Brian Shaler

Occasionally Interesting

Gravity is for chumps

Archive for March, 2012

R.I.P. Kerplunk 2008-2009

A few years ago, I put together an alpha version of an AIR-based Twitter desktop client, called “Kerplunk!” It deserved its alpha status. It was little more than a proof of concept, focusing solely on displaying a new way of looking at and interacting with streams of tweets. I ran out of time and momentum on the project in mid-2009 and never got around to updating it while the Twitter API evolved (OAuth, id_str, etc).

If I had that primitive alpha version of Kerplunk! today, it would still be able to improve my Twitter experience. Twitter has only gotten noisier, and Kerplunk was the only application to provide ways of suppressing certain types of content—craptweets—either partially or entirely. To deemphasize craptweets, Kerplunk! would simply reduce the screen real estate available for that tweet and truncate it after a certain number of characters. If it turned out to be interesting, despite tricking Kerplunk! into thinking it was crap, you could still spot it and expand it. Simple, yet amazeballs. I miss it.

What’s more, Kerplunk! was designed from Day Zero to go beyond Twitter (in fact, the core application included ZERO references to Twitter or tweets, aside from a command to download and install a plug-in called “Twitter”). You see, I don’t give a damn about tweets or Twitter. I care about what my friends are posting and sharing online, be it on Twitter, Facebook, blogs/RSS, etc.

While the prototype source code lay abandoned collecting dust, the idea and desire remained. The idea grew beyond Kerplunk!, though. Beyond a desktop application, at least. Since 2009, I’ve used my phone more and more to see what my friends are up to, probably up to 50% of my social media usage. I also came up with concepts that would benefit from my application to talk directly to another application, rather than communicating only through social network APIs.

The nice thing about ideas is that they can evolve and change entirely. Over the last 3 years, I’ve wanted different tools to solve different problems I had with my disparate social graph. Kerplunk! evolved into something else entirely. I’ll share what the new project is all about in a subsequent blog post. Stay tuned!

The Curse of Capability

I had an interesting realization recently when discussing funding options for a web site I built. For some background, I’ve worked on it occasionally on weekends (and a few multi-week sprints) throughout the last 4 years. It has slowly grown up to be a pretty robust lump of technology. For it to have a chance at taking off, it will need serious attention from a bunch of different angles: design, user experience, back-end optimization, sysadmin/devops, content acquisition, moderation, and marketing.

There are always valid arguments in favor of and in opposition to raising capital. After a couple of years of having no intention to seek funding for this project, I started to lean in favor of it. Part of it is manpower and not spreading myself too thin. Another part is skill set—my skills are too broad.

I’m pretty good at a few things (interactive development; “making stuff move with code”), but much less so at a bunch of other things. I can do various things under the “big D Design” umbrella (from product to user experience to graphic design), but that doesn’t mean I should. My design work is definitely inferior to those who specialize in it. I can do database administration and query optimization, but that doesn’t mean I should. My low-level systems prowess is definitely inferior to those who specialize in it. Basically, I have the ability to build a fully functional and fairly usable proof of concept, but not an all around amazing product. I can bring an idea to life, but beyond that, it’s best to let specialists take it from there.

Throughout most of my career, I’ve always worked alongside complementary specialists, allowing me to focus my attention to my own specialty. My best work has always been the work I’ve done with good teams. My best solo work, while sometimes being technologically innovative, is nowhere near as well-rounded or impressive.

So, I hit a roadblock. If I were talking to investors with an idea, a plan, some slides, and no ability to pull it off myself, an investors answer would simply be, “Yes,” or, “No.” However, because I technically can build everything from front to back, the answer becomes, “No,” or, “Come back after you launch it and start getting some traction.” If an investor has the option to see the product in action and gauge real-world interest, why not wait and see?

Well, I need to get back to my client work now…

You are currently browsing the Brian Shaler blog archives for March, 2012.