Sunday, March 9, 2008

Dudes, Websites, and Metaphors

Last fall, Wiley, my friend and longtime Beijing roommate, swore off romance in favor of dudes and websites. It's been an immensely productive few months.

In the heat of the LanguageCalls startup, Wiley and I both assumed responsibilities that brought into very clear focus our lack of technical expertise. We ultimately (thanks almost entirely to Wiley's tireless work) assembled a legitimately competent group of technical people, and LanguageCalls chugs on. Wiley and I both know, however, that LanguageCalls's founders would have saved everyone mountains of frustration had they leaned from the beginning on IT professionals and not on us, a couple of kids they hired because we speak good Chinese.

We're working on our own projects now, and what we saw at LanguageCalls has had a big impact on both of us. I've kept technical people intimately involved in every big startup-related decision I've made, and Wiley has set up shop in the Django framework and started teaching himself Python.

I think my project is on a sane and careful technical track, and I feel good about that. Wiley is leaps and bounds ahead of me. Aided no doubt by the aforementioned lifestyle adjustment, he has been building real live websites.

Chinabites has been his main focus, and it's a great idea with big potential. MetaphorME, however, is the project about which I'm most excited. For the U2 fans out there, if Wiley's development portfolio is The Joshua Tree and chinabites has a chance to achieve With or Without You stardom, metaphorME should fill nicely the Running to Stand Still role. A little edgy. A little lesser known. Harder to monetize. But totally awesome.

I don't remember exactly when the metaphorME concept was born, but I do remember why. I've only become consciously aware of this over the past couple of years, but metaphors are everywhere. Call a friend; watch the news; read a magazine: we are all constantly making analogies, drawing situational parallels, and creating emphasis through figurative language. Constantly. And once you tune into it, it gets intense. You see the one word verb-switch metaphors. You explore the stories behind the cliched proverbs. You arbitrate. You notice a metaphor's tiny contradictions. You find unanticipated and unintentional brilliance. You identify metaphors you like and build them bigger. And, most rewardingly, you start to collaborate.

Wiley and I are on the same page with regard to metaphors. We both appreciate their subtle ubiquitousness. We dig the poetry they create. And we crave participation in elaborate metaphorical team effort. When we first started talking about metaphorME, we envisioned it as a way to bring a huge and diverse community of metaphor makers into that collaborative creative process.

Imagine somebody somewhere needs a metaphor. She's got a situation she wants to explore, but she can only communicate about it literally, and that's just not enough.

We think the internets ought to provide a solution. She should be able to go to, post her situation, brainstorm with the community, steer a bit with ratings and comments, and, hopefully, eventually, quench her thirst for figurativity.

What's live online now isn't fully functional, but the essentials are there, and it's running smoothly. Wiley invited a few of us on to play for the past couple of weeks; he has worked out the major kinks; and, as of today, he has given the rest of us his permission to invite others.

So far, not only has it been heaps of fun to make metaphors, but it's been fascinating to be a part of the very beginnings of a user community.

And with every new user we add, it's going to get better and better.

We'll get to watch the creation of personalities, the creation of trusted content providers. We'll watch comments, tagging, and interfaces as they evolve in response to collected feedback. We'll watch feedback collection itself evolve. We'll watch the rating system, see how well it pulls the cream of the user generated content to the top. And, of course, we'll watch usability and hooks and enjoyment, watch what it will be about metaphorME that brings people back for more.

Click here; create an account; and check it out.