Colin Devroe

Blog Posts

100 words 007

14 June 2015

I washed the dishes this afternoon and when I got to my least favorite dish to wash, the silverware, I was reminded of this post I wrote in March 2011.

Rather than saving the silverware to last I should have started with them and figured out a way to make it fun. Or, at least more fun. Perhaps by making a game out of it.

I need to take my own advice more often.

Side note: I’m sure most people would say pots were their least favorite dish to wash. I don’t mind them. But silverware? Can’t stand washing them.

100 words 006

13 June 2015

For years, well over a decade and a half, I worked at night and on the weekend. Many people do this and they like to do it. However, several years ago — right around the time I started Plain — I decided not to work in the late evening or on weekends.

I‘m willing to work, of course, when the time calls for it. However, I feel that if I work hard for 8-10 hours a day I‘m likely to not be as productive for any more than that. This helps me strike a good balance between my work and life.

Twitter’s Save Button

12 June 2015

Chris Sacca’s infamous blog post on What Twitter Can Be ranged from topics about its apps, the platform itself, and what Wall Street thinks of the company. There are several bits I plan to write about but today I’m focusing on his idea of a “Twitter Save Button”.

So much of the time, Twitter moves too fast. If we follow a couple hundred active accounts or more, the Tweets often come in faster than we can read them. As a result, we feel pressured to keep refreshing rather than dive in meaningfully and take our time to explore the stuff that interests us. At the same time, really intriguing Tweets and links go by and we don’t have a way to save them for later. Poof, they’re gone.

And, later:

Imagine if every single thing we saw on Twitter could be saved/stored indefinitely. Not just every article or link like with Pocket, but every Tweet, every photo, every video. We could keep every product we saw mentioned, every book that looked interesting, every destination we wanted to visit someday, every concert we wanted to go see, and every ad that piqued our curiosity. All of this could be saved to a Vault within Twitter with just one button in line with the RT and Fav buttons in each Tweet.

This sort of describes a feature we built into Unmark. Like Pocket we store the link from any favorited tweet — however, Unmark goes a bit beyond that. It looks at the URL and tries to determine what you want to do with that link (read, buy, watch, listen, etc.) and labels it appropriately. You can also choose your own label if you’d like. Unmark also “pulls in” the data around the link so that you can act on it right within Unmark. The easiest example would be a video… rather than going off to YouTube to watch it, you can watch the video right within Unmark. Or a Soundcloud link can be listened to or an Instagram photo viewed, etc. Then you can mark it as “done” whenever you want. We do this for recipes, products on Amazon, etc. etc. and we plan on extending it further and further to get very, very smart.

I use this feature profusely. Like, on average, 18 times a day since Unmark was released. The best part about it? It records the tweet from whence it came so that I can remember both the Twitter account that referred me to it and also the context from which it was linked. Like; my friend Yaron linked to this and he didn’t like it — is a lot different than if Yaron liked it.

What Sacca describes above is much more than what Unmark currently does but just this  single feature of Unmark could fill in this gap for some. Gosh I love Unmark.

100 words 005

12 June 2015

Jurassic Park was the first book that I read because I wanted to rather than because I had to. I was 11 when I read the book and 12 when the movie was released 22 years ago.

I remember going opening weekend with family who had read the book. Since then I’ve been a lifelong Michael Crichton fan and have read everything he’s published.

Sequels II and III aren’t great movies. But they’re fun. Any sequel will fail at recreating that moment of seeing dinosaurs on-screen “for real” for the first time. I’m sure Jurassic World will be fun.

100 words 004

11 June 2015

Yesterday Kyle and I had an outdoor lunch with a local entrepreneur who wanted to throw two ideas at us. The first idea was a throwaway. At least he thought so. When he began to describe the idea we provided our feedback, our ideas, and tried to lay out several paths that could help him make this idea a reality.

As we continued talking you could see his surprise at how much bigger the idea became simply by talking it through with someone. Never underestimate sharing your ideas with others.

We never did get around to discussing his second idea.

