motd.co: Why This? Why Now?

Why Aren’t You Making That a Business?

I’m getting close to launching a thing, and the more I talk to people about it, the more frequently I hear one refrain: why aren’t you turning this into a business? why not charge money for this? Not to put the cart before the horse but I’m terrified of the day that I have to accept money for a project I’ve made or face shutting it down/compromising my vision for it.

I actually don’t have many obvious excuses. This thing has a much more obvious value proposition— it’s not something everyone would want to use, but for those who would, I could see it being worth a few dollars to them. Not much, maybe a little. But to charge people money, I’d have to spend time building out the functionality to accept money from people and give them access to the site based on that. I’m sure it’s pretty easy nowadays with things like Stripe, but this is a problem for me for a few reasons:

  1. It’s time spent not working on the actual idea I had and/or moving on to the next “thing” that fascinates me, and I want to keep moving on these ideas because that’s why I’m spending time outside of work doing more of the same thing I spend my day doing, and
  2. If I do this, it HAS to work. Once money enters the equation, I’m staking my reputation on the thing I’m making in a very real way! People will be upset if I take their money and I don’t give them what I’ve told them or what they think they’re supposed to get from it. Until then, I can obviously disappoint and/or turn people off from this particular thing when it falls over, but I know that my friends have patience with me. I’m not trying to Build a Product or Change the World. In this particular case I’m scratching an itch. Also:
  3. I don’t HAVE to accept money for this idea to work. Not just yet. I’ve figured out how to get it up and running on Heroku (which is Reliable Enough) on their free tier and I’ve calculated how many users I’d have to get before I’d start using enough processing time that they’d charge me for it, and as long as it’s not COSTING me anything I’d just rather not worry about it!

Defying Expectations

Taking money is about setting expectations. I want making things to be about defying expectations!

During my childhood the reason I was excited about using computers was because the possibilities seemed endless, especially with the advent of the internet and the speed at which those technologies moved. The first time I saw an animated GIF, the day I learned how to use Javascript to change my homepage’s font color without reloading the page by selecting something from a dropdown box, the first Shockwave Flash game I ever played, the time I wrote a Perl script to take my Winamp history and upload the last five songs I listened to to the top of my blog.

Nowadays the internet is mostly staked out; every once in a while new things come along demonstrating WebGL or cool new uses for native webcam access in the browser or whatever else new things are coming down the pipeline but as an adult and a culture that tracks and discusses these things all the time there’s a lot less to surprise me.

What I want isn’t fundamentally about solving problems, it’s about improving my life— I’m willing to accept the label of selfishness in that! Sometimes improving my life involves just pursuing a weird thought that I’m fascinated by, because I’m lucky enough to have the time in my life to be able to do that. Sometimes it involves making me laugh or helping me with, yes, solving a problem. Other times it’s about making my friends laugh or startle them with the fact that I was willing to pursue a line of thought so weird or exclusive to what’s in my head or something we’ve discussed.

Why Tho

I’m inspired by why the lucky stiff. I think he made things for the joy of making them and because he was compelled to, not for anyone else or to gain acclaim, and I love that he did it with a spirit of love and humor that doesn’t shut out negative feelings but turns them inside out and makes the work itself human and acknowledges that it’s the creation of a real, human person with their own feelings and personality. The work why did while he was around is uniquely his, more than 99% of stuff that’s out there, and I love that about it.

A lot of people seem confused that I would do any of this; most of what I do takes the form of “more”— more of what I do every day, more time, more headaches, more bugs to hunt, more things rattling around in my head. Once, a long time ago, I was working on something really very silly which never saw the light of day. I tried to explain it to them and you could tell they thought I was wasting my time. Why this? Why now? It’s tempting to say that, if you’re concerned about the way you spend your time, you should ask yourself this about whatever you’re doing. Why this? Why now?

Why This? Why Now?

So for whatever project I happen to be working on right now: Why this? Why now?

Because this is how my brain works, because this is what I’m thinking about, because this is how I choose to spend my time. Because this is where I am today, because this is the person I’ve always been, because this is what makes me feel that I’m moving towards what I want to be doing even though I don’t know what that is. Because it makes me laugh, because it surprised my friend, because one stranger liked it enough to retweet it. Because it gives me something unique to talk about when someone asks “what’s new”, because it’s better than anything else I would have done with that time, because this is the choice I made. Because I’m broken, because I’m lonely sometimes, because I’m furious that no one’s made this already. Because it’s fun, because it’s cool, because it’s in style right now and I’m intrigued by that. Because it scratches an itch, because it helps a friend, because it was low-hanging fruit.

Because, because. Because!