Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Wednesday, July 21, 2004day link 

 Help Wanted
picture So, over the years I've written all these software modules for an assortment of online purposes. Like:
  • Weblogs
  • Bulletin Boards
  • Chat Rooms
  • Calendars
  • File Sharing
  • Membership Sites
  • Online Directories
  • Work Groups
  • Personal Information Management
  • Shopping Carts
  • Online Website Generation
  • Forms and Database Generation
  • Mailing List Management
  • DNS Administration
  • Server Monitoring
  • Content Management
  • News Feed Aggregation
  • Image Manipulation
  • ... and Wikis
And probably some I'm forgetting right now. All of it is in use in one place or another. And some of it isn't half bad. For that matter, some of it was a bit ahead of its time. And the users of some of these things seem exeedingly happy with what they do.

But there's a considerable problem with spreading oneself that thin as a programmer. Most succesful programmers will do one or two great things, or they'll have a team to work with.

Anyway, since I don't really, the result is that all of my modules are somewhat unfinished. Or, rather, they work well in the particular setting they were made for. As long as I manage the server, and fix things that go wrong, and tweak them for new purposes. But it doesn't mean they're easy to export.

I've been paid well for making some of these things, and some of them I made because I needed them myself, or to make nice places to hang out online. But generally I've never figured out how to make the jump to making a business out of any of them. And neither have I made the jump to package them as open source packages that people can just take and use, and others can contribute to.

And, well, Internet time moves quickly. So, while I can still enjoy that my weblog program does some things better than any other weblog program I've tried, other pieces are at the risk of slipping into obscurity, by being somewhat outdated and mediocre in how they look and what they can do. And across the board I've missed a lot of opportunities for doing something with these things at a higher level.

I can't count the number of times I've shown a selection of these programs to some business-wise person, who's told me that I could take any one of these and turn it into a thriving business. Usually accompanied by stories of people who've made it big with some fairly mediocre piece of software or other product, that they just managed to position well, and work hard on it, until it became a viable enterprise.

But which one should I pick? I'd be leaning towards most all of them. That is, a membership site where the users can easily set up an assortment of different resources, by picking from a menu and doing a bit of configuation. OK, so you want a website, and it should have a weblog and newsfeeds and a shopping cart and an event calendar, and you want an intranet for your employees with spaces for different teams and wikis, etc. Shouldn't be any great reason you shouldn't be able to have that up and running in a day or so, without needing to download any software or having to know any HTML.

I call that OrgSpace. That's a registered trademark. There's a corporation ready in England with that name. I've talked a good deal with Julie about launching something of that nature, starting back when we had a company in L.A. called Synchronicity. I've discussed pieces of it to great length with quite a few people.

But it doesn't work if I'm the sole programmer. And I'm sofar not as much of an entrepreneur as I'd like to be. So, it is stranding a bit both on the level of finishing the software, and on the level of doing the normal stuff one does to start and run and grow a business.

It could take all sorts of formats and directions. Like, a particular software piece might be a separate product in itself. Doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition. It depends on what other people are inspired to be part of.

But I need programmers to collaborate with. We're talking about PHP. People who aren't as inclined to start from scratch as I am, but who'd feel inspired to do great things with pieces that already are 70% there, and to work as part of a team. This is in no way beginner's stuff, so some hardcore coding ability is needed.

A graphical design and layout person would be very helpful too. Most of my sites look like they were made in 1995, mostly because they actually were.

Some business help would be a good thing. I'm not ignorant of the basics, so it is maybe more a matter of coaching. Well, of course if one of you just wanted to finance the whole thing, that would certainly make everything easier.

But, barring that, we're talking about people who're interested in freely collaborating for the purpose of future business, or for making useful open source software, and useful online services. Or in making online communities and networks that work better. Whatever inspires you, and whatever format that is structured in. I can easily think of a variety of avenues for business or rewarding non-profit activities. I just need to get beyond wearing the programmer hat all the time. And I'm not going to give away just all the secrets here.

My own problem is that I'm a perfectionist, so I'm not the right person to do everything myself. It doesn't mean I'm necessarily hard to work with, but it means that I'm usually not sufficiently happy with what I do to get it out the door. You know there's the wise rule of 80/20 that says that you go for making 80% of what needs doing, and you get it out the door. And in the next iteration you do 80% of what is left. The hard lesson for a perfectionist to learn is that other people than yourself usually are quite happy with the 80% solution, as long as you actually put it into their hands.

A few little anecdotes:

I gave my shopping cart code to somebody once, when I considered it just half-way done, even though it basically worked. Somebody who was a much more novice programmer than myself. He worked hard for a month and set up a flashy online shopping mall site, where quickly hundreds of customers had paid for having their own online stores.

I wasn't very satisfied with my online website design tool, even though it actually did much more than anything else available at the time. Unbeknownst to me at first, a big Beverly Hills newspaper used the beta test demo version to put their whole paper online every week, with all previous issues archived. I would have said it was impossible, as it wasn't really a content management system suited for that purpose, but they found ways of working it so that it did what they needed, and were quite happy with it.

I made this opt-in mailing list management system. It handled mailing lists with several million subscribers and daily mailings. One of the companies using it wanted a faster mailing engine. I knew very well what to do, but I needed a C programmer to do a fairly minor piece for me, but instead I insisted on trying to do it myself, and procrastinated it. So instead they spent 1/2 million dollars or so on somebody else's system, which was inferior on various other counts, but it mailed really quickly, and it was supported around the clock by a team of people, where I was just myself.

You catch the drift, I'm sure.

So, if you're the right kind of person, and any of this is of the slightest interest, let me know.
[ | 2004-07-21 06:45 | 17 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 An optical illusion
picture Is square A and B the same color or different colors? Want to bet? They ARE the same color, but almost all of us can't see it, before it has been proven to us, and we've stared at it another five minutes. Your brain is so good at filtering out the effects of shadows so that we can make the best possible guess at what we're seeing. So good that we actually can't see what is really there, but only what is supposed to be there. The illusion is most obvious in the large version. See here for the details, and proof of why it is so. If you still don't believe it, you'll have to download the image and cut out little pieces of it in a graphics program, and put them next to each other.
[ | 2004-07-21 13:56 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Pornolize This
If my weblog is a little too dull for you, try to pornolize it. That'll give you the dirty pornstar version. It seems to do a particularly good job at insulting (or flattering) everybody in my blogroll. You can do the same with any site. OK, it is tacky, and not particularly smart, but it is a good laugh.
[ | 2004-07-21 14:04 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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