Friday, December 22, 2006

predicting the future (because we can't all have time traveling aliens)

Sorry I had to get so "TIME Magazine" on you, but today's logo was timed with the redesign of inkling -- another poster child for the wisdom of crowds: -2 points to myself for the cliché foul.

Despite how buzzword-prone their startup idea is, prediction markets are sexy right now for a reason. When implemented correctly, they can be quite informative -- or at the very least entertaining -- whether it's about who will be the Democratic Presidential nominee in '08 or who will win the Super Bowl. After all, none of us is as smart as all of us (despite what you may have read, I came up with this).

I've still be hurting from the $48,805.55 (in inkles, a fake currency -- thankfully) that I lost during last year's academy awards (thanks, Crash). Building and managing your own prediction market is cake if you're one of their corporate clients or Jane Internet-user -- although I've never tried as a corporate client... or as "Jane" for that matter, but it worked fine for me.

They've also just opened up worthio, which is much like a reddit for stocks, but clearly built by some folks who actually know something about the market.

And what their mascot lacks in detail (I believe they were going for the abstract-enough-so-anyone-can-relate look) it makes up for in quantity: +1 for lots of pretty-colored people-shapes.


YC Week is done for now, since the week is over, but it'll resume once we get into '07 and I inevitably run out of ideas again.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

rock beats scissors, snipshot beats bloated software

Back when my only image-editing software was PaintShopPro 5 (last summer), I would have loved a slick web app to do it from my browser. Even now that I have Photoshop -- with its hefty loading time -- I still find myself heading over to Snipshot for quick and dirty image edits. Perhaps giving us a glimpse into a future devoid of desktop apps, Snipshot cuts out much of the hassle: -1 point to myself for actually typing that.

They're also Canadian: +2 points for being Canadian. My biggest concern at the moment with this startup is that their mascot (the scissors, presumably named Snippy?) isn't quite as anthropomorphized as it could be: +1 for only having a pseudo-mascot. But I'm convinced they can overcome this, even if their mascot is guaranteed to lose in a game of rock, paper, scissors.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

inbox backwards

OK, so I haven't actually used Xobni -- despite how much time I spend in email -- since I'm both allergic to Outlook and very addicted to my web-based Gmail. But I have seen enough demonstrations to know that Xobni can show you some things about your emailing habits (and the habits of those you email) that are sure to make you stroke your chin. Learn the optimal time to email that special someone, measure your own laziness with email replies, or even realize you're not spending enough time reading those emails from mom -- all with pretty graphs. Efficiency really is a beautiful thing.

They've also got a visibly excited mascot: +2 points.

If The Man has you running Outlook and you'd like to be spending less time in the office, it might be worth sending these fellas an email.

Alternatively, if you are The Man, and would like to hit those performance goals and nab that bonus, it might be worth sending these fellas an email.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

which alien do you likebetter?

The premise? Select the pictures you likebetter and learn a little something about yourself (w00t for keyboard shortcuts and arrow keys).

I have no idea how the brain works, but it'll start guessing things about you based on your selections (it does this just like a real brain, by turning pink: +2 for pink-flashing brain).

However, brain aside, likebetter doesn't appear to have a mascot: -1 for no mascot.

Then again, there are games you can play with your friends to find out just how good of a friend they are. Consider this a good quarterly tool for reevaluating your relationships (and just in time for holiday gift giving!). I'm learning how well my girlfriend knows me right now...

There are also channels for specific things, like puppies, kittens, bands, and as you may have noticed, even reddit logos.

Bryan was so kind as to create the last one just for us, since I'd always been curious about what the most popular logo doodle was. Maybe we'll make some merch out of it or something, so please vote -- in general, too. Democracy is cool.

