Dark Features as a Product Management Best Practice

Image representing Tumblr as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

In the most recent issue of Inc. Magazine there’s an article about the Tumblr founder titled  The Way I Work: David Karp of Tumblr that mentions one of the things I’m a big proponent of — dark features. The idea of a dark feature is that it is a feature added to a webapp that only certain users like your employees and a few early adopter customers can see. Web technologies are great in that it is easy to try out new functionality in production while locking it down until it has been refined and polished.

Here are a few benefits of using dark features as a product management best practice:

  • Encourages broader testing of new functionality by stakeholders
  • Feature testing is done in the production environment providing for a greater chance that more edge case are found
  • Improves engineering by promoting new functionality to production more frequently for real-world feedback (feedback is oxygen for a product)

My recommendation is to incorporate dark features as a product management best practice.

What else? What do you think of incorporating dark features in the development process?

3 thoughts on “Dark Features as a Product Management Best Practice

  1. Great advice. With continuous deployment on a SaaS architecture this really is a no brainer.

    A natural corollary to this is progressively rolling out features to see how it impacts your infrastructure operationally. For instance, you may choose to release to only 10% of your clients to see how a new feature affects server load.

    Facebook is also a very big fan of dark features. Apparently they already have the next 6 months of features in production, just waiting to be turned on!

    http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/30/facebook-source-code/

  2. Dark features are a great way to test viability of new product features. We’ve been able to quickly test early features with customer feedback using this. Just make sure to remove the features from the app if they don’t reach customer acceptance!

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