What Wordle Teaches Us About Developing Successful Apps
March 22, 2022

Denise Gosnell

When we think of accounts that get suspended from social media, a game spoiler account probably isn't what first jumps to mind. But that's exactly what happened to a Twitter page that's sole purpose was to spoil the next day's answer to viral sensation Wordle. That encapsulates its journey from pet project to grabbing the attention of one of the world's most influential companies.

Wordle is a simple enough premise: Guess the word of the day in six tries or less using colored tiles indicating if a letter is in the correct spot, in the word but not in the correct spot, or not in the word at all. Wordle had almost 14 percent of US adults playing daily as of January 2022, and we can be sure that number has skyrocketed even more now since its acquisition by the New York Times.

As Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci told us, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." If a humble pet project like Wordle can capture the heart (and wallet) of the New York Times, it has a lesson to teach. Whether an app is an unassuming game or a complex tool, there are key steps developers would be wise to consider in order to ensure their app is agile and ready for whatever will come its way.

Preparing for One or One Million

Some app launches are anticipated by millions, while some are eagerly awaited only by the team that has worked on it. However, like Wordle taught us, it's impossible to predict how or when an app may capture the attention of a large audience.

Five years ago, the technology didn't exist to allow an app to scale seamlessly and flawlessly overnight. If an app went from 10 users to 1,000,000 in a very abbreviated amount of time, it would likely result in a crash. When building a product, it needs to deliver what it promises at every point in the consumer's journey, and if it can't handle a larger load of traffic, customers may lose interest and revenue can be lost.

Now, the technology has advanced, allowing products and services to work just as well for one million people as it does for one person. The code can almost be written in the exact same way (read: almost no extra work!), but harnessing cloud-native technologies that can infinitely scale is the key. If the goal is for a project to become the next Wordle success story, this choice made on day one can be the deciding factor between stagnancy and unlimited growth.

Inclusivity is Not Optional

We've been taught since we were small children to put ourselves in other people's shoes, and that is one of the most important lessons for developers.

When building an app or software, consider those with various needs. Can those with color-blindness adequately decipher each piece of copy? Do those with hearing loss have a way to see captions for video or audio content? Is there audio assistance for those who experience visual impairment? Not only is this an ethical principle that will ensure technology is accessible to all those who can benefit from it, but a business one. More accessibility means more successful customer interactions. Inclusion is good business.

The Best Success is Shared

Yes, success is wonderful when we share it with great teams and collaborators. However, in this context, I mean to emphasize the power that sharing has in fostering successful apps.

Wordle's rapid rise is due partly to its beautifully simple and easily enjoyable game, and in even larger part to the real-time sharing capability that was built in. People can share their winning streaks and daily stats instantly. The power of social media helped fuel the sharing that took it viral.

When developing an app, it's crucial to think about how to create an aspect of it that encourages people to share it in real-time — whether that be a game with scoring stats or a productivity tool that allows users to share progress towards a certain goal. If these capabilities are incorporated and powered by a database and software that can work at large-scale, apps will not only be more likely to experience organic growth, but also be able to meet the increased needs that growth demands.

(Don't) Follow the Leader

Beginner coders and data practitioners will run into a relational framework called leader-follower. That is, a leading piece of architecture is at the center and follower components work around this piece.

This model, while it has gotten us this far, is increasingly shown to lend itself to vulnerabilities. It is the "putting all the eggs in one basket" of development. If the leader goes down, so do the followers, and therefore so will the entire app.

With effective cloud technology, it is now possible for architecture to include a distributed network of leaders, equipped to stay up and running if one goes down. It's a future-proofing design choice that I hope to see more developers make in the genesis of their apps and software. No more single points of failure!

When apps and software are future-proofed with these principles from day one, there is no limit to the growth they can experience.

Denise Gosnell is Chief Data Officer at DataStax
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