Saturday, November 22, 2014

Squidoo HQ

Squidoo HQ

105 Months Later…

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 07:15 AM PDT

The Squidoo Summer TeamSquidoo began for me the day I met Seth Godin – Father’s Day, 2005 to be exact. That day, Seth told me and three other people his idea and handed me a 19 pager about his vision for the site.

I spent the summer as the architect tasked with turning that idea into reality. It was only supposed to be a three-month summer project.

On August 1, 2005, Seth asked me to join Squidoo as the COO, and I didn’t hesitate for a second. I loved the promise of Squidoo, and I loved working with Seth. We started building right away with Viget Labs.

Seth said, “Let’s give it three months and see how it goes.”

On Friday we announced that HubPages is acquiring Squidoo. Nine years and 14 days later.

If my math is right, that’s 105 months longer than the “see how it goes” period. It is safe to say it exceeded all our expectations, by a lot.

Three things come to mind when I think of 9+ years on this project.

This is my record for a single project. It might stand for the rest of my life. I’ve never worked at a company for nine years. I’ve never worked on a project this long either.

The web changed. A lot. Think about this: when we started Squidoo, Facebook was a closed network of about 1 million college students (it has more than a billion members now). There was no Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr or Instagram… I’m not even sure Youtube existed yet. So there were no like buttons, no selfies, no sharing articles. This was the dawn of "Web 2.0" – the social web, and the web was all about searching (Google).

So many memories. Since Friday, I’ve found myself thinking back to all those months. There are so many good memories, I could fill a book. There were plenty of challenges too. While many of those weren’t fun, getting past them meant a lot.

Today I’ll share some of my favorite memories, in no particular order:

On our fifth anniversary, we donated a total of $275,000 to five charities. As we said then, “The primary goal of Squidoo’s founders is to make it easy for you to give little bits of money to charity every day…. without using anything from your wallet. Every Squidoo page earns money for charity or its creator, and once millions join in, that tiny drip turns into a torrent.” Those causes included Acumen, Juvenile Diabetes Research, Room to Read, charity: water and Wikimedia. Over the years, we gave millions to good causes. We built a school in Cambodia, funded scholarships for inner-city kids and helped with research on juvenile diabetes.

We generated millions of dollars for members too. Our member forums were full of success stories. Someone mentioned Squidoo generated enough money to pay their utilities each month, then later their rent, then later, both. Someone else said they could afford a new car and the payment that went with it. Many have said that Squidoo gave them the confidence to publish online for the first time, realizing they could make money with their passions and knowledge.

Laptop Bags. If there ever was an Exhibit A for what Squidoo was meant to be, it was “Funky, Chic and Cool Laptop Bags”, a lens by Kate Trgovac (AKA mynameiskate). Kate’s lens about laptop bags was wonderfully and beautifully curated, with lots of care going into her selection and her commentary. For quite some time (three years, I think), Kate’s lens was the #1 result in Google if you typed in “laptop bag”. That’s one valuable search term too, as evident by all the advertising around it. Kate became the laptop bag expert on the web. I heard all sorts of companies and people were reaching out to her to see if she might list one of their bags. We even heard from a boutique seller who said 38% of her sales came from Kate’s lens.

Squidoo's SXSW Web AwardWinning the SXSW Interactive 2007 Web Award for Community. Gil and I traveled to Austin for the 2007 SXSW show. Squidoo was nominated for the Community category. That year, Twitter won for the Blog category in SXSW’s annual Web Awards.

The day the 100,000th lens was created. In March, 2007, the 100,000th page was created on Squidoo, and we reached a mark of 50,000 users.

Building an albatross. People who know, know what this blog post is about. I laughed when reading it then, and I still laugh today. Brilliant.

We were profitable, early. We announced in 2007 that we had achieved profitability. We never took any VC funding either.

#37. Sometime in 2012 – I believe it was October – Squidoo achieved the rank of 37th on the web (based on U.S. traffic). I loved to say – “only 36 sites left to beat” (even though I knew moving up even one more slot would be a monumental move).

Building the team. The Squidoo team had a reputation with all our partners of being fast, smart and thoughtful. No project was slapped together, but they all went fast. I won’t say I’ll miss the team, because I don’t think this is the end for those relationships. I would be thrilled to see our paths cross again.

