PR-less launch kicks off a stack overflow of praise

This is the way I love to learn about a company.

No, not from a PR firm.

No, not from a CEO (or anyone else from the company) calling me up or writing me email.

No, not on some junket.

No, not on stage at Techcrunch 50 or Demo or Under the Radar or some other conference.

No, not by reading Mashable.

No, not on Twitter. Or FriendFeed. Or Facebook. Or MySpace. (I really hate direct messages, by the way).

No, not in an advertisement.

“OK, Scoble, knock it off, how did you learn about it?”

A beta tester (a developer I know and trust) came up to me today and said “this is the coolest thing I’ve used in a long time.”

He then gave me a peek at his screen. I agreed after seeing what was on his screen.

But instead of letting the world that, I asked Twitter and FriendFeed if anyone had heard anything about the service yet.

They had. And how.

So, what is it?

It’s StackOverflow. A community knowledge exchange, for programmers, that is being built by Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood (both famous programmers).

It’s in a closed beta so far (you can sign up for the beta on the StackOverflow Blog), but look at the replies I received on Twitter:

Joel Gray: “@Scobleizer As a participant in StackOverflow, I have to say that it is great. Good community of folks so far, quite easy to get answers”

Levi Figueira: “@codinghorror Man, I’m loving stackoverflow!! Great resource and userbase!! Let’s hope it doesn’t get wild after it goes “public”… :)” and “@Scobleizer I’ve been following their podcast since #1 and am part of the beta!! It’s the best thing for developers ever! ”

Phil: “Impressed with StackOverflow. They’ve really thought through usability and trying to create a sticky experience.”

Michael Krakovskiy: “stackoverflow beta rocks!”

Chris Benard: “@Scobleizer Here are a couple of screenshots I just took for you: http://is.gd/1nul and http://is.gd/1nuo ” and “@Scobleizer It’s an experts-exchange for programmers, without all the annoyances. ”

schwarzwald “@Scobleizer furthermore, stack overflow is experts-exchange without blackhat SEO techniques (cloaking) and annoying superfluous graphics.”

If you are exciting your early users like this you will get found. I so wish more companies built their stuff this way. Go slowly. Built PR by building a great service and turn your users into your PR agents. Oh, yeah, and blog and podcast about it to get to this point (but look at how they built a community, they didn’t get all “pushy” about what they were doing — they just were informative and inclusive).

Keep in mind that this is only a few days into beta and they only have a few hundred beta testers, but this is going to get big pretty fast because it is a well-thought-out service that already is getting major praise from developers, who are very hard to get to hype anything.

Believe me, we all will hear about your product if it really does rock. There’s no reason to go crazy with a PR firm if you build something that people want. Atwood and Spolsky are proving that right in front of us.

This got me fired up about the tech industry again. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this kind of user passion.

UPDATE: Jeremy Toeman has a good rebuttal to this post (he’s the guy who first showed me Bug Labs and Sling Box).

133 thoughts on “PR-less launch kicks off a stack overflow of praise

  1. You wouldn’t have learned about StackOverflow unless your trusted beta friend showed it to you, and he wouldn’t have learned about it unless someone else told him about it. Keep going back, and I 100% guarantee you that ultimately, the message came from a P.R. firm, marketing department or a company employee.

    What I think you’re saying is, “The P.R. message must be at least N hops away from the company for it to be credible to me.” But what about for the person you’re hearing it from who is N-1 hops away?

  2. You wouldn’t have learned about StackOverflow unless your trusted beta friend showed it to you, and he wouldn’t have learned about it unless someone else told him about it. Keep going back, and I 100% guarantee you that ultimately, the message came from a P.R. firm, marketing department or a company employee.

    What I think you’re saying is, “The P.R. message must be at least N hops away from the company for it to be credible to me.” But what about for the person you’re hearing it from who is N-1 hops away?

  3. A programming tool for programmers, an insiderish social softwareish doodad for shop talking, oh, sorry, “knowledge exchange”.

