I have a kid. He’s pretty much my favorite thing. Snow is on the list of favorite things, as is my wife. Thus, this photo is kind of like the whole list of favorite things.
I recently read about how Mozilla is contemplating Save for Later, and how the functionality could be built right into the browser. It’s a really cool look at not only how people save for later, but why, using what methods, and on which kinds of devices.
Personally, I’ve always been frustrated by the idea of needing to manually archive anything I read that I may want to reference at another time. I’m not a big bookmarker, pinboard, delicious, instapaper user. I just consume a ton of websites and articles, and move on.
My question: why do we have to do this manually? What if a page was automatically bookmarked and indexed based on how long I stayed on the page? What if my browser knows I scrolled to the bottom of the content, so took specific actions based on pre-set rules?
Spend 3 minutes on a page and scroll to the comments? Participate in the comments? Watch a video to the end? All these things could trigger certain responses to archive or clip the content. Even better, if it saved everything, but weighted content based on how I consumed it.
And, I would love it if that synced in the cloud, so no matter if I’m on my laptop or my work machine, or home iMac, all my browsing history was being captured.
I know this will freak some people out, but I don’t care. If I sign up for the service, I’m giving implicit permission to track my surfing.
It would also be extra amazing if the service in the cloud went and indexed those pages, so that I could quickly search against it.
And since we have dozens of calendar apps that can parse common language, why not apply that same logic to our searches…
A couple of searches I could imagine:
a video I watched last month about badgers”
article in a news site that talked about type II diabetes in african american women”
comparison of external hard drives - only read first paragraph”
iOS app for tracking workouts - read in last 2 months”
I hope these are a bit self-explanatory.
And sure, some of this takes some of the magic of google to properly pull off, but even if it just indexed the page titles of my history–along with some meta data on my consumption of the page–that would be a huge start.
I really have no idea how hard this would be to pull off. I don’t code. But I’ve seen one-person projects that seem to take on more ambitious projects. And let’s start with just the browser saving locally.
And hey, if there’s ever a startup idea with a clear acquisition path…
What do you think?
I’m sure most of you have heard the phrase “eating your own dogfood.” In tech, it often means using the very tools you build. Or adapting the ideology you preach.
Last summer I decided that I wanted to hold a small event here in Portland. To help teach people the principles I’ve learned starting dozens of failed and successful online ventures. None of them were big, most of them were tiny. However, none of them were designed to be big. Some failed before I even told anyone about them, and did okay, and some pay my salary and that of my employees and have for over three years.
Paleo Plan is unquestionably my greatest success to date, and I constantly get asked “How did you start Paleo Plan? What tools do you use? What about Idea X?” And I love answering those, but to be actually helpful to people, it would take far more time and energy than I can give over a 30 minute coffee meeting. So, I thought it would be cool to have an event where I walk people through it. To actually teach them as much as I can in two days, and get force them to actually start building at that same event.
Skip ahead 12 months, and I still haven’t held my event (to my defense, I did triple the revenue of Paleo Plan *and* had a baby boy in those 12 months, so I wasn’t being too idle). But I still couldn’t shake the desire to share what I’d learned. So, I asked Cami Kaos to help me (she’s the Accounts Manager for Paleo Plan, so she already knew how to wrangle me). Two weeks later, we announced the event, and I couldn’t be happier.
Now, back to the dog fooding. One of my biggest encouragements to people is to quit guessing if their idea will work, and find out. Get a landing page up and test the idea either by tweeting it or buying Adwords. If people sign up, if they share it socially, if they contact you for more information, then you may have a hit. If they don’t, either tweak it and try again, or find another idea.
I was struggling to get my website up for Tiny Startup Camp, and Rick Turoczy looked me in the eye and chastised me “Just stick an Unbounce page up and move on.” Which is the type of advice I’ve always given other people.
So, now it’s up. And you can pre-register. This doesn’t mean that I’m waiting to see if I should have the event, but waiting to see demand so I can reach out to possible sponsors, and to determine a venue, and help incentivize different speakers to come. But I couldn’t have done that if I’d waited to get it all sorted out beforehand. And honestly, if all I’d heard was crickets, I’d pulled the idea and told people it was just a hoax. But luckily, that didn’t happen, and response has been awesome.
