Archive for ‘simplebits’ category

Introducing Foamee

I think I’ve just created something that will change the web as we know it. But I’ll write about that another day. Instead, I’m going to talk about a fun new thing I launched last night. Actually, it’s a couple of things.

I owe you a beer.

I say this quite a bit. For friends, family, people that deserve a pat on the back. I also often forget to make good on the promise. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to keep track? And then also keep track of who owed you?

FoameeSo, I decided to build Foamee (hey, there were plenty of abandoned ‘e’s lying around). It’ll keep track of who you owe beers to and vice versa. But don’t worry, this is NASN (not another socical network). Like you, I’m tired of creating another login, another set of friends/contacts, another avatar and more tears. So instead, Foamee piggy-backs on an existing one. As I was tossing ideas around, I realized a lot of the functionality: short messages directed at another person, web/IM/mobile messaging, etc. already existed elsewhere — so why not make things simpler and utilize the indispensable Twitter as a primary interface for the app?

Using Twitter’s API, Foamee will harvest replies and direct messages to create a barnacle-esque utility (props to Josh Porter for coining that) on the already-popular messaging service. If you’re already on Twitter, using Fomee is as easy as following ioubeer, then using specific syntax to announce an I.O.U. Beer to the world. We’ll repost these virtual pats-on-the-back, and also create a people page for anyone that sends a beer. Your people page will show who you owe, and who owes you. The sender or receiver also has the option of “redeeming” an I.O.U. via a direct message to Foamee, completing the deal.

I realize this is a silly (but potentially useful) service. And I’m excited to see where it leads, if anywhere. What it does now is incredibly simple (and there’s a reason for that, partially explained below). It’s also a shameless brand vehicle. How so, you ask?

Foamee Goods

coaster detailRight out of the gate, there are two cool things to buy at the Foamee Store (because two weeks from now, when you’ve long forgotten about this little site, it’d be too late). T-shirts (of course) and I.O.U. Beer Coasters: a pack of six pulpboard coasters shipped in a drawstring cotton bag with a Foamee-branded Mini Sharpie. The coasters have a spot to write your name, perfect for handing out tactile I.O.U.s in person to deserving recipients. They work great in the mail as well. And they are awesome.

Special technical geek notes

Building this little app became a personal challenge. Could I handle the backend as well as the design? Could someone who primarily spends their time worrying about interface solutions roll up their sleeves and create a fully-functional product? And so the process of investigating APIs, databases and frameworks began. It reminded me of the old days, learning HTML (and later CSS) for the first time. Late night experimentation, utter frustration and then those “little victories” that make it all worth it.

Foamee runs on PHP, using the CakePHP framework, which turned out quite well. Cake uses the same model/view/controller setup found in Rails and other frameworks, has a good community and is dead simple to install and move around. I owe Jonathan Snook a beer for blogging about Cake (surely where I heard about it first). My code is likely terrible and other smart folks could probably bang out the same functionality in an afternoon, blindfolded and behind-the-back. But it works, and my familiarity with PHP coupled with my experience with Rails while working with the imitable Dan Benjamin on Cork’d and other projects (I owe him several beers as well) made baking with Cake tolerable for a noob like me.

Foamee is hosted by the fine folks at Media Temple, and I owe them a beer (or twelve) for that.

The motivator here was fun. Fun to build, fun to create for, and (hopefully) fun to use. I’m hoping fun continues to motivate around here — for Foamee and for whatever else cures the constant desire to create. Special thanks to Biz Stone at Twitter for helping tap the keg last night.


I’m pleased to announce a new product shipping today over at the IconShoppe. Chameleon16 is a new pixel font for Mac and Windows, hand-crafted using only the finest pixels available. It’s based on the Chameleon Original icons that we’ve been hocking over here to support our growing latte addiction.
Chameleon16 sampleInitially, I’d thought to just convert the GIF images to a bitmap font so that the customer could change the color and add effects at will. The minimalist nature of the icons begs of it, and having the 16×16 icons in font format would sure be handy. But while I was at it, why not create new _alphanumeric_ characters to go along with it, and create a real font in the same style?
As the name suggests, Chameleon16 is designed to be used at 16px. And like its pixel font predecessors, it also works at multiples of that base (32px, 48px, 64px, etc.) for retro, extra blocky goodness.
Chameleon sampleSince each character is a 16×16 tile, it admittedly has limited use for setting large chunks of text. You’re not going to use this font to display client invoices or proposals. But interesting things can happen when you start playing with kerning and line height, and I’m excited to see some interesting applications where it could be used creatively.
The TrueType font includes standard alphanumeric characters as well as the entire Chameleon Original icon set as alternate characters and costs just $39 bucks. As a special promotion, the first three orders also get a free copy of Bulletproof Web Design, Second Edition that hit store shelves last month First three orders received!.
h4. Special technical geek notes
The process of creating the font was a learning experience, and I would compare it (at times) to removing stubborn wallpaper. I first created the characters in Photoshop, then used a program called BitFonter to turn those into a bitmap font, assigning each character, adjusting metrics, etc.
Over the course of the last six months or so I began chipping away it, navigating the spotty documentation, and teaching myself the wonders of font metrics, character encoding and more. In the end, I needed to create additional outlines of the bitmap characters and export these into TypeTool which could then generate a proper TrueType file (after having problems letting BitFonter do this). If I knew what I was doing this wouldn’t have taken long.
I avoided using something like Fontographer (also by FontLab) because I was creating a bitmap font and BitFonter’s pixel editor seemed a natural choice — and for creating and editing _pixel_ fonts, it’s great (or at least slightly more intuitive). It’s the output and documentation that was confusing, and my respect for _real_ type designers has grown tenfold after this little project.
So, my advice for those looking to create their own pixel fonts: learn Fontographer, or remember that you’ll need TypeTool in order to generate a TrueType file from BitFonter’s outlines.

