Scott Robbin is a web developer and co-creator with Naz Hamid of Vapid, an intentionally simple Content Management System.
Starting in the late 90s, Mr. Robbin founded different companies (like Halobrite and Songza) right before working as Lead Developer and Director for Cards Agains Humanity and Blackbox. You can check out his projects on srobbin.com and learn more about Vapid, his latest creation, on vapid.com.
"Everybody is just trying their best. Everything is just kind of rolling and picking up skill sets that somehow work their way into what you need to be prepared for the next part of your journey. "
— Scott Robbin
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Scott Robbin (guest): I think sometimes we get into these mindsets where we're trying to build it for some like audience and we think the audience cares about certain things. Maybe there are peers and we're embarrassed for them to see our code or you know, just to see this video or audio we don't even put together but in the end like everybody's just like trying their best. No, it's not. It's not it's not nobody's that professional is everything just kind of rolling and ongoing, picking up a skill sets that somehow work their way into what you need to be prepared for the next part of your journey.
Simone Salis (host): I am Simone Salis. Next up on The Hoomanist, today's guest: Scott Robbin. This is The Hoomanist and I'm your host, Simone Salus Today's guest is called Robin web developer and co creator witness Hamid of vapid, unintentionally simple content management system to create websites starting in the late 90s mister Robin founded different companies like hello Brian and songs and also worked as lead developer and director for Cards Against Humanity black box and more. You can check out his projects on ass robin.com and learn more about vapid, his latest creation on vapid.com. In fact, Scott, you are a software developer, but like your early projects show, I was looking at them also trained in acoustics.
S. Robbin: That's true. Yeah, yeah, I was my Columbia College days, right.
S. Salis: The thing that we have in common the alma mater, what was the path from acoustics to becoming a web developer for you.
S. Robbin: It wasn't real time. So when I was going to college, first at University of Iowa, I went there for music composition. Okay, I played music in high school, I really wanted to continue it in college. So I was playing. And then I realized pretty quickly that, you know, playing music and being a performer and living composer wasn't really, you know, was my specialty. And, but at the same time, I had been taking production classes in college video production and audio production. And I took this great audio production class. And so this is fantastic. You know, what can I take next, they said, That's it, you took the one class, you want to go take more, you need to leave, you need to go somewhere else. So I, you know, it had a few choices. And I ended up coming to Columbia College in Chicago. in the very first day, I remember this, we were sitting a big auditorium, and there are, you know, a couple hundred people sitting in there. All in the same the lead instructor said, you know, how many of you are here to be a recording engineer, and, you know, everybody raised their hands. And he said, Great, you're all vying for, like, the three paid positions in Chicago, like you might want check out, we have other, you know, discipline a sec, I'm not trying to dissuade you. But we've got, you know, live audio, we've got acoustics, we've got all this other stuff. So I sort of had that seed planted at the beginning. And then I met one of my teachers now, acoustic teacher, it was introduced acoustics class, and he was just one of the best teachers I'd had ever some good advice had been given to me early on. And I said, if you find a good teacher, take everything you can with that it doesn't matter what they're teaching a good teacher is, is incredibly valuable. So I just kept taking these classes more and more, more like you're in sort of a semi structured environment, right? There's like notes and keys and music and acoustics. There's, you know, principles of physics, you know, and then you get to be creative inside there and decide what you want to build. And so it kind of it appealed to me in the same way that music did and, and ended up pretty far away from doing any sort of audio engineering.
