“You just have to fight your way through.”
When I worked as a consultant at my college’s Writing Center, I regularly met students who – despite having good ideas and strong voices in conversation –struggled to articulate themselves on paper. And it wasn’t that they weren’t smart or even that they weren’t good writers. Once they got going, once they staked a claim to their theses, they gained a clarity of vision and thought they weren’t even aware they possessed.
It seemed as though the writing process itself clouded not only their understanding of the assignment, but even their own objectives for a given paper.
Being the gifted *cough* consultant I was, I passed along some guaranteed-to-work advice given me by Dr. Aronson, an amazing high school teacher I’ll never forget. Essentially:
Any time you write, you should be able to fit your thesis in the blank space after “The purpose of this paper is _____________”.
It’s such a simple, brilliant way of making it impossible for you to not state your purpose, to not think clearly, and I’ve used it (though the exact phrase doesn’t always make it into the final edition) in nearly every significant bit of writing I’ve done since high school.
The Purpose of My Startup Is
Yesterday I listened to John Gruber and Erica Ogg discuss receiving rambling pitches from startups and app developers seeking publicity for their businesses in which the sender often doesn’t get to the point until a few paragraphs (yes, paragraphs) in.
Those folks could obviously benefit from Dr. Aronson’s advice with regard to their emails, but I think we all have something bigger to take away, something we talk a lot about, but something we haven’t defined a methodology for: focus.
It’s easy to quote Steve Jobs, to preach the importance of focus, of saying No, but it’s impossible to say No intelligently and non-arbitrarily without defining what it is you’re aiming to do, what your Yes is. If you haven’t staked a claim to your product’s thesis, if you haven’t clearly articulated your purpose, how can you know what deviates from it?
So what’s the purpose of your paper, your startup, your email? Let me know on twitter.
The future is nigh, and the portal to it is the browser.
Caine, the nine year old whose incredible story I linked to back in April, has some excellent advice for entrepreneurs young and old.
- Be nice to customers.
- Do a business that is fun.
- Do not give up. (Caine circled and underlined this one three times)
- Start with what you have.
- Use recycled stuff.
(I quoted the Caine’s here for convenience, but please check out the website and support him. He’s got some awesome t-shirts for sale.)
Check out more awesome adventure/photography stuff on Trey Ratcliff’s blog Stuck in Customs.
Googler Jean-Baptiste Quéru:
You just went to the Google home page.
Simple, isn’t it?
Rohin Dhar for Priceonomics:
[T]he market for gold is fairly liquid and gold is fungible – you can trade one large piece of gold for ten smalls ones like you can a ten dollar bill for a ten one dollar bills. These characteristics make it a feasible potential investment.
Diamonds, however, are not an investment. The market for them is neither liquid nor are they fungible.
And it’s not just about economics. This is a comprehensive, astute history of what ‘diamond’ signifies in our culture and history. Read it.
Its weakness lies in how it has evolved, or rather mutated, from a blogging platform to pseudo-framework in a highly inelegant way.
I can’t help but agree. I’ve been using WordPress since it was called b21, and though I understand the desire to maintain backwards compatibility, the WordPress team has become so beholden to their own history that it’s become nearly impossible for them to make a clean break from it.
I’m sensing a trend: Tempo, which is (presumably) a badass AI calendar app, has made me wait in line for two and a half weeks already. TWO AND A HALF WEEKS. TO USE A CALENDAR APP. WHAT.
Ben Brooks, linking to Alli’s original piece:
You know what makes it easy to scale quickly? Money.
You know how you get money? By charging people.
You know what all these bullshit wait list apps have in common? They are free.
Ben’s link is worth checking out for the URI slug alone.
This blog’s first entry was a rambling video (since removed) I made in which I outline an idea for a new kind of operating system. I’m in the process of refining and expanding that piece, and I’ll be publishing something on that concept later, but the key points are:
- Eliminate (or hide) the folder-centric, hierarchical filesystem
- Replace it with a more flexible system in which files are dynamically sorted (using metadata)
- Make metadata management invisible and intuitive through an innovative UI
- Optionally sync data to a central (or decentralized) service and make it accessible from anywhere, including the browser
- Optionally ‘socialize’ the entire OS to make collaboration seamless (e.g., eliminating email for file sharing, simplifying calendars)
After publishing the original video, I received incredibly positive feedback and valuable insight into the history of ‘my idea,’ which I discovered greatly resembled Microsoft’s vision for ‘Project Longhorn’ (and WinFS), the operating system that eventually became Windows Vista (after the original, awesome, codebase was scrapped for the Windows Server 2003-based atrocity that Microsoft brought to market). I searched high and low for screenshots and demos and finally found this, a video from the horse’s mouth about the kinds of incredible interactions WinFS could have enabled:
I don’t know why Microsoft killed Longhorn, but I do know this: there has not been a major rethinking of the way we manage our files in decades.1 Longhorn and WinFS could’ve led that revolution, but it may have been too ahead of its time. Think about where we were in 2003: AOL was still relevant, broadband internet access was just barely on the rise, and ‘Mobile’ as we know it wasn’t even a thing.
But we’re ready now. My grandma has an iPad, LTE is faster than the WiFi in my house, and even “small” companies have the ability to scale web applications to tens or hundreds of millions of users. But we can’t expect the leaders to make this kind of change any time soon. Apple and Microsoft are just too entrenched in their current businesses to make that kind of leap.2
Which is why Dropbox’s recent purchase of Mailbox is so interesting to me.
Dropbox is the best and most popular syncing service. They almost singlehandedly enable businessy use of iOS. They have a practically invisible UI on the desktop and a simple, excellent one on mobile. They know how to scale. And now they know how to do email. Heck, even the Blackberry Playbook didn’t come with an email client. They’re already a step ahead.
Imagine an OS that synced all of your stuff to the internet (I hate the word ‘cloud,’ and I won’t use it) so you could log in to ‘your computer’ from anywhere, including a web browser on OS X or Windows. Imagine an OS that had the flexibility to forsake traditional means of file management in favor of tagging, to replace traditional address books with friending/following/whatever-ing, and to enable the kind of collaboration among laypeople that businesspeople already enjoy in web apps like Asana and Basecamp.
As I write, I see more and more published about how, with this purchase, Dropbox is making a larger push into mobile, but it shouldn’t stop there. Dropbox should make an operating system, and now’s the time to do it. They have the tools and they have the people. All they need is the vision and the will.
- iOS doesn’t count. Its head-in-the-sand, “let the apps do it all” approach to file management doesn’t solve the most important problems associated with modern desktop OSes: large numbers of files, flexible organization, and easy sharing. [↩]
- Windows 8 is just a new UI haphazardly slapped on the same-old same-old. [↩]