The time I made a better Twitter and foreshadowed Slack

Most tech entrepreneurs start out with a side-project. A project that scratches their own itch, that they build outside of their normal daily work. Sometimes these side projects are a way for an entrepreneur to cut their teeth, before moving on to the real deal. Other times the side project becomes the startup. Either way, side projects play an important role in the birth of an entrepreneur.

While many of you know about the first and only startup I founded, you may not know that I have a few side projects in my past. I am lucky to have a good friend, who I've known since high-school, that shares the same passions for entrepreneurship and technology. From around 2007 to 2010, Jeremiah and I worked on 3 different web applications, which overlapped each other for some period of time and earned more than 50k combined users in our best month.

One of those projects was called CitySpeek, and it was born out of a frustration that Jeremiah and I both had. In 2007, Twitter was just starting to gain notable usage after being launched in 2006. Jeremiah and I were both early adopters and saw a game-changer. Then, we started experiencing an imbalance of signal to noise. We had to deal with a lot of tweets we didn't care about, to read the ones we did care about. Going the other direction, we wanted to send out tweets to, say Portlanders, and not anyone else, because we knew that the content wouldn't be interesting to anyone outside of the selected region. In other words, we loved the concept of Twitter and wanted to improve it by offering rooms, or channels, where users could opt to view only the tweets about a subject or region they cared about. We also added image/video uploading (at the time, Twitter just linked to an image/video) and message translation (again, something Twitter didn't yet offer).

Now, with the popularity of chat programs for communications both at work and for communities outside of work, I am reminded of how CitySpeek foreshadowed the world we live today. Popular apps like Slack and Hipchat organize communities around channels or rooms. Public but contained spaces where people can discuss specific topics, without adding too much noise to the main stream of information. I'm a member of 4 Slack "teams" (there definition for a group/community/company), 2 of them being groups that represent a community of people that all come together to communicate in a central place. In the case of the PDX Startups Slack, just like we used to do on Twitter. Only now, instead of a single noisy stream of tweets, I can go to a specific channel in Slack, like the #product_management room, to talk only about product management, with people who also only want to talk about product management.

CitySpeek didn't take off. We had a whole bunch of problems, the least of which included being rookies at building, launching, and marketing web apps. That said, the experience building CitySpeek, along with (Community curated news aggregator for Portland, OR) and (a better Yelp), is what prepared me to start CPUsage, which while it ultimately failed, was a real company that allowed me to pursue my dreams. Its fun to fondly look back on the past and say "hey, I had a good idea! I may not have executed well on it, but it was a good idea, ahead of its time!"

What fun side-projects have you done? What did you learn? Glad you did it? Let me know over on Twitter or Facebook, using the social media buttons below!