Joseph Smarr

Thoughts on web development, tech, and life.

Category: Personal (page 3 of 3)

Great video interview about lunch 2.0

The PodTech crew shot and edited a really nice video at our recent Lunch 2.0 at Netgear. It covers the event and features an interview with the lunch 2.0 founders, including your humble narrator, on the origins of Lunch 2.0.

I conducted the entire interview while lying on a bed in Netgear’s “lifestyle room” showcase, watching TV using their wireless media center product. And I’m wearing a commemorative Netgear apron from their BBQ lunch.

I love living in Silicon Valley. :)

Here’s the video (thanks, Jeremiah!):

Lunch 2.0 has been chronicled

Yep, that’s right: the story of Lunch 2.0 is featured today on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle in a great article written by Jessica Guynn! Jessica spent a lot of time talking with us and visiting the recent Lunch 2.0 at LinkedIn, and she even read Terry’s and my recent tomes on the subject. :)

Thanks again to everyone that’s organized or attended a Lunch 2.0 event, and here’s to all fun ahead!

See you at Internet Identity Workshop

IIW2007 Registration banner

I’ll be attending the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW2007a, to be precise) this Mon-Wed at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. I went to IIW2006b last year and was immediately excited to be a part of this community. The people involved are not only very smart, they’re pragmatic, hands-on, accessible, and motivated by all the right reasons.

The progress of OpenID has been stunning–developing the standard, building libraries, folding in related projects, and getting broad support–and I think we may well start to see its adoption hit the mainstream this year (we’re certainly playing with it at Plaxo these days).

Like other workshops and conferences that I go to, this will also be an opportunity to catch up with a lot of friends that I (for whatever reason) seem to only find time to see at events like these. So if you’re planning to attend, come say hi or give me a call (my latest contact info is linked to from my blog sidebar, thanks to Plaxo of course).

See you there, js

Has it really been five years already??

My Stanford class book pageI can’t believe it, but Stanford is already telling me to get ready for my five-year college reunion this fall. Five years–that’s as long as I was in college (including my Master’s degree) but this five years sure went by a lot faster than the previous five! Then again, I just passed my five-year anniversary at Plaxo (the math is a bit funny because I started working at Plaxo before I finished my MS, which btw is not advisable for one’s sanity).

Anyway as part of the reunion they asked everyone to make a page for a “class book” that they’ll be distributing. It’s a one-pager where you share some of you Stanford memories and give an update on your life since graduating. I think they expected most people to draw their class book page by hand and snail-mail it in or use their web-based pseudo-WYSIWIG editor, but I wanted a bit more control. So I downloaded the template PDF and opened it in Adobe Illustrator, which converted it to line-art (wow–product compatibility, who knew?!). Then I was able to add the type and graphics in Illustrator and save the final copy back out to a PDF.

For me, life since Stanford meant three things: doing NLP research (this is the reunion for my undergrad class), working at Plaxo, and getting married. As scary as it is to consider that five years have gone by already, when I actually stop to think of all the wonderful things that have happened since then, I consider myself extremely fortunate. I couldn’t be happier. In fact, I could really use another five years like this one!

One quick technical note: Since I embedded lots of photos in my class book page at their original resolution (I just scaled them down in Illustrator so they would still print at high quality), the file ended up being almost 200MB. When I first exported it as a PDF, I kept all the default options, including “preserve Illustrator editing capabilities” and the resulting PDF was 140MB. Clearly I could not e-mail this to Stanford nor post it on my web site. So I tried again, unchecked the Illustrator option, and also went into the compression settings and told it to use JPEG for the color images (which of course the originals were, but the default PDF option is to use 8-bit ZIP). This made a huge difference and the PDF was only 3MB but still high resolution. I also tried the compression option “Average downsampling at 300 dpi” for color images, but that essentially took out all the resolution in the images, so as soon as you magnified the document at all, they were very pixelated (looked more like 72 dpi to me). Apparently just telling it to use JPEG with the original images is plenty.

