The second Friday morning of January, and Second Verse has officially entered its second calendar year. What a complete difference from a year ago. I find myself pausing to consider the delta between the then and now at regular intervals, and generally end up with a smile on my face.
The news is up on Crunchbase now, so I should probably mention that I’m involved with Tony Conrad’s latest startup. Yes, it’s called Pumpkinhead. No, that’s not the name of the product. Pumpkinhead evolved as a project code name early on; Tony had asked Jason Santa Maria and I to help flesh out an idea he had been discussing with Tim Young. Both Jason and I are fans of horror films – his taste is more refined, I like them dumb. REALLY dumb. “Leperchaun” franchise dumb. Given the time of year (and the fact that it stars Lance Henriksen), I thought “Pumpkinhead” would work just fine.
Then Tony named the company after the codename. Guy has a sense of humor, one of the many reasons I’d follow him into hell.
So, yes. Pumpkinhead. It’s evolved past the original concept into something refined… and wonderful. The further we get in building it out, the more excited I am to get it out in the world. It marries quite a few of the things I care about into a very straightforward package, and thanks to Jason, it’s starting to look pretty sweet.
There’s more going on. I’ve been balancing Pumpkinhead with running Second Verse; on most days, successfully. My business development efforts in early December worked out well, and I’ve contracted with some folks from SRI to work on a video product called KickLight. They’ve been successful in proving the value of what they’re building, and they’ve asked me to help them refine and build it out.
In my work with them this week, I’ve already wound up re-learning the truism that the more you try to simplify things, the more you risk eliminating or obfuscating what differentiates the product in the minds of your users. Looking forward to getting deeper, seeing how to evolve the experience.
Finally, as the organizer for IxD 10‘s Local Design Challenge, I’m delighted to say that submissions should start coming in next week. The judging panel has been selected and briefed, and everything is coming together for the conference early next month. If you’re attending, please let me know in the comments.
Happy new year to you.
With twenty days remaining in the year, there’s about six blank pages left in my current, much-abused Moleskin. With the amount of work that’s going on, I’m fairly certain I’ll be breaking in the next before New Year’s Eve.
Last week’s opportunities have sorted themselves out, and it’s clear what I’ll be working on in the weeks and months to come, though timing is still a little up in the air. End of the year is always like that. I’ve had meetings this week with both my accountant and tax planner, and we’re looking to close 2009 on some very positive notes.
Speaking of positive notes, the holiday season got off to a rousing start with some great parties from the folks at Social Cast, Kissmetrics, Mule Design and Kicker. It’s amazing that anyone get anything done with all the festivities, but everyone I’ve been speaking to says business is good, bordering on great. The economy may have done some damage to the availability of venture capital, but startups and the agencies who serve them seem to be pretty healthy.
Best non-party work event of the week was certainly the Quantified Self meetup at Wired on Monday night. Excellent presentations from the WakeMate guys, plus Dave deBronkart (aka ePatientDave), Esther Dyson, Ashley Tudor and Jen McCabe of Contagion Health. I’m most interested in learning more about actigraphy, especially with its potential for valuable insights when combined with historical infographics.
One more week of work before the holiday shut-down. I’m hoping the effort I’ve put in over the last two weeks helps Second Verse come out of the gates sprinting in January.
This weekend’s must-read for me was Michael Garrahan’s “The Rise and Fall of MySpace” over at FT.com.
…by the beginning of 2008, things began to sour. Facebook, a rival social network that was simpler and easier to use, was gaining momentum and starting to grow more quickly than MySpace. Murdoch confidently told the world that MySpace would make $1bn in advertising revenues in 2008 – but the company missed its target. Users began to desert the site, which had become cluttered with unappealing ads for teeth straightening and weight-loss products. News Corp executives could hardly hide their displeasure, and in April this year, DeWolfe left, closely followed by most of his senior management team.
I went into the article with some trepidation; reports after-the-fact are always more about ass-covering and finger pointing than actually distilling some kind of objective truth. Having consulted directly with some of the people mentioned during a sensitive time in the company’s history, I’ve got my own perspective on the events described. More than anything, I was intrigued by the narrative the article weaves, and the import Garrahan places on Rupert Murdoch’s actions.
