Why I’m building Nilai

 I’ve got a new nights and weekends project and its name is Nilai. Nilai is a simple bookmarking service and over the last few weeks I’ve been having a lot of fun working on it in my spare time. In fact, I have found it so valuable to me that it is now my homepage on my Mac, my iPad, and my iPhone.

My father was born in Bandung, Java, Indonesia so I thought it’d be cool to name the service an Indonesian word. Nilai is pronounced (as best as I can tell) Nee’-lie. It is an Indonesian word meaning mark. I think the literal translation is something more akin to “logo” but I’m taking liberty with the word a bit.

I’m building Nilai for the same reason many developers begin working on something new; to scratch my own itch. I was a Delicious user back when the URL still had a few more dots in it. I was a Magnolia user back when OpenID was still a buzzword. I have always needed a place to keep some bookmarks and easily access them later. And, while those needs are slightly different today than they were then, those services would still be useful to me today. If only they were around.

But those services, or at least the services I knew and liked at the time, are gone now. And so are many, many others. Gowalla. Brightkite. Magnolia. Friendfeed. The list of services that I once used that are now gone seems endless. And the pile keeps getting bigger.

The tipping point for me, I suppose, was watching Bret Victor’s excellent presentation Inventing on Principal. If you are someone that builds things I wholeheartedly recommend that you watch his presentation. In it he suggests finding a principal to build by. Well, I’ve found mine.

I’m going to build valuable, reliable, sustainable web services that will last forever.

Nilai is the first service I’ll be building but it won’t be the last. I have several services that I would love to use on a daily basis that I’ve all but stopped using because I’m afraid they’ll be bought out, run into the ground, or shutdown. For now I’ll keep that list under my hat and – for at least the rest of this calendar year – I’ll be working on Nilai when I can find the time.

Yes, I’m charging for Nilai right from the start. I want Nilai to still be up, running, and useful in 2022 and beyond. I hope that others will too and be willing to support that effort. It won’t be a feature-bloated service with apps on every single platform or a few hundred employees – but I think that is actually a good thing. The features that I put into Nilai will have to be valuable enough for me to want to support them for the life of the service. I’ll get more into the features I plan Nilai having in an upcoming post.

One question that will inevitably arise is that of competition. Yes, there are going to be competitors to every single service I build. And some of them will be very good. However, my thoughts on competition are much different than many. For the last 5 years I’ve been very happily employed by Viddler. Viddler is an online video platform with competition from YouTube, Brightcove and other services both free and paid yet we continue to hire people, make money, and grow. The Internet is not a single street in which competition is so fierce that two competing services can only compete on price. Software is so nuanced that any differentiator, no matter how small, is enough to carve out a niche that makes building the service worthwhile.

If you’re looking for a large community with a huge network effect, maybe you could use the new Delicious. If you’re looking for a much more full-featured bookmarking service from the start, perhaps you could try Pinboard. I’ve never used either of these services but both seem to come recommended by their respective communities.

But I’m not trying to build Delicious or Pinboard. I’m building a bookmarking service that I would use and that I plan to use forever. I’m hoping that a few people will want to use it too and make suggestions on how it can improve along the way. If you want to help out by supporting the project and by making suggestions; sign up to Nilai and tell someone else about it too.