The origins of Lunch 2.0

In honor of the first officially-sanctioned Lunch 2.0 at Yahoo today, I thought I would finally write something on how and why we started this valley phenomenon:

Living in Silicon Valley is expensive, and the traffic on 101 sucks. So why not telecommute from, say, somewhere in the Midwest? What does living out here get you that working remotely doesn’t? Well, for one, all the other cool companies are out here. And, more importantly, the smart, innovative people behind those companies all live and work out here. But except for hiring employees, we rarely take advantage of that fact. We read about these companies in the blogs, and we use their products, and we’d probably all love to see how these companies and people live and work, but we don’t. Even though they’re like 5 minutes away from us, and they’re full of people just like us that would love to see how we live and work too!

And though many silicon valley companies are ostensibly at least somewhat in competition with one another, I think in most aspects we’re all kindred spirits fighting the same fight—trying to transform the world through technology and build a successful, functioning organization in the process. We all face the same issues: prioritizing features, hiring, nurturing a happy and productive work environment, dealing with growth, dealing with meetings and process (how much is too much? How little is too little?) and so on. Yet we rarely talk about these things, mainly because we’re all so busy trying to figure them out on our own. While traditional conferences may fill this need to some degree, they’re usually too big, too expensive, too impersonal, and too infrequent to appeal to most working people in the valley. But lunch is a perfect venue to get together, “talk shop”, and see how each other are set up. Everyone has to eat, it’s an informal setting, and it tends to be a manageable size. And silicon valley is such a small, closely connected world, that we know people at all the companies we care about within a degree or two of separation.

So initially, we just started doing this ourselves, e.g. “hey, you know so-and-so at Yahoo, can we go meet him for lunch next week?” or “my friend has this new startup and they just got an office, let’s go see them”. We thought others would be interested to see what we had seen, so we took photos and posted them online (in the process, coining “lunch 2.0” since we needed a name for the site, and it felt like a web-2.0 approach to the problem of meeting people). We also blogged upcoming events, but mainly just as an alternative for managing a mailing list of our few friends that wanted to come to these events. As we told our friends what we were doing, more and more wanted to come too, so we just pointed them to the blog, not thinking much of it.

The “we” in this case was initially me, Mark Jen (yes, that Mark; he joined Plaxo right after leaving Google), and Terry Chay from Plaxo (now at Tagged), and Terry’s friend Dave at Yahoo. Mark and I started having more lunches out at friends’ companies and Terry said he and Dave had been trying to do the same, so we quickly joined forces. Terry now tells people he was the “VC of lunch 2.0” because he plunked down the 5-bucks or so for the lunch20.com domain name. :)

The first company to realize that officially hosting lunch 2.0 would be a good thing was SimplyHired in early March ’06. Previously, we all just went to lunch with friends at Yahoo!, Google, and so on, but no one from the company officially “hosted” it, and certainly no one paid for us to eat. But Kay Kuo at SimplyHired wanted to get the word out about her company, so they ordered a bunch of food, gave us a tour of their office, demoed their site, and even gave us some free t-shirts! The event was a huge success, both for SimplyHired and for the people that came. Soon after, other companies started offering to host their own lunch 2.0 events. Mainly this was because someone from that company had attended a previous lunch 2.0 event, gotten excited, and gone back to tell their company they should do the same. Early lunch 2.0 hosts were Meebo, Plaxo, AOL, JotSpot, and Zvents.

Another big milestone was in May 06, when some people from Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Center got permission to host a lunch 2.0 event at their campus. This was definitely the most prominent company to host lunch 2.0 so far, and they did an amazing job, including paying for our lunch at the MSFT cafeteria, providing a tour of their 6-bldg campus, and bringing a lot of their own engineers to the event. By this point, lunch 2.0 had picked up enough of its own momentum that our roles as stewards changed from mainly trying to find and convince new people to host events to just coordinating times and logistics for companies that came to us and wanted to host. That trend has continued thus far, and shows no signs of slowing yet.