So, if you want more information on Tiny Startup Camp, then pre-register. We’ll be announcing pricing, location, and speakers very soon. But until then, you’re already helping me answer all my questions, prove my hypothesis, and eat my own dog food. So. Thanks.
A few of you may have read my review of William Hertlings’ Avogadro Corp on Silicon Florist earlier this year, and if so, you’ll know I’m a fan of the book. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet William for coffee several times lately, and thought it would be fun to do a little interview with him, as he has a second book coming out, and you all should know about it too. Everyone, meet William. William, everyone.
Q: You’ve previously told me you were influenced by my talk Build Something, Build Anything. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
A: When I first heard you talk, it really resonated with me. There’s an example that Clay Shirky cites, which I think you mentioned, that at the time, Wikipedia took about 100 million hours of effort to create, which sounds like a lot of volunteer effort. And then he points out that Americans watch 100 million hours of TV commercials each weekend. Not even TV content itself, just the advertisements. We could be doing so much with our lives.
Q: What was the first something you started building?
A: In 2000 I worked on a photo sharing web application. I eventually quit working on the project, but it taught me some valuable lessons about the scope of what I could address by myself and what I needed to get help with.
But it was even more interesting in terms of what it was doing for my career. At the time I was on a team of six engineers at HP developing a J2EE web app. And the whole time, I was working on this project on the side. I’d figure out how to implement user accounts for my photoweb project, and then we’d be implementing user accounts at work. I’d figure out how to do database backed session management on my project, and then we’d be doing it at work. I felt like a rock star.
Building something doesn’t mean that everything you build will be successful by itself, but it teaches you skills you can use elsewhere.
Q: You had a similar experience with the Netflix Prize. Can you talk about that?
A: Gene Kim and I have been buddies since grad school, and we worked together at Tripwire back in 1997. I think it was in 2007 or so, he asked me if I would enter the Netflix Prize with him. That was the contest Netflix created in which they offered a one million dollar prize for anyone who could beat their recommendation algorithm by 10%.
For about six weeks I totally immersed myself in the Netflix Prize and learned a ton about recommendation engines and big data sets. After that we knew we weren’t quite good enough to win the competition.
But even though we didn’t think we could win the prize, we had learned enough to be able to do something useful with recommendation engines. So I just kept asking myself what would be the best project.
At HP, I’d been working on improving the customer support experience. One problem we had at the time was the difficulty for customers to find the right support document for technical issues. We knew that if we could do a better job of matching up customers to the documents they needed, more people would be able to solve their problems on their own, and be that much more satisfied.
So inspired by my work on the Netflix Prize, we built a recommendation engine around support content. We looked at the clickstreams of previous visitors, and determined what pages they viewed and what pages they were ultimately helped by. With this data, we could recommend, given a particular customer on a particular web page, the web page they were most likely to be helped by. These recommendations made customers 25% more likely to be able to get the help they needed on their own. It helped HP avoid expensive customer support calls, and helped the customer get their problem solved faster. Win for them, and win for HP.
Q: So that’s another case of a personal project inspiring something at work. But given that your first book, Avogadro Corp is all about recommendation engines, I’m guessing it was also inspired by the Netflix Prize work.
Yes, but like all of these things, indirectly.
After the Netflix Prize, I had an idea for another personal project: a wishlist integrated with Facebook. My idea was that you could combine people’s wishlists and profile data and the power of a recommendation engine to be able to make gift recommendations for someone who didn’t have a wishlist.
One lesson I had learned from my first solo web project was when to look for help. In this case, I asked my friend Nathan Rutman to work on it with me. We taught ourselves Ruby on Rails, and got coding. I want to give a shout out to the PDX Ruby Brigade, because they are always so welcoming and helpful to newbie Rails programmers.
But getting back to the book: Around this same time, I had read and was really inspired by Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near. I drank the Kurzweil Kool-Aid and became a believer in Kurzweil’s predictions that strong AI was an inevitable outcome of exponential growth in computing power.
Then one day, sometime in the spring of 2009, Nathan and I were having a lunch meeting to discuss our wishlist project, and I was spouting off more Kurzweil Kool-aid. Nathan challenged me to come up with a logical, grounded explanation of how strong AI could come to be.
