Archive for the ‘social networking’ Category

Quora Question: How can a hyper-local online classified startup gain initial traction for getting listings from customers (C2C)?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

I’ve been having a bit of fun on Quora, and I thought this a particularly compelling question and, my answer particularly thorough…

I have worked with several startups and small companies who want to build that initial momentum in market contexts that might be similar to yours. They have built a product that they feel has a place in the market, but it is a recursive success product – like Craigslist – one where success depends on a critical mass… of success. Let me indulge in a kind of long answer – but if you don’t get through it the takeaway is this: We’re beyond Craigslist, you need to know your place in the market space and play it up.

A lot of entrepreneurs find a kind of comfort in the belief that they would have been Newmark or Zuckerberg had they been first-to-market, especially with customer-push content. This is a logical fallacy, because neither of these or most great (or even lucky) leaders were first to market. It is correct, however, to understand that they both started off in ways that you simply cannot hope to. Understand that Newmark was first and foremost a user, a guy new to the city who sent out an increasingly interesting email list to friends that grew based on its usefulness and the particular chemistry of his friend-group. He wanted to share events and opportunities because he wanted to share in them himself. Zuckerberg, in contrast, saw a gaping market-space that was reflected in his somewhat insular private college in a way that wasn’t being served and did a decent job doing so. Jim Collins would (I presume) look at both of these examples as similar insofar as the company (or leader) took their strengths and core mission to heart and the market was open to it.

I said above that we’re beyond Craigslist, and what I mean is that the way he started relied on technology and normatives that are no longer relevant. To how many mailing lists do you subscribe? What is the likelihood that you can dig up content that isn’t currently online already and send it out to people in a way that would add value to their lives? In fact, the question that underlies this discussion is the ultimate you question – which is, what do you bring to the market space that is unique and valuable? Imagine Newmark’s extended friend group getting news they’d never gotten in their inbox about local SF happenings – the list being so intriguing and fresh that they read through it every time a new one came. What does your company offer that is so compelling? What is the core competency that you bring to the table that makes your data or your postings so important?

I have had this very conversation – down to the Newmark biographical references – with many clients, some of whom have already invested in or sold the idea we were discussing. My client looks at me, a little crestfallen, a lot frustrated, and says, okay, so what, then? And while part of me thinks, well, I’ll be glad to bring your shiny new business cards to the recycling center, the rest of me says, okay, well the market can support fifty brands of yogurt, let’s give this guy a plan. And the plan is very simple. We get a laser focus on what makes you unique and we go to non-conventional and sometimes dramatic lengths to capitalize on that. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Jansen’s post (especially as it might pose IP – intellectual property – issues) – if your site has a raison d’être, it certainly is not to feed other people’s content. Rather, I recommend the following:

1. Discover your Focus: The words I latched onto in your post were, Hyper Local. I hear hyper-local and I think of my apartment building’s classifieds (so local, everything you get or give there is just an elevator ride away!). Hyper local might not be a new idea, but it’s not a bad one. Hyper-local classified might be done and over done, but is there something about the location in question? Something about the population that is unique? Something about the climate? Or, is it something about your model that might be uniquely functional for many specific localities (a special kind of delivery enabler, a unique revolving credit system, etc.). Once you have discovered your focus, you can move forward. And, professional advice for free here, if at the end of the day you want to move forward without a real differentiator, you can bully you way into a market, but you will have accomplished nothing of real value.

2. Get Boots on the Ground: One of the biggest fallacies of internet commerce is that people can be successful from their living rooms. Newmark built his base from information he got on the street. Zuckerberg built a database akin to a physical book that was common at his and many other colleges, and he went out and sold a very simple idea – hey, it’s like the book we have, only online and you can talk to each other. Whatever your focus is, it must have a real-world component that you can track to. Is your focus music? Get into local shows, venues, etc. Is your community particularly old? Visit the Denny’s. Be a user and you will see what your users want. Then, get those boots on the ground and give it to them. Free drink at the venue for posting, weekly gathering at the Denny’s for your customers. Get your boots on the ground in your hyper-local community or communities, laptops in hand, and you’ll get people in spurts of ten and twenty a day. And that’s something over a month – if your sauce is as tasty as you think it is, they’ll keep coming and you’ll have a critical mass.