Other important milestones in lunch 2.0 history:

  • When JotSpot hosted lunch 2.0, something like 45 people showed up. Previously the biggest event had around 20 people, so this was the first time we thought “whoa, this thing is really getting out there”.
  • Meebo hosted a lunch 2.0 early in the summer and invited all summer interns in the valley to come. They had about 6 employees at the time and were sub-leasing a small amount of office space from another startup. About 80 people showed up, completely filling the office and spilling out onto the street.
  • Zazzle hosted an outdoor BBQ at their office and attracted a record crowd of about 150 people. They also set up tables with umbrellas, a professional BBQ setup and buffet line, custom-printed posters and banners, and even custom-printed lunch 2.0 t-shirts for all attendees.
  • Jeremiah from Hitachi Data Systems organized a combination lunch 2.0 and “web expo” at their executive briefing center. There were about 300 attendees, and we picked 10 data-intensive startups to bring laptops and set up an informal web expo where they could demo their products and talk about how they dealt with large amounts of data.

Going forward, it’s great to see that some of these events have gotten so large, but we also want to make sure that smaller startups can host lunch 2.0 events without feeling like they have to handle a ton of people or spend a lot of money. There are still plenty of cool companies in the area that we’ve never been to yet, so we’re hoping to keep doing lunch 2.0 for the foreseeable future.

Returning to those initial observations about making the most of living in the valley, I think the best thing that’s come from lunch 2.0 is that we’ve met so many other great people in the area, seen how they work, and they’ve met us in return. I feel more connected to what we’re all doing here, and I feel that I’m taking better advantage of the time and space in which we’re all living.

Guy Kawasaki likes my Plaxo widget!

This was a pleasant surprise to wake up to yesterday: Guy Kawasaki, the widely read startup guru whose top-ten lists of do’s and don’t for entrepreneurs are gospel here in the valley, posted a new top-ten list called “The Top Ten Stupid Ways to Hinder Market Adoption“. Number 8 caught my attention in particular:

8. Requirement to re-type email addresses. How about the patent-pending, curve-jumping, VC-funded Web 2.0 company that wants to you to share content but requires you to re-type the email addresses of your friends?

I have 7,703 email addresses in Entourage. I am not going to re-type them into the piece-of-shiitake, done-as-an-afterthought address book that companies build into their products. If nothing else, companies can use this cool tool from Plaxo or allow text imports into the aforementioned crappy address book. When do you suppose a standard format will emerge for transferring contacts?

Wow, Guy is telling startups that if they don’t use the widget I built for Plaxo, they’re stupidly hindering market adoption! He’s also selling it exactly the way I would–you already have an address book, so sites should let you use it rather than foisting their own half-baked version with none of your contacts on you. :)

On a personal note, Guy was one of the “industry thought leaders” I listened to at Stanford during the bubble who cemented my zeal for doing startups (ah, the euphoric pre-crash days of sitting in a packed Stanford auditorium on Friday afternoons for IE292 and listening to people like Mike McCue and Marc Andreesen explain convincingly why the tech sector was still vastly under-valued). Guy is a fun and charasmatic speaker and his delivery is always very punchy.

What I remember most vividly from his talk (now nearly 7 years ago) was his “Stanford Shopping Mall Test” for picking VCs–if you saw the VC across the way in the (large, open-air) Stanford shopping mall, would you (a) run over to see him, (b) say hi if you happened to bump into him, or (c) get in your car and drive to another mall. You should only pick VCs for whom you answer (a). I don’t know if it’s true, but it sure sounded good! I’ve since read his Art of the Start, which contained similarly memorable advice, such as “flow with the go”, meaning if/when people adopt your technology for some purpose other than you originally envisioned, embrace the change instead of resisting it.

Given the impact that Guy’s had on me and most of my cohort here in the valley, it was certainly a trip to see him evangelize something I worked on. I went into work with a little extra bounce in my (admittedly already quite bouncy) step. :)

Joseph, why a blog, and why now?

