Archive / wanderthoughts

RSS feed for this section

Testing Your Own Dog Food

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.

*headsmack*

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.

Closing doors and opening Windows or something.

Closing a door while another opens. Saying goodbye while saying hello.

blah blah blah.

dear-john-letter1

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.

Dear Urban.

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.

Jason

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.

How I use Dropbox

So, I for the past few years, I’ve been giving more and more of my digital life over to Dropbox, and it’s changed the way I use computers, and how I think about information, and share content with my wife.

Someone asked me recently how I use it, so I thought I’d write up a short explanation.

First, I upgraded to the 50gb a year plan. This costs $99/year and is worth every penny. I know plenty of people who bought larger hard drives for their computers, iPhones, or iPads, or whatever, and paid much more than $99 for that extra room. But for me, I worry more about how much I can store in my Dropbox than anything else.

I should also state that I am a tech geek retard. I have an iMac at home, one at work, I carry a laptop, have an iPhone and iPad, and my TV is connected to a Mac Mini. However, every file I need is synced to all of these immediately and globally, with version backups available as well. This is the miracle of Dropbox.

Work:

Every digital artifact that I’m working on at any given time lives in Dropbox. Because I don’t try and sync all of my photo libraries, or all of my music, this is fine. I’m also not a designer with 1GB files, so I have no problems. However, this alone has made my life infinitely easier.

I no longer worry about backing up to an external hard drive, as all of my computers are synced and have all of my content. I no longer worry about carrying a thumb drive or a small USB drive because just saving a file to my hard drive within Dropbox automatically makes it available on my phone or any computer or even on the web when I’m at my parents and using their computer. I’m completely freed to just “own” data and not worry about managing it.

I also have hired a few students who help me with my Paleo Plan website. I use Dropbox’s folder sharing feature to share that folder with them, and they immediately have access to all the files for that project. When one is done working on a file, he just saves it, and the other can open it. There is no emailing files back and forth, just saving them to the hard drive of whatever computer they’re working on. It’s miracles.

Home:

My wife and I share a folder in Dropbox called Glaspey Sync. This allows us to transfer important files to each other by just saving them to our computers (in that folder). We also have copies of our driver’s licenses and passports in there, so no matter where we are in the world, or what machine we have with us, we have our critical documents.

Music:

I recently read this article on syncing your iTunes libraries with Dropbox. I haven’t had a chance to do this yet, but I can’t wait. One of the pitfalls of having so many computers is that I can only sync my phone to one of them. With this hack, no longer.

Passwords:

I use the wonderful 1Password application to store and manage my passwords and credit card info. This is also synced with Dropbox, which means all of my passwords are available on any computer, iOS device, and from the web. They do an amazing job discovering Dropbox and making the database sync process easy and simple.

Sharing:

Just today I needed to share a large 200mb file with a friend. Rather than FTP it, or use YouSendIt or some other service, I just put it in my Public folder in Dropbox, which gave me a sharable URL that I sent to my buddy. All I had to do was copy the file to that folder and he could download it immediately.

SO. EASY.

I really can’t say enough, the only other tool that has impacted my digital life this much is my smartphone. And this is close behind. Thank you Dropbox.

If you want to get in on the action, sign up for free here.

Designing for the web

I recently did a small consulting “Web Design 101″ for a very good design shop in town. Their office is filled with senior designers who have worked on some of Portland’s best design. However, they knew that there were some things they still could learn about designing for the web, so I helped out with a small session. Below is the rough outline of my talk, if you’re curious.

Flash vs HTML

  • Not good or evil, but very different.
  • Should be used appropriately
  • Pros / Cons of each
    • HTML
    • Flash

Designing for the Web

  • The Book Metaphor
  • User expectations. They’re important
    • It may be boring, but they lead to successful sites
    • Choosing “design” over the user’s experience is bad design (even when it’s on brand)
  • Never make a user guess what’s behind a link
  • Never make a user guess what is and isn’t a link
  • When it’s ok to break norms
  • Don’t forget the audience

Where to start

  • Budget
    • Building a house
    • Discovery phases
    • Learning their budget and goals and finding solutions
    • “Sacrificing Cool”

User Experience

  • Who is the Primary audience for this site? The second? This must be identified very early.
  • What is the number one thing this site should accomplish/promote? The second?
  • What are the limits (budget, technology, existing platforms, etc.)
  • How often should it be updated? How will this be updated? Who will update it?

Build your site to those specs ONLY!

Pages

  • Leading the story/experience with the homepage
  • Crafting an experience for visitors who come from search engines and don’t enter via the homepage

Working with “Developers” or, anyone who’s not a designer

  • Many designers dismiss programmers as difficult
  • Not all non+designers are programmers
  • Producers, Information Architects, Strategy, etc.
  • Take their feedback. They spend all day using bad sites, their instincts are good.
  • Find out what the core of their feedback is, and find solutions.