    Gee, that will set the world on fire.

    Things that bubble up from the bottom, should sometimes stay there.

  4. A programming tool for programmers, an insiderish social softwareish doodad for shop talking, oh, sorry, “knowledge exchange”.

    Gee, that will set the world on fire.

    Things that bubble up from the bottom, should sometimes stay there.

  5. Mossberg and other famous journalists tell me they get more email pitches than I ever get. Dan Gillmor, who used to work for the San Jose Mercury News got so many that he tried to train PR people (and failed, he told me).

    Glenn: I don’t track programmer news as closely as I once did. I follow 600 blogs in Google Reader, follow tons of people on Twitter and FriendFeed and haven’t seen anyone else talking about it. It’s only been out for three days (in a closed beta) though, so if I hear about something cool in the first week (and before it gets out to the general public) I figure that’s pretty good!

  6. Mossberg and other famous journalists tell me they get more email pitches than I ever get. Dan Gillmor, who used to work for the San Jose Mercury News got so many that he tried to train PR people (and failed, he told me).

    Glenn: I don’t track programmer news as closely as I once did. I follow 600 blogs in Google Reader, follow tons of people on Twitter and FriendFeed and haven’t seen anyone else talking about it. It’s only been out for three days (in a closed beta) though, so if I hear about something cool in the first week (and before it gets out to the general public) I figure that’s pretty good!

  7. Hi Robert,

    I understand your frustration about being pitched me-too products. Alllow me to introduce a company to you whose products you will love:

    http://www.santegourmet.com/

    The founder/owner, Elisa Nakata, made a switch from a high tech carrier over to food, seeing the need for great-tasting, but healthy desserts. Not only are the products she developped over the period of a couple of years (yes, a lot of alpha- and beta-testing…) absolutely great, but she has a really interesting background as well (PM for AppleWorks on Apple II, PM for MacWrite II (Kanjji version), VP at Pointcast, work with David Bowie and Quincy Jones, MBA in food etc.).

    Give Elisa a call or drop her a mail and volunteer to test….

  8. Hi Robert,

    I understand your frustration about being pitched me-too products. Alllow me to introduce a company to you whose products you will love:

    http://www.santegourmet.com/

    The founder/owner, Elisa Nakata, made a switch from a high tech carrier over to food, seeing the need for great-tasting, but healthy desserts. Not only are the products she developped over the period of a couple of years (yes, a lot of alpha- and beta-testing…) absolutely great, but she has a really interesting background as well (PM for AppleWorks on Apple II, PM for MacWrite II (Kanjji version), VP at Pointcast, work with David Bowie and Quincy Jones, MBA in food etc.).

    Give Elisa a call or drop her a mail and volunteer to test….

  9. Couple things: 1) that that you are just hearing about this shows you are not as plugged in or aware as you or other people think you are. 2) you are delusional if you think FogCreek doesn’t use some PR services.

    Sounds like you don’t know how to “train” PR firms to influence you. Or they don’t view you as all that influential if they are simply carpetbombing you with releases and pitches. The best PR firms know who the REAL influentials are and know exactly how to work with them. I’m pretty confident Mossberg, for example, doesn’t get pitched like you do. That’s because PR firms devote time in understanding how to reach him. Your rant here basically told every PR firm you have no interest in working with them. Good luck getting to be influential with that strategy. PR firms can be your best asset in getting exclusive looks.Alas you’ve basically told to go take a flying f%#£. So down their speed dial list you go. You may be fine with that. And your hubris may lead you to believe you don’t need them. Again, good luck. However my advise would be to listen to Dawn

  10. Couple things: 1) that that you are just hearing about this shows you are not as plugged in or aware as you or other people think you are. 2) you are delusional if you think FogCreek doesn’t use some PR services.