You know, I used to care about my presence on the web. Or, rather, I used to do actually something about it. In fact, I’ve had a personal web page since 1993, when I was a subfreshman at Uni High in Urbana, IL (the page was called mosaic.home.html, which kinda dates it). Sadly, I can’t seem to find a copy of my website’s earliest incarnation, but I do still have other old versions of my web site from Uni High, NCSA, and Stanford.

After graduating from Stanford in 2003, they promptly took back my Leland account, and my web site went with it (do they really need the extra logins and disk quota that badly?!). [If I’d been a pure CS student, I would have gotten to keep a cs.stanford.edu account, but being in Symbolic Systems—even though I took as many CS classes as most CS students—I was not afforded that luxury.] So my web presence regressed to a collection of google search results, incomplete profile pages, and bylines on blog posts I did for Plaxo.

It’s ironic that my move to becoming a professional web developer coincided with the first time since I was 12 that I didn’t have a personal web page. But honestly, it was just because I was too busy and/or too lazy to find more web space and get started again.

Whilst I was busy working on Plaxo’s web site instead of my own, an additional variable entered the equation: blogs. My first serious exposure to blogs came when Mark Fletcher, who was working at Plaxo in the early days, started talking about how he was going to build a web-based blog aggregator he called Bloglines. I remember at the time thinking to myself, “Mark, you’re a smart guy, and the only time-sink bigger than reading these random geeks’ rants in the first place is actually building a tool to help you read more of them!” Of course, in retrospect, the move was prescient (I shouldn’t be too surprised: Mark has a track record for timing the democratization of geek tools, having done the same during the bubble with mailing lists at ONElist/eGroups) and I now spend more time in Bloglines than any other web site.

Most of the blogs I read are not personal blogs, but rather news about companies I’m interested in (e.g. TiVo, Netflix, Zvents), technical articles about web development (e.g. Ajaxian, A List Apart, dojo.foo), or mentions of Plaxo across the blogosphere (Bloglines search feeds do this well, as does Technorati and Google). Most people I know that have started personal blogs post infrequently, and unless they’re a personal friend of mine, I’m not usually interested in that much of what they’re saying (it’s just not that relevant to my life).

So, why a blog, and why now? The direct reason is that I made a New Year’s resolution (sorry, Rikk, I know you hate those) to do a better job of work-life balance and setting up a personal web site is one of those “life” things I haven’t been spending enough time on lately (spending more time with my wife is another). But I’ve also had more cause to want to put things online lately. I’ve been giving more talks, going to more conferences, and working on more cutting-edge web development that I want to discuss and share with my colleagues across the web. Mainly I’ve done so through Plaxo’s corporate blog, but there’s a lot I want to talk about that’s probably too specific and long for that forum (you may have noticed my inability to keep blog posts short by now). And when Mark Jen (who, I’m happy to say, I helped hire at Plaxo when Google foolishly let him go) told me he could hook me up with space at DreamHost and even set up WordPress for me (Matt, you’ve done a bang-up job with that project!), I decided I really had no excuse not to go for it. So here I am!

I really will try to keep this site fresh and meaningful, and I encourage you to pressure me if I don’t live up to that goal. I started keeping a list of ideas for things to write about and it’s already several pages long, so all I need is the time/discipline to regularly spend some time on it. The few friends of mine that do regularly post about their lives and share photos make me feel much closer and more connected to them than I otherwise would, and I hope I can return the favor. One realization that made me want to start a personal blog even after seeing so many rantings-of-some-random-dude is that just because anyone on the web can read your blog doesn’t mean you have to write for a global audience. If a few people that want to keep in touch with you can do so from your blog, you’ve done them and yourself a service, and if it’s not relevant to everyone else, they can read something else.

That being said, a lot of what I hope to write about is ideas I’ve had about web development, tech, and entrepreneurship in general, which I hope will be of interest even to people that don’t know me personally. I’ll try to do a good job of tagging my posts so you can focus on the ones you care about. Let me know if you have any suggestions about how I can design/run this site better. I hope I can manage it like any good startup project: ship early and often, listen to your users, and rev quickly. :)

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