Idaho Bike Rolling Stop Law

I love me some bike riding, and I like laws that make sense. The newly proposed Idaho Rolling Stop law makes a lot of sense to me, but I can imagine that there would be a lot of misunderstanding about the law if people weren’t properly educated. Spencer Boomhower created an amazing little video that explains very simply exactly what the law would *and would not* allow. It was worth watching and now I feel I know enough that I can support it. Long Live the Rolling Stop Law.


Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

Monday Morning Moment of Zen

This little video made me so happy. I seriously want to have this guy narrating everything that happens in my life.

Could I at least get him to talk over the people in my meetings?

Let’s Visit Chile

So, some of you may know that my wife and I are currently in Santiago, Chile. We left about 2 weeks ago and are currently taking Spanish lessons in Santiago, where we’ll remain until November 25. Then we’ll head to Buenos Aires for 3 weeks before returning home to Portland.

Rather than clog this blog up with travel specific posts, all posts about this trip can be found at www.americansinchile.com, our travel blog. It only has a few posts at the moment, but it will continue to grow as we spend more time here and have time to blog.

Jason

My wife has a crush on Jon Stewart, and that’s fine with me

While this specific clip isn’t the reason she has a little love for the man, it’s part of the reason I have a crush on him.

Now, I’m not posting this because I’m a Democrat, but because it’s funny. I should probably go and find an equally condemning piece on Obama or Biden… Nah, after all, I am a Democrat.

Instructional videos or instructional documents?

I was recently asked a question by a good friend of mine, Dave Merwin, about the pros/cons of video documentation compared to written documentation. I had a lot of fun answering it, and thought I’d post it here for you all to read.

The Question:
Instructional Video on websites… When do you watch a video on a website and why?

I love video on the web. Hulu.com has great oldies, YouTube has great oddities and there is much more. Lately I have been tasked with using instructional videos in much of my work. Users seem to NOT want to watch videos, they just want text when learning. So tell me, if you are looking to learn something on the web, would you prefer video or text?

My Answer:
To answer it from the perspective of someone wanting to learn how to do something:
There have been a lot of videos getting made lately that try and teach very long and lengthy processes in one giant video. I have no patience for this. When I load a video and see that it is over 5 minutes long, or even worse, 10 minutes long, I check out. I just know that I have no interest in watching anything for that long unless it is VERY important and I can only learn about it this way. However, I’ve also encountered video sites where the instructions are broken down into small, easily digestible steps, they are well organized, and could be strung together to teach a large, more complicated process. However, each video is only 30-60 seconds long. I think this creates a perfect balance. It allows someone to find the answer to a problem, but only the part of the problem they’re needing help with. It doesn’t waste their time, and I don’t think people get too freaked out about 30 seconds.

As for being someone who’s created the videos, I am a huge fan. I’ve written enough instructional documents to know that no matter how clear you are about something, some people just don’t follow the directions. Either they don’t have the vocabulary you do, or aren’t interested in reading a bunch of list items. I’ve seen it over and over people disregarding a very lengthy email that very clearly documents a process, only to be asked again and again how to do something.

With video tools like ScreenFlow, it actually takes less time to make a video demonstrating something. I can use my voice to annotate the video as I go along, and I know people will be seeing the exact steps necessary, with the visual clues that show them where and how to interact with something. If necessary, I may create a supplemental document that outlines the key features and either include passwords or other information to act like a cheat sheet later after they’ve watched the video. When all of this doesn’t work, I can usually tell it’s due to the client/recipient just being obstinate.

The other way I’ve seen video being used is for screencasts demonstrating new applications and application features. I’m a big fan of trying out new software, and I love being able to get a glimpse of an application, how it works, and the general workflow without having to download and actually try the application. It also works as an introductory tutorial while also accomplishing marketing. I’m a big fan of these, and will probably watch 2-3 a week as I stumble across different sites that offer them. Usually, 1-2 minutes is my threshold for length though. And again, more videos that are shorter is far preferred over fewer, longer videos.

MobileMe apologizes and handles things well.

Apple clearly does things its own way, and almost never apologizes for tearing up a market and changing the rules of the game, which I appreciate. However, when a promise falls short, and they fail to deliver that special “Apple Brand” to their customers, I’m glad to see they are direct, responsive, and apologize openly. They also attempt to amend the situation by compensating for customers’ frustrations. I’m very impressed with the way they’re handling the situation, and especially appreciate the fact that they’re being very transparent about their abuse of the word “Push”, and are now attempting to correct the situation openly.

Good for you Apple.

Via 37signals.