A new adventure

posted 11 August 2011, updated 11 August 2011

Last Thursday, I informed my managers at Yahoo! that I will be leaving the company. I have a lot of thoughts about leaving Yahoo!, and I'm going to assemble them into another post later. For now I want to talk about the new gig.

A while back, Jonathan invited me out to dinner. We'd worked together for a year on the dream team that was Yahoo! Widgets before it got mothballed, and he wanted to talk about some ideas he had around entertainment, social media and the Internet.

In a way that is characteristic of him, he started speaking fluently, passionately, and with all the focus of a terminal ADD sufferer about friends of his who are media types who make web content. About how they use blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and sites like those -- what he collectively termed "social media", a buzzwordy phrase, but usefully short.

Mostly, content creators use social media haphazardly at best. Not because they're dumb, but because there are so many sites for them to use, each with different use-cases and conventions and tools. Knowing about and using more than a fraction of their capability is a full-time job, and most media organizations aren't big enough to dedicate a full person to that role.

He also talked about metrics, and "closing the loop" on social media. At the moment people who pump content into these various sites get only the most basic idea of how successful they're being. They see view counts on YouTube, basic stats on Flickr, and on Twitter they can kinda-sorta track your retweets (except when you can't), or you can search for links to your content, except when you can't. The stats aren't always there, and even when they are it's hard to get the big picture.

There is, he said, a business opportunity here. I agreed, and said I wish I could help him out -- but, being on an L-1 visa at the time, I knew I couldn't. I also have another post in store about that.

Today Jonathan has taken that idea and gotten a lot further with it: he has founded a company called Snowball Factory (we're going to work on that logo), and with the able assistance of Cloudspace it's launched three products -- the flagship awe.sm, as well as two smaller tools, TweetPo.st and fbShare.me. Collectively, they're helping tame the beast of social media -- making it easier to use, more measurable, and more effective.

This is a hard, hard problem. In fact, it's five or six hard problems. It involves taking enormous amounts of data and boiling them down to simple conclusions, and wrapping complex APIs into simple, usable user interfaces. It involves making websites that scale, and APIs that are powerful but easy to use. And the result is that the web, as a whole, gets better. In short, it's not just building a website; it's developing the web. It's what I'm all about.

Jonathan has a lot more ideas, and I've got more than a few of my own. And starting next week, I will be joining Snowball Factory as employee #1 and technical lead (and co-founder, and janitor, and CTO, and tea boy, and sysadmin -- when you're employee #1, you get a lot of job titles, but I'm sticking with "technical lead" for now).

I'm extremely excited. Joining a startup is what I came to the bay area hoping to do, and after three years at Yahoo!, I'm doing it, and I'm in pretty much as early as you can be. It's going to be hard -- expect a lot of annoyed tweets about technical difficulties -- and the hours will be long, and there will be setbacks as well as triumphs. But it's going to be an awesome (and awe.sm) ride.