Gone Fishing

We’re packing up over here for a little trip to San Francisco for @media followed by a few days of vacation. The whole family is coming with me, and we’re excited about everything, save the 6+ hour flight. Snacks? Check. Sesame Street? Check. Non-noisy toys? Check.

I’m posting this primarily to warn anyone of a delay in email response that’ll begin shortly. Well, there’s always a delay these days, but it’ll be even worse for the next little while.

See you on the left coast, or when we return.

Cork’d Finds a New Home

When “Dan Benjamin”: and I launched “Cork’d”: a year ago, our primary goal was achieved immediately: building something we _personally_ wanted to use to discover and share wine. Twelve months later, it turns out other people wanted to use it as well, and we’ve had a blast listening to the community, improving the site and watching it grow (to over 20,000 users today).
One thing became clear throughout the evolution though: that the site always deserved far more attention than it received from its founders. We were building Cork’d on nights and weekends, and keeping up with new site features, member requests, etc. often took a backseat to other client work and dayjobs. Cork’d needed a new home — but not just any.
h4. A New Home
After talks with companies large and small, we realized we didn’t want Cork’d to become just an advertising bucket for a media company that would most likely let it fizzle out. It was important to us to find a home that would _get_ what the site does and how it uniquely fit in the wine world. We’re happy to announce today that *Cork’d has been acquired by a newly formed company* with “Gary Vaynerchuk”: of “Wine Library TV”: at the helm.
“Gary”: has been changing the wine world as host of WLTV has built a rabid following of wine fans (“Vayniacs”, they’re called — myself included) with his energetic take on making wine _fun_ — this is precisely the same mantra we had building Cork’d. But Gary also really _knows_ wine — something Dan B. nor I can really claim. The recycling guy in my neighborhood knows how much I love wine (and regularly) — but that doesn’t mean I _know_ wine. You know? To get an idea of the show, be sure to check out “this video summary”:
Gary really _gets_ community. And with his mix of knowledge, energy, fresh take on wine, and his embracing of technology and the web, we’ve found a _perfect_ fit. And that’s really what’s most important for the site — that Cork’d continue to grow under an organization that gets wine, gets the web, gets what Cork’d was trying to do, etc.
We’re excited that Gary along with “Rails”: whiz “Erik Kastner”: will be able to take the site to the next level (something it’s always deserved), integrating Cork’d and live tasting, having a real wine authority behind it. Cork’d will not only continue on — but it’ll get even better. For the last month or so, we’d been helping transition the site over, and out of that came some cool new features:
* A switch to the more widely used 100-point rating system.
* “Cork Board” on every profile page to start discussion between members.
* Easy import of wines for CellarTracker members.
* New identity and layout for Wine Library TV, to further tie the two destinations together.
Gary and team have more things in the works like support for “OpenID”:, mobile and more. Dan B. and I will remain on as advisors, but we leave the site in very capable and enthusaistic hands. Cheers to WLTV and the future of Cork’d!
h4. A Learning Experience
The last year has been a tremendous learning experience on so many levels. Sure it’s just a little wine site that Dan B. and I created in our spare time — but the process of building, maintaining, and transitioning was filled with lessons and “ah, so that’s how this all works” moments.
Working with Dan B. taught me volumes about how Rails can be a fantastic environment for designers to create in. I’ve talked about it before — but the concept of using “Subversion”: (SVN) and “chipping” away at the interface _in real time_ made it a bit like sculpting the application. I’m hooked.
I credit Dan B.’s talent as a developer for being able to easily handle the real brunt of the work here — having spent most of my time handing over XHTML and CSS templates to clients and then walking away, seeing and _learning_ how everything falls into place by watching Dan work his magic was invaluable. And fun.
Read more about “the Cork’d acquisition over at Hivelogic”:
h4. What’s Next?
It’s been a busy Spring, with the Cork’d transition, large client projects, and a book revision in the works. But I’m looking forward to the Summer to brainstorm on the future. An office move, expansion and a new SimpleBits-branded product are all probable — we’ll just see how all the juggling goes.

