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Your Life’s Work

I just posted a comment over at Fred’s blog; his post was about going out on top. The rest of this post is mostly from that comment.

Retiring from software crosses my mind from time to time. I used to imagine doing something else, so I tried. It didn’t work so well.

I don’t think the question is about going out on top. It’s about what your life’s work is. The perception or reality of whether you’re going out on top or not isn’t nearly as important.

A few years ago, the Times ran a story in the Sports section about a guy named Chongo. He’s an artist and a writer, but mostly he’s a crazy expert climber. And homeless. He lived in Yosemite, mostly stayed out of trouble, and climbed the cliffs around the park with equipment he either made himself or collected from his climbs.

You have to read the entire article to come to the conclusion I did: this was his life’s work.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09…

(incredible article, well worth the read)

I asked myself, “what’s is my life’s work? Software? Fucking software?” At that point I was burned out and driving the company into a brick wall, so I was also cynical. I wanted to do something more meaningful, I thought.

Turns out my life’s work is helping people. And I love doing it through software. Software is  only the context, but I really enjoy life most when 1) the bills are paid 2) I’m helping other people and 3) I’m able to spend time with people I care about and who care about me.

Yes, I love the win, I love creating things, and I love creating a huge amount of value. But I’m only happy when I’m doing it in the context of helping people. I’m happy to be working on something that will help a lot of people, if even in a small way.

Becoming a CEO

“If you don’t like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don’t become CEO”

–Ben Horowitz

http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/31/what%E2%80%99s-the-most-difficult-ceo-skill-managing-your-own-psychology/

Google +1

So yes, here they are. Google has all the search data–the web cached, your searches stored, and now it’s added your recommended search results. Sounds a bit like Jawaya, except we don’t have nearly the data they do. Or the market cap :)

But all is not lost. As we get closer to launch, I’m getting more confident that what we’re doing is deeper and more valuable to people. I’m not sure we can stay ahead of the goog, but I do know we can serve people very well with what we’re doing.

I don’t know how far they can go; when you start sharing people’s search results, you better be very good about privacy, and Google has its issues there.

So far, this is just a toe in the water. But you can bet they’ve got team of people working to go deeper into making search and sharing a fundamental part of their model–for those who want it.

And we, the scrappy, unfunded startup, we will keep pushing that stone up the hill. We’re a tenacious lot and we’ll continue to build something people will really value, regardless of what other players do.

Gotta love the Google

Last year I worked feverishly on a product to help me and you focus more and cut out the things that distract us. I called it Focus. I never released it because I ran into a few tech glitches in C++ and decided to take a break. That gave me time to work on Buckets, through which I discovered the joy of Jawaya. Buckets will be back–it’s a fluid way of organizing your thoughts quickly, saving them to buckets, and sharing the buckets.

Seth Godin blogged about distractions today. He basically says that if you’re reading an article or playing a game, you’re getting satisfaction but you’re not working. You’re not making. You need to make. Be a maker.

It’s not a new thought, but it’s an important one to remember.

Close the browser. If you need it for work, only use it for work. The internet never sleeps. It’s always there, and will be the same big black-hole time-sink when you get back. And you will, of course, come back.

Why?

Because you need your dose of self assurance. That shared experience with someone on Facebook for some reason matters to us. That email from a friend, that validation in a comment from the blogger, that sense of triumph when you know 100 people have read your stuff, that sense of control when you’ve read 15 articles about your industry.

Meanwhile, your industry is eating your lunch, taking your customers, releasing their products, getting your press.

Get back to work. Be a maker.

Go now.

Results are polluted with SEO-targeted sites, yes. Content farms create mediocre content that gets significant play on Google, yes. Google has been creating “personalized” versions of results that end up sending us to Page 2 more than ever before, yes.

But it’s not broken. It does what it intends to do.

Some things it does very well:

  • allows searching over multiple types of media. News is different from Aunt Mae’s website, blogs are different from video, etc, and the results in each are reasonably good.
  • Google Maps as directory. I use Google Maps as a way to get basic contact info for businesses all the time. It’s my number 1 local app, and yes I have foursquare, which isn’t as much about finding basic place info.
  • Autocomplete. Lawsuits aside, Google’s autocomplete is really amazing. I wonder if autocomplete is effected by personalization?
  • Commerce. If I want to buy something, I search for it on Google, which is the entryway to a ton of online and offline stores. I click on Google Shopping, and it does an adequate job of showing me prices and options.

“Adequate” is an important word. It means “good enough”. Google supplies results that are “good enough” in enough categories that people don’t go looking for new search engines. Some things Google doesn’t do as well? Well, there’s a long list, but I’d start with control over your search experience. Next I’d say I’d like more options in Gmail for viewing email. And I’m going to stop there, because there’s plenty of others out there criticizing what’s a pretty amazing company with tons of cool things, some of which might blow me out of the water.

Jawaya is not a new search engine, by the way. There are aspects of that, but really it’s a tool for social discovery through search and sharing. There are a lot of copycats springing up already, and some that were in and around the arena. I don’t care about that.

What I care about is creating a solid set of tools for people to make finding great content easier, and connecting to the people who have already found that great content possible. And there’s a long way to go toward getting there.

Next week I start formally raising a Series A round. At the same time, I’m working on building in the business model early so we can (gasp) generate real revenue early on. I think what we’re doing is compelling, and will help a lot of people get what they need faster and with a richer experience.

I was able to speed up the load time of the Jawaya plugin by a whopping gagillion seconds–something dramatic. I was able to achieve this stunning bit of engineering mastery by simply changing a value in the manifest so it would load before the page load. Clever.

When I realized later that there was something awfully wrong, I had forgotten what I had done. The bug wasn’t obvious at first–everything appeared to be working, but later I found the data was simply not getting stored because the extension was losing its authentication, or simply not getting it in the first place. I hadn’t written that code, so I didn’t know how to track it down immediately.

Frustrated, I took the evening off.

And this morning, I started by tracking it down, and realized a few things, including that if you want to grab a value from a page, you damn well better try to do it after the page loads, not before. I look forward to bringing on smarter people than I.

“There’s a fine line between clever and stupid” (occurs toward the end of the clip)

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