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.

Monday, May 22, 2006

new headquarters

Did we finally cave in, take VC funding, and move to the Valley? Or just get evicted?

Actually, neither. Our lease was coming to an end and we found another place in Somerville. There are some important differences between our old and new apartment that should be noted:

  • Now, we each have our own bedroom.
  • Our new apartment is on Davis Square --really, it's smack in the middle of it-- which means we only have to stumble a few feet to find hearty and cheap portions of Kung Pao chicken and free large pizza Mondays (with the purchase of another large).
  • The old apartment had a scary basement, the new apartment has a scary basement AND roof access.
  • Somehow, despite the superiority of the new apartment, it is $100 a month cheaper than the old one and that includes heat. The place must be cursed.

Aaron is already enjoying the advantages of a new apartment, he gets a bedroom. Not that there was anything wrong with the old setup.

Apparently living in the kitchen --with such a close proximity to food-- isn't as great as it might seem.

The new room certainly has advantages, namely light (and natural to boot) and a desk. We're still working on furnishing the rest, but there's a bed in there, it's just out of frame, trust me...