Feature flags, dark launches, and canary releases for all: LaunchDarkly first year in review
It's been a year since we officially started full time on LaunchDarkly. Leading up to our official first day on July 14, 2014, John and I'd had been sharing ideas for years on how continuous delivery, agile and lean startups had changed the game for effective software development. Back when it was state of the art to release more than once a year, I remember having release parties. Now SaaS rules. Packaged, installed software is dying (or on it's last gasps). The smart companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, Etsy and Netflix are releasing multiple times per day, and even hour, directly to their users. By iterating quicker and listening to their customers, these companies were delighting their users with more features. As well, developers were happier - it's painful to build features for years on end, only to find out you've missed the mark.
Flickr first started talking about the feature flag/feature flipper pattern in 2009 as their key to engineering success. Facebook kicked off popularizing dark launches in 2009. Etsy, in 2011, noted how feature flags were helping them scale. After Instagram was acquired by Facebook, they adopted Facebook's practice of canary releases.
Large companies like Facebook and DropBox could afford to build and maintain a dedicated framework for their feature flags, dark launch software and canary releases. Facebook calls their feature flag and experimentation framework: Gatekeeper; DropBox: Gandalf (“none shall pass”). But everyone else who wanted the powerful ability to deploy multiple times per day, control who saw what features, and move fast and ship things had three choices - to build their own expensive infrastructure in house, to ship and hope for the best (the ostrich deploy) or to sit out the continuous delivery movement. John and I saw an opportunity to be “Gandalf for everyone”- dark launch software as a service. LaunchDarkly would let everyone feature flag, dark launch, canary release, and use the continuous deployment tools of a big player, at a fraction of the cost.
So on July 8th, 2014, John checked in his first code on what would become LaunchDarkly. Our official first day of work was July 15th, when we went to work together for the first time. The year has gone by so quickly - we have our first customers, we've been joined by our engineers, Alexis Georges and Patrick Kaeding, and we even had our first Dark Launch meetup. What's next? Continuing to iterate on our features, listening to our customers - continuing to Launch Dark!