capture some of the stuff we learned through this experience.

1) The first week will be brutal
The day slideshare launched, I was woken up at 4 AM by my crew. “Techcrunch has blogged us! OMG OMG OMG!” We had hoped to push out a final revision of the code before launching, but that was not to be. We monitored the system as 100s of users started logging on and uploading powerpoints. Things of course started breaking almost immediately, and we started loading hotfixes onto the system from 9AM onwards.
After the first day, the web app held up pretty well, but other sections of the code were still failing at inopportune times throughout the first week. We stopped working regular hours and started sleeping when we could (whatever the time, day or night) and leaping into action when there was a crisis. It was fun but exhausting, and if I were to do it again I would have made sure that everyone was well-rested going into that first week.
2) Instrumented code (and an interface to look at it) help you survive
One thing that really helped us survive the initial burst of traffic was the fact that our code logs lots of system activity, and we invested up front in writing software that displays that data. We also send out emails to the team whenever there’s an error on the server. So it was easy for us to see when there was a problem, edit data, and track trends over time. We call the “shadow app” we use to monitor SlideShare “SlideShadow”.
Having good instrumentation (and interfaces that render that data) also help us understand user behavior better. We’d love to do even more of this, but we are hampered by our unwillingness to run non-critical third-party code on the web client. I would love to run google analytics and crazyegg, but it’s even more important to me that the user interface be as fast as possible.
Coming next time: why your users are better than any QA department.

One thought on “Lessons learned from the first month of Slideshare: part 1

  1. Alfred Toh November 3, 2006 / 7:14 am

    Hi Jon
    It’s great to hear from the inside of the op’s room on the most important week of a startup’s history, the first day of launch and of course getting the surge of traffic, what could be more exciting than that..
    If you could talk more about how your team work thru issues you had with your Rails deployment and how well your Rails deployment handled the traffic surge, that would be nice.
    Great site, good show of Ruby on Rails. Congrats!

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