    Sounds like you don’t know how to “train” PR firms to influence you. Or they don’t view you as all that influential if they are simply carpetbombing you with releases and pitches. The best PR firms know who the REAL influentials are and know exactly how to work with them. I’m pretty confident Mossberg, for example, doesn’t get pitched like you do. That’s because PR firms devote time in understanding how to reach him. Your rant here basically told every PR firm you have no interest in working with them. Good luck getting to be influential with that strategy. PR firms can be your best asset in getting exclusive looks.Alas you’ve basically told to go take a flying f%#£. So down their speed dial list you go. You may be fine with that. And your hubris may lead you to believe you don’t need them. Again, good luck. However my advise would be to listen to Dawn

  11. It’s really interesting to see people miss the point of the post *completely*!!!!

    Robert start off by saying “This is the way I love to learn about a company.”… It can’t get much personal than that!!

    Furthermore, Robert is talking from the perspective of someone who see PR crap everyday! For me, I’m fine with *some* PR but I am too sick of hearing of the “greatness” of a service (folks, we’re talking about SERVICES here, not products!! – even though it can still apply to products to a certain extent) and then after actually using it, feeling sorry for all of the people who maybe missed the alternatives – less known, but much better!

    As an early adopter and someone who is also passionate about startups and great services, I’m loving Stack Overflow. Heard of it when it was only a podcast and little more, got to know Jeff and Joel after a little research and kept my eye on anything coming from them after realizing how smart and creative they are. They are a real encouragement to me as a developer/designer to really strive for good products and being smart in the way I do business!

    Hope people starting reading blogs as opinions from their authors and not rants all the time. And, Robert, I’m with you on this one! Good post!

  12. It’s really interesting to see people miss the point of the post *completely*!!!!

    Robert start off by saying “This is the way I love to learn about a company.”… It can’t get much personal than that!!

    Furthermore, Robert is talking from the perspective of someone who see PR crap everyday! For me, I’m fine with *some* PR but I am too sick of hearing of the “greatness” of a service (folks, we’re talking about SERVICES here, not products!! – even though it can still apply to products to a certain extent) and then after actually using it, feeling sorry for all of the people who maybe missed the alternatives – less known, but much better!

    As an early adopter and someone who is also passionate about startups and great services, I’m loving Stack Overflow. Heard of it when it was only a podcast and little more, got to know Jeff and Joel after a little research and kept my eye on anything coming from them after realizing how smart and creative they are. They are a real encouragement to me as a developer/designer to really strive for good products and being smart in the way I do business!

    Hope people starting reading blogs as opinions from their authors and not rants all the time. And, Robert, I’m with you on this one! Good post!

  13. Regardless of how amazing a product is, a company and its investors would be very remiss to rely exclusively on organic growth fostered by “excited users”. Of course this one of the best ways to spread the word, but it will only go so far and it is hit or miss.

    As an aside, there are still plenty of great PR Pros out there and as opposed to being stale email pitch machines they ARE excited users – with connections to boot. Companies are well-served by seeking out these people as opposed to simply dumping money into a large name firm…

  14. Regardless of how amazing a product is, a company and its investors would be very remiss to rely exclusively on organic growth fostered by “excited users”. Of course this one of the best ways to spread the word, but it will only go so far and it is hit or miss.

    As an aside, there are still plenty of great PR Pros out there and as opposed to being stale email pitch machines they ARE excited users – with connections to boot. Companies are well-served by seeking out these people as opposed to simply dumping money into a large name firm…

  15. I think the problem with PR firms is that they don’t discriminate. You pay them and they’ll promote a sack of dung.

    What percentage of companies at TechCrunch50 will be lame?

    What percentage of iPhone apps and Facebook apps are embarrassments?

    I can see why Robert is frustrated by it all. I think I’d have shot myself by now if I were in his shoes.

  16. I think the problem with PR firms is that they don’t discriminate. You pay them and they’ll promote a sack of dung.

    What percentage of companies at TechCrunch50 will be lame?

    What percentage of iPhone apps and Facebook apps are embarrassments?

    I can see why Robert is frustrated by it all. I think I’d have shot myself by now if I were in his shoes.

