MVP and the microsite


When the whole web industry started out, it most closely resembled the wild west. Companies would end up with fifty different websites, as people throughout the organisation were all commissioning away.

That didn’t last for long. Eventually companies realised they were wasting money on a confusing mess. They decided they’d have one website, with everything in it. Cheaper, better for customers, and a nice new way to invent some corporate governance. Some new rules to follow. Everyone is happy.

Everyone, that is, except the agencies. All of a sudden they couldn’t just sell websites to everyone they met. “We’ve got a team that does that,” they would hear, and they would be handed over to the technology team. But seeing as agencies don’t (didn’t?) speak technology, this rarely went well.

And then one day, desperate to sell a website (rather than to solve a problem), an agency johnny came up with a great rouse. The microsite. Wasn’t that like the old days? The out of control days? The wild west. Well no, the argument went, these things were temporary, or only for very specific audiences, so they didn’t belong on the “main site”. Sometimes, they would even look like the main site, a kind of weird one-way tributary for any poor confused users who happened – against the odds – to find them.

Agencies: 1, Common Sense: 0.

Alongside the thousands of wasted projects and millions of wasted pounds spent this way, perhaps a few of these things made sense. But not many. The self-serving argument of the agency (and client) –  that full integration was “too hard” or “too expensive” – doing little to disguise the real reasons for these white elephants.

And now, in the world of product development, and perhaps with slightly better intentions, the son of the microsite is born.

This time it’s called the ‘MVP’. Oh, of course, we’d make a full product properly. But this isn’t a full product, it’s an MVP. In that case: carry on without any thought. The label of course – made popular through The Lean Startup – is now almost completely devoid of meaning, and certainly doesn’t correlate with the Minimum Viable Product of Ries and Blank. The other day I heard someone talk about an MVP marketing campaign. Just as agile used to be hijacked to avoid documentation, MVP has become – perversely – a rallying call for the unplanned, unthought through. Hey it’s summer, lets all MVP. MVP like it’s 1999.

There’s no saving the concept now. It has been torn from our hands by the new business and marketing department. Let it die, and make sure it’s not used to blind you to a hair-brained plan, or desire to avoid the heavy lifting where it’s needed.