S. Salis: Well, coding is incredibly creative. And it has the same kind of constraints that you were talking about, at least for me, I'm not a professional coder, but I can tell you, I'm one of those people that can follow instructions. So what was your first project? you graduate from school? Yeah, and it's BA in acoustics. And what is the first job that you have after school? I don't know if you had any in between, probably enough. Well, I had
S. Robbin: some internships I'll try, which are nice. I did an intern, couple internships was at school, one was nice, respected acoustics firm on the suburbs. And they did the renovation that, you know, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, they did Carnegie Hall, they were, you know, these big, big projects, I was there to organize the library. So I wasn't doing anything that interesting, but the prestigious that internship actually helped me get a job by accident. And it was a complete accident. When I was at Columbia. I was part of the Audio Engineering Society student chapter there, and they were having a conference in Las Vegas. And so as part of being part of the student body, they offered to pay for us to go to Vegas to be at this conference. And we could man the booth and it's nice. And so when I was there, you know, I work the booth, and I was getting ready to leave. And it was probably like an hour before I had to leave for the airport. And at the time, I was a smoker. So I went out to go have a cigarette, and I was standing around, I was talking to some guys who knew one of my teachers, and we were just chatting. And then we all walked back in together, and we walked past one of their colleagues. And they introduce me, because it had been awkward not to shake hands. And he said, Oh, you know, if you're ever looking for a job, you know, let me know. And I was like, Well, I have my resume right here. So I gave my resume. And a week later, he calls me and he says, I'm, you know, I'm in Dallas, Texas, can I fly you out, you know, to interview you. And I did. And we went out to lunch, and things went well, and he hired me. And so like a week after I graduated college, I moved to Dallas, Texas to go work for this acoustics firm. Hmm. And then flash forward about three months, and I'm, you know, with this guy, and we go to another conference and like Seattle, and we're having dinner at night, and he's like, you know, so how do you know, Robin? Dave? And it's like, ooh, he's like, Robin. David. I was like, I have no idea here talking. He's like, he introduced us. And I was like, Oh, I'm like, I just, I had a cigarette with them. They were they knew my teacher a little bit. He's like, I thought you were friends with them. That's kind of why
S. Salis: I was like, thank you very much.
S. Robbin: support you.
S. Salis: You ended up not disappoint them so well.
S. Robbin: Yeah. But, you know, it was just like, Yeah, I was just totally random. So for shopping, I got a lot of experience.
S. Salis: Okay, positive sides of smoking. You're getting a job
S. Robbin: Surgeon General doesn't tell you that.
S. Salis: Yeah, she freezes on top of the pack.
S. Robbin: Like a skull and crossbones, you need like a, you know, you might
S. Salis: die, but it might also lend you a job.
S. Robbin: Frankly, I thought Dallas was a miserable place to live. And so I was like I was ready to leave. It reminded me a lot of certain parts of the Chicago suburbs where you've got an expanse you know, you have a lot of chain restaurants you had in a strip malls, and there were no sidewalks in between strip malls. You have to drive from like one script, and then get back in your car and drive like 20 feet to the next strip mall. Historically, I love density, the density of cities. Okay. And I missed Chicago and I wanted to come back to Chicago. And so what I decided to do was, I left there and I came back under the guise of enrolling into a computer science program in Chicago summary. This is I came back for the computer science program at DePaul college. I found myself writing accounting programs, which I thought was really boring. And I met up with my old professors from Columbia College, he told me about a program at Northwestern University that taught computer programming inside of the music department. So we were writing algorithms for signal processing, and, you know, audio software, and it took that, so I was in like, grad school for like, one year. And all this is just like, I was racking up, you know, huge amounts of student loan debt. Yeah. And thinking about like, what am I actually going to do when I get out of here. And one of my classmates in from DePaul had kept in touch with with, she worked for Encyclopedia Britannica. And she's like, you know, we're hiring
S. Salis: time to make those things digital.
S. Robbin: Yeah, exactly. It's actually just hiring in the tech support department.
S. Salis: So, how does your life proceed? You know, up until now, today, the path that you are here? How do you go through those things? Yeah,
S. Robbin: also, by accident, also, by x always by accident, right. I know, busy. I mean, I feel like that's, it's true for everybody, especially, you know, people in our age and era era is everything just kind of, you know, ends up being this weird string of events that you never could have predicted or tried to put yourself down and it's like this, you know, rolling and ongoing picking up of skill sets that somehow work their way into what you need to be prepared for the next part of your journey. And you never really thought about it that way.