Monday, December 18, 2006

reddit alien glues jams, rocks out

So, this all started with an email to the YCombinator mailing list offering to doodle some YC-startup-themed logos. I also offered to throw in a brief write-up. To do this, I wouldn’t even try to use any of their competitors, or do any kind of objective review, but rather speak from the gut. Now, it’s going to be hard for me to match the hyperbole of Michael Arrington, but I’ll try.

Speaking of TechCrunch, it gave JamGlue some love last week, but I can assure you it was all well deserved. I had registered shortly after they first launched a limited release to the YC folks, but admittedly hadn’t gotten a chance to really play around with it. I would have had this thing written 45 minutes ago if I hadn’t been feverishly remixing my entry for the The Submarines Remix Contest. Seriously, as someone with virtually no musical talent whatsoever, I was surprised by how engrossed I was in tweaking Super Mario mixes, laying down NIN beats, and adding more cowbell. (Sorry, you should have known that was coming).

I’m also big fan of the mascot, the most accurate measure of a website’s usefulness: +3 for rocking-out mascot.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, JamGlue seems to have all the tools one would need to become a computer-chair DJ. The Flash mixing board is snappy and snazzy, all you need to do is come up with a DJ name (feature request: automatic DJ-name-generator). Plus, It’s all under the Creative Commons license (+1 for the musical utopia). Does the reddit alien think this is the future of remixing music and will revolutionize the web? Perhaps... since we can't all have the advantage of time travel, it's hard to say for sure, but the music industry sure could use a remix.

And now some dope jams I think would make a great addition to anyone’s "mood music" playlist:

Remix-embed Me and My Mario by tiny avatar wisefool

Remix-embed borat he like you he like sex by tiny avatar bert111

In case you were curious, yes, that is a Metallica shirt the alien is wearing. And no, you can’t find any Metallica mixes on Jamglue. *sigh* Lars, I’m so disappointed.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

this was supposed to be another fluff entry

As most of you know, it's been a pretty turbulent week for us. We’re sorry for the trouble our negligence has caused. Our hope was to be as forthcoming we could be as quickly as possible – and I believe we were. There were some voices of understanding and forgiveness from the community, which we were grateful to see, but we know that we’ve got work to do.

Steve (spez), who built reddit, has been bearing the brunt of this in the comments pages, but this was a decision we’d both – wrongly – agreed to make back when we were holed up in our apartment last summer. This was our mistake; we fucked up and we’re learning from it.

Admittedly, I’m biased, but Steve’s the one who would cook Aaron breakfast in the morning, help Chris with revisions of the recommendation engine, and even let me win a few times at Blitz.

The fact is that Steve has been the guy from day one single-handedly keeping reddit online, even sleeping with his laptop for the first few months to do so. My contribution to the actual website you use starts and ends with the alien in the corner. When there are DNS troubles, I’m trying to figure out what to doodle, Steve’s on the phone with the tech folks.

Phew. OK, I’m done. None of that is an excuse for what happened, it just needed to be said.

Anyway, I was hoping to have spent this post talking about all the cartoon references from this past week’s logos, so here goes…

By the time I was able to figure out how to end last week's series (thanks, Mr. Watterson) it dawned on me that I could spend an entire week ripping off paying homage to my favorite cartoons.

Naturally, Calvin & Hobbes -- my all-time favorite -- would be first, despite how adamant Bill Watterson was about not commercializing his cartoons (sorry).

One of our users found a neat little hack to display backwards text and it seemed like a good enough reason to have an intermission from the cartoon theme.

Gary Larson's cartoons were so wonderfully dark, I don't think anyone would be surprised if that cow had something to do with the outage.

Tom Tomorrow has probably had a little bit too much material to use for the last six years, but his cartoons continue to be as pointed as ever. I also have a hunch he likes penguins, which makes him good people.

This was a reference to the first xkcd cartoon I'd read, which Steve had forwarded to me. Now I'm hooked; it's both entertaining and instructive.