3. Seed Judiciously: I had a client who wanted to start a social network for users of their product. They were launching it at a trade show (that’s steps 1 and 2 – their focus was the product, their boots on the ground was the booth) and they had a solid following so they got around 500 signups. A few weeks later it didn’t crack 700, and the activity was stagnant. Then, one day I look at their stats and see that they’ve made it to just under 4,000 signups. When the dust had settled, we realized that an influential blogger (in their area) had posted. From then on, I started the conversation with, Okay, I want a list of the thought leaders in your field. The bloggers, the actual journalists, the super-stars. Seed with them – give them a fancy spot or a check or a burger – but they can take you from zero to being chased by the troopers in no time.

Your case isn’t hopeless, and you might have but not have shared a very compelling differentiator. If you do, the rest is just easy. If you don’t, take some time, talk to some people, and wait by the side of the road for at least a little while for a big idea to come by. Just don’t be lulled into the idea that this is easy, or that you somehow will just build it and they will come. Even if in history this has happened, it would be silly to wait for it. Get out there and sell until your throat is sore.

AJAX File Upload UI Considerations

Friday, February 11th, 2011

I don’t often get into highly technical stuff on this blog (I generally answer long-form over at Stack) but this problem has been dogging me for years and I wanted to share the solution.

In context, let me start out by saying that my big project right now (ours – shout out to Wang.Media and the rest of the team at JaredWilliam) – is the build-out of a social-network.  One of the things we’re working on now is image upload, and this is certainly not the same time I’ve worked with images and file upload, but I decided this time to cut it elegant.  In this, I’m not alone – I wanted multiple image upload, progress indicator, and, of course, file checking.  I’m putting it all in a database.  That’s the easy part.

This network is interested in color, and I developed a program that will parse through the image file and build a palette out of the colors it finds.  Again, done. (I’m not brushing off those who might be wondering how to do these – just leave a comment).  The thing is, I was able to do all of these.  But as a UI matter, I had a problem.

The site seeks to categorize the images that are uploaded for site-wide galleries and search reasons.  The thing is, most users are very lazy – the idea of going back and tagging your information is just beyond many users.  For other sites, like Facebook, you just tag at leisure.  If you’ve ever used another site with a bulk-uploader, they might have you name a series or a gallery first, but in general, you are left on your own.  If you want to tag or need to, you don’t.  Never thought about this, actually.  But the reason has to do with synchronicity.  The thing is, if you’ve just uploaded one file, fine – pop the image back up and go with it.  But if you’re uploaded several, what do you do?  We could wait to the end and pop them all up – definitely considered this.  But it’s not ideal because now you’re wasting the users time when the item is up.

So, on a UI level, I needed to upload multiple images and then, when one was done uploading, it would pop up and you could edit and tag it.

I then added a div below whenever each new images came in, they would go into this popup so you could edit them as well.

The problem came up when the images came in at the same time.  Here’s why – and this is where it gets tricky – when you’re sending the XHR request up at the same time, you cross wires.  So if they both load at exactly the same moment, the popup pops up for the wrong image or, worse, not at all.  This is exhausting to say the least.  So, I did this:

onComplete: function(id, fileName, responseJSON){
 if (open == 0) {
 else {
  var newdiv = document.createElement('div');
  var divIdName = 'photoManager'+responseJSON['fileID'];
   if (req.readyState == 4 || req.readyState == 0)
   var newdiv2 = document.createElement('div');
   newdiv2.innerHTML = 'Update '+ fileName + '' ;

Here, we add a div below the uploader that will, whenever a new file goes in, create a link to open the popup to edit the image.

Automated, but not pushy.

And maybe people will do a better job tagging their photos!  We’ll see – will link to when the site is live next month or so.

My Market Assist

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

My good friend and sometimes client Oonagh O’Regan has tapped me to be head of Technology over at Market Assist.  It’s a really slick company and I’m very excited.  Sorry for the lack of new information otherwise!  Check us out at

Mafia Wars I: Pong

Saturday, March 13th, 2010


So, I’m working on a potential job for an unnamed part who might or might not have a penchant for biting off small animal heads, and so I’ve been spending a lot of time doing research.

But I thought it was rubber!

The research in this case is for what are apparently called spreadsheet games. These are games like Mafia Wars and Farmville. A spreadsheet game is simply one where the whole logic of the game could be easily plotted in a spreadsheet.

