When I was at GoogleIO, I received an email from Brent Griffith, one of the guys on the team behind Redux.com. Redux was mentioned recently on Hacker News, and rather than rewrite much of this commentary, I figured it would be more interesting to just post the conversation here.
Slightly edited to remove non-public and irrelevant bits. All substantive content is left completely unchanged.
Savvy readers will note that I basically just took something jwz said 3 years prior, and applied it to this situation. Shoulders, giants, etc.
Subject: Hi Isaac
Brent Griffith Wed, May 28, 2008 at 1:46 PM
My name is Brent and I noticed from your site, foohack, that we both share an interest in technology. I am always looking to network with other passionate individuals in this industry. I’m an early employee at Redux, a startup in the discovery space. We just raised… [some specifics about their funding which might not be public, I’m not sure.]
We’re a group of mostly engineers, and we’re always looking out for super-motivated, talented and outstanding developers to work with us.
Please let me know if you’re up for chatting sometime about Redux.
(if you would like to read more about Redux before we chat, you can go to http://www.redux.com/about.html. I can also give you an account to our private beta)
[contact info removed]
[Times and when to talk. Brent sends me a link to the beta. We fail at IM.]
Isaac Schlueter Wed, May 28, 2008 at 6:06 PM
[Final “I’ll call you at this date/time”. Giving up on IM.]
FYI, not that this was necessarily your aim, I’m really not interested in leaving Yahoo any time in the near future.
I signed up for the beta. Looks interesting. Speaking of GoogleIO, is open social on your radar? Seems like OpenID/OAuth/OpenSocial could add an awful lot to your application with minimal overhead on your part. My gut reaction when it asked for a profile and avatar was “Aw, jeez, another one?” Seems like it would be a better strategy for you guys to focus on just the parts of your app that are unique and interesting, and outsource the rest. Again, just a 10-second reaction, I’ll delve into it more later.
Brent Griffith Wed, May 28, 2008 at 6:54 PM
[Availability confirmation. Acknowledgement of total IM fail.]
Yes, very perceptive. For sure, we are definitely watching Open Social and especially Facebook’s “opening moves” (lol). I agree with you about the focus statement. We are actually in a debate currently about whether/how to simplify and “go back to basics.” I hope we do.
I look forward to our talk,
Isaac Schlueter Thu, May 29, 2008 at 11:27 AM
Some other thoughts on Redux, no doubt influenced by thinking and talking intensely about the social web for a while, especially today and yesterday.
Have you read this article? http://www.jwz.org/doc/groupware.html
I stumbled across it a few years ago, and it provides an absolutely brilliant razer for developing software with any kind of social component. (Which, today, is almost all software, period.)
It seems like there’s something oddly promising in Redux, but the value that it adds doesn’t seem like it’s exposed very well, or like it’s somehow unfocused. It almost seems at first like it’s trying to be YouTube or iLike or Facebook… but the vitality and social-ness isn’t done as well as Facebook, and the ratings and recommendations interaction isn’t on par with iLike, and the videos are all available on YouTube anyhow… It feels like I’m missing something. I suspect that if I’m missing it, then the average 20-something in his dorm room will miss it too, and instead of telling you, he’ll just go back to using Facebook, because that’s how he meets girls, and that’s all he cares about. (I’m guessing from the “chick” and “dude”, he’s who you’re going after?)
The design is certainly nicer looking than any of those sites (by a wide margin!) but I suspect that most people don’t much care about that. They’ve used plain text email and SMS forever, and MySpace is still extremely popular, despite looking like absolute hell. As an artist who cares about nice-looking and well-structured web pages (kudos on the clean semantic markup, btw), that matters a lot to me. But I’m in a very tiny minority. That 20-something is using MySpace for one reason, which is the only thing that he cares about. (Actually, these days, it’s a 30-something using MySpace, but let’s face it, that guy didn’t change much in 10 years.)
If you’re going to be a value-added aggregator that looks nice, why not actually be an aggregator, and aggregate really well? Use OAuth to link up with my Facebook or Twitter profile, and get my status/vitality events from there. Let me similarly link up with my Flickr account, and get a photo stream. If I have a friend on Facebook or Twitter or Myspace or, eventually, any OpenSocial container site, then show me their updates on Redux, so you “redux” the social graph as well as the content. (I think that Google FriendFinder might be useful or at least instructive, but I’m not terribly familiar with what they’ve done.) Try to pull their ratings and reviews from Yelp or CitySearch or Yahoo Local. And so on.