Up next is Y Combinator appreciation week...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

time machine

I'm not sure how this could actually be an instructive blog entry for anyone, but my hope was that it'd at least be moderately entertaining. Admittedly, reddit hasn't changed much since we started it 18 months ago -- excluding random logo doodles -- but it has changed nonetheless.

I can't help but wonder what Pierre Francois would have to say about this.

Oh well, come and laugh along with us...

This was just a static html page so we could play around with the css. It was the first version of what would become reddit. Back then, it was called snew, as in "what's new". We'd have used as our domain name, but the owner is apparently using it for other things (?).

We switched to something a bit less conventional for a "news site", since we weren't trying to build a traditional news website. The alien was still in its infancy -- I wanted it to be even bigger. Steve said no.

This was the first version of reddit that was actually online. This screen capture is dated June 23, 2005. I can only imagine what those first users were thinking...

Actually, I know what they were thinking because they were all friends and family of ours. Frankly, most were probably wondering why there wasn't a mascot on the site.

Most of our early design scribblings happened in PaintShopPro 5. It was a shareware copy and yes, I was on a PC running WindowsXP at the time. This was a late-night idea for the user profile before we even had user profiles (or users, for that matter).

July 1, 2005: Thanks, byrneseyeview. I'd forgotten about this one I'd uploaded a little while back. I believe the yellow bar indicated 'hotness' and the orange-red bar indicated total score. If you remember when reddit looked like this, you are truly l33t.

July 2, 2005: The bars have been vanquished! We've arrived at a layout that's pretty similar to the reddit of today -- a list of links and lots of whitespace. But where are the sort options?

A friend of ours from school, Connor, had suggested a few layout ideas, including this newspaper-esque layout. At the time, there'd been a great deal of discussion about whether or not we should have topics and if we did have them, how they should be created and organized.

As you can tell, we didn't listen to Connor, but to his credit, he's still our friend.

July 13, 2005: Still had interesting/boring links for voting and the new sort options are relegated over to the far right (squint, you'll see them).

July 14, 2005: The sort options were quickly relocated and we'd added arrows to 'boost' the story. We demoed this version to the other YC startups and I'll never forget the sage feedback we received. "More head and less shaft" (regarding the arrows, of course).

July 27, 2005: The RTM button! (If you know what that is, thanks, you've been a loyal user for way too long) This was a precursor to the [hide] button.

August 10, 2005: Here's what our first profile page looked like. See how long it takes you to find the profile buttons...

September 17, 2005: Starting to look familiar now, but look carefully, there are faint circles around each arrow (wtf?).

October 22, 2005: We eventually changed the [recommend] button to [share] since it wasn't quite clear what recommend meant -- especially once we turned on the recommended page. The names of the sort buttons got truncated and [top submitters] grew to a broader [stats] page, but those un-rounded buttons have stood for the last year.

Granted, there are certainly improvements we'd still like to make to the reddit UI and overall design, but we'd like to think we've made some progress.

I know my biggest regret is giving in to a 120x40 pixel logo. But these sacrifices make us better people, or so I'm told.

And here's a bonus image!

We weren't always on the best of terms with the alien...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

in the quiet car

It's an Amtrak headed home toward DC and I've just sat down in the quiet car. My iPod is on and Kirk just ended a guitar solo. Digging through my backpack, I find the book I've been "finishing" for the last three weeks -- now is the perfect time.

The train is pretty full and there's a well dressed girl sitting in the row across from me. There's a Tiffanytm bracelet on her wrist and pearl earrings in her ears. Everything about her seems to be so meticulously manicured, so perfectly performed.

There's a guy sitting next to her, probably captain of the lacrosse team. Christ, he's even got blonde hair and blue eyes. I'm choking on cliche at this point.

Trying to distract myself, I notice that the holes in my jeans have gotten bigger; it's verging on indecent exposure. Maybe mom is right, maybe it's time to buy new ones. But oh well, back to the book, there's another hundred pages ahead.

Go, shorty
It's your birthday
We gon' party like it's your birthday

Her ringtone.