Seth SquidLearning that Seth Godin is the real deal. When I got on the plane to visit Seth for the first time, I was nervous. Not in the starstruck sort of way though. Anyone who has known me since 1999, when Permission Marketing came out, knows I’m a huge Seth Godin fan. While I thought it was unlikely, I did think, "what if he’s not the person we think he is?" People have asked me variations on that very question ever since. I’m happy to report this guy is better than advertised. He established a culture based on three things: empowering our members and treating them well, giving as much money as possible to good causes and providing a place for employees and contractors to have a work/life balance that values family. When we were a tiny, tiny team of four people, I sprung the news to Seth, Megan and Gil that I wanted to go to New Orleans to do volunteer work, post-Katrina. This was in early 2007. Most CEOs wouldn’t have loved the idea of 25% of the team checking out for a week – especially with a few days notice. But Seth not only said “go go go”, he cheered me on in such a big way, it gave me more energy while I was there.

So while it isn’t easy to end a project – particularly one you love so much – I know this is a good time. I’ve now had the chance to get to know some of the HubPages team, and I’m super impressed. I know the people who will have their work transferred from Squidoo to HubPages will be in excellent hands. I’m sure I’ll be in touch with Paul and the HubPages team over the coming months. I look forward to watching the Squidoo lensmasters thrive as contributors there.

Squidoo was a 7-day-a-week labor of love for me, and I find myself needing to take a quick break to recharge. I didn’t notice it as much until the announcement was made.

But I made a list with no particular timeline for what I want to do next:

  1. Take a nap
  2. Hang out with Sara and Kayla and act like one of their gang for a bit
  3. Visit my family who live in various spots across the country
  4. See what happens when I spend more than 15 to 60 minutes a day on No Treble (which has grown to 400,000 monthly visits since we started it)
  5. Look at an idea list that just kept growing and see what’s interesting
  6. Play my basses a lot more. Piano too. Maybe even start composing again.
  7. Figure out my next project

WPR Interview: All About the Bass

Posted: 11 Aug 2014 06:30 AM PDT

WPR: Great Bass Lines... ScreengrabI did an interview with Central Time on Wisconsin Public Radio on July 30th.

The segment’s title was “Great Bass Lines And The Science That Makes Us Love Them” and kicked off with Laurel Trainor, a professor of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Laurel directs the Institute for Music and the Mind, and in a recent project, she measured brain response to high- and low-pitched sounds using an EEG. The segment continued with me geeking out over all sorts of bass lines with the hosts and callers.

It was my first radio interview, and it was a ton of fun. The only problem was that the show could never be long enough to cover all the great bassists and bass lines. Maybe there will be another.

Thanks to the show’s hosts, Rob Ferrett and Veronica Rueckert for having me on and for spreading the good word about the bass!

Here’s the audio:

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Spinning Vinyl, and Inspiration

Posted: 04 Apr 2014 07:56 AM PDT

VinylSince I purchased my first vinyl in the 7th grade, I’ve been hooked on the format. Over the last year, I’ve rekindled that love, purchasing vinyl from shops and eBay at a rapid clip.

I’ve always loved sharing music with others. I’ve also been trying to think about how to do that on the web, for fun. I started working harder at cataloging my vinyl collection on Discogs. While that was a good start, it isn’t actually much of a recommendation platform.

The work involved in any idea I’ve had to date makes the project prohibitive for me.

That all changed today, thanks to my good friends Aaron and Stephanie. It started with an idea from Aaron, posted on Facebook:

Corey Brown, please start an Instagram feed—take a photo of the album in context (meaning don’t just square it up for the artwork, make it live). And in the comment post a shortened attribution URL to the CD (hook it for NoTreble!). You know, in your spare time. Dude, I would eat that up.

Then Stephanie added to the idea:

Connect it to a Tumblr and call it Corey’s Picks or Corey Spins Vinyl. You’ll become even more famous. :)

And just like that, a simple concept that is super easy to implement and maintain was born.

This will be my next thing… all fun, no work. (Not sure about the “famous” part though.)

Thanks Aaron and Stephanie!

