Is it me, or does Twitter seem to do big feature upgrades (e.g. New Twitter) while Google/Amazon/Facebook do things more incrementally? I know the big guys occasionally do big updates, but I always notice new little features here and there. Some become permanent, others go away after a while.
The main advantage of the incremental approach is the ability to make corrections mid-stream. It also makes it easier to abandon the (inevitable) ideas that don’t pan out: small things are easier to walk away from than big things.
You can see this difference in approach between Facebook and Twitter with the design of status updates. In early 2009, Facebook redesigned to be more Twitter-like, and since then, they’ve out-innovated on many aspects of the status update model: “likes”, “likes” of comments, rich data types, presentation/aggregation techniques in the news feed, etc. Meanwhile, Twitter still hasn’t figure out a good comment design for tweets!
But doing things incrementally isn’t easy. You not only need an incremental culture and mindset within product leadership, but you need an implementation architecture that supports it: modularity, good APIs, excellent release engineering (and an ability to un-release features), and measurement tools.