Build what you know

December 21, 2010 | 1 comment

I wrote a piece for 24 Ways To Start, the entrepreneur’s advent calendar:

The web isn’t just a platform; nor is it a market. It’s a movement. Think of the success stories of the past five years: Twitter, Facebook, Google, GroupOn. Twitter and Facebook changed the way people communicate and made social networking mainstream (Mark Zuckerberg was even just named Time’s Person of the Year for 2010). Google makes it its mission to make the world’s information accessible to all. GroupOn, meanwhile, gives the power of mass brand advertising, hitherto available only to larger chains, to independent shops and services. Each of these businesses is run by a passionate team who care deeply about not just their product, but the effect of their product on society.

You can read the whole post here.

I’m very pleased to be a part of 24 Ways To Start; I’ve really enjoyed their series so far. There’s some very solid advice here, including simple ways to start thinking about your financial model, thinking of apps in terms of product development, and common tech entrepreneur pitfalls. The whole blog is very much worth your time.

Delicious: not so tasty now

December 17, 2010 | 2 comments

Logo of DeliciousHe’s dead, Dave. Everybody’s dead. Everybody is dead, Dave.

It’s the end of the road: Delicious, one of the darlings of the “Web 2.0” movement, is being shelved. The social bookmarking site was famous for its simple interface, which introduced tags and cloud services to the world, not to mention creative use of available domain names, bookmarklets and social networking for a purpose. Its creator, Joshua Schachter, is a smart guy whose opinions about software design are worth taking seriously.

As a result, it was widely used: I directly know people who have relied on it in academia, public arts bodies, private companies and in their personal lives. Delicious served a genuine user need. The trouble was, Yahoo! didn’t make any money running it, despite having paid between $15-20 million for the privilege.

Money: get away. Build a service that will pay, and you’re okay.

That’s not Joshua’s fault, nor an intrinsic fault with Delicious (although they could probably have tried harder to drive direct revenue and cement their sustainability). Yahoo has a track record of mismanaging its web properties, going back to the first dotcom bubble – leading to 600 job losses a few days ago.

More generally, it’s arguably a symptom of Web 2.0 fever around five years ago; lots of great services were being funded, despite not having any business models to speak of. It’s only a matter of time before many of the remaining services from the era go the same way. Be smart: look at how to save your data now.

Near; far; wherever you are, ensure that your data lives on.

What’s next for the site’s 5.5+ million members, and their 180 million bookmarks? Lifehacker has a guide to exporting your data from Delicious into your web browser, but that’s not going to be good enough for many users.

Other bookmarking services are available. There’s even a spreadsheet doing the rounds comparing Delicious alternatives. But I’d like to suggest that it’s only a matter of time before many of them, too, are shuttered.

We know that the cloud is useful and important – but it’s no longer enough to put something out there. Responsible developers should know how their product is going to continue to exist, for the sake of their users. Here are some questions to ask when picking a service to house your valuable data:

  1. Does it have a sustainable business model? Are you being directly charged, or is your data being sold somehow? (Advertising on its own is not a sustainable business model in most cases.)
  2. Do the owners have a track record?
  3. Is there a way to get your data out and move it somewhere else? If not, can you buy the software and host it yourself, on your own infrastructure?

I would suggest that if the answers to any of the above are “no”, you might want to move on and look at something new.

Delicious logo render by Bernard Goldbach, released under a Creative Commons license. Title apologies go to the Red Dwarf team, Pink Floyd and Celine Dion respectively. I’m so sorry.

Streamlining my morning routine

Every morning it goes like this (in this order):

  1. Turn on computer.
  2. Launch XAMPP; start Apache and MySQL processes.
  3. Launch Eclipse.
  4. Launch the Chrome offline web apps for Remember the Milk and Gmail.
  5. Launch Skype.
  6. Open a Chrome tab and launch the Tweetdeck Chrome web app.

It’s only just occurred to me, as someone who’s been writing computer programs to some degree since 1984, that I could script this, and go make my coffee while it’s all happening. Or at least, points 2 through 6; sometimes I switch on my computer to check my email or download some photos.

Sometimes, everybody needs to take a step back.

By the way, if you have a way for me to script my morning coffee, let me know.

The Elgg Foundation

December 8, 2010 | Leave a comment

ELGGCurverider, the company I founded with Dave Tosh, has been acquired by Thematic Networks. From their press release:

"Many of the tools and communication patterns traditionally found in popular social media are already starting to play a valuable role in the corporate environment; for example for promoting internal and external collaboration, or delivering a more engaging e-learning experience to employees” said Ken Yeadon, Chief Executive of Thematic Networks. “Curverider brings a strong suite of social tools, which, together with its web-based platform, enables Thematic Networks to offer clients a broader range of social publishing and e-learning solutions, deployed either on-site or delivered via the web as a turnkey service."

Elgg itself will be developed by a non-profit foundation run by Brett Profitt, who has been acting as lead developer for the past 18 months or so. From the post over on the Elgg site, it sounds like Dave will leave the project, leaving it in the hands of Brett along with Cash Costello, who has long been a prolific contributor.

I’m excited to see where they take it. Although I left Curverider and Elgg before he joined, from everything I know, Brett is a safe pair of hands. It’s too early to say what the Foundation will look like, but they’ll certainly be needing donations and supporters. As the post on the Elgg site says, get in touch with Brett at if you want to help. There’s also a thread on the Elgg Community over here.

That blast-from-the-past Classic Elgg homepage screenshot was released under a Creative Commons license by Kevin Jarrett.

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