My suggestion would be to try to do as little as possible–and more importantly, ask your users to do as little as possible outside of their ordinary routine–in order to bring all these aspects of personal brand to one slick interface. Redux could be essentially a nice set of CSS styling around a collection of curl calls to various web services that other people (with deeper pockets) build and maintain for you, combined with an incredibly easy interface for users to add content to their personal list. So incredibly easy, in fact, that it’s painful by comparison to go post a video on Facebook. That’s a tall order, but I’m sure there are creative ways to do it. (Perhaps by tying into Facebook with an app that posts your Redux stuff to Facebook and vice-versa.)
But, of course, if you’re just an aggregator, then that’s boring. It only gets exciting when you start showing me other people–especially strangers (or even better, FOAFs) of similar age and opposite sex–who like the same things. Then the value proposition is, “Do whatever you want anywhere, but come here to find people who are into the same things.” It seems like that’s closer to the core value proposition of Redux, surfacing people based on interests, but it’s hidden under a lot of copycat baloney.
That will help your users get laid, because:
- it will help them traverse the search space more efficiently,
- it will help them create an advertisement to attract attention, and
- it will provide them with a selection of ice-breakers for potential partners.
By the way, being able to view a person’s profile, and click the name of a thing, and then add it to my profile… deviously brilliant.
You like XYZ? Oh my god, I do too! or on the flip side,
He seems nice, but on his profile, he just has everything I do, even misspelled the same way. How pathetic.
If it sounds crude to reduce product decisions to “get my users laid,” I think it’s worthwhile to remember that this is just a stand-in for ALL social interaction. It just so happens that attracting a mate is about the most challenging and high-priority sort of human interaction, so if you can manage to help people out with that, you’ll also help them connect with their friends and family and coworkers. That’s why Facebook and MySpace are more far popular than any dating site; it’s like comparing meeting someone at work or school with meeting them at a singles bar.
I guess what I’m saying is that I hope you decide to go back to basics as well, largely because I think Redux seems to have the potential to be extremely cool, and I’d like to use it. As a young small company, you have the advantage of being able to identify the key area of differentiation, focus on it, and out-iterate the big guys. Pick the wrong area, and you lose. Pick the right area, and they can’t hope to keep up with their army of feature-happy and eyeball-greedy product managers. The open source community in the social web space is coming to the point where you don’t need to re-invent the other bits. Along with product managers, the big guys have armies of developers to do all the mundane stuff, and can run in many more directions at once than you can.
Brent Griffith Thu, May 29, 2008 at 4:25 PM
Wow, just wow. Amazing, yours is probably the most thoughtful feedback we have received from any of our beta users. I really appreciate you taking your time to do that.
Great article. Thanks for sharing. I had never read that before, but it gets right at the heart of it. I particularly like that part,
The trick you want to accomplish is that when one person is using your software, it suddenly provides value to that person and their entire circle of friends, without the friends having had to do anything at all. Then, later, you pull the friends into the fold: if one of them starts using the software, they become their own hub, and get the benefit they have already witnessed from a distance. I believe that should be our goal and I think that with the new iteration of the site we are moving towards it.
I agree about your discussion on focus. I think that this is what we will accomplish by stripping down the site from the bloated legacy code that Redux is in its current state. We built the current version of Redux on top of our previous iteration and this was probably a mistake, thus why we have decided to simplify and refocus and build on top of that. We are also planning on aggregating like you said, linking up with Facebook and other networks. We’re very excited about the refocus and where our site is headed.
Once again, thank you immensely for your insightful and thoughtful feedback. I have distributed it throughout the organization for people to think about.
I look forward to our conversation tomorrow.
The phone conversation was interesting, but since it wasn’t recorded digitally like the email thread, I forgot most of it. I remember being entertained by it, which is all I’d been looking for. Hopefully it was worth Brent’s time.
Isaac Schlueter Sun, Aug 17, 2008 at 1:27 PM
Now that Redux is getting a bit more attention, I’m considering working this into an article on Foohack. (With all contact info stripped out, of course.) Any objections?
Brent Griffith Mon, Aug 18, 2008 at 10:39 AM
Good to hear from you. Absolutely, go for it, no objections here. If you have any questions that you’d like answered, shoot them my way.