S. Salis: Do you see some synchronicity in that, um, maybe, maybe I, I, I'm
S. Robbin: sort of, you know, I'm fine with the randomness of it. But like, it sort of works out that way. And I find it pleasing.
S. Salis: Okay.
S. Robbin: I at this point, you know, worked for Britannica dot com. Boom, bust. I worked for school district in the suburbs for a couple years. And then I landed a job back here in Chicago, working for a real estate company doing their website. Great, great job, great job for the city. And I went to a party and I met this guy, my friend Sandy, who's been my friend Sandy since then, you know, we're just talking and he said, Oh, your webpage fall. But I mean to developer, I just quit my job to be a freelance web developer. It's like, What? How do you do that? What is like,
S. Salis: how do you hate for? Yeah,
S. Robbin: well, he's like, he's like, it's easy. He's like, you know, a lot of people need developers. And if you're available, people just, you know, there's work for you. He's like, he's like, here's what you should do. This is like, I think in like, a, maybe November or something around Christmas time. He's like, Okay, next spring, come with me to, you know, SXSW Sure. in Austin, and then quit your job. And we'll, we'll just be freelance together. And I was like, Yeah, that's great. Yeah, hilarious. And it's exactly how it happened. We went there together. We, you know, had a wonderful time I met so many people that were doing the exact same thing that Sandy was doing, and everybody had the same thing to say, which is, there's work, you know, if you want work, there's work and it's not. And I was, I was, I tell my students, you know, need about four months, the first month is when you're trying to find work. The second month, hopefully, is when you're doing it. The third is when you're waiting to get paid. And the fourth is, if it doesn't work out for you, you know, a month to find a new job and then not too far from here, and ravens would there's a bunch of warehouses and I think is about like, eight of us, you know, we're all doing something similar. Just got an office space, it's kind of before there were a lot of CO working space. Yeah,
S. Salis: and you're working
S. Robbin: Yeah, made our own co working space. And, you know, and it wasn't that much money and somehow we all had complementary skills, you know, we would, some of us were writers, somewhere, designers and developers, and, you know, somebody would have a job and, you know, really, we kind of to pitch in and, you know, help or make a referral to somebody. And this went on for a while, and one of the groups of people that were in that office space was a company called humanized and they were for college friends. Okay, one of which the was named, EISA Raskin, his dad was, Jeff Raskin, the creator of the Macintosh was about us.
S. Salis: Yeah, I was about to say, Jeff Raskin from app. Okay, yeah,
S. Robbin: I mean, we're, like, weird coincidence, right? I didn't know him. He was a friend of a friend. So we worked together for a while, and then they ended up needing somebody to help out with some web development. So I, you know, was helping with that. And then he said, You know, I've got this other side project I've been working on, it's a music search engine called songs. Now, you've told me that he got the name from and, you know, would you want to work on it with me? And I said, Sure. So we started working on it together. And the premise was this, it was a search engine where you would even type in the name of song and it would search YouTube, it would come back with a song and it would basically play the video, but not show you the video, the video would be like, you know, 1000 pixels off screen here. And it turns out, like, if you close your eyes, and you don't look at the videos, YouTube, it's like, a great place to find music. So like, you know, like, these obscure songs was like, Oh, my God, you have like, my band, the high school, you know, band song, how do you guys have this catalog? Like, let's just
S. Salis: say, weren't you everything that Well, no. YouTube Music because you were kind of you are still giving them views. So that's fine use and Yeah, exactly. views. Blind views. You were getting, like, blind views. But um, yeah. So you were everything that like labels hate it? Yeah.