Photo from my Instagram collection.

To Do List Stress and a Return to Paper

Posted: 03 Mar 2014 09:26 AM PST

Corbinizer: Coreyweb edition

Every day since June 2009, I’ve used Cultured Code’s Things app to manage my hectic to do list. There’s been no better way for me to capture to do list items when I think about them, because I’m never far from some device, whether it’s the Mac, iPhone or iPad. Adding a to do list item and forgetting about it (and having it all sync up across every device) is just amazing.

It is also a curse.

A to do list like this one (perhaps without the necessary discipline) becomes too much of a combination of have-to-do, want-to-do, should-do and wish-I-could-do entries, and it seemed the list grew longer every day. No matter the tactics I’ve tried – applying tags, setting up projects and even trying to avoid adding too much, the result was an overwhelming list of things to review and sort. Not to mention feeling no sense of accomplishment.

A few months ago, I discovered I was retreating a little, occasionally writing down a “must do” list for the day on paper, and avoiding Things app altogether on the days I did that.

Then Aaron showed me Corbinizer about a month ago, and it was game over. (Corbinizer’s creator Brandon Corbin presents a compelling case for using a paper-based task manager on his blog.)

After three weeks of using the Corbinizer, I finally reached a daily milestone: checking off every item on my daily list. The Corbinizer makes unrealistic lists look that way: unrealistic. Seeing how much I was completing (and how much I wasn’t) was extremely helpful in figuring out how much my to do list should include.

I found the original format of the Corbinizer needed some tweaks to become the absolute perfect tool for me personally. Brandon’s version has four panels for tasks, and four panels for ideas/notes. I’m a daily to do list kind of guy, and having to start a new Corbinizer after four days really didn’t feel right. Plus, I capture notes elsewhere (a Moleskine notebook when I’m avoiding my devices, and SimpleNote when I’m using one of my devices). So I modified the Corbinizer to include seven days. The remaining panel is for notes.

My new routine is slightly modified from my old one: each night and each morning, I review my list in Things app. Now, I capture the important tasks that need to be done in that day’s Corbinizer panel. If I have time at the end of the day, I either do one of my wishlist tasks on Things, or get something else done early.

There are good reasons to use the original Corbinizer the way it was intended. If you think of your to do list in daily increments like I do, here’s the Corbinizer: Coreyweb edition.

Get things done, and enjoy.

P.S. If you download my version of the Corbinizer, here’s a handy video by Brandon demonstrating how to fold the Corbinizer:

The Corbinizer, including my mod, is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.

This is How to Design and Develop a Web Project

Posted: 01 Nov 2013 08:48 AM PDT

EW patterns by Brad Frost

EW patterns, by Brad Frost

For years, the first tool I reached for in the early stages of a site’s development was Omnigraffle.

Over the last couple of years – with the introduction of powerful frameworks like Twitter Bootstrap and Zurb’s Foundation – I’ve turned to Omnigraffle less and less. It is just too easy to get an idea across with these frameworks.

Turns out, I’ve only scratched the surface.

Entertainment Weekly recently launched a new responsive site. A few of the team members behind this project have generously shared their approach and process for this project. This is the roadmap for future projects, as far as I’m concerned.

Brad Frost produced the HTML and CSS for the project. He shared how the team went from “HTML Wireframes” to increased fidelity to “real” development.

Dan Mall, who oversaw the design direction, shared the process that happened before the wireframes, using “the design studio methodology, the KJ technique, and … some one-on-one interviews, among other things.”

Jonathan Stark (the self described “token codemonkey on the team”) gets into some CSS and Javascipt specifics, as well as their Git workflow.

For me, the most significant piece of this entire process is Pattern Lab, a tool Brad Frost made to create atomic design. Just brilliant.

If you’re looking for more on the subject of wireframes, here’s some great additional reading:

Time to get to work.

Speaking at the Frederick Startup Community Meetup

Posted: 14 Oct 2013 09:41 AM PDT

Startup TalkI started noticing the Frederick (Maryland) Web Tech community on Meetup a year or two ago thanks to their great discussion topics. Since it is only about an hour away, I’ve been able to attend a handful of events there over the last year or so. Though the topics were the initial draw, I was thrilled to meet the people who make up this great community even more.