  17. Yeah no PR. Are Joel Gray and Palehorse the same person? They both have the same comment.

    Joel Gray: “@Scobleizer As a participant in StackOverflow, I have to say that it is great. Good community of folks so far, quite easy to get answers”

    Palehorse: “@Scobleizer As a participant in StackOverflow, I have to say that it is great. Good community of folks so far, quite easy to get answers”

    Coincidence?

  18. Yeah no PR. Are Joel Gray and Palehorse the same person? They both have the same comment.

    Joel Gray: “@Scobleizer As a participant in StackOverflow, I have to say that it is great. Good community of folks so far, quite easy to get answers”

    Palehorse: “@Scobleizer As a participant in StackOverflow, I have to say that it is great. Good community of folks so far, quite easy to get answers”

    Coincidence?

  19. Wait, everybody! Define PR. PR is not a press release, or a crappy pitch. It’s the process of letting the right people know something is available — the public for the product. so Robert and Jeremy, you are both correct. Ideally, word of mouth is best, but it’s not fast enough for some publics (the tsunami is coming, run for the hills, quit eating Mexican peppers because they are causing salmonella). For those, press conference and press releases are best.

    –signed, Tired of Fighting to Explain This

  20. Wait, everybody! Define PR. PR is not a press release, or a crappy pitch. It’s the process of letting the right people know something is available — the public for the product. so Robert and Jeremy, you are both correct. Ideally, word of mouth is best, but it’s not fast enough for some publics (the tsunami is coming, run for the hills, quit eating Mexican peppers because they are causing salmonella). For those, press conference and press releases are best.

    –signed, Tired of Fighting to Explain This

  21. Public Relation: “The very fact that no one had heard of this impressive service, proves that.” – it is in closed beta, and there are hundreds of users.

    I take it by “no one” you mean “me and scoble”. Jeff has plenty of followers on Twitter, and subscribers to his blog, as well as the association with Joel Spolsky, to know that the product would have plenty of ears listening.

    And Bill Hicks was spot on with his opinion of anyone in marketing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDW_Hj2K0wo (NSFW)

  22. Public Relation: “The very fact that no one had heard of this impressive service, proves that.” – it is in closed beta, and there are hundreds of users.

    I take it by “no one” you mean “me and scoble”. Jeff has plenty of followers on Twitter, and subscribers to his blog, as well as the association with Joel Spolsky, to know that the product would have plenty of ears listening.

    And Bill Hicks was spot on with his opinion of anyone in marketing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDW_Hj2K0wo (NSFW)

  23. You still can be helped by a PR firm. The very fact that no one had heard of this impressive service, proves that.

    Also, if that one person had not contacted you, thousands would still be in the dark.

    Since it is closed beta, they may not have been that aggressive and proactive about promoting themselves, but for many Start ups, it is a different scenario completely.

    You may need immediate marketing by focused professionals with contacts.

  24. You still can be helped by a PR firm. The very fact that no one had heard of this impressive service, proves that.

    Also, if that one person had not contacted you, thousands would still be in the dark.

    Since it is closed beta, they may not have been that aggressive and proactive about promoting themselves, but for many Start ups, it is a different scenario completely.

    You may need immediate marketing by focused professionals with contacts.

  25. You have to get users interested. That takes time. Being there to show you something great would be my first choice, always. Having users show it to you, even better. :-)

    In the short term…I feel a tension about contacting you about what we do. I’d prefer it if you contacted us, that’s for sure! But I would not contact you if what I was helping create lacked merit. So, I think there is a difference to consider. In that difference are the people who feel passionate about their product and at the same time are trying to build a user community. I feel like we fit in that camp. We have the goods. We have users who love our product. At this point, we have to reach out so more people know about what we do. Not to reach out just seems irresponsible.

    So, just so you know, the tension is there for me, too. In contacting you and other bloggers, I am just hoping that you give us an honest look. We will smile with your satisfaction or listen intently to your criticism. That’ show companies like iterasi grow and develop user communities that will be glad to tell the world how much they love what we do.

    I have more to say in a short video I posted on my blog.