S. Robbin: Nobody was really happy with you doing Yeah, but people were, of course, people loved it enables you to pay to it sort of exploded, you know, I think it's like 12 million page views a month. It was it was it nuts? You know, we thought there's a like, this is it, you know, like, when do I do I like, you know, by my yacht. Yeah. And it turns out, like, like, like, didn't go that way.
S. Salis: Hello, I am. So Mona Salus and these is the humanist support for this show comes from you. If you would like to keep enjoying new episodes regularly. Please become a supporter visit human. That is Dean slash support?
MC Mona Salus and these is the humanist today with guest Scott Robin, web developer and co founder of vapid.com. So, Scott, what did you learn from that
S. Robbin: we ended up selling it to a company in New York, that ended up turning it into more of like a traditional radio station. Okay, online radio, and then it got incorporated into Google say,
S. Salis: Okay, so the path was at the end of the day, you ended up in Google Play? Yes,
S. Robbin: there's a very brief exciting time of like, those things where, you know, this happens anytime you launch any project, you're like, is this going to be like enormous in my wife going to change? Or is it going to be a dud?
S. Salis: Because this thing can be like you say, when you are sold galvanized, then then you need to resize your expectations, then you have something they may be you incorporate in future maybe not.
S. Robbin: Yeah, yeah, I mean, I learned a lot about eating two, three things learned about scale, and building things that, you know, a lot of people can use, and then realizing that you don't necessarily have to be an expert to do that. Everybody just finds themselves in a situation and use their skills to try to make it through. And so I was like, Well, if we can do that, if we can build this site that's, you know, has this volume of traffic, and you know it and we're not like, I knew nothing, nothing like relative to what I think I know. Now, I knew nothing about web development. back then. It was just garbage thrown together. But like the word that's fine.
S. Salis: Hey, if the idea was good enough, I mean, there is all like, what's good enough for the user user, like, Oh, this is cool. It's great. Not paying for songs. And I'm listening. Yeah, like, you know,
S. Robbin: I think sometimes we get into these mindsets where we're trying to build it for some, like audience, and we think that the audience cares about certain things, maybe there are peers, and we're embarrassed for them to see our code or to, you know, to see this video or auto body we put together but in the end, like, everybody's just like, trying their best, you know, yeah, it's not, it does not, it's not, nobody's that professional.
So so. So we got a lot of experience and got to play around with a lot of software and grow some more. And then that sort of like, led up to I started work for Cards Against Humanity card said, we're looking for somebody to help us out with our website. At this point. They were already a successful company, but they were doing everything themselves. There's eight co founders. Yeah, and it's an interesting scenario, and they're all talented in different ways. But they said, you know, we think we can hire a couple people to help us out. So they hired their first customer service hire, and they hired me to help them out with a website. Okay, it's one of those, you know, I think we all do it in terms of skill sets, but like what they were asking me to do with slightly above my head, but I was kind of a confident enough that like, by the end of the project, I could get there. Yeah, okay. Yeah, just like, Sure, I can, I can do this for you. I need TV shows like that.
S. Salis: Can you deliver this Simonon? Sure. Yeah, sure. I will.
S. Robbin: I mean, but that's like, half the fun of I think being freelance is like, I feel like you get to explore the things you're interested in. By making promises to people have something that you want to learn. You're like, Oh, you want to? Yeah, you want to, you know, it sounds like with your project, you definitely have to use this particular technology, right? That just so happens to be something that I want to learn right now.
S. Salis: Yeah, awesome. Yeah, I'm gonna leave a little bit off of it. I'm gonna have a bigger Yeah, and it's not enough time. And, and if you're a decent person, you try to deliver a good job. Like, as you say, like, you try to hack things around. But you also do your best to deliver what what people are paying for.
S. Robbin: Basically understand, you never over promising you kind of know that maybe it's like a little farther than, you know, but but not too far, but not too far. And you feel comfortable that you're going to get there. So the first idea was at that point, they were only selling on Amazon, there's still like, there were there were huge.