New Chunky Icons T-Shirt

t-shirtJust in time for Spring, the all-new Chunky Icons Tee is available, selling fast, and shipping immediately! This is a limited-editon run that includes a numbered, signed letterpressed card and free stickers. The shirt is printed by the fabulous folks at Acme Prints on “Army” American Apparel (of course). You will love it.

On the front are five icons lined up in a row (from the Chameleon Chunky stock icon set over at our IconShoppe). Your task is to come up with what they mean. Best answer added as a comment here wins a *free shirt* (comment before April 7, 2007 to enter). On the back yoke is a small SimpleBits logo mark. Just because.

More detailed views of the shirt are available in this Flickr photo set.

IconShoppe Grand Opening

Without fail, I get more done when the work is _piled_ on. When stress is at a max and there are a million to-do items. But this was long overdue, and something I’ve been meaning to set up for a while for reasons I’ll go into in a minute. So, before I pack for Austin, I’m happy to have finished this off enough to flip the switch.

IconShoppeToday, IconShoppe opens it’s doors. I’ve finally spun off the stock web icons I’ve been selling here at SimpleBits into their own, proper digs. It’ll motivate me (hopefully) to put more time into *more icon sets* and some *other ideas* I’ve had brewing for a while. This “setting up shoppe” was the first necessary step.

That said, they’re the same simple little web icons I’ve been selling here for the last few years. But they now have a better framework in which to grow and a more easily maintainable system behind them (WordPress, customized).

Stay tuned for more, and grab the RSS feed to be alerted of new stuff happening over at the ‘Shoppe. I can’t say it’ll be updated _often_, but this is just a start, my friends.

AIGA Redesign

This morning, AIGA (the professional association for design) relaunched with a shiny new design by Happy Cog. I had the pleasure of taking Jason Santa Maria‘s brilliant designs and turning them into semantic XHTML and CSS templates that could be plugged into a custom CMS built by Thirdwave (AIGA’s technical partner). Magic and fun ensued.

Every project is a learning experience. But working with Jeffrey and Jason for a client like AIGA, well that’s a whole new level of awesomeness. One could (and should) study Jason’s molecule-level of detail in typography (using just two web fonts and a splash of Interstate via the venerable sIFR). It was a fun challenge getting things _right_ using CSS. I hope I’ve come close.
Congrats to AIGA for renewing their digs with a smart, readable, beautiful design — and a big thank you to Jeffrey, Jason and Happy Cog for allowing me to pitch in and help with this.

Read more about the redesign:
* Jeffrey Zeldman: Happy Cog redesigns AIGA
* Jason Santa Maria: AIGA Redesign
* Happy Cog: AIGA Website Redesign

And a special geek note: events listed on AIGA’s homepage are marked up with hCalendar.

New Icons: Chameleon Chunky and SuperPack

chameleon sampleWhile I was putting together an hCard example for next week’s Web Directions North presentation a while back, I whipped up a few icons that were Chameleon in spirit — but doubly thick. And so, *Chameleon Chunky* was born: the newest addition to the color-changing family of stock icon sets.

The extra-thickness of this style was a bit more challenging for some shapes, but the ability to add single pixel details makes for good contrast when using just one color. Like all the Chameleon sets, these are royalty-free stock icons that are customizable to fit your site’s color palette. Just punch in a hex color, hit a button and we’ll magically generate a custom-colored set for you immediately. Ah, the wonders of technology, and all for $25 USD.
If you’re feeling lazy or indecisive, a Ready-Made Pack is also available that includes 6 pre-selected colors for $35 USD.

Chameleon SuperPack

In addition to the new Chunky style, I’ve also put together a *SuperPack* of all four Ready-Made Packs in one convenient (and low-priced) bundle. For just $85 USD, you’ll get _all four styles_ in 6 different colors — _1,680_ icons in all. That’s a lot of pixels folks.

Hope you dig ‘em!


business card close-upWith a new logo, comes new business cards. I’d used Dependable Letterpress for a previous run of cards and was really pleased with the quality, service, etc. Today, the new cards arrived, and I’m just as happy with the results. Highly recommend them, but be warned that it’s not a quick and cheap option.

Nothing beats seeing the art and type stamped into thick card stock, with visible embossing from the weight of the plates (more evidence of letterpressing awesomeness here). It’s also reassuring to see the flexibility of the new vector-based logo in action. Smooooove.

Cheers, Interwebizens

2006 was an amazing life-changing year, and largely because of stuff that has nothing to do with the web or business. But as I lock up the BitCave until 2007, I just wanted to write a quick thank you to all the clients, icon/t-shirt customers and readers of SimpleBits. You’ve made it possible for me to focus on the stuff that really matters, and for that I’m grateful.

So, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (in case I ignore blogging until then)! Cheers indeed, interwebizens.