Alex Bea

Giving Up the Domain

I’d hazard a bet that upwards of 90% or more of web developers working today have an unbuilt idea. There was that one day in a brainstorming session, in a coffee shop, stuck in traffic, or on the john when an thought struck. Wouldn’t it be great if there was…

I have one of those. And I think I’m ready to give it up.

The idea

Living in Washington, D.C., there are a few universals that unify everyone from the native residents to the transient Hill interns. One of those is the Metro, the subway system run by the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA). (Another is near constant frustration with WMATA, but that’s only loosely relevant here.)

There are lots of phone applications already for the Metro. Most follow the standard, and highly useful, model of showing people how long it will be until a train arrives at their station. Some also do more robust trip planning or show official Metro administrative notices. That’s pretty much as far as they go.

One thing I noticed when I started my first job in D.C. out of grad school was that my repeated trips from the Woodley Park station to the Takoma station (red line motto: “Hatters gonna hate”) got more efficient as I learned a few things:

  1. Trains always stop at the very end of the station’s track.
  2. Train cars are identical in length and door spacing even if newer or older models.
  3. Navigating rush hour crowds from the train car to the station exit is rarely pleasant.

Putting these facts together I, like some other regular passengers, learned to enter the train in the car and door that would allow me to exit closest to the exit of my destination station. By walking a few meters further when starting my trip, I could not only cut down on walking at the end, but cut down on it when it was most hectic. I began to see this as a sort of super power and started writing down these ideal positions even for routes that I took less often.

I could have kept this information to myself. Instead, I figured that if I were to share it, that could only make all of our travel more efficient. Sure, mine would be slightly less than if I were the only one doing this, but in more complex stations like Metro Center, it could result in a sort of urban planning net gain for all.

Honestly, I didn’t think too deeply about that last part. I mostly just thought it was my first decent idea for an app. I even had a great name and purchased the domain… Where Do You Get Off? Think about it.

Liz Lemon giving herself a high five

(If your interpretation is R-rated, stop thinking about it. I was going for this. I stand by it.)

As I collected the necessary data, I began selectively telling people I knew about the idea. I even went so far as to describe it obnoxiously in a work ice-breaker game as “me being on a project to revolutionize the Metro.” What an ass. Even so, everyone I told in the city agreed that it was a cool idea. They’d love to go somewhere they didn’t know as well with the skill of a regular.

My spoken idea trap

The problem with speaking a goal out loud is that it triggers the good feeling of accomplishment that is part of the motivation for completing it. Derek Sivers has a good TED Talk about this phenomenon. Since I was getting the positive feelings of accomplishment without accomplishing anything, I didn’t feel as much need to follow through. It’s also significant that I didn’t think my idea was going to make me any money, so I didn’t have that added motivation.

I did make a few real attempts, to be fair to myself. First, when I first got into Drupal development as a project manager I learned about modules like Simple Hierarchical Select that could make the UI simpler to build. It seemed like doing this would be a great way for me to learn more about Drupal development from the technical side. I even set up a demo, designed a simple logo, and started working out the interface before I lost track of it. After laying dormant a while, I deleted the project folder.

Again last year, when I was doing the Bloc boot camp it was to conclude with a final project of our own choice, probably using AngularJS. Again, I was going to make this happen. Angular was much better suited for this than Drupal and now I had a structured program and a mentor to make it happen! How could it not happen this time?

Well, I got a job. That’s how. After blessedly getting my job at Singlebrook before I had fully completed my Bloc program, I put Bloc on indefinite pause. That pause stands to this day.

Giving up the ghost

Today is March 6, 2016. The day of my cocksure assertion of revolutionizing Metro was around April, 2011. I’ve owned for five years with nothing to show for it really. So I’m giving it up. I don’t see this as “giving up,” though.

I’ve come to understand that one of the greatest skills an adult can gain with regards to goal setting is being able to recognize when goals change so the old can be discarded for the sake of the new. I no longer live in Washington, D.C., making the original idea far less interesting. It also seems that the people of the District have more or less gotten along fine in the meantime.

As we grow as web developers or professionals of any stripe, we’re going to have genuinely great ideas and genuinely crap ideas we think are great that don’t make it out of being ideas. In most cases, that’s probably for the best. Or at the least it’s a wash. Holding onto these too tightly seems a great way to breed regret. I know this has for me.

I still have the option of going back to finish Bloc. I might still do that, though I have another idea for a final project that might better help build skills I need for work. There’s always the possibility that I’d catch the MVC framework bug and want to build Where Do You Get Off just for fun. Even if I don’t, I’m now comfortable with this idea drifting away into the ether.

That said, if anyone is interested in a great, but easily misinterpreted, domain name, there’s an eBay auction you should check out.