S. Salis: Yeah, they sorry, right after Kickstarter, that weird, like, top selling game on Amazon. Well, board game on Amazon, right? Yeah. And then they were like, is that how box was born?
S. Robbin: sort of in a meandering way. So they were selling on Amazon. And when they approached me, they said, You know what, we're happy. We like selling an Amazon. But we want to see if we can sell direct to customers. And so they at that point, they had a couple different expansion packs, and the main game so they created this really long box, I think it's like, three or four feet long called the bigger blacker
S. Salis: Sure Sure. That was with the hidden Yeah,
S. Robbin: yeah, exactly. Sure. And, and so, you know, they said, we're, this is only available to not be available on Amazon, we want to sell it, we want to create a, you know, basically a single product web store, and we're going to fulfill through, you know, this particular warehouse, we want to take the orders and be able to send them to this warehouse and have them shipped for us. And that was my very first job with them. Mm hmm. 2012 or 13, something like that few few months project. And we got done with that. They said, Great, this went really well, we're excited, we want to build a full blown store, we want to sell all of our products on there. And so there was a little bit bigger job than I could do. So I found some other freelancers to help me and we built that for the following year. And at that point, we had the store up and running and a handful of warehouses, you know, in the country, shipping these things out. And, and they may have had this plan all along. But that's when they kind of revealed to me and they said, you know, we've got this great system of ways to take orders and ways to ship them, let's see if we can do it for other people who are like us to that's kind of where the idea of black box came was to reuse that infrastructure for other people who are doing very similar things. Kick starters, you know, are turning that corner of I'm selling 5000 of these things on Kickstarter. Sure, I'm going to manufacturer 6000 of them. So I want somebody to help me because sending out 5000 packages is not an easy thing indoors. it like it's, it's not cheap, you know, you get, you know, cards gets a big bulk discount from FedEx, because they send out these packages. So let's give other people the benefit of that, you know, will start this business. And then after you send out the 5000 packages, you have 1000 of them left. They're just sitting in our warehouse, we can give you a little widget to put on your website. That's a full checkout process. So you can immediately turn that corner from being a Kickstarter sales to day to day sales without having to really know or do anything that idea of like, because they've been selling on Amazon so long. But when you sell something on Amazon, it's the Amazon brand is front and center. like nobody cares about the thing that you're there by me. They do. But they're Yeah, but the box comes and it's got the Amazon tape. Sure, sure. And so I think cards looked at that equation and said, you know, it's a problem. And we obviously want to make money. And it's great that Amazon sells stuff. But like, sure they themselves and people are starting Kickstarter are really trying to, like develop their brand. So what if, when this package arrived, when the email arrived during this
S. Salis: estimate, is the experience for the
S. Robbin: for the brand, you know, and there's still some, you know, it's kind of like square if you're using square to coffee shop, you know, you know, you're using square, you might get a little square, you know, it's a very formatted receipt. But like, they're still telling you, you went to, you know, the coffee studio, you know, and I think cards wanted to put that experience forward a little bit
S. Salis: wanted to rebalance the equation. Yeah, but for now, yeah, that's a great approach. Especially, you know, as you say it, Amazon squeezes link it doesn't matter if 12 South makes an original product, that Chinese knockoff is going to be much cheaper on Amazon. And that doesn't matter to the algorithms and to the company, and all the intellectual work and physical work. Yeah, that's great. So this was also a good experience, because you started like, solo and then eventually built a small team for a new product that it was, it was nice. Yeah,
S. Robbin: it was nice. And like, that was mainly what was going on was building that product. But, you know, again, it was one of those things where, you know, the first project I did with him, I kind of hardly knew how to build an e commerce platform. And then over the years, picked up skills
S. Salis: you learn, and when did you start? Is there ever a moment when you feel confident enough, you see my first know, you seem very conscious of never been able to reach somebody and you're like, well, I'm done.