I thought this was the quiet car.

She tears through her purse to find it.

"Yes? --"

A conductor interrupts her.

"This is the quiet car! Take that phone, your stuff, and move to another car right now!"

It seemed a bit excessive, but it's not like she didn't know what car she was getting into.

She looks up at him with the same eyes she probably uses on her dad whenever she needs to explain away some exorbitant credit card bills.

It's not clear if she's talking to him or the phone.


Her boyfriend isn't much help.

"The rules apply to you, just like everyone else."

She's not listening; she tells her Nokia "I need to call you back, Daddy."

With that, the flips the phone shut and he walks away triumphantly.

A limp hand reaches across the seat to meet her boyfriend's.

"They had to rush her into surgery. I didn't get to say goodbye."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

happy halloween

Be warned, this is just a copy & paste from our reddit blog, but in case you missed it...

This morning, CondeNet acquired reddit. (Whoever submits this first is due for some major karma!) Needless to say, we're pretty excited.

We started reddit to solve a problem: There was tons of stuff on the Web; we wanted a front page to help us find the best of it.

Y Combinator took a chance on us and although we may have programmed reddit, we're not kidding ourselves: you all have made it everything that it is. A number of you even stuck with us after we switched away from Lisp.

As reddit grew, we were never quite sure where it would take us. To keep up with reddit's growth, we'd need to decide between taking more investment or getting acquired. As much as we enjoyed VCs taking us out to lunch, CondeNet's pitch was a little more enticing (they had better food).

We're still going to be the guys reading your feedback emails and keeping reddit chugging along. We've also been given about as much autonomy as an acquired company could get. In fact, they've insisted that we focus on growing reddit. With their resources, we're looking to do some neat things in the coming months.

The alien is also quite pleased.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

fall behind, catch up

This is a bit overdue, so I’m cramming together a week and change of updates. The only remotely interesting part of this entry is at the bottom; due to popular demand, we turned on

I used to hate raking leaves. But it was one of those many character-building activities (read: manual labor) my dad had me do growing up. He even bought me my own rake.

I never got the pet penguin I’d always asked for.

So there was never a plausible scapegoat for the mess.

I also never understood why Leif Erikson Day never got the respect it deserved.

Pity that Newfoundland isn’t an ideal location to arrive in North America…

If only those Vikings had (just launched), who knows how much better off they might have been once they landed?

Monday, October 02, 2006

comic book nostalgia

It started with a trip to the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. last week. The friend who took me suggested a week of superhero-themed logos. Then a week later, over burritos, Justin suggested the same thing.

It had to be done.

Growing up, comics were the only things I ever read. I also started drawing by replicating my favorite superheroes, so it seemed quite appropriate -- albeit random.

Bruce Wayne: Proving that superheroes don't need superpowers. The Dark Knight was requested by both of my aforementioned friends and the penguin was just asking for it.

The movie adaptations were blockbusters, but the Spiderman cartoon show always kept me from doing homework. In fact, the blasted theme song is running through my head right now...

Everyone's favorite X-Man, Wolverine's got an indestructible Adamantium skeleton, wicked claws, keen reflexes, and regeneration, making him quite formidable. On top of that, he's Canadian.

There were a few requests for assorted members of the Fantastic 4, so cramming them all in 120px by 40px image seemed like an reasonable solution.

V from V for Vendetta. I'd never read the comic until after I saw the movie. The timing for this header was largely coincidental, but apparently many redditors found it rather appropriate.

Monday, September 25, 2006

pirates vs. ninjas

"Arrr. Where be the logo cartoons?"

I dunno. Been busy with other stuff. Guess I haven't been "inspired", maybe I need a muse or something.

"Yarr! But today be a special day. It shouldn't be harrrrrrrrd."

Stop talking like that, Steve... Wait a tick... What's this on the reddit front page? "No Pirate-themed Reddit Alien? ARRRRRGH!"