100 words 003

10 June 2015

I feel like there is a groove being hit.

At Plain, Kyle and I are getting better at our work every day. With every improvement of our business comes a little bit less stress and worry. Rather than feeling uneasy in “the seat” I feel at home.

With Barley, we’re rebooting it and it feels like exactly the right thing to do. We spent a decent amount of time cleaning up the app which makes it a pleasure to work on.

Coalwork, and the Scranton tech scene, is starting to take off.

I like this groove. I hope it continues.

100 words 002

9 June 2015

Isaac Newton’s third law of motion is:

When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.

Paul McCartney, of The Beatles, wrote in their song The End:

“And, in the end
The love you take
is equal to the love you make.”

Life is similar. Want recognition, reputation, love, money, friends? What you put out into the world is what you get back — it isn’t always equal — but you will get something in return for your efforts. Give nothing, get nothing.

Random WWDC 2015 Notes

8 June 2015

Random notes from Apple’s WWDC Keynote today:

  • Apple Music Radio sounds exactly like Top 40 radio and that is terrible. I hope it doesn’t end up being just “radio online” because that isn’t something I want and I doubt that is something “the kids” want.
  • The updates to iOS 9, especially on iPad, are going to be a very welcome update indeed. As an every-single-day iPad user I am very much looking forward to multitasking.
  • We have a long way to go before I personally get excited about the “potential of the wrist” wearable market. I think the Apple Watch, and many other smartwatches, look like great products but… revolutionary? We’ll see.
  • The Apple News app is powered by RSS. *
  • Apple Music “Connect” is not going to work. It didn’t work when it was called Ping either. Here is why; people really enjoy using Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. because their family, friends, and colleagues are on them. They check them 100 times a day. Oh, and to top it off they can follow famous people — including musical artists — on the same network/app. They don’t need to open a different app to see what Drake posted. They can see that in the same app they already have open. Apple pitched this as a unified way to see what artists are posting but in reality they just added yet another place to check. However, if they had pitched it as a way for brand-new artists to get in front of every Apple Music user; curated by their favorite artists. Now that would be something.
  • The OS X updates seemed very, very light. I loved the Safari updates as it is my default browser. I think this is a good thing… I’m hoping most of the updates are non-cosmetic and simply make El Capitan sing.
  • Apple Pay adding Square support (really great) and now being called Wallet is great. The more capabilities Apple Wallet gets the more people will be able to use it and truly end up ditching all of the cards we all have. And this time we’re getting something far more secure. It is good all around.
  • Swift being open sourced is huge news for the developer market. I’m positive Swift will grow and improve rapidly outside of Apple’s walls and this will, in turn, mean Apple’s app ecosystem will be even stronger. I can see it now; Swift for Rails, SwiftJS, etc.
  • The watchOS updates are pretty great considering the amount of time Apple has had since they debuted the watch. They are moving at a lightning pace.

Now, a few notes about the presentation:

  • Great to see new faces from Apple
  • Hair Force One, as always, stole the show
  • The videos were very well done, as per usual
  • However, this was my least favorite Keynote in recent memory. It felt really forced, it wasn’t smooth at all, every single person on stage seemed under practiced — except Craig — and the Music portion of the event felt completely out of place at WWDC. I think Apple should have held a media event just prior to WWDC to announce Music (since it isn’t coming until June 30). This way the implications of the developer related announcements could be expounded on.
  • Some of the newbies on stage seemed very nervous, however, I remember Craig’s first appearance on stage; the guy could hardly use a mouse, and now he’s my favorite. So here is hoping that Apple has the same crew next time around and they all improve.

Overall, good software updates are coming our way for free. No reason to complain about any of that. We’ll just sit back and enjoy what developers work so hard to bring us every day.

* Somewhat related posts here, here, here, here, and here.

100 words 001

8 June 2015

What can be said in 100 words?

I remember signing up for Twitter in November 2006 and wondering; what can be said in 140 characters? I had no idea tweets would be as versatile as they have become — especially when you combine those words with photos, hyperlinks, and hashtags.