You seem very conscious of that. But is there is there a moment in your life when you looked at yourself and you're like, I got this,
S. Robbin: I mean, looking, looking back, you know, in retrospect, it's, it's really like, it's, it's fun to see where you've come in the things you've learned, you know, I suffer from an imposter syndrome just like everybody else, you know, in releasing vapid or and these are the things I'm always just worried, like, this is the time where everybody's going to find out, then we're flawed. And this is thing they had built. It's like a pilot.
S. Salis: Hey, you know, Scott, that's why I invited you here. Yeah,
now everybody is listening in.
S. Robbin: But it's no, I think it's part of that like, like a fear kind of like, you know, a little flutter that's going on and nervousness and then you sort of achieve calm by, like, you know, satisfying whatever requirement you're trying to build. You know, it's every time you launch something, it's a nervous excitement. It's probably what you feel like improv to you. Just not sure if, like, this time, everything's going to go off the rails and it's going to flop and and you know, and sometimes it does, and it's okay, and you can walk ahead and be like, why I learned something from it. Sometimes it doesn't. And you're like, Oh,
S. Salis: I gotta, you know, that you went through
S. Robbin: like, a breakdown of what feeling really good about yourself. And then you feel, you know, then you turn inward again.
Yeah, what can I do now?
S. Salis: But so you you have the little motto is a moment of satisfaction and legitimize in your work moment, very tiny, tiny, tiny intersection. So it's been vapid, how can you explain that to a non technical person. What is vapid because it's really interesting to me in the portion that I can understand, and I'm able to, seems small and polished and thoughtful.
S. Robbin: Thank you.
So I think the best way to describe it without actually going into technical detail is, you know, building websites is like anything else you do in this world, you know, you sort of set out to do the job of building a website. And along the way, you start realizing all the skills that you don't have a website. And so you back up and you're like, how do I, you know, how do I get this thing to work? You know, how do I get it up on a server, you know, people want secure sites. Now, how do I make sure it doesn't crash, you know, people are looking at it, and you kind of start working back. And next thing, you know, like your two months in 10 steps back learning a bunch of skills. Just to get back to the point of being able to build a website, like to the podcast, you're like, I wanna make a podcast you like you don't learn about microphones, you gotta learn the software, you have to learn how to get it up on iTunes. And also, there's
S. Salis: sure and you and let me interject on this because as a person that podcasts need to a website. It's not just that and it's not like in the 90s, you open a text editor. And it's HTML. If you start to want to make your website you either go to somebody that kind of gives it to you with this content management system. It's and the most famous, our WordPress Yeah. Or the Omni presence, Squarespace. Yeah, bless them. Sure, they're great.
But But, um, you can truly do it from scratch on your own and have full control. It's like Cards Against Humanity that wants to control the full experience and situation, you kind of either you learn about having a private server and node Yeah, and
it's a bunch of stuff that in the 90s didn't exist, and it makes it very, very complex. And looking at vapid, that is it nail it narrows it down to something simpler,
S. Robbin: right. And as you're learning these skills, as you're learning about, like, know, jazz, you're reading articles on medium and high should never learn know jazz like somebody away from the thing you're doing. Like, yes, that's is constantly cycle of doubt. And, and, you know, need realizing that you need to like sort of take even a further step back to learn something, you know, and so, you know, you sort of have to go back and then trace your way back forward. And this is true of web development. And so what vapid is, is essentially saying, look, here's an easy way to build a website. And the only thing that you need to know you really need to know is HTML, which a lot of people learn, you know, while they're, they're building stuff, and all the other stuff, all the languages and databases and servers, we're going to push it to the side, but it comes at a price, you know, it's a constrained system. And so embrace the constraint, it limits you to the types of things you can do. There are more complex things, and there's WordPress and beyond, and let you do a lot more. But for most things, and most sites that we feel like we build this is enough. So if you embrace that constraint, you can get to the task at hand. And then later, if you decide you need more complexity, you should be able to take what you've built here and move on to the next thing, and you don't feel like you're locked in. And you don't feel like you've done a bunch of proprietary stuff, you feel like, you know, your first step is a step forward. And so one of the premises was, look, we should be able to build a read the actual the homepage of this thing and come away understanding like 80% of what you need to know and understand immediately whether or not it's for you, or it's not for you. Hmm. You know, which is hard to do these days. I feel like anything that you want to get into you find yourself reading, you know, articles and documents and digging into it. And like it's hard to get information up front.