  26. You have to get users interested. That takes time. Being there to show you something great would be my first choice, always. Having users show it to you, even better. :-)

    In the short term…I feel a tension about contacting you about what we do. I’d prefer it if you contacted us, that’s for sure! But I would not contact you if what I was helping create lacked merit. So, I think there is a difference to consider. In that difference are the people who feel passionate about their product and at the same time are trying to build a user community. I feel like we fit in that camp. We have the goods. We have users who love our product. At this point, we have to reach out so more people know about what we do. Not to reach out just seems irresponsible.

    So, just so you know, the tension is there for me, too. In contacting you and other bloggers, I am just hoping that you give us an honest look. We will smile with your satisfaction or listen intently to your criticism. That’ show companies like iterasi grow and develop user communities that will be glad to tell the world how much they love what we do.

    I have more to say in a short video I posted on my blog.

  27. Hi Robert — wow! Thanks for the fantastic writeup. Our (very, VERY small) team is honored.

    I feel like we are cheating a little because Joel and I had such large, high quality communities of talented programmers who read our blogs. If Stack Overflow is working, it’s a reflection of not us, but the strength of the technical communities that have grown up around us.

    In my defense, we are building Stack Overflow as a unique intersection of Wiki, Forum, and voting/reputation (read: Digg/Reddit) systems. I’m not sure there’s any other Q&A system out there quite like it. And we aim to make it as fast and frictionless to participate as possible!

    It’s very gratifying and energizing to read such positive responses to the site. I’ve always enjoyed the community aspect of my blog tremendously, and Stack Overflow is a natural amplification of that community.

  28. Hi Robert — wow! Thanks for the fantastic writeup. Our (very, VERY small) team is honored.

    I feel like we are cheating a little because Joel and I had such large, high quality communities of talented programmers who read our blogs. If Stack Overflow is working, it’s a reflection of not us, but the strength of the technical communities that have grown up around us.

    In my defense, we are building Stack Overflow as a unique intersection of Wiki, Forum, and voting/reputation (read: Digg/Reddit) systems. I’m not sure there’s any other Q&A system out there quite like it. And we aim to make it as fast and frictionless to participate as possible!

    It’s very gratifying and energizing to read such positive responses to the site. I’ve always enjoyed the community aspect of my blog tremendously, and Stack Overflow is a natural amplification of that community.

  29. Robert, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the beta testing was every bit as much of a PR effort as it was a QA effort. Obviously, you wouldn’t have listened to a PR rep talk to you about StackOverflow, but you’re comfortable with a developer you trust and have a relationship with. It’s not as quick as some other methods, but it helps establish credibility. It is an excellent PR effort, but leaves much to be desired in my opinion.

  30. Robert, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the beta testing was every bit as much of a PR effort as it was a QA effort. Obviously, you wouldn’t have listened to a PR rep talk to you about StackOverflow, but you’re comfortable with a developer you trust and have a relationship with. It’s not as quick as some other methods, but it helps establish credibility. It is an excellent PR effort, but leaves much to be desired in my opinion.

  31. Robert, I think you’re describing the “perfect situation”: it’s the optimum to achieve. And it’s truly the main goal marketing should aim for: getting your users or customers to exitement and to talk about you or your services/products.

    But in my opinion you can’t rely your business communications solely on your customers. Especially not while starting up: What if your early users aren’t “Scobles”? ;) What if they are truly exited but non-communicative? What if they don’t even want to talk because they don’t want their competitors to get their advantage? …

    My 2 cents: If your services *and* your communications are great you’ll win the game.

    Smile! Gerrit – We speak Online.

  32. Robert, I think you’re describing the “perfect situation”: it’s the optimum to achieve. And it’s truly the main goal marketing should aim for: getting your users or customers to exitement and to talk about you or your services/products.

    But in my opinion you can’t rely your business communications solely on your customers. Especially not while starting up: What if your early users aren’t “Scobles”? ;) What if they are truly exited but non-communicative? What if they don’t even want to talk because they don’t want their competitors to get their advantage? …

    My 2 cents: If your services *and* your communications are great you’ll win the game.