Based on our experience with recommendation algorithms, I came up with an idea on the spot. My example was around a bunch of Google engineers who decide to write a language optimization engine for Gmail that optimize the particular words chosen based on the intended recipient.
By the end of lunch I had filled a few napkins with notes and diagrams, convinced Nathan that strong AI was plausible, and convinced myself that the idea would make a great book.
Of course, Nathan and I had just embarked on this wishlist app, so I didn’t have a chance to write the book. But I’d think about it literally every single night while falling asleep. By the time we were done with the wishlist app in November, I’d spent most of a year thinking about the book, but written exactly zero words.
Then in December 2009, I took four weeks vacation from HP and wrote the entire first draft. On New Year’s Eve, my wife kept calling me: “Are you coming up? It’s almost midnight.” And I finished the manuscript a few minutes before midnight.
The wishlist app never really amounted to anything, but it provided the inspiration for what’s become a three book series and also led to my current job inside HP where I’m doing Rails development.
Q: You’ve told me that writing the books then inspired other business ideas. Can you tell us about that?
After ten months of trying to find a publisher for my first book, I decided to self-publish.
It was easy enough to create the e-book version – it was a few hours work to get a Word document uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon and formatted correctly.
But it took weeks of research and work on my part to design the interior layout of the print version. Everything from font family, font size, leading, margins and more are based on expert knowledge and are different for every book form factor. And it’s sad to say, but styles still don’t work correctly in word processors.
After about forty hours of work trying to format it myself, I eventually turned it over to a professional, Maureen Gately.
Based on the publicly available data I could find, about 750,000 books are self-published each year, but only 50,000 or so are made available in print editions. My guess is that the largest reason for that is because of the manual design work involved in creating those print editions. I think the right technology could eliminate all the pain of doing interior book design.
HP is expert in making stuff look good on the printed page, and we have a ton of technology to accomplish that. So this is a perfect opportunity for HP.
Q: I loved how Avogadro Corp is set in Portland, the image of a mammoth 10,000 employee tech company located in downtown, and the maps you shared showing Avogadro superimposed over what is now a trucking company. Why did you set it in Portland?
A: It started out set in Silicon Valley. But I didn’t know Silicon Valley well enough to write at the level of detail I wanted to write.
I know Portland. I’ve lived here since ‘95. Although I work from home often and from HP’s campus in Vancouver, my time working downtown at Tripwire in the nineties was very vivid. So I knew that Avogadro was going to have to fit somewhere in the heart of downtown. Then I started doing employee space calculations and realized I needed to find a pretty large spot. I fired up Google Maps and the obvious spot was the Conway Trucking site, which is about six blocks in Northwest.
For my second book, A.I. Apocalypse, I set parts of it in Portland, but I heavily used scenes from Brooklyn, where I grew up, and South Shore High School, where I went to school. There’s a few bits in Milford, Pennsylvania, where my dad and I built a house in the 1980s.
My third book is largely set in Tucson, where I went to grad school for three years.
Q: What can you tell us about the third book?
It’s called The Last Firewall, and it’s about a nineteen year old girl who is all that stands between an unstable AI and its quest for world domination. It’s kind of a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Matrix.
It’s part of the same universe as the first two books, but it’s set another ten years out in the future. I try very hard to extrapolate out technology trends and try to make it as realistic as possible. So building on the first two books, there are intelligent artificial intelligences and robots, and they’re pretty commonplace. But what’s different is that by 2035, when the third book is set, computing technology has shrunk to the point where pretty much all people have neural implants so that they can be connected to the Internet 24/7.
Q: Any last words of advice for people who are setting out to build something?
A: It’s a given that you have to pick something you are passionate about. It’s tough to come home from a day job, and maybe also then take care of family and kids, and then still come up with the energy to do something else. So first and foremost, follow what you’re passionate about.
And then don’t worry about making money with your projects. I mean, money is always nice. But nine times out of ten, these things don’t turn out to make money. But they can lead to your next job, or the next project, or an entirely different field.
