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  past petermemes

February 28, 2001
State of the industry.
An article on Creative Good's layoffs, and shift towards smaller, tighter engagements, has an immense personal relevance for my new venture.

February 27, 2001
More notes on IA.
I've finally finished writing down my notes from the Reflection and Projections panel at the ASIS Summit. Read about the Future of Information Architecture, and the Pain We Feel.

February 26, 2001
My four food groups:

Ice cream
Raw-to-rare protein
(sushi, hamburger)
White-ish goo (mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, sauce for walnut prawns)

Oof. I normally don't share such things, but for some reason I feel the urge to write that I just ate 3/4 of a pint of Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk.

So, I'm starting a company. It all started November 8, when I sent an email to a small group of friends, subject line "Loose Consulting Group." Employed at Epinions, I knew I'd be leaving by the end of the year. The independent life was calling me, and I saw that it was calling many others, too. A spark across a synapse, and I thought, "Hey, let's be independent together." And the idea of a company formed.

The company's charter was to be at the nexus of user experience and business strategy. This small group of seasoned experts would earn revenues through consulting, publishing, and conferences. We'd still lead independent lives--the last thing I wanted was to set myself up in a situation where I wouldn't have the freedom I'd have as a free agent (thus the name "Loose Consulting Group"--the original idea was that we'd be a loosely gathered network of folk... the idea evolved into a bit more.)

The timing must have been right, as all six others whom I emailed signed on to make this happen. (Sadly, one later had to leave the effort, as obligations took her elsewhere.) It became clear we'd all been thinking the same thing, and the email served as a catalyst for action. (Never ever ever underestimate the power of a single piece of communication.)

So, we've spent the past couple of months turning this set of bullet points in an email into a limited liability company. We've had day-long meetings, weekly evening meetings, phone calls, animated email conversations, discussing company strategy, logistics, opportunities, concerns, dreams. The meta-qualities of company-forming fascinate me. Partnership agreements, facilities planning, identity development, corporate positioning, communications, revenue models, and tons more. I'm so grateful to have found such an amazing bunch of colleagues to help navigate these seas--as an individual I'd have never gotten out of port.

I'm excited. And anxious. I'm proud of the work we've done so far, and am confident it will pay off. At times, I think I'm crazy for giving myself this responsibility--wasn't I happy enough as an independent contractor, an interaction ronin, with only myself to answer to? Yes. But I'm greedy. Not for money, but for opportunities. And in banding together, all of us fully believe that the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. That we'll get better gigs, more intriguing problems to solve. Most tantalizing is creating a structure that will support non-consulting revenues. A crystallizing sentiment is that we all seek to educate, to inform. We believe that being a company can help us publish newsletters, reports, and books, can provide critical mass around which a conference can be held.

The one thing that has been possibly the most gratifying about this new venture is how the team has banded together. (And forgive me if I don't announce the names of team members or the name of the company... we're still a little bit before launch.) At every step, when there has been a decision to protect the individual or serve the team as a whole, we've opted for team. Our partnership agreement is a quasi-socialist document.

More will be written as plans continue to unfold. I hope readers of peterme.com understand if my personal site publishing continues it's irregularities for a bit. There's a lot going on here at headquarters.

In the meantime, if you or yours need some kick-ass user experience consultation from a Dream Team of sorts (modesty has never suited me), perhaps you'd like to drop me a line?

Oops. I had no intention of posting my "starting a company" announcement yet. Not that I'm unwilling to let the cat out of the bag, but I need to edit what I've written first. I thought I had posted something else. Dreamweaver tricked me. Anyway, I'll have something up soon (maybe tonight) about what's going on. Forgive me.

February 20, 2001
Links from elsewhere.
From Gleanings we were pointed to Downloads: The Internet Moving Image Archive. This is a treasure trove of video tasties largely culled from Rick Prelinger's collection. Folks who remember Voyager know of Rick's work through the Ephemeral Films and Our Secret Century CD-ROMs. The videos are mostly educational, training, and corporate films, capturing a snapshot-feel of the time that you don't get from the more rigorously produced Hollywood fare. I've had the pleasure of working with Rick and his films, and I'm excited to see them made widely available.

Also, head over to Stating The Obvious. It's good to see Michael back in form, with some delightfully relevant posts. Perhaps fatherhood is calming him down a bit. ;)

February 18, 2001
Flash meme of the week.
Though not nearly as widespread as the Elian Wassup movie, ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US is definitely catching on among Web hipsters (I was pointed to it twice last Thursday). Inspired by the bizarrely-translated intro to the video game Zerowing, the collection of manipulated images set to a thumping techno beat and a speech-synthesizer drone is an exemplary snapshot of our pop cultural Zeitgeist. What I find primarily intriguing is the ingenuity of the imagery, the cleverness in the *perfect-looking* text, the commentary on our text-saturated environment (something our brains aren't particularly wired for... not lots of billboards on the African savannah), the implied conspiracy threat (reminiscent of They Live), and that the whole affair was a grassroots effort. There's a pretty good thread about this flick on Plastic.

Various and sundry thoughts. Spent the afternoon with best bud Trav, shooting the shit on the usual topics (movies, the internet industry, business models, content management system design, girls, etc. etc.). Among the topics was "modern day folk hero"--he's working on a story that features such a character. And I realized that the first person who came to mind when I heard the phrase "modern day folk hero" was Shawn Fanning, the creator of Napster. For what that's worth.