    Smile! Gerrit – We speak Online.

  33. My point was really about your comment that implies PR is useless. You’d never have heard of either Bug or Sling if it wasn’t for PR…

    I completely agree with you re building good products, and I completely agree with you re ‘me too’ products. But neither statement should be interpreted as not needing PR… If anything – it’s the really good ones that need the best marketing work done, to help position and distinguish them from the crowd…

  34. My point was really about your comment that implies PR is useless. You’d never have heard of either Bug or Sling if it wasn’t for PR…

    I completely agree with you re building good products, and I completely agree with you re ‘me too’ products. But neither statement should be interpreted as not needing PR… If anything – it’s the really good ones that need the best marketing work done, to help position and distinguish them from the crowd…

  35. Jeremy: sorry, I am sick and tired of getting pitched crappy thing after crappy thing. I’d much prefer to hear from a real user who got excited any day. And with Twitter and other ways for users to compare notes and get excited, this is more and more interesting of a way for us to figure out what’s really good.

    I’m tired of seeing crap after crap after crap. If someone pitches me another social media aggregator I’m going to scream. Even when you bring me stuff I check out reactions of real users who don’t have some vested interest to see what they think. Bug Labs, for instance, got instant reactions from a wide range of people. Same with Sling Media. I really am trying to be more picky lately about what I cover because the industry is just going overboard with a bunch of crappy me too products lately that simply aren’t that interesting. Even the ones that get popular (like many Facebook apps) are pretty darn lame.

  36. Jeremy: sorry, I am sick and tired of getting pitched crappy thing after crappy thing. I’d much prefer to hear from a real user who got excited any day. And with Twitter and other ways for users to compare notes and get excited, this is more and more interesting of a way for us to figure out what’s really good.

    I’m tired of seeing crap after crap after crap. If someone pitches me another social media aggregator I’m going to scream. Even when you bring me stuff I check out reactions of real users who don’t have some vested interest to see what they think. Bug Labs, for instance, got instant reactions from a wide range of people. Same with Sling Media. I really am trying to be more picky lately about what I cover because the industry is just going overboard with a bunch of crappy me too products lately that simply aren’t that interesting. Even the ones that get popular (like many Facebook apps) are pretty darn lame.

  37. I suspect the size of their combined blog readership – and the fact that it is exactly the audience StackOverflow is aimed at – makes any form of advertising superfluous.

  38. I suspect the size of their combined blog readership – and the fact that it is exactly the audience StackOverflow is aimed at – makes any form of advertising superfluous.

  39. “There’s no reason to go crazy with a PR firm if you build something that people want.”

    I think using a product built BY programmers FOR programmers isn’t exactly a great example of why startups don’t need PR. I really take issue with your comment here – there are SO MANY products being built that people DO want that they never find out about. It’s not *about* PR, and it’s not about *going crazy*, it’s about good, solid, well-thought-out marketing. It’s important, and the more it gets diminished by blog posts like these, the more GOOD services will never see the light of day to the real world because they’ll never get beyond the tiny tiny world called the SF Bay Area.

    And there’s PLENTY of passion out there Robert, I think you are just letting the wrong people take too much of your time if you aren’t seeing it…

  40. “There’s no reason to go crazy with a PR firm if you build something that people want.”

    I think using a product built BY programmers FOR programmers isn’t exactly a great example of why startups don’t need PR. I really take issue with your comment here – there are SO MANY products being built that people DO want that they never find out about. It’s not *about* PR, and it’s not about *going crazy*, it’s about good, solid, well-thought-out marketing. It’s important, and the more it gets diminished by blog posts like these, the more GOOD services will never see the light of day to the real world because they’ll never get beyond the tiny tiny world called the SF Bay Area.

    And there’s PLENTY of passion out there Robert, I think you are just letting the wrong people take too much of your time if you aren’t seeing it…

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