Side projects

I have a handful of side-project to write up. I'll likely push them into separate blog posts and summarize them here when more are available.

Here is my favorite.

Wurkit — Web makers that love to read and share their favorite insights.

I love books. I hate how they're shared online. It's the worst. I want to find a place I enjoy sharing books with friends. When I get frustrated, I tinker. I've been doing this on and off for a few years.

Someday I'll get the gumption to make it.

Background

Many, many years ago I had a blog where each post was a short excerpt from a book and a short note on why that excerpt meant something to me. A bit like highlighting an area and adding notes in the margin.

I used the book title as a category. To read all the excerpts and my related notes from a single book felt like rereading the whole book. It was wonderful.

It was popular enough that publishers were sending me free copies of new books! I even got an email a personal hero asking me to not add any more excerpts.

Website screenshot showing a few book excerpts, a list of book titles, and explanations for the purpose of the website.
Website screenshot of my old book blog. Check out those dates. 2006!

The term "blog" was seven or eight years old and not yet mainstream. I had lots of side project interests and didn't see the value of maintenance and upkeep. I eventually scrapped it and did something else.

For shame!

Since then I've had a similar thought a thousand times: I wish I could see a few excerpts and the reader's reason for sharing their excerpts.

Many people try to give a summary of the book. That never helps me get a sense of wether or not the book would be good for me. Or, people talk about what they like and didn't like about the book. Without knowing much about the person, I can't tell if I would have a similar reaction.

But when I see a small piece of a book and someone's attempt to explain why it matters to them... Now I can infer many useful things!

The caterpillar

When starting something new I always try to think about ways to explore an idea while keeping it real. I want real people using a real website in real life under real circumstances, but I don't want to build the whole thing.

I like to call this the caterpillar. I know it's not the final form. Although, it can reveal the larger purpose of the adventure.

I want to get a sense for how an individual feels about capturing this kind content for themselves. Is there enough personal value? Without this, no amount of clever social or collaborative features will keep people using it over a long period of time.

I want to hint at a potential future of sharing ideas as an informal group. Is there an appetite for seeing what other people think of the books you care about?

This landed me on a group blog format. Nothing overtly suggesting lots of people will be using the website, but more than one.

I want to keep the topics limited. Finding a few web people to share their web thoughts could make it more interesting and valuable to a web audience.

If I could get any excitement, even for a few people across a few topics, my caterpillar has a chance to become a butterfly.

Look and feel

I wanted the group blog to feel simple. To try and find a place that is familiar and straightforward, while including enough pizazz to feel unique and special.

Plain, bordering on generic. Nothing else like it.

I know that's a contradiction — it doesn't make any sense. I like the aspirational nature of the goal.

A critical piece of accomplishing this is to have the excerpts and related notes remain intact in all situations. The block of content representing the excerpt and related notes needed to be the same in the book view, personal view, and collective listing view.

Finally, I wanted to create an illusion that the primary areas of the website were their own mini websites. At least, until you start deliberately looking around for more.

This sounds easy. It wasn't. Getting the structure consistent and sensical across different situations took sevaral iterations.

Rough sketching of various places an excerpt will be shown on a website.
Attempting to see layout of excerpt, title, person, and notes across different views.

With this structure somewhat settled I wanted the text to do the visual heavy lifting. No graphical elements whatsoever. Not to be minimal. To further reiterate the simple and straightforward nature of the website.

A dark theme with bright white text. A playful, almost neon, blue for links. In various subtle places an exaggerated detail. For example, an ellipsis to indicate more content is laughably huge. Hoping to find the right place where the aesthetics support the structure. Simple and obvious, but still a sprinkling of fun.

This might end up being a "night mode" someday. For now, this is where the aesthetics landed.

Website screentshot showing various book excerpts and related notes.
Home view with excerpts and related notes from various books and people.
Website screenshot showing excerpts and related notes from a book.
Book view listing excerpts and related notes from various people.
Website screenshot showing book excerpts and related notes from a particular person.
Person view showing excerpts and related notes from various books.

I think I'm getting close. Simple, fun, obvious, and unique.

The future

When feeling good in real life, the next steps are the cocoon and butterfly.

The cocoon would likely be shifting from a blog back-end to a tailored application where people could create and better manage their own accounts. Minimal (hopefully!) public interface changes.

The butterfly would be deliberately targeting other topics and all the interface refactoring to support those efforts. Likely a non-trivial redesign.

There are wacky interface ideas for managing similar excerpts with overlapping content. Will share when I work out a few kinks.

The problem with problems

Don’t talk about problems (or solutions). Instead, talk about progress. Only then can we be precise without dictating implementation details.

Writing a good objective

Working with abstract concepts doesn’t make us more strategic. It doesn’t mean we understand the big picture. It doesn’t mean we’re doing something more valuable.

Interface design values

Clarity above all. Efficiency when interfaces are clear. Consistency when interfaces are efficient. Beauty when interfaces are consistent.

Is asking why always the best strategy?

There’s such a thing as getting down to the root problem too quickly, particularly when it comes to product design. The value in figuring out the “Why?” behind things isn’t quite as much about the destination as it is about the journey.