Doing the Marathon

The courtyard, complete with random chickens

Actually, I think if I tried to run a marathon I’d either die from exhaustion or just sheer boredom. How do people run for more than half a marathon? Even with ESPN on in front of me, I still get too bored and distracted.

But I digress: this post is about Marathon, Texas, a town in the middle of nowhere that borders on the Big Bend National Park. This is a really nice area for when you want to get away from doing anything at all, largely because you can do nothing except explore, sit, and drink. It manages to gather together a fairly eccentric group of people from all around the world. This time we found a bunch of Canadians, Yankees, and even a German, all of whom I assume were escaping the cold. It’s always fun to sit around the fire and talk to random people about random things; in fact, this is one of my strong suits, and I definitely get it from my dad, who apparently can make friends with anyone, anywhere.

The famous white buffalo from the Gauge Hotel. He looks a little down. Maybe it's because he never fit in as a kid, or maybe just because he got his ass shot

Way back when, this was my spring break in 2008 but this time we did less exploring and more sitting around and drinking. Doing nothing is occasionally very good, though I ended up feeling a like I needed a break for my break by the end of it (a phrase I liked and stole from Logen this morning).

It was still a good break from the routine. I largely do the same thing every single day; the same repetitious physical tasks. I’m now really, really good at doing what I do, but apart from that, I am pretty tired of it. Ready for May to roll around and the Navy to send me out. Ready to end up in Charleston, South Carolina and give that a go. Kind of hard to be motivated to go to the gym every day because it’s got so boring. Maybe I should try that P90X thing to keep it varied? My friend Josh has it and I just need to go pick it up. But then I’d be pissed at paying the gym fee and not using it. Yes, this is really the deep kind of debate I have with myself. (That and what gas station I’ll pick for lunch. Try the FIRST Stripes when you get into Crane, TX and you’ll be in for a delicious liver and gizzard treat!)

The following weeks still should be good. Still working on figuring out a date for visiting Emily, but March is pretty full and April is rough for her, so I’ll have to mess around and see what I can get arranged. And visit Sam in his million dollar crash Manhattan crash pad, as soon as he gets it. Gotta do all this before May, and it’s getting sooner.

I had to delay things a little since I got another speeding ticket. I actually don’t care too much since it was just 200 dollars and I can’t take that awful waste of my soul class, but it did mean I got the fun Navy lectures and got to fill out a sheet basically saying I’ll never speed again, ever. Military loves their paperwork.

For now though, that’s it. I spend a good part of my day thinking that I should update this, but I rarely have much to say that’s interesting, and even when I do update it, I don’t find it all that interesting when I see all of the awesome things my friends are doing with their lives.

Except Dan.

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NightScene and Simplicity

NightScene: Find Your Scene

This is a series on a brand new social website that myself and several other team members are getting ready to launch called NightScene, a social search engine that helps you discover new venues, events, and friends that suit your own tastes wherever you go. To see more posts about NightScene, just click here. And to visit the NightScene landing page to find out more and follow us, click here.

Simplicity is key to the internet — everyone is opening a million tabs in their browser trying to find a million different videos, keep tabs on their friends, and discover new content all at the same time. It’s hard to keep anyone’s attention, especially now that all of this is happening not just on a laptop in someone’s house, but through such a large number of mobile devices such as cell phones like the iPhone or tablets such as the iPad. Everything is pretty much single serving content that is designed to be consumed in one brief view and then the user moves on to something else.

So how do you get this right? Well, I’m not an expert in traditional sense that I work for some multi-billion dollar advertising company. (On second thought, I suppose the Navy is one of those entities…) But, what I do know is that I consume a ridiculous amount of media, be it social or traditional media. Except newspapers; I live in 2010 not 1910, thank you. I also have had the fortunate experience of working for companies that produced social media as well as traditional marketing and advertising. I feel like this gives me grounds to say the following:

There, you don't even have to click the link. It's Google, not like you already didn't know what it looked like. Oh yeah, that reminds me that Thanksgiving is coming up. Thanks again Google!

Google got it right. So right. Go to their page right now. What do you see? A search bar. It’s so intuitive and simple; no one needs to know what the site is because it’s already so obvious. The thing that most users probably never realize is that there are so many features to Google that its depth and complexity is pretty much endless. Everything is presented in a simple way, but the information there is surprisingly complex. (I know that sometimes this can be overwhelming; Google’s “Wave” was an attempt to simplify sharing information and it turned out to be way too complicated to make it useful. For the most part though, Google has it down.)

The problem with emulating Google is that everyone understands a search engine. And in most cases, everyone understands, say, Facebook, a common social website. Where things start to get tricky is when you want to combine those two and you get a social search engine. What is that? No, really, I’m asking you to tell me because even I have a hard time grasping it — and I’m making it. NightScene, therefore, has to be both forgiving to the new user so that they can get into it and deep for the returning user who already is exploring their scene. It will take time to justify this concept as being the best thing since Al Gore invented the internet, but I’m actually pretty confident that it will be.