Curses! I forgot!

(Yes, some of you longtime redditors probably noticed that I reused last year's halloween logo, I was in a bit of a hurry, but I did add a hook, which should count for something.)
After it was online, Steve reminded me that we had to appease the ninja-supporters, so as to not appear to be pirate-biased. A lot of consideration goes into these special logos.

Once a ninja got into the act, though, it was going to be difficult explaining how a pirate could conceivably emerge victorious. After all, the purpose of the ninja is to flip out and kill people.

I imagine Thursday was a day of great mourning within the pirate community.

However, as any devoted Pastafarian knows, pirates are favored by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and we cannot begin to comprehend the effect of being touched by His noodly appendage.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

redditors in bangkok, reporting live on military coup

Sure, today is talk like a pirate day, but this really deserves precedence. Yarrrrrr.

A few of our users happen to be in Bangkok at the moment and one of them, Alpha_Binary, has been giving the reddit community live updates regarding the situation as it's unfolded. Watching this thread grow throughout the day has really been remarkable.

Never thought I'd be reading such an account on a reddit comment page...

Sure enough, there's a whole slew of flickr photos to complement his reporting. Hopefully this coup will remain bloodless (at the time of this writing, as far as I know, it still is).

Despite everything, he's even managed to find some good in all this:

On an unrelated note, looks like my chemistry exam tomorrow is going to be canceled; making the first good news in several hours.

Monday, August 28, 2006

kiko sold for $258,100

Our friends, Emmett Shear and Justin Kan, actually requested this header last week when their startup ( was put up for auction on eBay. They wanted something to mark the end of kiko and subsequent birth of their new project.

I'd considered dumping it into a recycle bin instead of a trash can, but it was too hard to draw.

We're sorry to see this less-than-ideal exit for kiko, but you can be sure that a good chunk of that final sale price will be put toward their next project, which Justin assures "will revolutionise the way people think about the web".

I'm not at liberty to discuss just what it is they're working on, but it just might change revolutionise the way you think about the web ;-)

Friday, August 18, 2006

snakes on a reddit

You can tell that I've run out of things to write about, so I'll just be using this as a place for explaining the rather bizarre reddit logo designs I sometimes make.

Fortunately, today's doesn't really need much of an explanation.

We saw the midnight showing last night, the movie exceeded all of my expectations. It was as though everyone involved in its production knew it was bad. And they embraced it.

Thanks, Internet, for making this movie everything that it was. Motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane.

And they were going to call it Pacific Air Flight 121...

Monday, August 07, 2006

negativitynuke 2.0.3

Every now and then, we get reddit feedback emails from friends of ours. These are often informal exchanges, which we normally treat in the same manner as any other feedback email. This one happened to be from Zak Stone.

But this time, just for fun, I decided to reply with not only the callousness of a gigantic megacorp's customer service department, but also with an oversized attachment of aggression (in .doc format, just to vex him).

Here's what I got in response:


We're sorry to inform you that NegativityNuke 2.0.3 has flagged your message as overwhelmingly negative, so it has been summarily expunged from the intended recipient's inbox.

If you believe your message was obliterated in error, please try again, but don't be such a jackass this time.

Processed 8.6.06 18:44:09

NegativityNuke is a registered trademark of ThinkPositive Inc. If other people's small-minded invective is bringing you down, inquire about our automated solutions. We have helped thousands of individuals, corporations, and government agencies "See No Evil".

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

public service announcement

A friend of mine, Carl Tashian, was sympathetic to my health insurance plight after quitting his job to begin his own startup -- now he's written a great blog post about getting some protection in the Commonwealth.

I also feel compelled to mention the 2006 Wikimania awards and suggest that you nominate something. As if you needed any more incentive ;-) Xeni Jardin agreed to be an offsite judge for the contest.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

some things i've noticed

So we've been doing this startup for a little over a year now. Steve and I had just graduated from college when we moved up to Boston (Medford, to be precise) to start reddit. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into, we thought we did, but we didn't. In fact, we still don't. But we did have a great group of folks to learn from and learn with.