Yesterday morning I had breakfast with Scott, preparing for our SXSW talk. Subjects were ranging, though the focus was mostly around the economic issues of the digital delivery of content. I find that more engaging that discussing the digital design of comics, because, well, I pretty much agree with Scott about comics design (we formalists stick together), whereas I'm far less certain that he's on the right track with digital delivery. He acknowledges that micropayments would be only one of many revenue generators, but a key one, the essential step wherein artists encourage potential patrons to 'try' the work while breaking even on their costs. Scott sees the essential payment process as:

A little (5-10%) for free --> a little more (10-20%) for a micro --> and the rest for purchase/subscribe.

Scott sees it as untenable for creators to give away all of the first 20% or so--the costs of everyone 'trying' something for free could impoverish the artist. But, it would definitely NOT be a world of only micropayments, filled with variable pricing--after the patron has paid a small amount to try it, she would then cough up some flat free for the full deal.

February 15, 2001
SF Scott Alert!
Scott McCloud is speaking on Saturday the 17th at 12:30p at the Alternative Press Expo at Fort Mason Center. Only $6 admission. If you're thinking of heading there, email me.

February 14, 2001
When I read "forage" I think of squirrels.
To read later: "Designing for Information Foragers: A Behavioral Model for Information Seeking on the World Wide Web".

This paper explains and elaborates a behavioral model for understanding how people look for information on the Web. The first half briefly reviews a wide range key research to provide a broader context for understanding human information seeking behavior and a starting point for further exploration. The second part proposes a model for organizing design ideas based on this research.

February 12, 2001
Let's do some crimes.
My Media Nugget review of Repo Man has been published. It's among my favorite on that site--I'm particularly satisfied with the Dr. Strangelove connection, a link I've not heard anywhere else. Both are bleak black coming-apocalypse comedies defining their respective eras.

February 11, 2001
Christina speaks out.
Christina adds her own ideas to my first set of thoughts on IA.

February 09, 2001
Thoughts on Information Architecture.
Spurred by my participation on a "Reflections and Projections" panel at the ASIS 2001 Summit, I'm writing up a series of notes on trends, pain, and the future of IA.

February 07, 2001
Understanding Scott McCloud.
I don't think I've mentioned it here yet. On March 10, I'll be interviewing Scott at South by Southwest. It's important to note that March 10 is the day before the "main" interactive conference. So, if you don't want to miss this great opportunity to hear Scott, plan accordingly.

I'll also be moderating a panel on the cultural implications of interface design, featuring Steven Johnson, Martin Wattenberg (creator of the SmartMoney Map of the Market), and Raoul Rickenberg.

Warm fuzzies. Dad sends along this delightfully affirming article from the L.A. Times.

One Sunday afternoon, Lori took Sean out to eat. There, in an Armenian burger joint with belly dancers, she saw famed physicist Stephen Hawking, who uses a wheelchair because of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. That summer, Hawking had become Sean's hero.

February 06, 2001
I've felt a bit of an asshole for my Feb 1 comments about Pyra/Blogger. It had been something brewing in my mind for awhile, and the conflation of events spurred me to write it. I don't mean to denigrate the efforts of the Pyra folks--I know it's a sad time for them; that the work they did has had an amazingly positive impact on thousands of people; that hindsight is 20/20. Matt wrote up a really smart "insider" look at what happened. Well worth reading.

Everyone loves REI. One of my big takeaways from the ASIS Summit was that industry experts agree: REI has a really good online store. The site came up in 3 separate presentations, in each independently noted for its expert presentation of content.

February 01, 2001
As the industry turns.
A couple of recent incidents in the Internet Industry have struck close to home. Earlier this week, Epinions.com laid off 24 people. Nirav, the CEO, sent a letter to the community outlining the reasons. This move is not surprising. When I left the company last November, I had discussions with my boss about how there were too many people at the company, particularly considering the direction it was taking. This doesn't make the decision to let people go any easier--from what I've heard, the last couple days have been a profoundly sad time--though, remarkably, even those being laid off understand the decision and are accepting it gracefully.

The layoffs are less about finances than they are about restructuring. The company is receiving more funding, they're actually hiring people for sales and quality assurance, and they did what they could to move people from departments that were being closed down into new positions. Epinions is just trying to be a good, smart, and responsible business, and that often means making hard decisions.

In other news, Pyra is down to one man. I'm friends with the Pyra folk, and the last few months have been very hard on them. There was a brief ray of sunshine with the Blogger Server Fund, showing the love and dedication of the user community, but love and dedication and $10,000 just gets you a couple of servers, not a sustainable business. A colleague said it best, and perhaps most brutally, when he said that it seemed that Blogger was run as "a hobby." Numerous avenues for garnering revenue could have been pursued--none were. For me, that's always been the most perplexing aspect of this whole endeavor. It's as if there was simply a mental or organizational block toward accruing money. Which is fine for a hobby. But, and this is bleedingly obvious, not for a business.

Among the most eye-opening aspects of working at Walmart.com is how it is all about money. I've never worked in such an environment before (occupational history includes universities, cd-rom publishers run by communists, elite design agencies, and irrationally exuberant dot coms), and it's startling. I wonder if this is the environment most people operate in. Frankly, this cold water slap of market reality is refreshing.