But this, this exercise of writing 100 words per day for 100 days (which I’m shamelessly stealing from Jeremy Keith), seems to be so much more constraining than a 140-character limit. To many writing 100 words would seem daunting. But once you start writing, it is really hard to stop.

Starting over with Barley

8 June 2015

Kyle and I have decided we love Barley too much to let it die. So we’re starting over with it in hopes we can find the right fit for it in the market.

That is why we are going to sharpen our product’s focus by starting over and we’re going to ask that you follow along with us as we figure out who Barley 2 is going to be for, what it needs to do for them, and where we go from there. It is going to be an amazingly fun ride as we work on our most favorite product in the world; our own.

This means in one swoop we’ve:

  • Stopped selling Barley for WordPress
  • Stopped selling Barley for Drupal
  • Stopped new sign ups for Barley CMS
  • Gotten rid of the Barley CMS (now, just Barley)
  • Stopped licensing the Barley Editor to third-parties

Maybe you can help by providing feedback on what Barley 2.0 should be. We’d love to hear it.

Interviewed about Unmark

8 June 2015

I was interviewed by Belle Cooper for the Zapier blog about Unmark — our open source bookmarking application:

But, we decided to make it open source because we didn‘t want it to become like every other service we loved that ended up disappearing. If we built it in the open, it can live on forever for anyone that wants to use it.

Unmark is #8 on the list. A lot of great applications are mentioned in the post.

Why blog?

2 June 2015

Deanna Mascle on her blog in February of this year:

Blogging isn’t for everyone, but as I must write to think and process life, blogging is a gift (What Blogging Taught Me). I hope my blog benefits others, but I cannot measure the positive impact blogging has had on my life.

Then, yesterday, in a follow-up post she wrote:

For myself and for my students, blogging is a reflection tool as well as a tool to share what we are thinking, learning, and doing with either our community or the greater world.

Whenever I slack here on my blog I regret it, not because I lose readership or traffic (I do not track those numbers at all so I have no idea what they are), but because I tend not to think as clearly as when I’m consistent in writing. Here’s an excerpt from this by me in 2013:

But writing, for me, is my way of deep thinking. I then get to edit my thoughts. What a beautiful idea! To write something down that you‘re thinking about and, rather than the thought simply going away, you can go back and and begin to craft that idea and mold your own opinion until you can fully come to a conclusion.

Great post by Deanna. Inspiration for me to get writing and thinking a bit.

Design to solve real problems

2 June 2015

Paul Adams of Intercom on Medium:

In the last year I’ve reviewed a lot of product design work from job applicants and I’ve noticed a worrying pattern. Too many designers are designing to impress their peers rather than address real business problems. This has long been a problem in creative advertising (where creative work is often more aligned with winning awards than with primary client business objectives) and it’s becoming more prominent in product and interaction design.

He singles out Dribbble and picks on that community a bit in this piece. I don’t think it fair to pick on Dribbble alone — as this trend spans across multiple communities. But I agree and even see ourselves in this piece.

This piece was also cross-posted to the Intercom blog.

The Web of Alexandria

27 May 2015

Brett Victor:

We, as a species, are currently putting together a universal repository of knowledge and ideas, unprecedented in scope and scale. Which information-handling technology should we model it on? The one that‘s worked for 4 billion years and is responsible for our existence? Or the one that‘s led to the greatest intellectual tragedies in history?

See also, his follow-up.


22 May 2015

Joe Betz at Coursera:

We’d like to try a bit of an experiment here at Coursera. Instead of building a project internally and waiting until we think it’s fully polished to open source it, we’re going to “throw it over the wall” before we’ve even gotten going on the coding.

We did the same thing with Unmark and we learned a lot.

Panoselfie hooplah

22 May 2015

A little over a week ago I wrote:

They aren’t new. You can find them if you dig. But they aren’t “a thing” and I think they should be.

I was talking about panoselfies. Well, we’re getting somewhere with this new way of taking a selfie and I’m glad to report a few bits of the hooplah here.

