Brief history of an idea
I spent a year thinking about it obsessively: where it might lead, what it would enable, how to implement it, etc. As I considered and refined it during this time, I began to appreciate its generality and power. I soon realized you could use it computationally to do anything and everything.
By day I was running Teclata S.L. a too-early web company in Barcelona. By night, very often until 4 or 5am, I was up thinking and writing, trying to get a better grip on what I’d dreamed up. I wrote hundreds of pages of notes. That’s a year of thinking, with no coding at all.
Teclata was killing me. I was burning to work on my ideas instead. I was exhausted, and several times literally in tears with the frustration. So in 1998 we sold the company and I started as a postdoc in Jim Hollan‘s Distributed Cognition and Human Computer Interaction lab in the Department of Cognitive Science at UCSD. I spent a year there writing code to build a prototype. I worked typically 15 hours a day for a whole year, producing roughly 30K lines of C code. During that year I think I went out only a few nights, saw exactly one movie, and made no new friends apart from Al Davis, a brilliant homeless guy who hung around campus. The prototype implementation worked, and I built some trivial applications on top of it.
I’ve now spent most of 2006-2008 back working on the same ideas, founding Fluidinfo in the process.
From March 2006 I began re-coding my UCSD work in Python. During 2007 I built a demo version, writing the core engine myself. One other person, Daniel Burr, worked on building a web front-end for a particularly important application. That was another 30K lines of code. To fund that effort, we sold a small apartment we owned in Barcelona and I took a small investment from my parents. During 2008, with funding from Esther Dyson, I’ve worked on a full distributed implementation, with Esteve Fernandez. We’re getting there, and are planning to release something in early 2009. I can’t wait to be able to talk about it all more openly.
That’s 5 years of my life working to reduce this idea to practice.
The opportunity cost in the last few years has been huge. The career risk feels huge. The salary cost has definitely been huge. I’m 45, and my most expensive personal possession is either my CD player or a €200 bicycle I bought about 5 years ago (I have a few computers – but they’re all company/job bought). Plus, I have 3 kids.
I have many other blog posts I’d love to write about this journey (e.g., pond scum), but blogging is a low priority right now. I’ve just jotted down these notes in order to point to them from an upcoming post on the importance of passion, innovation, and the creation of value.
I’ve had plenty of time to think about the subject.