The Right StuffMikey 11 comments
More fun than a frog in a sock, a new web site that lets users proclaim anything as the best in the world (and then some) threatens to destroy workplace productivity on a whole new level.
Using the portable power supply and extra rusty alligator clips, we cranked up the voltage and asked "The Best Stuff in the World" conceivers Adrian DeWitts and Luke Wong to explain themselves.
Congratulations on a wonderful web site. Who are the core people behind TBSITW?
"Our team, Rock Pixel Scissors, is spread all over Australia at moment in Melbourne, Canberra and the Sunshine Coast. Our team's lineup is: Luke Wong - Art Director, Adrian DeWitts - Project Manager and Programmer, Davina Noakes - Marketing. Emily Sims - Copywriter and Ryan Allen the other clever programmer."
Can you give us a brief bio?
Adrian: "Started out as a sound engineer and recorded all the worst bands in Melbourne (there's lots of them). The studio I worked for decided one day to jump into multimedia (CD-ROMs), and we found we were well suited to jump from sound to video to programming to websites. I've been making sites ever since."
Luke: "I have a pretty varied background in terms of work experience, including customer service and graphic design. However my real passion lay in web design and I became a freelance web designer after a "startup.com" I was working for in 1999 went bust. Adrian and I had been friends for a few years and he asked for some help on a small project he was working on. We soon discovered that we worked very well together, as Adrian is great on the backend/programming side of things, whilst design/coding was my stronger point. We started Rock Pixel Scissors at the start of this year as our vehicle for running our collaborative projects."
What was the inspiration for TBSITW?
Adrian: "Last year, I travelled around New Zealand with a friend. Being a proud kiwi, she suggested that New Zealand's dairy produce and beer was among the best in the world. Cruised around the South Island drinking beer, eating cheese and yoghurt etc. I had to admit she was right; some of it was the best I'd ever tasted!
So I thought, wouldn't it be cool if there were a wiki where people could nominate what they thought was the best stuff in the world. Of course, it would have to be easy to use and contribute to. I scribbled it down in my little idea notebook and promptly forgot about it.
I returned to Australia and resumed work. Six months later Luke and I were looking around for a project to work on. I went through the notebook, saw the best stuff concept and thought that could be a cool first Rails project."
Luke: "I just like the fact that our site was inspired by cheese."
How long did it take to launch the beta starting from the initial spec?
Adrian: "I spent a chunk of the project learning Rails. Luke and I usually work parallel to one another, however, the rest of the team was working on another project. In the end it took about a month tinkering in Rails to get the basic functionality working.
By that time Luke had finished the project he had been working on. I passed on what I had done and he went away and designed something. I liked it, but he insisted on redesigning the whole site."
Luke: "The first time I saw "best stuff" in action it was completely barebones. I had a little trouble conceptualising the voting system. I soon realised, however, that the simplicity of the voting scheme would be easy for people to use. Also, because the system encourages users to "suggest better" items, the site is far more interactive. Better than just a simple yes-or-no voting system.
I designed an initial test run for our family and friends. I'm a perfectionist and there was something…wrong…with the first design. So, I ended up doing a complete overhaul of the design after the alpha testing. This is the design that you see on TBSITW. In all, it took about 5 weeks."
Adrian: "After the initial alpha stage - and without any fanfare - we opened it up to the rest of the internet...And then came hundreds of requests for different features and improvements.
Someone once told me you must be doing something right when your host suspects your site is under DOS attack. Did you expect TBSITW to gain such popularity so quickly?
Luke: "We where both surprised that we got this much traffic so quickly. A lot of it is due to the viral aspect of blogs. It's the "word of mouth" of the internet."
It seems very stable for a beta. Are there any new features planned besides bug fixes?
Adrian: "Thanks. For other programmers I recommend using test based development. It is a handy tool for writing bug reduced code (I'll never say bug free). Most bugs, we are discovering, are coming from the hosting side of things. The lesson I have learned is if you run a web app get on a dedicated or vps server.
We have many new features in development. I wont go into details, because things can change. All we can do is plan, and see what sticks. It's an organic process. First off we are working on making the site more social. Secondly we would like to integrate location data, so people can find cool stuff locally. Thirdly we want to smooth the wiki side of things, and make it easier for markup and linking different areas.
I have some more things we will be adding, but we'll be keeping them as a surprise."
Is any of the content regulated for offensive material? And if not is this something to expect in future revisions?