My day job is at HP, which is a big company and it’s almost the opposite of a startup environment. But in the last ten years, all of which was spent at HP, some of what I’ve done has been: web programming, customer support, project management, web based support systems, user experience design, data analysis, recommendation engines, social media strategy, social apps, more web programming, blogging, and writing three books. Luke Kanies, the CEO of Puppet Labs, jokes that every time we see each other I’m doing something totally different.
All of that has been really fun, a little bit profitable, and it’s given me tremendous flexibility when it comes to looking for jobs. None of that would be possible if I didn’t have a build something, build anything mentality.
Q: So, you mention that you’ve been doing side projects for around 10 years, and now you’ve really come to see how they can contribute to your full-time job, and other side projects. What was your ambition for your first side project when you started it, and how has that ambition changed? Was there a moment when it had the most dramatic shift?
A: With the Photoweb project, I had two main ambitions. One was to be able to earn enough to be able to work for myself, as opposed to a full-time job working for someone else. The second ambition was to influence the world in some beneficial way that was bigger than just myself.
Twelve years later, I think these are still my two main ambitions, but the change is that I’m tackling the money piece in a different way. Instead of looking for all or nothing projects that would have a big win (or none at all), I’m looking at projects that are going to generate some trickle of income. Hopefully it’s sizeable, but if not, that’s OK too. I think that shift in thinking was inspired largely by Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek.
I’ve been blogging since 2002, and starting last year, I finally saw a steady income stream from my blog. Then as I’ve published my books, they’ve created another income stream, and that is increasing month by month.
I’m not going to be quitting my job yet, but I could envision a point in two or three years where it might be possible.
Q: You’ve mentioned that in many of your more recent projects, you’ve collaborated with other people more (especially the non-book projects). Have those people found the same value in side projects that you have? Meaning, do they share your same enthusiasm for them, even if they don’t turn out to be monetarily beneficial?
A: When I worked with Gene Kim on the Netflix Prize, I think the enjoyment and benefit was largely that we were working together. We could have been out at a bar drinking, and had a great time, but we could also code side-by-side, and have a great time. Creation is rewarding in and of itself, and working with a friend is rewarding in and of itself. I found the same thing working with my friend Nathan Rutman on the wishlist project. In that respect, I do think they shared the same enthusiasm.
That being said, I think you need to have a large number of projects going before you start to get synergistic effects where one project ties into another project. If you’re narrowly locked into a day job and you’ve allowed the scope of that job to be defined by someone else, then you might not be able to use what you’ve learned elsewhere. I think having a positive feedback effect, where one project helps another project, which begets yet another projects — I think that is what sustains enthusiasm and momentum over the long run.
Q: Of all the things you’ve worked on, what do you consider to be the most successful? And can you qualify what you mean by success in this case?
A: Definitely my book, Avogadro Corp. I mentioned that one of my two main ambitions was influencing the world in some way. I’m fundamentally an idea guy, so for me this means getting my ideas exposure, whether that’s implementing them in code or writing about them in fiction.
Since publishing Avogadro, I’ve been blown away by the feedback I’ve gotten.
Brad Feld, cofounder of TechStars, highly praised Avogadro Corp, calling it a “tremendous book”, and recommended it not just in social media, but also in a talk he gave. Amber Case, Portland’s own cyborg anthropologist and cofounder of geoloqi, said a bunch of really nice things about it and the sequel, calling it a “nerd’s dream”. I received an email from a mom one day whose thirteen-year-old son said I was his new favorite author. A colleague read it, and said she had nightmares afterwards. (It’s a technothriller about AI run amok, so this is good.) Ben Huh, CEO of I Can Haz Cheezburger?, endorsed it.
I feel like my ideas have finally reached an audience, and they like them and find them thought-provoking. That’s very, very rewarding.
About William Hertling
William Hertling is the author of Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears, A.I. Apocalypse, and the forthcoming The Last Firewall.
A fifteen year veteran of the technology industry, he holds ten patents on software and internet technology, developed web and social media strategy at Hewlett-Packard, coached senior executives on social media, and has spoken three times at SXSW Interactive.
An active blogger since 2002, his website, williamhertling.com, receives more than 50,000 visitors a year. He’s been building online communities since 1986 when he ran seven phones lines into the back of his Apple //e to create an online chat system.