One of the organizers is Paul Wilson. He recently asked me to speak at the Frederick Startup Community Meetup on October 24th.

Paul suggested I could share from some of the startup efforts I’ve been involved in: Squidoo, No Treble, Bright Cowork and Refresh Winchester.

I’ve been jotting down notes ever since, thinking about specific stories I think are worth sharing. Those four startups are all quite different, but they all have their share of wins, losses and interesting stories and lessons.

Meetup details:

When: Thursday, October 24, 2013 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Where: Cowork Frederick, 122 East Patrick Street, Frederick, MD (map)

RSVP: Frederick Startup Community Meetup page

Hope to see you there.

Square Peg Round Hole

Posted: 28 Sep 2013 05:35 AM PDT

This is a video I can’t share on No Treble (no bass!), but I must share it.

The band is Square Peg Round Hole (love that name). The tune is “Big Thicket”.

The song comes from their album Corners, which was funded through Kickstarter and released about a week ago.

Off to buy it right now.

Geeking Out Over Social Meta Data

Posted: 21 Sep 2013 07:09 AM PDT

I shared a Wired article on Facebook last night and noticed that they had a bigger image than normal on the resulting Facebook post:

Wired article shared on Facebook (with a big image!)

Instead of something like this:

A typical image size when sharing links on Facebook

So I checked out the source on the Wired post and found some social meta data goodness… Bigger og:images and Twitter meta data too!

First, bigger og:images

When you set a larger image, it makes a huge difference when a link is shared on Facebook. Here’s an example of this No Treble article.

No Treble link shared on Facebook - no with a big image

After I shared this discovery with Aaron, he sent me the doc for og:image sizes. A minimum of 600×315 is required for the larger image, and it needs to be set to a 1.91:1 ratio for optimal results.

Wired passes two og:image references: a square, cropped thumbnail (first), and a large version (second). I’ve done the same on No Treble. There are cases where I won’t have a big image on older articles, so I wanted to make sure I was passing the thumbnail all the time.

Twitter Cards

From Twitter’s Developer site:

Twitter cards make it possible for you to attach media experiences to Tweets that link to your content. Simply add a few lines of HTML to your webpages, and users who Tweet links to your content will have a “card” added to the Tweet that's visible to all of their followers.

Here are the docs:

Once you validate, you’ll see a button to submit your site for approval:

Request site approval from Twitter

Approval for No Treble only took a few minutes, even though the message indicated it could take a few weeks when I first submitted.

Here’s what the card looks like for the same No Treble article:

Twitter Card validator result

This matches what you’ll see on when you click the “Show Summary” link under the tweet:
Twitter "Show Summary" presentation

Finally, here’s the embedded card markup result:

More info

Wired uses the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin to generate their meta data.

Yoast also has a post about Twitter cards.

I’m not using the Yoast plugin, because I set things manually in my templates due to specialized meta data rules I’ve developed for No Treble. Filling in the blanks is easy in the WordPress template if you don’t want to use a plugin.

Here’s what I have set for Open Graph:

And for Twitter:

Here’s Wired’s meta data for the article I shared. Now I just need to figure out what the “go:…” meta data is all about:


Posted: 04 Jul 2013 09:12 AM PDT

IndependenceAbout nine years ago, I moved from the intense (insane) DC metro area – where I was born and spent most of my life – to the laid back Shenandoah Valley. The town I moved to first – Stephens City – has a population smaller than the high school I went to, by a lot.

When I announced my decision to move back in 2004, friends and colleagues treated me as if I was Christopher Columbus about to sail over the edge. All I knew was that I was moving my family to a more peaceful place, I’d spend far less time in the car (and use that time for personal projects I couldn’t think of starting before), and I had high speed internet.

I met Seth Godin less than a year after the move. Four months after that, we launched the beta version of Squidoo. Squidoo was very much a “New York company” at that time, with me being the lone guy living “off the grid”, as Seth liked to tease back then. Today, it is much more of a Winchester, VA company, if you consider the high percentage of the team working at Bright Cowork.

The world I watched as a kid was very similar to the world my father and my grandfather watched. There were big differences, to be sure, but the world of work seemed to be about the same.