S. Salis: Well, war press at this point in this field has become the thing that everybody Well, if you want to make a website, it's something that even people with no technical knowledge are going to know about better. It has become this all encompassing monster of content and code. Yeah,
everything on top of everything else on top of a market of plugging some type of like something that really takes much of your time if you're a content creator, or a person who just wants to present the material. Yeah, and and walk who is visiting the web, the black box website, I thought that the design if if people listening, go on vapid.com and then black box it is there is a vague resemblance in the style of that. Do you work the designs yourself as an as Yeah, that's nice. Yeah.
S. Robbin: Nice. I have like a really wonderful relationship in that he's a very technical designer, like he can, he can do all the code stuff. And I'm a I'm a developer that has design sensibilities, okay. Not necessarily the skills and, but we meet and crossover in the middle. And we do a lot of really interesting things together and have great conversations, very fluid conversations.
S. Salis: Now, which obstacles Have you been trying to smooth? And now with vapid, what is your timeline? What is you know, what is your idea for the project in the future? Where would you like to go?
S. Robbin: Yeah, I think the interesting part is, you know, I'm maybe not new startups, but I'm not all that graced with how to run an open source community. Okay. And so that's been new, because you have, you know, people that are contributing that have ideas about features that they want to see bug reports, which are wonderful. So it's, you know, you're sort of working on this thing. I was working on it for maybe about two years, you know, before we released it, you know, it's just you, it's just you in this thing, it's wonderful. And then I'll send you open it up. And then, you know, stranger Yeah, yeah. And in good ways. Yeah, you know, and so, it's, it's trying to find a way to, like, engage people and, you know, and listen to them and hear what they want it to be also, and try to let go a little bit, you know, not not steer it so directly but, but enough that it maintains its form.
S. Salis: Okay. So, it's is the art of balancing a father ship of the product, and, and also being open enough to understand and take the feedback to make it a better product? Yeah,
S. Robbin: I mean, it's, it's a really hard thing, if you if you give your premise of something is like, hey, this thing is really constrained, you know, and you're like, now, give me your feedback about how you'd like it less constraint. I know, it's, it's a hard thing to manage, because you're like, somebody gives an idea. You're like, that's great. But like, that's a WordPress thing. Maybe it's not like, Can I being too stubborn? Or maybe it should be it should have that thing, okay, you know,
S. Salis: that that's a hard roll. Because you you end up being you have to be the good judge. And you as long as you question yourself on the ability to, to understand that I think you're on a good track with that, I think, and I don't, I don't want to create it. So different a simple markup language like john Gruber did with mark down but there must also be the feeling of, you know, at first you deploy this thing like markdown is like here is 10 features or at least declaring what it should be or what to share. And then you were like, well, but we would like to integrate tables like right well but tables is more like excelled in Mark
S. Robbin: and then maybe it'll be like, well, will allow regular HTML in there. And people like, I don't want regular HTML want to mark down version of tables?
Yeah, it's like, you know,
S. Robbin: and this is not comparing vapid in any way. But it's like, it's like the iPhone, everybody was making phones with like, you know, palm pilots and my keyboards and then the iPhone came out and had like, a one button, you know, and everybody's like, Where's my where's my buttons and like, and, but like, you're trying to go this conversation and be like, Just trust me. And that if we try this thing we may find out it might maybe you need more than one button. But like, let's at least give it a try.
