Founded: 2007 (re-founded 2012)
Where did Tweetie and Letterpress come from? (How did you choose between the ideas in the backlog to pursue?)
Both came from an itch I had; with Tweetie I wanted a new Twitter client for myself, and with Letterpress I wanted a game to play with my wife. I enjoy working on many things simultaneously, so for a while I wasn’t so much choosing as exploring tons of stuff. Eventually things got to the point where I thought Letterpress could be viable, so I put everything else on the back burner and put all of my energy into it to get it out the door.
Once you’re set on an idea how do you approach the early stages of shaping of it into a more defined product?
I may be an outlier, but I prototype first in my head, second in code. Rarely will I circle back and draw something out on paper — usually if I hit a wall that I can’t reason through. And if I hit that point it might be a symptom of an error in my thinking.
In the case of Letterpress, we played rough prototypes as I fleshed out the guts. Tweaks and polish happened in parallel as I finished off features; I like jumping back and forth between a few different things to let my subconscious chew on one problem while my conscious works on something else.
^ An early prototype of Letterpress
How do you decide on the rollout of features on the roadmap of a product?
I put all the ideas on the todo list and constantly re-sort it, knowing I’ll only be able to tackle 1%. Lots of times finishing one “thing” can knock of a bunch of disparate things from the list by making them irrelevant. Those are my favorite things to work on.
Drawing the line at 1.0 is always tough. There were hundreds of items I thought I’d get to before releasing, but at some point you have to say “it’s finished” and ship. So that’s what I did. The game was fun, and it was solid. It was exactly what a 1.0 needed to be.
For point releases my approach is to have one notable feature along with as many smaller tweaks as I have time to get in. The notable feature in 1.1 was Rematch. 1.2 will be Replay and Share.
Letterpress is wonderfully addictive. The behaviour of the UI has its own personality, from the bounce effects to the way modal dialogues drop off screen at a slight angle. How do you think about that when designing products?
The UI is representative of my own — still evolving — personal aesthetic. I wanted to make something as simple as possible, but not simpler. Minimal, but still human. At the same time I wanted to build something that was true to the capabilities of the underlying hardware. Getting the visual, interaction, and implementation design to align is the way I like to work, and I’m still learning how to do it.
Devices are becoming more capable through multi-touch than is commonly used. What are you thoughts on designing for multi-touch and how do you see this evolving in the coming years?
A lot of people are of the opinion that multi-touch “gestures” are like the “keyboard shortcuts” of touch. I couldn’t disagree more. Having opaque, disassociated complex gestures to do complicated things on screen is wrong on so many levels, it’s unintuitive, hard to learn, hard to remember, and inextensible. Instead I think the future is in *composing* simple gestures to perform actions greater than the sum of their parts. Leverage the simplicity of direct interaction, but allow many things to be interacted with at once. Let me interact with an object on one part of the screen with one hand, and use another hand to perform another action that can compose with the first interaction. Each interaction on its own is obvious, and putting them together is obvious, but the end result is incredibly powerful. Letterpress barely scratches the surface, it allows you to interact with multiple tiles simultaneously, picking up a tile with one finger, manipulating the order of letters with the other, then letting you drop the tile back down. Enabling simple interactions without complex coding was one reason why I decided to experiment with my own UI framework.
You developed Tweetie back when the Twitter ecosystem was a friendlier place for developers to innovate. App.net sprung out of fracas in this area with FB. What do you see as the impact of this changing in the web ecosystem for developers, businesses, consumers?
Just as there are cycles of innovation and consolidation, boom and bust, in any industry, I think we’ll see this entire system of monolithic centralized services get replaced by something that is modeled closer to the true distributed underpinnings of the Internet… all while enabling a massive explosion in new types of “apps” and eventually, human behavior.
What do you regard as the most exciting upcoming technology enabled ideas & opportunities?
Self driving cars and the human colonizations of Mars.
Which bloggers, writers do you find influential?
Scott Adams Blog is one of my favorites.
What products inspire you and you love using?
What book would you recommend reading?
I just finished reading 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson, thought it was great. Just started on his Mars trilogy, which is equally awesome.
^ Loren’s workspace