How a Blue Spinning Genie Pushed Me to Launch My Startup 🏃
I used to have a webpage on a site called Geocities. It was purple, it had some eye-blinding blinking text, chaotic images, messy fonts, and I loved it. For a while. It was part of the SilliconValley neighborhood, which meant it was kinda geeky and it reflected me circa 1996, being 16 years old, a high school semi-geek with a love for this new internet thing and a crave to embed my footprint on it. I was probably one of the first million homeowners on Geocities, I had no clue how many visitors came to my so-called site but it made me happy. I even thought that adding a blue spinning genie to every page was a great idea.
A few years later, Yahoo bought Geocities and the cool kids left. I had other business in mind like studying philosophy and watching the Lakers win 3 straight championships, but I eventually scrapped my site. Then, I started to blog.
Wordpress was just released and I loved it. I learned php quite quickly, designed my technology-driven blog (a poor man’s Techcrunch if you will) and launched. Now, I was laser focused on getting visitors and readers. I attended meetups, participated in an initiative called blog day on August 31 (yea, it was a thing once) and redid my site design a couple of times a year. I also had a passion for coffee, so I ran a coffee fan blog, which gave me a chance to do some more blog design, dig deeper in the Wordpress ecosystem and increase my trail on the internet.
In parallel, I had another home on the web. It was on a social site called de.licio.us (which later became delicious.com). It was a super popular bookmarking service, and was kind of the poster child of the web 2.0 wave if there ever was such a thing. I collected useful stuff, private bookmarks, public bookmarks, and it was just great. It reflected me, the real me. My friends know that I’m the one to turn to for good food recommendations, for example. So I had a folder for restaurants on delicious, and they could just go there, and see what’s new and where did I eat last.
Fast forward a few years, I started working for Google. It was great, but that’s another story. I stopped blogging and didn’t renew my domains. Delicious was bought by Yahoo and became like somewhat of an old holiday town that nobody ever visits anymore. Later it was acquired a few times until finally it was shut down not too long ago.
In many ways, as far as the internet was concerned, I was homeless.
But not really. Social media started to become a thing. I opened a Facebook account, and a Twitter account, and Youtube and Linkedin, and later I was also on Spotify for music and Stack Overflow for general geekness and there was this site where I wrote a few short stories. At one time I was quite a heavy user on Tripadvisor which I later replaced with Google reviews. I had a couple of accounts on Reddit (oops) and later I was on Product Hunt and a couple of forums and I’m probably forgetting a few. I was all over the place.
One thing was missing though. One place to put everything in order. It was like a house with no closets or drawers, a big attractive tourist destination with no guide for the best highlights, a collection of me-parts with no whole. I needed a change.
To make things even worse, finding out about me was a game of chance. In the main gateways for information, search engines, you could never tell which social media account will appear first on the results page. Once it was my Linkedin account, at another time it was my Twitter profile, and occasionally, it was a scammy site that built a custom page for me and charged people money to get my email address.
I had options. I could focus on one social network. It’s not a bad idea but it has its limitations. Being locked in is one, constraining yourself to the design and features of the chosen social network is another, and there are other issues as well.
Another option is the link collection sites. The ones that give you a page that you can throw all your social media profiles inside and hope that people will click through and get a good idea about you after hopping from one site to another. Well, there are a bunch of these, but they are kind of lifeless to be gentle. You can’t really design them, and eventually we are talking about a bunch of links to social networks, so your content is always at least two clicks away from the search engine.
While some may think different, in 2019, a personal site is still the best way to rank high on search engines, Google in particular, control the design, structure and content of your page or site and control your personal brand.
Now, the only question that remains is how to do it. While I had the technical and design skills to make just about anything, I still needed inspiration. What should I make? Should I use a website creation platform? What content should I put there? Should it be long or short? How can I make it useful to my needs, and how can I define my needs from a personal website in the first place.
Enter, my research.
I started visiting many personal sites. Being a developer, entrepreneur and maker, but also a marketing guy, I wanted to see what other people, similar to me, were building. How did they reflect their skills, experience and personality on their sites. What kind of call for actions did they use? How much did they rely on their other internet residencies on social networks? Did they update their site frequently or was it more like a business card that you seldom adjust?
After scanning a few dozen sites, I was more confused than before. I couldn’t really remember what were the first sites that I saw, and every new site seemed to me like the most perfect personal page ever created. I suffered from hyper-item-review syndrome and needed a better way to go about my inspiration project.
At about that time, I started collecting information about the websites that I reviewed. It was on a Google Spreadsheet at first, and I wrote a few pointers or bullet points about each site. I found a lot of great sites, and started seeing similarities between them. Most importantly, none of them had blue spinning genies, so that was one thing I was sure not to do.
I wanted one view to hold everything together. I discovered some great people along the way, very different from each other, but also very similar. Because I took the time to go over their websites in depth and all seriousness, I learned to get to know them, and some of them really impressed me. I felt like there needs to be a place that holds all this information together. A place that celebrates the great personal websites that they all built, a place to inspire others to build brilliant personal websites as well.
Humans was born and that was just the beginning of my journey. After I launched, thousands of people have submitted their website to inspire others. Many more came to look for inspiration and ideas for making their own personal websites.
I had tons of plans for this sites, and my imaginary feature list just kept growing and growing and growing. But before I go too far, I had to launch my project, make it a reality from a technological standpoint, and make sure some people actually see it and find it useful. Those were my first real challenges.