Adrian: "We have a group of trusted members which have the power to delete images or timeout entries. Trusted members are members who have made a decent contribution. We have had some problems with spammers and vandals, but instead of making a completely restrictive system, we are looking at the attacks and finding ways of limiting the damage of the attack."
Luke: "We're looking into ways of locking down some of the more sensitive topics on the site. The site is quite open and fun and we'd like to keep it that way, but there's always someone that going to get on their soapbox and get abusive. So if an item is getting a lot of vandalism, we will remove the editing features for that item. It's not the best solution but it's better than having an angry mob beating down our door."
Your simplicity of your motto "discover and share the good things in life" is mirrored by the simplicity of the user interface. What importance did you place on the user experience?
Adrian: "We have been working for big and small companies for a while, and while many companies want their web site yesterday, we decided a long time ago to reduce complexity at the user end. It's an organic and slower process, but I think we are starting to develop an intuition for it. When I have a problem, I usually just sleep on it. Or let my brain work on it as a background process. :)"
Luke: "User experience was no. 1 on my list in regards to the design of the site. We wanted to make sure that it was as easy as possible for people to vote, add content and to explore the site. I've always found that simplicity is the key to a good user experience and that's why I attempted to keep the interface fairly minimalist. This is part of the reason that we abandoned a traditional menu list on the front page, and focused purely on the content by using an "image cloud". It's a simple and fun way to delve straight into the site."
Given the amount of misinformation on the internet, what is your opinion on sites (Wikipedia as another example) which allow anyone to edit content? Do you think this is a direction more web sites should be taking?
Adrian: "I think the internet is not the only place were misinformation is found. We find it in other mediums, but most of all its in our heads. We lie to ourselves constantly. Mediums are an expression of what lies within ourselves.
On the flip side, I love Wikipedia, and I love wikis. I use many programming wikis. They are a great way of organising information. Forums are a conversation, and can be difficult to extract information from, if you are not part of the conversation. Change is a constant, and the wiki is the best way to reflect that change."
There seems to be ample opportunity for spammers to go nuts if they so desired. Is this something you are concerned about?
Adrian: "It is something we are very concerned about. Spam is obvious though. And our trusted members and admins can get rid of it in 2 clicks. What we worry about are more sophisticated attacks that bastardise the site."
According to TBSITW, Firefox is better than Sex. Would you consider this a true statement or just a representation of your current demographic?
Adrian: "I've given it some thought. I can provide a theory, but no definitive answer. I think most of us can agree that sex is pretty dang good. It's a shoe-in. It's obvious. I didn't vote for it. A lot of people didn't. Why state the obvious? Firefox isn't as obvious. It's not mainstream. But a lot of people use it, they love it, and they want other people to know about it."
Luke: "What's sex? ; )"
I have heard TBSITW described as "a drug for the internet", in the context of its addictive nature. Do you think anyone can get addicted? And of so, what course of treatment would you recommend for coming off TBSITW?
Luke: "I'm actually surprised at how addictive it can be. I can't tell you the number of times that I've been completely distracted by the content whilst testing the site, only to emerge a few hours later thinking 'Errr...what was I doing again? Oh yeah, work…'
Currently there is no known cure for TBSITW-itis."
Would this site have worked as well using a technology besides Ruby on Rails?
Adrian: "Yes. My programming background is Pascal, C, C++, Objective C/Cocoa, Java/Webobjects, PHP and now Ruby/Rails. You can build a dynamic website with anything. And you can get it to pretty much work the same way in any language. It's the time that you would take using those languages. I've used Java the most, and after using PHP and Ruby, I would say it is the slowest language to develop a web site in, short of using C or C++.
My second flame baiting comment is that I think PHP can be about as fast to develop in as Ruby on Rails. I was using PHP 5 for a time, and had developed a framework like Rails before I had seen Rails. I based it on the Webobjects framework, and added shortcuts that the PHP language would allow. I was 3 months away from making a very complete PHP framework. But after reading a Ruby and a Rails manual, I fell in love with the language, and decided to learn more about it.
If you are happy with PHP, I say stay with it. But if you have a little time, it never hurts to broaden your horizons and check out what's out there. At the very least you will become a better PHP programmer.
I enjoy Ruby on Rails because it solves the problems I have been working on for years. (Though it's a pain for first time deployment)"
Are the bandwidth requirements as staggering as anyone would expect?
Any exciting new projects on the horizon?
"There's a few in the pipeline, so keep an eye out!"