Fortune's director of product management looks back on the 2014 online Fortune 500 launch and how it shaped the 2015 relaunch.
Just over a year ago today, I drove home feeling a huge sense of accomplishment. Fortune.com, once a site that existed only as a section of CNNMoney.com, stood on its own, a fresh new digital take on business and finance. As a product manager, I felt proud to have led a re-launch of that magnitude.
That night, however, I realized I had another peak to climb — the next day we were publishing the new Fortune 500 as a radically new responsive experience with infinite scroll, a left rail with the entire list, a filter/search/sort toolbox and well-positioned ads.
At 8:00 a.m. on Monday, June 2, 2014, I sat on a Skype chat with my anxious teammates as we hit publish on the new online face of this storied franchise. At about 8:30 a.m., the first sign of problems came.
“Is it working for you?”asked our lead online editor for the 500. Then came the follow-up questions, like: “Did you try reloading the page?” and “Maybe the office network is down?”
By about 8:40 a.m., it was clear that the new Fortune 500 site was not ready for prime time. We had focused so much on the site relaunch the day before that we had not fully pressure-tested our most precious franchise.
The Fortune 500 site was down, unusable, and not easily fixable. The traffic came pouring in, only to find a broken product.
Hours went by as a team of engineers worked on code deployments, tests, redeployments and more tests, leading finally to a stripped-down solution that let users at least see who was on the 500 and consume a now-not-so-bright-and-shiny experience.
It’s still hard for me to look at the traffic numbers or other reports from that day showing just how much of a failure it was.
What’s more, even when the site was functioning, it was clearly a subpar user experience. Emails came through saying “How do I just see the list?” and “Who is the person responsible for this? I liked it the way it was when it was on CNNMoney.”
Some emails can’t be mentioned here.
A year later, we’re ready to try this again. We have spent a lot of time making the Fortune 500 online experience not only functional, but delightful. It’s a mix of familiarity and simplicity, along with robust filtering, searching and sorting tools. It’s full of information, analysis and content about the 500 largest US companies, many of which could be the source of your next job, a sales lead, an investment or maybe the subject of a chat over a cup of coffee with a friend.
We took the time to conduct extensive user research, including the testing of prototypes. We carefully designed, built and tested it, collected and checked the data, and crafted the content about these great American companies.
We hope you enjoy the experience and we welcome your feedback. Believe me, we will listen and we will learn from it.
(NOTE: We are aware that the new 500 experience still has some kinks to work out, but we are in much better shape than this time a year ago.)