So, if you poke around on Twitter you’ll see that several “news” sites are picking up on them in several different languages. It is nice to see panoselfies make their way around the globe.

A few observations:

  • Nearly everyone tries to take them by rotating their arms when really you should to keep everything still accept the phone
  • I was hoping that most of these would end up on Flickr but alas, Twitter seems to be the best place for them
  • There is a bunch of spam from the apps that say they are panoselfie apps. But you don’t need one of those
  • One of my favorite panoselfies is this one

I’m looking forward to seeing the first celebrity panoselfie.

Web pages should load quickly

22 May 2015

Facebook’s Instant Articles platform has us web people discussing the speed at which our pages load. It is excellent to see this discussion happening.

Here are a few of my favorite tidbits from a few of the pieces I have read recently:

Mark Llobrera on A List Apart:

That’s my biggest takeaway from Instant Articles: we (designers and our clients) have to start tasting our work. Not just in our proverbial kitchen, but where our users actually eat the stuff.

Jeremy Keith on his blog:

There needs to be a cultural change in how we approach building for the web. Yes, some of the tools we choose are part of the problem, but the bigger problem is that performance still isn’t being recognised as the most important factor in how people feel about websites (and by extension, the web). This isn’t just a developer issue. It’s a design issue. It’s a UX issue. It’s a business issue. Performance is everybody’s collective responsibility.

Jeffery Zeldman on the A List Apart blog:

Soon, driven by fear that apps would make the web irrelevant, we began relying on frameworks that made even the simplest website act and feel like a mind-blowing application. Serving reams of code we didn’t need because, hell, it came with the frameworks, and abandoning principles like progressive enhancement because, hell, everybody uses JavaScript, we soon fell in love with high-resolution, full-screen background images, then fell even harder when those images quadrupled in weight thanks to Retina.

I’m as guilty as anyone. Perhaps even moreso since I work on a tool that allows people to edit web pages. However, this recent discussion has me rethinking and retooling. I’m excited to see the web get faster as a result of this push.

Why Shopify is valued higher than Woo Commerce by a public market

22 May 2015

I saw a discussion on Twitter while laying in bed last night. You can catch up right here.

Essentially, it asks… why is Woo Commerce, which has a larger install base, valued so much lower than Shopify by the public market?

A bit of background; Woo Themes, the company that built and maintains the Woo Commerce WordPress plugin, was recently acquired by Automattic for — as some have reported — around $30M in cash and stock (remember this stock part in a moment). Shopify, an ecommerce platform built on Rails by Tobi Lütke and his amazing company, went public this week and the public market valued them well over $1B.

So, why is Shopify valued so much higher than Woo Commerce? Let’s break it down.

Software companies are acquired for a variety of reasons; Some are acquired for their user base + growth (see: Instagram). And some are acquired for strategic reasons to bolster the offerings of the acquirer. And, finally, some are simply purchased for the intellectual property, patents, and or employees.

With Woo it would appear that all of these were factors in Automattic’s decision to acquire them. They have revenue, their product is incredibly popular, they are growing, and they have 55 employees or so. And, to top it off, their company culture seems to align very well with Automattic.

So, why $30M? Using this number we can back into a few guesses as to Woo’s revenue and how Automattic valued them. Again, these are just guesses.

Software companies, even profitable ones, are sometimes valued by their revenue multiplied by some number based on their growth. So if Woo made $1M one year and $5M the next, that would show a fair bit of growth and they could likely get a multiple at the high end of the spectrum… let’s say 5X. So, if Woo was growing their revenues really, really well I’d say they may have gotten 5X revenue. This would mean Woo was likely generating somewhere between 5 and 10M annually at the point of acquisition.

However, if Woo was an agency providing services to clients this multiple would be considerably lower. Say they made $5M in a year but all they did was build websites for clients over and over, this isn’t nearly as valuable as a software product and so they’d likely get 1.5X of their profits not revenue if they were showing growth.