I only use Open Office

By logic, of course, I mean the way that the game defines user interactions.  A computer game is generally understood primarily as a one to one interaction, you being the one and the other one being the computer.  This is in contrast to, for example, a board game , where the interaction is shared evenly between you and the other players evenly, or a team-based interaction like a soccer match.  Now, some of you are thinking, wait – these are social games – you play with teams – you recruit your friends, you work together to shared goals!  This is, however, akin to saying your dakimajura love is as real as anyone else’s. Here’s why: The basis of a one-to-many or a team game is temporal – you can’t have a soccer game an hour after the rest of your team has gone home. You can’t play Pictionary after everyone’s gone to sleep. Sure, you could set up a web-cam and play Pictionary, or a multisensory-motor extender system (with cleats) to join the soccer game over in Japan, but you can’t call it playing with the rest of the crew if the crew is still feeding their many, many cats. No, in fact, most computer games, and pertinent to this conversation, all spreadsheet games are one to one. Forget Capture the Flag, Trouble, and chess. Think about them as a game of Pong.

Yeah,  1K of RAM!

Even when you win, you lose.

Pong as in, you make your move, the computer responds. You respond. The computer responds. Pong.

This is an important paradigm understanding. Because you have to start by thinking about how advanced and how complex a system like Farmville is – the kind of programming and artwork and even text that’s put into it. You then have to think about the millions (yes) of people who play these games and ask yourself – wait – these people can’t all be mindless idiots. (Most, sure. But not all.) You have to take all the intelligence and money and creativity that went into this situation and scrap all of it. It’s Pong.

But you have to make strategic decisions! Like, which property should I buy with all these points I made? Which jop should I take? How should I feed my animals? I’m not just hitting a paddle to stop a virtual ping-pong ball! In order to truly appreciate the way a spreadsheet game works, you have to think about what happens if you choose a different property, feed your animals differently. Now, just like in Pong, you have to do something, or else the ball gets past you. And while hitting it just right one way will return it in another – and you might increase or decrease your chances of getting past your virtual foe – at the end of the day, you generally just do your best to not get it past you. Isn’t that why you feed your little farm animals? You can pretend you have made a meaningful decision, but have you really understood the consequences? Do you really have access to all the variables? In truth, your decisions have just about as much behind them as you response in Pong takes into account Euclidian Geometry.

But there’s a story! This is a point I will somewhat concede. Whether it’s a time of transition for the Mafia underworld, or a great opportunity to build a new life in Farmville, these are in no way similar to the story that you’ve stumbled upon a rigid, magical two-dimensional ping-pong table with paddles that work hands-free. Right? I mean, it’s not like you could have just gone OUT and planted a garden, or chased away thugs… or picked up a paddle? See, what’s important to imagine is stretching out time. If Pong were meant to last for days, months, even years – wouldn’t you have eventually added a little more to it? What if every 10 points your paddle got a little bigger, but the computer’s side got a little faster? What if randomly, another ball could find its way onto the board just to keep you guessing?

What if this guy showed up at 1,000 points?

But I never know what’s going to happen next! Oh really? In pong, you’ve figured out that the 42 degree angle at which you’ve hit the left side of the table determines exactly where the… well, I guess you’re all that and a bag of loser-chips, Professor Nürdlame. And, since an object bouncing off at one angle will always bounce off at the complementary… you know what, shut up anyway. Well, that’s where we started back in the beginning with the whole spreadsheet thing. While it’s a lot more complex, you really do know exactly what happens if you upgrade the Pawn Shop in Mafia Wars. And while you can’t guess exactly what will happen when you face Don Dangerous (whose picture is actually her three-year-old daughter, thanks, Facebook) in a street brawl, you can figure it out. You have this much attack, they have this much defense – roll your little 8-sided die and… who’s the Dungeon-Master tonight again? Oh, the kid who lives in Mom’s basement? Sorry, where were we?

So what’s your point? This is all I’m trying to get here as I start to slowly dissect these spreadsheet games – the interaction is actually deceptively simple. If you take away the story, it goes like this: Hit button, wait for semi-random response, hit next button. Feed your animal. Buy your gun. And… oh, you found a secret treasure – lucky you and what a funny coincidence that it happened just as you were getting bored. And this basic interaction is easy to understand on a very visceral level – ping… pong… ping… pong. And what we can do with this – this is the beauty of it – we can with very simple tools make it a ping-pong that you will do instead of checking your work or resuscitating that man’s heart over in the ICU.

Coming up next: The Elements