Overall, it’s a good article for those that are interested in the anatomy of disappointment. It is marred a bit by some howlingly bad technology writing (e.g. “MySpace was firmly at the forefront of Web 2.0″) but manages to transform blatant attempts at perception management by News Corp PR and anonymous former MySpace execs into a compelling read.
[Updated at 11:30 PST 12/07/09]: Mike from Mule Design weighs in, and I like his sentiment.
[Original post]: Today on Twitter I made a dumb little joke about Dean taking down Favrd. I think the point I was trying to make was that, hey, there’s plenty enough of that going on with Twitter, but thanks for trying to reduce it. I never signed up for Favrd, but I was flattered the two or three times one of my tweets got some notice from it. I didn’t give the sudden closing of shop much thought beyond that.
Then I made the mistake of reading the comments on this post from Zeldman. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but jesuchristo I can’t believe some of the stuff I’m hearing from people I respect. Go read it. Your outrage may vary. All I can say is that community-building is for people with strong stomachs – individuals can be great, but invested groups of users very quickly find ways to be massive pains in the ass towards people who are just trying to make them happy.
Reading all of this, I decided I wanted to make a public statement to anyone out there who might be trying to make something cool for me and my friends to use. I tried to tweet it, but I was 60 characters over, so here goes:
Here’s my promise to you: if you build something, get fed up with the community of self-important assholes that use it, and decide to take it down, I’ll never publicly excoriate you for doing so. Cool?
Rather than compare someone to “an angry Hebrew God,” I feel that a suddenly-bereft former user has the following options:
a) Join another service
b) Offer to host it themselves
c) Roll their own
… and that seems like plenty options enough, even if just to keep things civil. Besides, it’s tacky to hurl biblical invective at a guy who’s obviously taken enough shit already.
I had been expecting December to be quiet from a business development perspective, and had front-loaded the workload for the quarter to compensate. I decamped for New Orleans in week 20 having successfully delivered on all of Second Verse’s outstanding obligations. While I was off eating more po’ boys than I really should have, Om Malik announced the work I did with his team on the redesign of the GigaOm Network blogs, and a variety of new opportunities have emerged.
The earliest part of this week was spent prepping for and conducting a one-day workshop with a new client; it looks likely to move forward, affording me a welcome opportunity to revisit the online video space. One of the projects that completed before the break may require some additional oversight, so a retainer relationship has been proposed. Finally, I’m getting a second bite at the apple with a project that would have me working with some of my favorite big-idea folks in a rather heady problem space. The majority of my time this week has been spent drafting and submitting proposals for all of this new work. I’m realizing that I was overly conservative in my estimation of demand, and will need to retool my Q1 projections.
There is one opportunity I won’t be able to pursue, despite it being right in my wheelhouse. I’ve been offering a bit of UX advice and direction to some friends working on a digital comics application, but they’re in need of a dedicated resource. Do you love comics, and solving hard UX problems? Leave a comment and I’ll connect you with them.
Meanwhile, there’s been some progress in making Second Verse more of a “real” company. I jumped at the opportunity to purchase the secondverse.com domain, and have redirected blog traffic away from the original dot WordPress address. The goal is to switch over to my own WP install and put up a marketing and communications site for SV, though right now I’d settle for having business cards. More on that soon. On the physical front, I’m extending my tenure within the Small Batch (Typekit) space through 2010. I’ve now got my office to myself (doubling my previous meatspace square footage!), and Bryan promises I’ll have a door at some point.
Real enough, for the time being.
Om announced the launch of the GigaOm network redesign last night. Congratulations to Om, Paul, Jaime, Shane and Peter, and the whole GigaOm team! I was delighted to help out with the redesign, and I’m even happier to see it live.
The redesign gave me a chance to work closely with friends old (Jaime Chen) and new (Shane Pearlman). Starting with some up front research, we solicited and consolidated feedback from editors, the ad sales team, and Om and then translated it into achievable goals for the redesign. We worked to hammer out the universal elements of the interface that we could distribute across network properties, prioritized functionality, and laid out content in a way that presented it in the most readable, attractive and engaging manner.
The redesign looks sharp, and that is entirely due to the heroic efforts of Jaime and the sheer talent of Shane and Peter. It was a real pleasure to work with such a dedicated and capable team. I’m very happy to see all their hard work pay off.