Oh right, and we also had some rather smart, experienced, and helpful investors.

We've learned quite a bit over the last year. There's a new batch of summer founders now and we try to be the ones with A's to their Q's. Having started a year earlier, we certainly had our share of advantages; once Web 2.0 was on the cover of Newsweek, it was clear that things were going to get crowded fast.

So I suppose this is for those summer founders (who I'll inevitably spam with six emails telling them to read this) or anyone else interested in starting a startup.

Unless you're going to create a reddit-killer. If so, you'd better just move along.

For those of you who don't know, let me preface this by warning you that the following is coming from someone who is neither the hacker behind reddit, nor the co-author of RSS, nor a frigging experimental atomic physicist -- I draw the aliens and do the things hackers shouldn't have to think about (like writing frivolous blog entries about startup life). As a naive 23 year old, I probably have no right to be giving advice.

With that out of the way, here's some unsolicited advice:

Karma exists (not just on reddit)
With a startup, I think there's a tendency to cultivate the "us vs. the world" mentality. Fact is, people -- especially in the geek community -- are incredibly helpful, so try and be even more helpful.

Gut check
Figure out early what you're in it for and have a chat with your co-founders about it. You're going to need that motivation when things get difficult (and they will) because you'll rely on one another to push on. No matter how much your mother loves you, you're married now -- only there's no sex.*

Listen to your users
Granted, a site like reddit facilitates this sort of thing, but I think it could be applied to plenty of others. Respond to every feedback email, especially early on. There will be good suggestions and bad suggestions, but the final decision needs to be your own -- just always be respectful to whomever you're dealing with.

Don't hawk snake oil
It's just not safe. It's also a terrible startup idea.

Wake up every morning to your competition
It helps to know what's going on with all of your competitors, try to learn from their mistakes and keep track of their successes. Google news alerts are great for this.

Lame companies exist, and will continue to, despite being lame
Verizon, the Cingular Store @ Porter Square, AOL, Bank of America,, have all done really lame things to us (and likely others) yet don't suffer the kind of wrath a startup would. Get over it. Keep a list, but get over it.

<3 Bloggers
This is where your early traffic is likely to come from (no, not just TechCrunch). Courting mainstream media publications probably isn't going to bring you the traffic you want, either in quantity or in quality. Most of the early adopters you're looking for don't read technology sections for the latest and greatest innovations. It wouldn't hurt to monitor a feed from a blog search of your website. Ask for more feedback from bloggers who've trashed you and try even harder to get it from the bloggers who've praised you. It also helps if you get Paul Graham to mention your site in his essays.

Everyone is going to give you advice
See? Always be open to it, but never take it as dogma.

None of this really matters
Ultimately, there are more important things in life than your startup.

*I realized later that this isn't necessarily the case, but the sentence just didn't read as well. After writing that sentence, I realized that it's actually just like a marriage, precisely because there is no sex.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

cingular: lowering the bill (a howto)

This is something I else I learned from my father that I've had to call upon (pun not intended) more times than I'd like to admit ever since I started paying for my own cellphone bill.

Growing up, my mother had lots of family back home in Germany who -- despite the stereotypical German fondness for succinctness -- loved to chat. Every now and then (during particularly eventful months, or uneventful depending on how you look at it) a particularly high phone bill would send my father to the phone. He'd explain to whomever was on the other end that we'd gone over what we'd expected for the month and a "please" and "thank you" later we'd be credited a nice chunk of cash.

He told me that phone companies were adamant about keeping customers and would be willing to shave off a few bucks if it meant retaining a client (presumably because the cost to get a new one is higher than the cost to reimburse? I didn't figure that part out until I was older).