My father worked at the same company for over 30 years. He was quite successful at it, and while I know there were many times he would have loved to move on, he stuck it out. My grandfather did the same.

So I used to wonder what was wrong with my in my late twenties and early thirties when my record working anywhere was about three years. I’m guessing my father wondered about that too. Neither path was wrong – just representations of different times.

I started noticing the world changing in 1993 when I started getting heavily involved in online bulletin boards. I realized then that the world was shrinking, information was becoming easier to find, and marketing and networking opportunities we never imagined before were emerging.

By the time I got on the web in early 1995 – at the age of 26 – I knew what I wanted to do from that point forward: web work. I remember I stayed in my chair for eight hours straight clicking, reading, searching that first session. There have been many like that since.

For too many years now it seems, there’s been a lot of talk about the economy and unemployment. I see a lot of blame and I see a lot of promises that seem impossible to keep (i.e. “we’ll bring manufacturing back to Virginia!”). I’m sad that there isn’t more talk about the reality of our present and future, which is this: the web has leveled the playing field. The web has created opportunity. We have unprecedented access to information, and an audience.

If you want to learn something, I’m sure you’ll find a wealth of information on the subject if you spend a few minutes searching. Not only that, you can also find people to discuss it. For free.

When I was a kid, you’d have to be awfully rich (for starters) to reach a big audience. Now you just need to pick a platform (or several). Many of them are also free, and many require little to no technical knowledge.

Squidoo today is in the top 150 sites for traffic, and I’ve spent my entire eight years at Squidoo working in this little section of the Shenandoah Valley. My personal project – No Treble – is the most read publication for bass players on the planet by every measure I can find. I started that here too, in 2009. There’s no way this could have happened 20 years ago. Heck, it might not have been possible 10 years ago, given the budgets I had to work with to start both companies.

I’m sitting here this morning typing this post in my home office. This house is nearly 150 years old, and yet I’m zipping through web pages, downloads and uploads. Just another reminder of what’s possible, if you spend a little time upgrading.

This isn’t just opportunity here… is unprecedented opportunity. But it requires questioning the old rules, the old way of doing things. There are many careers that are simply not coming back. But there are many more being invented every day.

I love to tell my daughters this: the sky really is the limit now. Find what you love, the knowledge, the people to collaborate with, the platform, and do your thing.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

photo by Jeff Krause

Eight Years of Squidoo

Posted: 16 Jun 2013 08:58 AM PDT

8 years of SquidooEight years ago (give or take a few days), I met Seth Godin for the first time and heard about his idea for Squidoo for the first time (we called it Plexodex to confuse people). I don’t remember the exact date back in June 2005, but it was on Father’s Day.

And so it just hit me: I’ve been working on Squidoo for eight years.

Not only is that a record for me… it smashes any former record of working on one thing for so long.

I started wondering why, and something else hit me: I really haven’t been working on Squidoo that long. I’ve been working on the next Squidoo for that long. And I don’t mean some giant leap. We’ve kept the spirit of Seth’s original idea for all these years. What we’ve been doing is introducing a ton of incremental change.

Or as Seth says: “Drip drip drip”.

The great thing about working on something long enough – when you’re tweaking it bit by bit – is that at some point, you get to look back and see how that work mattered. Small changes don’t look like much. Stack a lot of them, and you’ll eventually see it worked.

Of course, it is a lot more than that. I signed on to work with Seth over that summer of 2005 simply to work with him. I had no idea what the project would be, and I didn’t care. Eight years later, it is still a thrill.

I got the chance to learn a lot. First, from Seth, Megan and Gil.

Then we hired my brother Josh to fix the frontend work I did in the early years, and my sister-in-law Tisha to become the bug tracker boss.

Bonnie joined us and made our community focus so much better.

Then Aaron not only joined us – he also joined me at Bright Cowork and that started a pattern of team growth within those walls, with Joey, Liz, Stephanie and Paula joining us there.

Eight years is a long time, especially on the web. But thanks to a culture of shipping and the team members I get to work with, every week offers up new ideas, new challenges and new opportunities.

"When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don't put in the time or energy to get there."- Steve Jobs

Oh, and happy Father’s Day.