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The A List Apart Blog Presents:

It Was Just A Thing

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A little less than two months ago, I wrote about the most dangerous word in software development: just. A lot of assumptions hide behind that seemingly harmless word, but there’s another side to it.

“It was just a thing we built to deploy our work to staging.”

“It was just a little plugin we built to handle responsive tab sets.”

“It was just a way to text a bunch of our friends at the same time.”

Some of the best and most useful things we build have humble beginnings. Small side projects start with a sapling of an idea—something that can be built in a weekend, but will make our work a little easier, our lives a little better.

We focus on solving a very specific problem, or fulfilling a very specific need. Once we start using the thing we’ve built, we realize its full potential. We refine our creation until it becomes something bigger and better. By building, using, and refining, we avoid the pitfalls of assumptions made by the harmful use of the word “just” that I warned about:

Things change when something moves from concept to reality. As Dave Wiskus said on a recent episode of Debug, “everything changes when fingers hit glass.”

But the people who build something shouldn’t be the only ones who shape its future. When Twitter was founded, it was just a way to text a bunch of friends at once. The way that people used Twitter in the early days helped determine its future. Retweets, @username mentions, and hashtags became official parts of Twitter because of those early usage patterns.

Embrace the small, simple, focused start, and get something into people’s hands. Let usage patterns inform refinements, validate assumptions, and guide you to future success. It’s more than okay to start by building “just a thing”—in fact, I suggest it.

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