My Li’l Standy

While traversing a path that ended with the decision to build Medium, we almost launched a product called My Li’l Standy.

For the record, “My Li’l Standy” would not have been the product name we launched with, though “Standy” was on the list of potential names. The idea came from asking the question, if everyone in the office had an iPad docked next to their monitor, what would we do with it?

That question actually arose from asking bigger questions. How can we make Obvious more awesome? We spend the majority of the hours we are awake inside these office walls, how can we make those hours better? How can we be more efficient? How can we communicate more effectively? How can we learn more about each other?

Having a third screen, in addition to your monitor and your phone, on your desk is an interesting concept. Many of us had iPads, but none of us used them at work for anything useful. What if we docked the iPad and displayed useful information alongside meaningful communication mechanisms? Thus, Standy was born.

Standy encourages productivity, focus and mindfulness by providing a physical space to visualize and track what matters.

That was the purpose, here’s a look at the product that Jeremy Stanley and I built. The design came from the talented Leigh Taylor. To see how the design of Standy evolved, see Leigh’s post here.

This is an actual screenshot of Standy running. Standy was modular and had several interchangeable apps running on it. The apps we built included a viewer for upcoming Google Calendar events, a slideshow of employee’s Instagram photos, an app to track and communicate the 3 things you hope to accomplish today, your personal mission statement, a FitBit step tracker comparing your steps to the company average, a company tweet ticker, an easy way to give your co-workers kudos and a one sentence wiki app for quick company-wide broadcasts.

It’s hard to explain how using Standy felt. There were many slick animations during the interactions. When you cycled through your calendar events, they slid up and down, snapping into place. When you tapped one of your three daily goals, the icon changed to “in progress” or “complete.” When you tapped on an Instagram photo, it scaled up to fill the screen. You could also tap the “Your team” section to make the green and white panels slide open, revealing the avatars of your co-workers. If you tapped on a co-workers, all the panels, starting from the top, flipped over vertically cascading down to display that co-workers Standy. This way you could see what other people were up to. You could compare your steps to theirs. You could see their personal mission statement. Here’s a video, albeit a bit choppy, showing some early interaction testing.

Standy was beautiful to see in action. It was fun to interact with and meaningful in our office. We were able to lower anxiety, encourage mindfulness and increase relatedness in our office. Often visitors stopped by and the first thing out of their mouth was “Whoah, what is that thing?” That, my friend, is My Li’l Standy!

So, why didn’t we launch it?

We almost did. We built the app, platform’ized it (so developers could build their own Standy apps) and had a roadmap that ended with submitting it to the App Store. To understand why we didn’t launch it, you have to understand a bit of the history behind Obvious and Medium.

When Obvious started (for the second time, the first was pre-Twitter) we set out to build systems that make the world a better place. The scope of the product we would build had to sit comfortably at a “change the world” level. Ev had the idea for what is now Medium right from the beginning, so we started working on it. However, at that time we didn’t have much clarity in regards to the product, though the aspirations behind it have always resonated deeply with us.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to build an idea sharing platform we were happy with, we took a little detour and came up with some ideas under the umbrella of “making work awesome.” Standy was one of those ideas, but there were others also which are different stories for another time.

When we presented the roadmap to launch Standy, we were hit with the following realization. Standy is awesome, but we can do better than Standy to change the world. Sure, Standy makes the workplace better, much better maybe, but it doesn’t have the reach or global potential that the original idea did. We had committed to embrace our mission of building systems to change the world at Obvious, so we canned it. It wasn’t a hard decision. We put a lot of work in and I still think it would have been a huge hit, but it wasn’t the thing.

Standy helped us grow closer as a team, learn about technologies we ended up utilizing for Medium, and taught us more about the original idea. I’m proud that we didn’t ship Standy and I’m thankful that our team realized the long term vision wasn’t worth compromising for a li’l short term success.