Perseverance and pivots. And personal pains.

Some time back, I wrote about Data & Stories, specifically on how I was working on a product that was designed to bring these two disciplines together. And for reference, the working title is ‘MeasureMight’.

Prototyping the idea.

I designed and built a prototype. It did cool stuff, for me, but not anyone else. I managed to hack together a bunch of ideas and I realised I was on a winner. This tool was cool.

To give the basic pitch, it’s a News Feeds and Google Alerts reader (think of a personalised news website, for you) that combines content publishers with social media signals (shares, tweets, comments, posts, replies, likes, etc) to help bring prioritisation to content presentation. After all, if you follow 40 content publishers, logging in after a few days can present a lot of content.

Social signals help sort it for people who log in infrequently. And if you log in all the time, you get a less algorithmic view. And collecting social data of engaged users gave insights into influencers in both the content space and the social space. This is stuff I really dig.

Anyways, I had a concept, but the lack of planning in the architecture and design made it messy. Really messy. When I realised something (obvious) was missing, it only made it messier.

It was chicken-wire for a fish tank. And it was constantly leaking. I had no (well, little) idea what I was doing while continuing to build it anyway. Just add more chicken wire…

Then came on-going distractions.

Time went on, I made progress, but I also had bugs and distractions. The balance of travelling means you need money to come in, and this is where both problems and opportunities came my way.

When it comes to building websites, there are two camps, in my opinion. There are marketing sites and there are application sites. These two continue to overlap, especially in the world of personalisation and the enterprise space. But for many small businesses, I could nail a pretty slick, responsive, fast, easy to maintain marketing site. So that’s what I started to do. More and more. It paid the bills.

More and more of that meant less and less of MeasureMight. And before I knew it, I had half a dozen clients, 10+ websites that I was building, web hosting, and increasing amounts of quotes, pitching, support, site migrations, analytics training, blah freakin’ blah.

And months went by without any work on MeasureMight. I was busy, building websites, clients and a reputation. The reason Amy and I left Australia was to build MeasureMight – our thing – and as time went on, all I was building were other things.

This caused some tension between Amy and I, for obvious reasons. We had a plan, and we weren’t doing it. I wasn’t doing what I set out for. I was increasingly busy doing work for other people and Amy was increasingly tired of trying to pitch for classic ‘digital nomad jobs’, with little luck. Soon, things weren’t ideal.

Stop, think, plan. And take stock.

Amy and I had a big planning day. Two of us in a meeting room. I had to let go of the idea that people ‘got’ my ideas, without me really explaining them. Basically, I was making assumptions that what was in my head was also in Amys head, through passing conversations and random explanations. And that’s plain stupid, disrespectful and not conducive to a good relationship (work or personal).

With regards to MeasureMight, it was time to take a step back, put down thoughts on paper (actually, a whiteboard), and work through this thing together. It was something Amy desperately wanted to do, and I was always finding excuses to put it off. But it was a fantastic day. The idea of ‘getting on the same page’ sounds so much simpler than it is. It takes real work.

So I’ve digressed a little, but this does add some context to the idea of persevere or pivot. It was here that we both decided to stick with it and figure a way to make it happen.

Given that we both acknowledged my web development chops are in the marketing space (and not the app development space), me doing that as an exercise in learning is not the most sensible approach. Given Amy’s strengths are in account and project management, why not make this project something that plays to our strengths. And out-source.

Sticking to strengths and seeking help.

Outsourcing app development, I imagine, would be a daunting experience for a non-technical person. Trying to engage technical people who don’t really care about your product – it could so easily get so messy. But I’m technical, so I was pretty sure I could figure this out. Amy is project and deliverable driven – she can help with testing, testing designs and wireframes, as well as the account/project management.

Rather than my ad-hoc, BS approach of building and designing on the fly, it was back to a high-fidelity prototype. And this would serve as something to test ideas out, before building, while giving Amy an opportunity to experience the virtual product before building – understanding its ins-and-outs – ensure we’re both on the same page.

Once again, didn’t I underestimate complexity? Designing every screen, thinking of every pop-up, catering for API limitations, building error messages, managing authentication, user resets, in-line content refreshing, and so on. Just trying to design all these screens was a big task… The fact I had challenges building a prototype only highlighted to me ‘how is anyone else going to understand this’ if I can’t simply explain it. The days where I’ve said to myself “you idiot” can’t be understated.

But I pushed ahead, sizing it up and solving problems in a lower cost environment (i.e. in design) than in product development. And this was all happening in parallel to me keeping clients back home happy and ensuring I didn’t miss deadlines or compromise on quality. Needless to say, for a couple months, I was working like a madman, while trying to enjoy the beautiful environments on our doorstep.

The work got to me, and my working habits got to Amy, and so did loneliness. So we made a decision that Amy would go home and I’d follow her a month or so after. This would allow Amy to find a job, set up a place to live, while I continued on a mix of client and personal work.

The magnitude of the project started to get to me. MeasureMight needed some serious volumes of work, and it dawned on me that in coming home, I didn’t want to come back with ‘nothing’. (Note: I’m not coming home with nothing, by any measure. But given the initial reason we left, that feeling is deep inside and something I can’t shake). Amy was heading home, the clock was on.

Pondering the pivot.

Given the plan to outsource, this was a big first-up project. And as methodologies go, starting small, releasing fast, the ‘test-and-learn’ ethos meant I was going to be jumping into the deep end with MeasureMight. With many unknowns. What do to? Simplify…

Simplify could mean a few things with MeasureMight, but the idea is pretty complex with many background services and moving parts. For me, it was about understanding the outsourcing process and starting with a smaller project that could be developed in a faster timeframe.

Hello Showcase.Social. What is it?

Publishing on the web is always evolving. Publishers and ‘makers’ today make heavy use of social media as their content hosting hub. This spans across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, LinkedIn to SoundCloud, and so on. ‘Makers’ have multiple places they share their content, but what easily brings them together?

Showcase.Social can. Build a showcase of social content (yours or someone else) and show your friend (or audience) a showcase wall of funny cat videos, best travel photography of restaurant reviews. Whatever it is on social, Showcase.Social can present it easily. Or it can be embedded in your own site.

This isn’t a totally new idea, but I think my approach is novel and there’s an opportunity for this to be a real product in the market. Rather than making a content publisher worry about embed codes from different posts and platforms, all you need is a URL and Showcase.Social will take care of the rest.

Is that a pivot? Cause it’s not really the same idea…

It’s a simpler idea, demonstrated by a prototype I built (and got a buzzy cool feeling from it), the wireframes I designed, and the experience I mocked up. While there are many differences to MeasureMight, this does revolve around the idea of convergence. Bringing together content from a range of places. And like MeasureMight, the idea is to remove the idea of a user needing to go to many places when one showcase can do the job.

And of course, the basic premise is to make a task easier. Let’s see how we go…

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