Wow, this looks kind of cool but what is any of this junk? Is it sorted? I don't get what any of this means or how it connects to me. It all seems like a big advertisement. (It is.)

In my mind, when I’m coming up with design ideas and general strategies, I want to keep this site simple enough that anyone can jump on and use it and feel familiar while still feeling fresh and socially relevant. It really needs to be accessible from anywhere easily and have the main features be right there, front and center. Honestly, we’re going to be dealing with a lot of bars and clubs, so this will mean that people who are feeling no pain need to be able to figure it out too! So, how do we accomplish this? Here is a list of thoughts in a bullet point form because I know you’re loading a YouTube video of someone falling off a skateboard right now and you’re running out of patience for all these words. (Why couldn’t I have just done this in 140 characters?!)

  • Make vital features take as few clicks as possible to access.
  • Make smart use of advanced coding to reveal more detailed information only when a person wants to see it.
  • Keep the pages as simple and clean as possible.
  • Help the user understand the site by guiding them through unfamiliar features.
  • Don’t post blatant ads on the site. Make them match your demographic when you do use them.
  • Allow the user to control the content that they interact with so they develop a connection to it.

I know these are really pretty general concepts, but you’d be surprised at how many sites completely ignore the user and just assume that the user is on the same level as the person running the show who is intimately familiar with everything aspect of the product. Similarly, many popular sites just try to push their sponsored content onto you without making a real connection as to why you should care about whatever is being promoted.

You too will cheer for joy like this awful corporate stock photo when you use NightScene.

There’s a real balance that needs to be achieved between showing a large amount of information to the user and keeping things simple. Keep it too simple and the user might get bored. Make it too deep and the user might be confused or turned off by all the content. NightScene is still in its infancy but the design is essentially finalized and I think we’ve done it right. There’s a lot of interesting information up front, the site is easy to use, and it offers depth to the user who wants to support the social aspects of it. But this is coming from me, the guy who is making the product and not the actual user. It’s really up to how the user actually interacts with the site to shape and evolve its future. What we’re doing now is laying the groundwork for something that can be huge, but it’s up to you to make it the site you want it to be. And I think that’s the freshest idea on the web right now.

Nightscene and Social Networks

NightScene: Find Your Scene

Although I’ve kept this idea a secret for almost a year now, it’s finally in its beta stages and we’ll be accepting users in the near future. I think site has it all, and what it is, I can only summarize from the brief page online. Nightscene will revolutionize how you find things to do at night in your area. Currently, we’re referring to it as NightsceneDC because it’s being tested in Washington D.C., a bastion of social networking users who are active in a huge amount of nightlife around the city

Essentially, this is a social website mixed with a review site, but how we’re approaching it is mostly unlike every other site out there. If you’re trying to find some booming nightlife, it really sucks trying to find a site that does it right, and we’re attempting to make it easy to find new places, share them with your friends, and make a social site where the user controls what they see and how venues are shown. The ideas are familiar, but doing it right, that’s the thing that matters.

And so, on this note, doing it right is what I want to speak on. I’m a graphic designer that has spent several years working both freelance and for firms, and I’ve worked with so many clients it’s hard to even count the amount of projects I’ve been a part of. This alone really doesn’t give me any credibility. Isn’t everyone a designer these days? It is a fun field to get into, and one of the most competitive, especially when the economy sucks and no one is buying advertising (welcome to my life).

Gotta go hard, gotta go in a black v

The urge to just rush this thing out the door has been there from the start. I like the idea, I want to use it, and I want other people to use it. And I wouldn’t mind getting a profit since my current job (working in the oil field) is a far cry from the comforts of a Wacom tablet and a water cooler. That said, everything in my gut is telling me to wait, to make this as polished and engaging to the end user as it can be. Without this, I feel like we’ll feel generic — like we’re ripping off other social sites and trying to make a buck. We can’t do that. Both myself and Sam, and the other contributors to NightScene, have such a love for this idea because it’s our idea, and it’s something that we’ve both experienced when trying to find the right nightlife. (Trust us, we wear black vnecks and pound drinks like the best of ’em.)

So, we’re at the stage where we can see the results: our developers and designers are delivering things that are close — but not quite there — and we can already taste what we want from the site. Personally, this idea has become one of the few creations that I absolutely love. It’s the culmination of everything social that I like and everything that I see on sites that I dislike, I made sure that we don’t repeat it. Fun, functional, and easy. We just have to make sure that we come together as a team to make the last push and then go from there.

Right now we’re all excited, nervous, and, hopefully, very happy with our progress. This started as an idea in Sam’s head, and then it spread to me, making mockups and coming up with functionality ideas, and now it’s about to have real life, be a real business. We should be taking a fair number of beta testers right after the new year, if all goes right. It’s actually already up in landing page form, if you want to find out more and follow us.

What I guess I’m saying is that if we do this right, this will be huge. If we do this wrong, we’ll be tossed aside. If we take too long, we could get muddled  and confused. Everything has to be perfect, but unfortunately I can’t tell the future. There’s not an app for that. (Actually, I checked and there is but it’s 2.99. Rude.)