When evaluating the value that Automattic gave to Woo for their company remember that the estimated $30M deal was done in both cash and stock. Let’s say that Woo got $15M in cash and $15M in stock. This could, over time, value Woo at much more than $30M. Certainly having Woo Commerce be part of the Automattic offering will make both Woo Commerce and Automattic far more valuable than not, so I think it was smart of the Woo team to accept stock in Automattic.

Automattic’s last round of funding valued them at just over $1B. However, they are clearly growing and so the $15M in stock that Woo founders now own will, almost surely, be worth several multiples of that should Automattic ever be purchased by a larger company or — as Shopify did — go public. Let’s say between now and that event that Automattic doubles in value, this would mean that this deal would now be worth near $45M.

Some on that Twitter thread rightly pointed out that Woo was profitable and Shopify lost money. Yes. That is true. But that doesn’t matter to a public market. In fact, many if not most companies that go public are losing money when they go public. The entire purpose of going public is to raise more money. Companies are only allowed to raise money from a finite number investors before needing to go public. I think it is 2000. That sounds like a lot of investors… but when Facebook went public — like many other companies — they were using investment firms to cull capital together from many investors under a single umbrella to “beat the system” for as long as they could.

Shopify’s revenue, according to their F-1, was roughly $37M in the first quarter of this year. So, according to my napkin math, that’s easily 6 or 7 times the revenue that Woo may have generated last year. Again, I’m just guessing.

So while Shopify lost $4M in this quarter they earned $37M. Making up that gap with those sorts of revenues in the ecommerce space is — relatively speaking — fairly easy. Shopify is growing and investing pretty rapidly. So it is perfectly normal for them to be burning capital to be able to do so. In fact, if I was buying Shopify stock I would hope they’d be spending money on growth. Shopify is doubling revenue year-over-year. So, please, grow!

Anyway… I hope this explains why Shopify would be valued much higher than Woo in a public market. Shopify did not get acquired. If they did, at the moment they went public, it likely wouldn’t have been for what the market valued them at. Probably around $800M (Revenue 5X). Again, just me guessing.

Side note: How awesome is their ticker symbol?

Watch sales

21 May 2015

In February Canalys estimated that there have been 720,000 Android Wear watches sold. Pretty good, I’d think, for a watch. Any watch maker would likely be proud of those numbers.

Estimates for Apple Watch sales are all over the map.

But recently KGI Research adjusted their figures and estimated that Apple will sell under 15 million Apple Watches in this first year.

I do not know if KGI is right. Let’s say that they are. How are people, like Fred Wilson (whom I agree with from time-to-time on many topics), saying this is disappointing? Disappointing relative to what? The iPod? The iPhone? No. If the estimates are correct the Apple Watch is selling more than the original iPhone did in its debut.

I don’t get it. I think we’re all spoiled with sales numbers these days. A product does not, and should not, have to outsell a previous one immediately for it to be considered a success. A watch is not a phone is not a computer is not a tablet, etc. If the Apple Watch sold 15-25 million units per year I think Apple would be perfectly happy with that. But, no one else will be.

Oh, and one more thing; the amount of revenue generated from the Apple Watch is likely leaps and bounds above that which any other manufacturer squeezes out of their watches. Apple’s supply chain is an incredible thing and they are at the top of their game.

We’ve Made Web Development Complicated

14 May 2015

Alex King:

I’m working on a web app now and it recently struck me how much more complicated things have become.

I agree. While some of the tools we’ve added onto the process of building for the web have some incredible value — we’ve made the barrier to entry much, much higher than it has ever been to get started. If I was just starting to do I’d be overwhelmed.

What is a Panoselfie?

13 May 2015

They aren’t new. You can find them if you dig. But they aren’t “a thing” and I think they should be. So, yesterday I created a Flickr group called Panoselfies. I recommend giving it a try.


  • Put your phone on pano mode
  • Point it just over your right shoulder
  • Slowly rotate your wrist as the phone takes the photo
  • Upload to Flickr

You don’t have to post to Flickr. You could put it on Twitter or Facebook too and simply hashtag it. Squarecroppers need not apply.

My weekend

11 May 2015

A few images from the weekend.