Developing your first app can be a daunting task. Many first-time developers may overlook, or over think, certain aspects of building their first app. Through scores of conversations and interactions with developers, I established common pain points and gathered advice that they themselves wish they had known before building their first app. With all of the collective feedback, I was able to identify the three “S’s” to building a successful app:
- Scalability – knowing how to grow the app as user engagement increases
- Simplicity – understanding which features are most critical to users
- Streetsmart – analyzing the marketplace and differentiating the app
This series of articles will discuss each “S” in detail, share developer stories and offer practical advice for first-time app developers.
In conversations with developers about building their first app, several of them mentioned how the app turned out to be much more successful than they had originally anticipated, which in turn, lead to support issues due to the influx of traffic. These stories are what lead to the first “S”: scalability.
What does it mean to scale an app?
Scaling an app means architecting the app to accommodate the size of the audience that your organization predicts. While the future success of an app and brand it’s associated with is ultimately unknown, projected audience size is a key factor used to help guide developers to make the best decisions with regards to scalability. When projecting audience size, it’s important to make a bold prediction that’s an order of magnitude greater than the best case scenario. Why? Because it’s better to be over prepared than under. However, resources should not be exhausted and the app should not be over engineered.
Finding the sweet spot
Finding the sweet spot between scaling for a current audience size and a magnitude greater than the best case scenario can be tricky. The greatest factor in deciding this is the size and stage of the company. In the case of Uber for example, the app will need to be extremely robust right off the bat because the app is central to the operation of the organization. But with an organization such as Yo, the app does one thing and has a clearly defined scope, so the focus should be placed on getting the product out in the market and and scaling from there. Once an organization has found its market fit, scale should be at the forefront of the agenda. Because if scale is not top of mind, that’s when challenges will occur.
Developers are often faced with hurdles when their distributed systems do not allow for components to communicate together. Applications can’t achieve scalability if the different system components do not work seamlessly as the load increases.
For example, if there is one server with one database that handles all of the read/write connections, it is rather easy to maintain; there is only one pipe to be concerned with. But when that database crashes due to traffic increase and lack of scalability, the app will stop functioning. So to add scalability to support the increased user-base, the database server needs to be replicated with load balancers that understand when the database server is overloaded and can transfer traffic over to a new one and so forth.
To achieve this, it takes a combination of network expertise, smart app architecture and building smart connection points between the different services.
Scalability is just one factor that contributes to the success of an app. When developing your first app, whether it be for robust use or for a clearly defined scope, it is paramount to keep your database servers and the connections between them in mind because those smart connections are the key to building a successful platform for future users.