Primum Non Nocere

This latin phrase translates to "first, do no harm" and is one of the principal tenets of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take. I've been thinking about it a lot in the context of web services recently.

We all know about the many web services that have been purchased by large companies and have fallen by the wayside in the years following the acquisition. Services like delicious, myspace, flickr, bebo, and many more come to mind.

But there are also examples of web services that have not only survived, but thrived, under corporate ownership. Here in NYC two that I use daily are Reddit and Vimeo.

Reddit was purchased by Conde Nast in October of 2006. Here's how Reddit has done against its primary competitor Digg under Conde Nast's ownership:

Digg reddit

Vimeo was purchased by IAC in August 2006. Here's how Vimeo has done since then:

In both cases, the corporate owners basically left these services alone. For a while last year the Reddit team was down to one developer.

And yet these two services have thrived under their corporate owners. What can we learn from that?

First and foremost, web services that are working should not be subject to wholesale change and reinvention. The investment that is made in product should go into scaling the system so that more users can access it at the same time, so that the service is reliable and available, and so that users get a great experience when they come to use the service. Changes that are made should be done incrementally and carefully. If it is not broken, don't fix it.

I do not mean to suggest that the teams that have been working on these two services haven't done anything. Both services have grown and developed into market leading web services. The work that has been done on them has been very good.

And it is also true that both Reddit and Vimeo have strong engaged communities of users who make the products what they are. And to Conde Nast and IAC's credit, the corporate owners have not done anything to alienate those communities. They have let these services and communities grow and develop slowly, patiently, and succcessfully.

I think there's a lot to learn from these two examples. Not just for corporate owners but for all operators of web services. Primum Non Nocere.