About a month ago I decided to leave Volley Industries and reinvest once more in my long term product concept. Building the API and services to support the Volley iOS and web products over the previous 9 months was a great experience and trial-by-fire learning how to work in a startup environment and getting to know the startup community.
Today I'm officially committing to building FindNext.
FindNext is a collaborative and contextual layer on top of the search engine experience.
Search engines are an amazing tool. I can type in a few keywords and get some quick information. But what if I'm looking for something that simply isn't online, isn't indexed, or requires an additional layer of context in order to find exactly what I need? FindNext aims to augment search by tapping the experience and knowledge of the people around you.
People enjoy sharing their knowledge. There are topics in which we each have expertise. I'll look to friends to talk music, or movies, or photography (for example). This domain knowledge might come from one's work or simply a passion for a craft or spare time interests.
Search is personal. The results I expect for my query might be different from what you're looking for. Provide a description and some context and people will assist in finding exactly what you want. You can gather information from your existing social circle, or build a new crowd of the people who stepped up to provide the results you need.
Search is Local
The people around you know best! Radiating out from your location are others who have recommendations to share and offline real world experience. They can point you to an exact location and speed up your search.
Nearby businesses might also have the thing or service you need and can actively jump in driven by your queries and needs rather than paid keywords and ad placements.
Search is Timely
Searches regularly bring up old information. The knowledge I need is influenced by the time in which I need it. Once I've found that result, it can expire or be lost without much impact on the system. People shouldn't be afraid to search for a topic again as new and better results might be available. The information you find very valuable can be kept and added to your profile.
In addition to providing results, FindNext users can easily moderate noise and / or offensive content and make suggestions on how to improve the search itself. While a search might not draw on a Finder's knowledge directly, it might be something they find interesting and want to learn about, providing a fresh set of eyes to filter results and discover new resources unknown to the person making the original query.
There's a lot to do! Services are in place and the API build is well underway. The app build will follow. I hope to launch early in 2016. In the meantime, you can reserve a profile if you like and follow along:
I'm pleased to announce that I'm joining Volley - a local Toronto startup that aligns perfectly with my long term FindNext project goals.
In 1999 during a co-op workterm I first developed FindNext. Search engines were a new idea - web directories were still commonplace. I had the idea to combine results from many search engines, reorder and optimize their relevance, and as queries took a long time to run, deliver the results by email.
Over time, as I learned other web and server technologies and how to optimize my own code, FindNext evolved too. Queries could be run in real-time and the user interface improved. FindNext was finding an audience, but mostly to break firewalls or run objectionable content queries. Paid content started to be given precedence in search engine results also, breaking my parser. It quickly became hard to maintain. I was very early in my agency career by this time and opted to shut down the site rather than solve these issues and rework the platform.
In the many years that followed, sparks of inspiration came and went - generally driven by new technologies and devices. I made good use of my codebase to learn these new languages and concepts. This served me well in my day-to-day work at several interactive agencies but I didn't put enough back into FindNext to turn it into a public product again.
In 2009 I attended WWDC. I had been doing a little bit of iOS development in my spare time but wanted to jumpstart my understanding of developing for the iPhone. I got a lot out of the conference - mobile development came more easily and I once more turned to using FindNext as a quick trial build platform.
FindNext at this point had moved away from its search engine beginnings. Thinking about how I'd regularly tap my friends for help with unsearchable topics that aligned with their interests, and how people would ask me about movies or photography (my main interests), I began to develop an API and platform to allow people to pose queries seeking results from those friends or members of the public that could help. The wisdom of crowds in place of 'lazyweb' shouting from the rooftops on social media or hunting for the right search keywords. I also thought of some unique onboarding concepts and ways to engage users (more on that down the road...)
Meanwhile, I had transitioned to iOS development full-time at my day job. In the process of developing several production iOS apps I learned about server security, building an API, database platforms, good UX practices, and many other technologies to support an app.
At the end of 2014 the agency I was working for closed. I began having conversations with companies looking for someone with my skillset. Many interesting opportunities in many locations - some nearby, others across the continent. Admittedly I didn't do a great job of communicating with everyone who reached out during that overwhelming process, but it became clear that a role similar to my last position wouldn't scratch the itch to build something myself.
I made the decision to reinvest in FindNext. I began looking at costing new servers, seeking office space as I don't work well at home, and doing some preliminary planning to shake the dust and cobwebs away.
At almost the same time, David at Volley reached out looking to have a chat, expressing his interest in what I was planning with FindNext.
"Volley is a community of developers, designers, entrepreneurs, and artists all helping each other make better things."
David and I met for lunch and had a good conversation about my recent experiences around the agency closure. Afterward we met with Mike in Volley's space at the Ryerson DMZ and continued our chat - me talking more about my FindNext ideas and learning more about Volley. It was a phenominal conversation and experience. I messaged friends and called up family to talk about it immediately afterward. During that conversation it had become clear that our goals were the same - connecting people with the knowledge they need by creating a human / technology bridge to help one another.
Our discussions continued over the following few weeks. My potential involvement in the company quickly evolved over that time as well - from an iOS development hire to talking and brainstorming on the platform and ultimately deciding to have Volley acquire FindNext and myself via a Co-founder and CTO position at the company. I feel this will be an amazing opportunity to build a platform while seeing some of my FindNext ideas through to fruition at the same time.
Over the last few days we built Volley's first office together. We took on painting, furnishing, designing, and even some demolition work. Mike, David and I are really proud of what we've built, and can't wait to put the same effort and detail into Volley in the months and years to come!
Today marks the end of my time with Teehan+Lax. It has been an amazing (nearly) 7 years - from my first project, to TweetMag and Readability and all the iOS projects that followed, along with fun challenges working with Labs and so many smart and forward-thinking clients... I couldn't have asked for better.
To past-partners Jeremy Bell and Dave Stubbs - thank you for bringing me on. And here's to all the t+l'ers that made the office such an incredible place to work.
Thank you to the partners - Geoff, Jon, and Dave for creating an environment that provided opportunities to learn so much, evolve my thinking around client / business relationships, and make use of my personal interests and hobbies regularly in my day-to-day work. Thanks again, and all the best on the west coast.
Read my original post from June 4, 2013. As predicted, I moved away from PHP and mod_rewrite in favour of Flask and Python-Markdown. Architecturally, this site is quite similar to the original setup. Here are the components:
After another engine oil leak catastrophe, I took my old VW in for a proper service. It took a month to get it back in shape but it's running better than ever. I went for a long drive around Niagara-on-the-Lake before putting the car in storage for the winter.