The PHP Project Guide (2014)

15. Ideas

It’s worth talking about ideas and intentions when building applications. The best way to learn for most people is to build and learn along the way, so it’s important to be able to take an idea further. But what if you’re struggling for an idea? You may want to start working on what will eventually become a product that forms part or all of your income, or just a website that you own and maintain. You may even want to start working on an open source project that you lead, while getting a community involved in active development. Either way, you first need to come up with an idea.

15.1 Coming up with an idea

Thinking about what’ll make you the most money, or what will grow to be the biggest website will not get you far. Passion and commitment is key to building any website, and there are so many websites that haven’t yet been built that if implemented properly with a dedicated team, could become a massive success. Most websites will have been built to solve a problem that either isn’t solved elsewhere, or is solved but isn’t implemented as well as it could have been. If you’re wondering what to build next, you should consider building something that offers value to those who will use it.

A brilliant product is something that doesn’t necessarily go with trends and offer tonnes of features to users. When building something, try and start with only what’s absolutely necessary and see if it’ll do. Often when building products people assume that the more features a product has, the better it is. This isn’t true for the majority of applications. How many times have you struggled to get something done in Microsoft Word while finding something like Google Docs simple and refreshing?

15.2 Monetizing

Don’t think about how you’ll monetize your project. Of course, you may need to do so to be able to create a product that will generate revenue, if this is your goal. However, if you create value within a useful product, people will want to pay and you can decide on this later. This goes the same for advertising. If you’re already planning spaces for advertisements you may not be thinking how best your user experience could be. You may be able to safely set aside a small amount of space comfortably without compromising your user experience, but in the initial stages don’t worry about this space too much. It goes without saying that adverts shouldn’t be the focus of your content. This concept could be written about within a book of its own, but generally you need your adverts to blend in and work with your content, not be so prominent that they’re annoying.

15.3 Get feedback

Feedback is extremely valuable. If you’re always seeing your website from your perspective, you’ll never truly find what people want from it. Instead of asking just anyone, try to introduce your website or idea to people that will most likely use it. This way, you can gauge interest or usefulness, perhaps before you’ve even started the backend. You may start with a design and some very basic functionality, which will often be enough for a potential user to give you good feedback. Visuals are important, as these will engage your users and allow them to visualise themselves using the website even if it isn’t yet funny functional. This will put them in the mind-set of actually using it, and they’ll probably be able to give you more useful information.

15.4 Start small

Start small and you’ll be able to build on something slowly and carefully. Adding, removing and changing features as you receive feedback from your users means you can tailor what you’re building along the way to the people who will eventually be paying for your product or using your website on a regular basis. If you want to implement an idea but know it’ll take you several days to design and code, start with the design and show users how it’ll work. If they don’t like it, you can make a better judgement on whether to scrap it or not. This can save you a lot of time and effort, and can help you tailor your website to your audience and their needs.

15.5 Recommended reading

I highly recommend reading REWORK by 37signals, creators of popular project management software Basecamp amongst other software. There is a vast amount of extremely valuable advice in this book that I wouldn’t wish to try and replicate here.

I also highly recommend The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. This is another extremely valuable book with a concept that many businesses today have been built around. Reis has coined terms within the startup community that are now used within everyday business life.