Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Intro post

[Original blog description: "For posterity's sake, this records the very early days of Diffle Inc. (or so we think it'll be called) and its Flash-based social games site. It's intended to be private, at least if/until Diffle manages to become successful."]

I want to create this blog for a couple of reasons:
  1. So I can better estimate how long new features will take. It's amazing how easily memories of implementing some feature get distorted.
  2. Because I find it fascinating reading about the early days of businesses, particularly businesses that later grow enormously successful. I can't guarantee this'll be enormously successful (I rather doubt it, actually), but just in case, I'd like to record things.
This is really more of a journal than a blog, since it's intended to be private unless Diffle (or whatever we decide to call it) gets big. I've got a bunch of reasons for that: I don't want to get in trouble with my present employer, I don't want to set up expectations that we can't meet, I don't want to give away secrets that'll help potential competitors. But mostly, I just think it's premature and a distraction from actually getting the site implemented. So this'll have entries on current events, but it's not really intended for a readership. Expect some chop.

Anyway, the story so far:

Diffle is supposed to be a website for social networking based on simple, 2D flash games. Kinda like a cross between Yahoo!Games, MySpace, and Fanfiction.Net. We've actually got two names under consideration: Diffle and GameClay. The current plan is to launch with Diffle as a pure social networking site centered around games. If it takes off, we add GameClay as an additional feature. If it doesn't, we abandon the diffle.com site and rebrand as gameclay.com with the additional game-creation features.

My involvement is 2.5 weeks old at this point. The site initially started with Mike's summer internship, researching companies in the space, and his getting together with James. Andrew was brought on board for finance/legal, and Matt for art & graphic design. They brought Xin on board as their programmer around late October or early November.

That was the status when I saw Mike at Homecoming. We chatted a bit, he asked me if I wanted to do some Flash development or front-end work, but it would've been a contract position rather than a founder stake (with 5 co-founders, the equity is already spread pretty thinly). Besides, I don't know Flash.

Fast forward to late December. Xin's on a student visa, so he finds out that he can't co-found a startup without putting his visa status at risk. There's a mad scramble to find another programmer. As I understand it, there were a few people ahead of me on the list, but none of them wanted to do it (hey, 4 guys a year and a half out of college starting a business in a hot sector, I'd be skeptical too).

Mike contacted me over AIM on Friday, 1/19. He e-mailed me the business plan, and I took a look at it as soon as I got home from work. It looked very exciting; there's a potentially big (though risky) opportunity here, and it was exactly the sort of project that I've wanted to do since college. Mike and I had a good conversation on Saturday morning, we both were very enthusiastic, and so I was brought on board as the programmer. I spent most of Sunday setting up my development environment - Linux, Python, MySQL, assorted libraries. Luckily, I have a spare Debian VMWare image for just such purposes.

First Skype conference was on Monday night, and I got a quick introduction to what had been done already (a lot on the design/conceptual side, essentially nothing on the technical side) and where we were going. Spent most of the rest of the week learning web.py. I also got permission from Tosin (NOTE's current head at Amherst) to use one of the NOTE servers for prototyping/demo and install whatever I wanted on it. For the next week's conference (1/28), I had a really simple demo with a barebones front page and registration form up.

The week after that, I got a lot more done featurewise. Finished most of sessions and authentication during the workweek - I usually managed to put in a half hour or so before work while eating breakfast and an hour or two after work. Plus, if there are sticky spots, I write 'em out on paper and pencil on the Red Line (much of session handling was done in a day or two in this manner). The demo on 2/4 included sessions, logins, the ability to upload games, games appearing on the front page, and a simple user page. Uploading was done all on Saturday, and having them show up was Sunday morning. Still far from complete functionality, but good progress.

I said that I likely won't have as much done for next week, where "not as much" may mean "nothing" featurewise. Instead, I'm cleaning up the nascent code base and investing in some infrastructure requirements. I setup a Subversion repository on Monday night after I finished watching 24, then posted to web.py for testing suggestions and started checking out twill yesterday. I'm hoping to write some tests tonight, establish a framework for testing, and do a one-step build process that handles pychecker and all our tests.

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