Bookends, for fun and for learning

During the months of May and June, I worked on a hobby project with a friend of mine called “Decide”. You can go check it out here. During development, I learned a couple of new things, technical and personal things about myself. Technically, I learned some React based on Next.js. If you’re about to start learning React, don’t pile on another piece of tech on top of it, it’ll just make things more complicated and development even slower. My friend took care of most of the deployment work and the heavy lifting related to getting the app working, he even did a lot of the styling so I was left with figuring out some minor bugs, adding some features, and eventually doing some product development. This felt odd to me, I wanted to learn more and do more during this process. Well, we figured that the project was going to be “done” soon so we should just launch it and let it simmer on the web. After about a month of being live, we have some users on it but we’re not actively working on it. I wanted to start working on something new.

This post is about that new project. I am starting working on another hobby project now and I’m hoping as time goes on, it can be more than a hobby project especially depending on how much traction it will get over time. I don’t want this to be a rushed project, I don’t want it to be a dance of git between two people, and I really don’t want it to be vaporware. So how do I prevent this from happening? Well, I’m hoping this won’t be a short-lived idea since it’s not something I want to just throw on the web and walk away. I have decided to take the development slowly. A couple of days after work during the week, maybe a few focused hours on the weekend. It won’t be a dance of git since I’m going to be the only developer on it for as long as possible. And it not being vaporware? Well…that’s going to depend a lot on how much effort I put into the project and actually make it useful for the community. 

So what is this project? Bookends is an a place to track your books and discover new ones. You might be thinking, “Goodreads already exists, why another one like it?” I love Goodreads, I use it often but it’s not what I want a book tracking, readers’ social network to be, I think it can be more than what it is right now. There are so many people out there who love books and I believe Bookends can be a place for them to belong and be part of a community. 

Anti-social network ideas & privacy

Most social networks thrive on the network effect and then turn around and use the same mechanism to betray or at least kindly coerce their users into paying them somehow, whether it’s clicking on ads or providing valuable gross data profiles that can be then sold to corporations, governmental agencies, and even potential employers read more about this. Sure, this might be a necessity for companies that are pushed by their investors and stakeholders to churn out huge profits but I believe people’s emotions and wellbeing should not be taken advantage of for the sake of making money. I don’t want to build a social network that takes user’s activity and turns it into revenue. I also don’t want to build a social network that acts like a layer of information for corporations to make more money. 

My goal with Bookends is to provide a safe and friendly community for book lovers to connect and share ideas. It’s not to collect every action you perform on the website and then turn it into a unit of revenue. 

For the privacy portion, it’s amazing what contemporary tech companies can collect about their users but they don’t always have to do that. I don’t want or need to collect user information that’s only used to build generic profiles to be sold to ad buyers. A user’s privacy means they will only share things with their circle of friends. 

People should connect over books and genres they love and that’s my hope with Bookends. 

What is a user?

User on Dictionary.com
A user is an odd term, in my opinion, it’s technically fine to call anyone using something a user but I believe it’s a bit too abstract or if you’d like to ignore the first definition and go with the second one, it becomes a bit more weird. But I think a user on Bookends is really a “reader”. You read books, you’re a reader. So you’ll see me refer to users on Bookends as readers.

Development status and what’s in it for me

The past few weeks, I’ve spent after-work hours working on the backend setup for Bookends. I’m grateful to have a team at work as each person is great at their own role making development easy but since I don’t have a team working on this with me, it’s a bunch of googling, reading, experimenting, and spinning in circles. I do feel like I’m learning more and more about each part of the product. From putting together the landing page and pointing it to the Bookends domain (www.bookends.app) which needed to be https to getting the vue.js app working properly, I’ve been making slow progress but I’m feeling like things are speeding up.

Why would I want to build a social network for book lovers? I love books, that is a big reason. Building a place for communities to thrive is important and meaningful to me. I want to grow as a developer and having something meaningful to work on will help me do that.

Currently, Bookends is live as a landing page but the past few evenings, I’ve spent putting together the initial user interface that will feature a search for looking up books. The alpha will launch as just a search for books. The beta will feature reader profiles and the ability to track books. As things move forward, I’ll look for a way to allow making upcoming features a publicly visible thing but for now, I don’t have a good way of doing that.