Today, we don't have a landline. We haven't had one since we started (there was a brief period at the outset when we were forced to use AOL in lieu of a real internet connection). We do have cell phones, though, and a family talk plan with Cingular. We started with the most basic plan they had because we had few people to be talking to (Steve's girlfriend is also a Cingular user, so her calls were free) and we could let the rollover minutes pile up.

Last year, we weren't spending any time on the phone with companies and individuals who operated during the typical workday -- now that we are, we've drained the reserves. Our first overage cost a little over $150. That's a lot of pizza.

Of that, we got about $100 credited back using the same technique explained earlier, which was employed just a couple days ago to remove another overage fee (about $54).

Once you've navigated through the push-a-button menu (mashing 0 until you're connected with a human usually works for me) and are speaking with a billing agent. Simply explain your surprise with your most recent bill and ask if he/she would please credit the overage back (if you've been good about paying regularly it wouldn't hurt to bring that up, too). You should only be a thank you away from getting reimbursed.

On this most recent attempt, I was told that "it was already in the system and there's nothing we can do". Curious, especially because I'd just asked to upgrade the plan by an extra two hundred minutes. Maybe they'd caught on? Undeterred, I called back and found myself speaking with another agent. It was credited within a few minutes.

Nothing fancy here, no lines or strategies, all that's required is politeness and a few minutes of your time. Don't let the wireless carriers win, especially not Cingular.

ingredients for web 2.0 success?

This guy (Pierre Francois) embodies everything that is wrong with web 2.0.

I wonder if he's getting invited to foo camp?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

this land

Just got off the roof after being shaken by a few explosions, there's a parade going through the square. In true startup fashion, I'd forgotten that this was Memorial Day weekend here in the USA. On that roof, hearing the marching bands perform songs I'd learned in gradeschool, I was reminded of a song -- or rather, verses of a song -- that I was never taught. It even took me two failed attempts on ITunes to purchase the right version of the song. My father was always keen on reminding me that there were several verses of Woody Guthrie's classic "This Land Is Your Land" that never made it into my classrooms or Boy Scout meetings. I'd like to share them with you:

This Land Is Your Land

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

usability testing & soy lattes

As far as I can tell (and I've done extensive research) they have nothing in common.

However, for a startup that hasn't accepted VC funding, the thought of two-way-mirror focus group research may seem both frivolous and needlessly expensive (but mostly the latter). That's certainly what I thought. It was in a conversation on the T with Aaron that he suggested some kind of testing to observe how new users interacted with the site. The lightbulb flickered.

We're coming up on reddit's one year anniversary and we hadn't once watched -- literally watched -- someone use our site for the first time. Sure, we'd been in the presence of friends who were checking up on new links, but they'd all done it many times before.

I'm talking about watching total strangers, most of whom are frank enough to tell you what's wrong (alcohol would guarantee near-absolute candor, but at the cost of some accuracy). This is where the soy latte comes in. Incidentally, latte is Italian for bribe.

It started at Starbucks, looking for users who'd be our target market for lipstick, reddit with the cherry-flavored gloss of celebrity gossip. After that, I went to Diesel (the green mermaid's foil across the street) to seek out future redditors.

With Powerbook in hand, it was just a matter of approaching subjects with a smile and the offer of a free coffee, pastry, or anything (really, startup founders don't have the same inhibitions most people do) to get them to try out a new website. Most people turned down the coffee, of those that didn't, none ordered a soy latte.

Caffeinated or not, they sat down and diligently tinkered with the site (all the while thinking aloud as I'd instructed). What we learned was quite interesting and my only regret is that we hadn't done it sooner, but hopefully we can make good use of what we discovered.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

the view from up here

A few more pics, just because I'm so stoked about the roof:

That's Davis Square you're looking at.

The roof itself is a charming blend of decrepitude (a funny word) and rust.

I'm going to write something tomorrow that may actually add some value to your life, thanks for bearing with me.