SXSW 09 Panel: Scaling Synchronous Web Applications

Subtitled: “How we messed up so you don’t have to.”

The speakers in this session included: Sandy Jen from Meebo, an online chat room, Kyle Vogt from Justin.tv, a community driven live video site, Jason Kincaid from TechCrunch, and Serkan Piantino from Facebook. All of these sites are huge in their own right and have had to deal with scaling issues. I thought it would be interesting to learn from their experience.

Don’t get married to any one technology, but don’t flirt too much.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t think ahead too much. You don’t really know what’s going to happen. A better approach is to release early and often and see what happens.
  • Release incrementally. Test out new releases with small groups of users and slowly roll out. This way, you have a better idea of the load without taking everything down.
  • It’s almost always cheaper to throw hardware at the problem than to have engineers spend their time squeezing out 5% more performance/optimization.
  • Automate as much as possible.
  • Ask users what they want. Users might not even care for a really complex feature you are about to implement. They might just want something as simple as bigger more legible fonts. – hint hint Impost blog.
  • Tell your users your problem. Be transparent. If you are having outage problems, posting it on your blog and letting your users know what’s going on is better than not telling them. This makes them feel included and goes a long way towards creating a rapport with the users.
  • A simple solution is almost always better than a more complicated solution.

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