On May 4th, 2012, Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys passed away. While to many, celebrity deaths offer short moments of reflection followed by a field day for gossip rags, I’ve never really cared that much about any of them. Even the death of Steve Jobs, which many thought would bum me out, didn’t really affect me at all. Celebrities really don’t have that big of an impact on my life (even Steve Jobs), and all death is sad, so why mourn over the death of the rich and powerful. However, Adam Yauch’s death felt supremely different to me.
I’ve considered the Beastie Boys to be my favorite band since probably 1994, when Ill Communication was put into my hand for the first time. And since then, their music has soundtracked my life and been paramount in so many of my most treasured moments. For instance, while driving to the church on the day of my wedding, it was the Beastie Boys on the stereo amongst my groomsmen in the car. I remember that. For whatever reason, that’s a specific memory that stands out on what is easily one of the best days of my life. And this is just one example. There are so many happy days shared with those three white rappers from Brooklyn.
Someone on Twitter wrote yesterday, that the loss of MCA, and thus the Beastie Boys by proxy, has caused her to miss “everyone” in her life.
It’s a just summary. All day yesterday I realized that a part of my sadness wasn’t the passing of a man I’ve never met, but the reality of death and loss, tied closely to everyone I’ve ever cared about.
It’s also a reminder that the happy moments of youth–driving carefree with the windows down, music playing too loudly on the stereo, close friends in the seats next to you–are also gone. And that even our heroes can fall. I think that’s part of the reason of my sadness.
Some people say that the sense of smell is most closely tied to memory. I happen to have a terrible sense of smell, and sound has always been the deep trigger into my memories. And as I listen to the Beastie Boys in memory of MCA, I’m also reunited with my closest friends, and my fondest moments in life. While I know the carefree days of my youth are gone, I’m able to be thankful that those times will always be preserved in this music.
You’ve been a gift to me, Adam Yauch. Thank you.
For the past 7 years, my wife and I have been taking photos and trying to figure out how to both share those between us. Sometimes, I have the camera, and take great shots, then transfer them to my computer. Other times, same story, but Holly is in charge and it’s her computer the photos end up on.
I’ve wished iPhoto allowed us to share a single library, but I can’t even get my entire library properly shared between my two iMacs, the MacBook Air, my iPad and iPhone. I have a lot of machines, and my pictures are always on the wrong one.
Not any more.
This week, we bought an Eye-Fi card for our Nikon D90. It allows us to take photos, and seamlessly transfers them over wi-fi to a computer on our network. It’s like beautiful magic. I love how it works, and it’s perfect.
But that isn’t enough. Which computer to shove the photos onto? How do we get beyond the same problem of multiple machines with different libraries?
Enter Dropbox, shared folders, and my Mac Mini (our always-on media center machine). Now, when we take a photo, it’s transferred to our Mac Mini, which accepts the photos and puts them in a Dropbox folder that I’ve shared with my wife. Then, either of us can sort through the photos and delete the crappy/fuzzy/poorly lit ones. The ones we want to keep, we can crop, edit, Instagram-ify, and save in a separate Dropbox folder (again shared) that we then organize all fancy like (by date and/or event). And with Dropbox‘s amazing web browser, it’s super easy to take a bunch of photos, move to any of our computers, grab the ones we want, throw them into a unique folder, and send a link to our family to share within seconds, and the best part is they can simply view them, or download them if they like.
It is the perfect solution, and one I’ve been waiting for for a long time.
Ok, so I’m a bit biased. But, I’m pretty proud of my old man, and he’s one of two mechanics at a really great auto repair shop in Eugene. They didn’t really have much of a website, so I put one together for them over the weekend. It’s small, but it does the job. Their shop is called Wagon Works.
However, I do have to say, if you’re in the market for a mechanic in Eugene, you’d have a hard time beating Wagon Works. He’s been working on my cars for as long as I’ve been driving, and has kept them running smooth and happily despite some of my best efforts. Once, “fixing” even meant going to work with a crowbar and a sledgehammer. But that’s another story.
