Building your big idea

Great essay from Paul Graham…

Empirically, the way to do really big things seems to be to start with deceptively small things. Want to dominate microcomputer software? Start by writing a Basic interpreter for a machine with a few thousand users. Want to make the universal web site? Start by building a site for Harvard undergrads to stalk one another.

Empirically, it’s not just for other people that you need to start small. You need to for your own sake. Neither Bill Gates nor Mark Zuckerberg knew at first how big their companies were going to get. All they knew was that they were onto something. Maybe it’s a bad idea to have really big ambitions initially, because the bigger your ambition, the longer it’s going to take, and the further you project into the future, the more likely you’ll get it wrong.

I think the way to use these big ideas is not to try to identify a precise point in the future and then ask yourself how to get from here to there, like the popular image of a visionary. You’ll be better off if you operate like Columbus and just head in a general westerly direction. Don’t try to construct the future like a building, because your current blueprint is almost certainly mistaken. Start with something you know works, and when you expand, expand westward.

The popular image of the visionary is someone with a clear view of the future, but empirically it may be better to have a blurry one.

(Emphasis mine.)


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Comment philosophy on Tumblr

From an interview with David Karp, founder of the Tumblr blog network, I want to highlight a concept where design shapes behavior:

Karp’s thinking about the comments section, which is generally assumed to be a core blog feature, helps illustrate his broader ideas about how design shapes behavior online. Typically, a YouTube video or blog post or article on a newspaper’s site is the dominant object, with comments strewed below it, buried like so much garbage. Thus many commenters feel they must scream to be noticed, and do so in all caps, profanely and with maximum hyperbole. This, Karp argues, brings out the worst in people, so Tumblr’s design does not include a comments section.

How, then, to encourage feedback while discouraging drive-by hecklers who make you never want to post again? First, Karp notes, you can comment on someone else’s post, by reblogging it and adding your reaction. But that reaction appears on your Tumblr, not the one you’re commenting on. “So if you’re going to be a jerk, you’re looking like a jerk in your own space, and my space is still pristine,” Karp explains. This makes for a thoughtful network and encourages expression and, ultimately, creativity. “That’s how you can design to make a community more positive.”

While the imagined rationale for commenters acting poorly because they can’t be noticed easily is a weak cause-and-effect, I find the design response innovative and appealing:

Your readers’ comments are shown on their blog, not yours, thus keeping your blog more positive.

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CSS 3 – Box Shadow properties

The box-shadow property in CSS3 allows a comma-separated list of shadow attribute values.

These specify, in order, the horizontal offset, vertical offset, optional blur distance and optional spread distance of the shadow);

Then,  an optional color value and an optional ‘inset‘ keyword.

Inset lets you create an inner shadow, rather than the default outer shadow.


  box-shadow: 5px 5px;
  box-shadow: 5px 5px 15px #888;
  box-shadow: inset 2px 2px 2px 2px black;
  box-shadow: 5px 5px #666, -12px -12px #f4f4f4, 0px 0px 15px 15px #cc6600;

These are supported in newer browsers.

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Facebook Timeline debuts. Social Overload.

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler wrote something this week that gave me pause:

With the new Open Graph, you’re sharing stuff as you do it. You don’t have to think about it. You’re listening to music on Spotify and it’s being shared with your friends automatically in the Facebook Ticker. The only button you hit is “play”.

There’s one massive problem in the social space: everyone is competing for the same user time. But most services compete by piling on features that erode that time even quicker. They’re offering up services that if I use, it means I’ll have even less time to actually enjoy life. That’s not a sustainable model. Being “social” online has become far too much work.

Facebook has clearly been thinking about this problem. And now they have a way to tap the power of social without thinking about it. That’s the future of the space. It’s not about needing a share button. It’s about not needing a share button.

Given that none of us complain about having too much time on our hands, the investment we make into our social networks (twitter, facebook, grapemojo, orkut, flickr, netflix, and any other forum through which we share ourselves) can feel like it robs us of actually living “real life” outside, offline, away from the computer, with humans in the flesh. (Think about when you last said, “I had a great night out on Facebook last night.”)

Sure, we get satisfaction from posting, sharing, creating and commenting — but anything that reduces the time it takes to do this will be much appreciated.


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Using Mac OS Lion (10.7) with Adobe products

Adobe has posted a tech note about how its products interact with Apple’s new OS X operating system.

As expected, the glitch-and-bug list is lengthy.

* * *

Macworld posted an article about other Lion glitches and compatibility issues with other Mac programs. Among others:

Finally, Microsoft promises an update to Office in the next few months that will add support for Lion’s Autosave, Versions and full-screen features.


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About PDG & Associates

Paul D. Gurney is the founder of PDG & Associates (since 1996). This "What's New" blog features highlights and commentary on interesting topics related to the web design and development field.

We specialize in building websites with user-friendly content management systems, built with open source technologies like PHP, mySQl, python and jquery.

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