Who’s paying for it?

Most startups don’t worry about making money because they’re in a hurry to collect the most users possible and then somehow figure out how to make money, that has worked out for most of them, but some just can’t figure it out (see Tumblr, Luxe, Rdio, etc.). Accumulating the most active users in a month or being the largest network of any kind is useless if the users on the network are either addicted or not adding value. That’s not my aim with Bookends, if each reader using Bookends can comfortably use the product and get something out of it, that’s worth it to me. At this point you might be thinking: “but who’s paying for it!?” Initially, the first few months, I have no plans of growing exponentially as it’s a hobby project so I won’t worry about making money in any way. This is not to say I’m going out to raise money or do anything like that. I’m still working my day job so I can pay for rent and food 😂. What I am thinking is that in the long run, it would ideally be a community funded project, something that the community can help fund and grow but I’m not concerned about that right now, first let me find that community! 

Please follow along this journey and I would love feedback anything I’ve said in here and on the project itself. You can go checkout the project here:
https://bookends.app.

Mid-May update

In the past 2-3 months, I’ve been writing way more code and relatively more blog posts than I had before starting this blog. This has been mainly due to my goal of being consistent about things that interest me.

I’m writing this post because I haven’t posted in about 10 days and I was getting anxious to write something. This post is kind of like an intermittent update because I have been busy lately but I think most of those things are not very interesting to post about.

Cycling: I’ve started riding my bike again, after about 11 months of inactivity! My bike was hanging on its hook for so long that it had collected dust on all the components! I had forgotten where my pump was and took me awhile to find it. Below are my stats from Strava for cycling:

Strava stats as of May 16th, 2018

I don’t want to be unrealistic but I do want to ride a couple of hundred miles if I stay consistent.

Books: after finishing The Three-Body Problem, I wanted to read/listen to something non-fiction and I started listening to A Fine Mess by T.R. Reid. It’s a book on taxes and I did enjoy it. I have a draft post about it but I’ll talk more about it in that. I’m also reading a fiction book called Mattimeo by Brian Jacques, it’s a children’s fantasy novel about anthropomorphic mice, second in the Redwall series. After my experience with Watership Down by Richard Adams, I’ve been feeling many different things, like the whole story is so magical and profound yet so dark and simple that it kind of hurts to think about how real it made me feel. 

Code: I’ve been trying to stay consistent about learning Node.js and using it to build something. Also, I’m practicing things like python and javascript when I have some down time, this has been mostly for fun. I’m itching to build something big but I don’t want to misperceive my little bits of new information as newfound confidence.

The Joy of Tidying (and finances): I didn’t really know what to call this part but one thing that’s been part of my everyday thinking has been the notion of “less is more” and also using a recently learned problem solving principle called Occam’s razor to clearly focus on things. I remember when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo last year, it really opened up a new way of looking at my possessions. It started with just the things I had and how many of them I wasn’t using or wanting yet they all were in my house, taking my room and requiring my time. 
Once I simplified my clothing, books, and other possessions, I started to think of abstract noises and complexities like finances, digital presences, online shopping, and even apps on my phone. This has been a topic of research for me as most people in my generation are dealing with this in various ways, I want to find an approach that’s not Draconian and still lets me enjoy my time with these things and without them. More on this later! 

Starting work on a custom theme

I really like the way Medium posts look. I think the Medium team has done a great job spending time on making sure a post looks its best no matter what the content it contains.

When I was setting up this blog, I looked around for any theme that was just barebones, the current theme I'm using is called Integer by ThemePatio. It was one of the few that I found that doesn't only look Perfect™ when looking at the preview. Most themes will look very good when you're looking at a preview of them and they're not designed for regular blogging, they're designed for cookie-cutter blog posts. I think this is unfair to the people looking at the themes since it means people will be oversold on a theme and when they install it, it'll look like it's missing something.

I am starting to work on a custom theme that I'm going to be making available. It's called Free Press, you can see it on github here: usmanity/free-press. 🗞

The goal is to keep the theme very minimal, maybe take a few design hints from Medium but overall stay the course of simplicity.