They’re also the kind of shop I can easily promote, as he treats all his customers the same way he treats me. First, let’s make sure that car is safe to drive. Then, let’s talk about what it needs and what it doesn’t. If you can handle a few inconveniences, he’ll tell you which upgrades and fixes are worth doing now, and what you can put off until later (or never). It depends on what you want and can afford. But he’ll give you real options. He’s also the kind of guy who won’t charge you for shit you don’t need, and he won’t tell you to fix something just because they need to make a sale. They’re also about $25/hour lower than a lot of their competitors, because they have almost no overhead. Just two mechanics, working on cars. Saves them money, saves you money.
OK, as I said. I’m really proud of my dad, and I wanted to give him a little shout out. Now, go get your car fixed. Ask for Ron, and tell him his son loves him.
Through the evening, I kept lamenting the fact that I have decided to not take funding with Paleo Plan. Not for the money’s sake, but because when you are backed by guys like Jason and Brad, you get access to them as advisors, and their introductions to other mentors, not to mention possible partnerships.
Paleo Plan has been bootstrapped from day 1, and I’ve poured hours and hours and quite a few of my own dollars into making it what it is today, and I’m super excited to have the good fortune to run my own business (not to mention, some great help from my partner Neely).
However, I really do miss the opportunity to work with senior advisors, who are passionate about my company succeeding. I know I can reach out and find my own mentors, and I should. But I’ve been missing it thus, and am looking forward to trying to find some in Portland now that I really have come face to face with what I’m missing.
So, if you know me much, you know I fancy myself decent at parallel parking. Today, I feel I accomplished some of my best work to date. If you don’t like bragging, turn away now. ;)
I got this with only the slightest of bumping. Honest. The other cars didn’t even shimmy. And at most 4 “Austin Powers Turns” to get in.
That’s about 1 inch in the back.
And maybe 4-5 inches in the front.
And a nice total overall shot:
But this shows it the best.
Closing a door while another opens. Saying goodbye while saying hello.
blah blah blah.
Every time someone in the tech/web industry leaves a job, they write some sappy blog post about how it’s with a mix of “great sadness and overwhelming excitement that they say goodbye to great friends and begin a new journey…”
I hate those.
But, there is some truth to them–somewhere in there if you can get passed the sappiness. So, instead, I give you my own take. My Dear John Letter to Urban Airship.
Look, I think we should talk.
These past 9 months have been amazing. All the time we’ve spent getting to know each other. Talking about mobile, and the future. It’s been so exciting, so… expansive. What we could do, and where we could go, and how we were going to change the world. I’ve treasured those days.
And, you’ve been incredible. Really. I can say without a question that you’ve been the best job I’ve ever had. You’ve been fun, given me amazing opportunities to travel and meet cool people. We’ve laughed over beers and the Whiskey Wall, over Ping Pong and Darts and Arm Wrestling. Hell, you even put a gym in the basement. No other job has even come close to caring about me the way you do. The way your insurance covers me and Holly so completely, making sure even our teeth and our eyes are healthy. You’ve outdone yourself.
But you see, I’m going through some things. And, right now, I just don’t know that I’m ready for a job.
And before you ask. No. There isn’t another employer. I haven’t been running off to work for someone else while I say I’m home sick. I swear.
And it’s not somebody else’s desk that’s wooing me away.
It’s just that, right now, I need to be free. I need to work on other things.
No, don’t say that. It’s not you, it’s me. It’s that I need to be true to me right now.
I’ve been thinking about working on Paleo Plan full-time since I created it. You’ve seen me spending time with Paleo on nights and weekends, you know how much it means to me. I just want to give it a shot.
And look, we can still be friends. I’ll be just up the street at PIE. We’ll still bump into each other, and I want those to be happy times. I don’t want to sit here, trying to be everything you deserve, while in my heart, wondering what Paleo could be like. I want you to be happy, and you’ll find someone to fill that place in your building where I am now. And that person will be perfect for you. But it’s not me. I’m sorry.
And I mean it. I’ve loved our time together. All of you are so special to me and I’ve learned so much and grown so much being part of you. I’ll really miss you.
Yeah. I’m saying goodbye to Urban Airship and their amazing and talented team. The only thing that could pull me away was the chance to work on my own project (Paleo Plan), full-time, without the need for freelance. It’s been several years in the making, but I’m now there, and beginning Monday, will be working back at PIE–another project I’m in love with. :)
Thanks UA for a fantastic trip. You don’t even need my luck, you’re already killing it.