S. Salis: Let's see what happens. You know,
S. Robbin: but I like to think that there's like, there's some like engineering side of Apple who's like, he's just like, he's just arguing has been flagged like 10 years, even arguing for like a second button. These you can do so much. We just had another button and then they come up a new version of iPhones may get rid of the button altogether. And this guy like run screaming Matt just like
S. Salis: rose through the wall.
S. Robbin: But it's like, it's that sort of thing. Like, people have expectations of what they're used to. You're trying to get them to say, I know you want this, but like, give this thing a chance. And then maybe in six months, we'll talk about what it is that you really like what's important to you.
S. Salis: Hello, Shimano Sally's here. This is the humanists honest conversations. For technologically aware, contemporary humanists get new episodes as soon as they are released on Apple and Google podcasts. Spotify Alexa, Oren human is D.
I am your host Simone a Salus and this is the humanist with today's guest, Scott. Robyn Scott is a web developer who worked as part of director and lead developer for Cards Against Humanity and black box and together with nuts, Hamid, he co created vapid, which is a new simple content management system to create websites. And Scott, you're a parent, right?
S. Robbin: My parents? Yeah. My parents
open source parent. I'm also a parent parents.
S. Salis: Yeah, you are an open source parent. Yeah. who learned the contributors project? Yeah,
S. Robbin: I took my kids are
S. Salis: your real kids? No kids? Oh, goodness.
S. Robbin: Everybody.
Well, yeah, that's a great, that's a great parallel. So for a long time, it was just my wife and I, you know, and we just got to control and shape them every single way. Wanted to. And then, you know, and obviously, the grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins got involved. And then recently, you know, you know, our youngest went off to kindergarten and all sudden, like,
S. Salis: so, the school this morning swear words in like, you know, like,
S. Robbin: there's all these other influences. And you're like, I don't have as much control as I used to, but also like, that's kind of the point, isn't it? You know, over time to like, let go a little bit.
S. Salis: Yeah, I'm not apparent. So I can, in theory, understand that, but I think it's a beautiful
S. Robbin: thing. Yeah, you know, long term letting go. You know, it's probably true for, like, all sorts of things in our lives. I've just becoming a little more relaxed and okay. With change. Okay. Yeah, yeah, nice
S. Salis: synchronicity.
I found a quote that you like, maybe I might be wrong, but I think that it's a quote that you like it sometimes good art is just knowing when to stop. I love that one. Yeah. And I think it's pretty connected and what you were saying read it I post
S. Robbin: that somewhere you just find it because that's that speaks to me
S. Salis: I noted speaks to you know why it speaks to me. I might, but maybe you should tell.
S. Robbin: So I drone on about this quite a bit. There's the movie six degrees of separation with Will Smith. Is that is that where it came from? Yeah. Yeah, so. Right. Exactly. Um, so there's that wonderful scene in there, where Donald Sutherland is talking about how he said his child's, you know, kindergarten class and he's looking all these like, wonderful paintings, you know, and all the every one of them is Matisse you know how, you know, he goes to the kindergarten teacher, teach me how you know what I want to learn from you. And she said, I don't do anything special. I just know when to take them away, you know, and it's this great idea of just like it Nothing is like entirely in our control. You know, sometimes, you know, it's just sort of letting go and letting the thing kind of spin off and do its own thing for a while or just be in its current state.
S. Salis: What are some things that it seems like you're learning this through your work with code you're learning this in your personal life by being a parent Yeah, what are some things that were hard to let go partially in your life but eventually there was the right decision that's a good one
S. Robbin: I really get I really I identify with the thing that I'm working on right now you know, I wrap up my identity into it you know, so when I was in college like a band that I was in you know, that's all it was for me was just thinking about that and working on it and when it ends it's you know, it's morning mourning the loss of that thing you know, songs it was the same way I was really depressed when I left songs and because I just thought about that for so long even black box and you know cards I mean I'm still better kind of now but it's hard because it's something that I you know it was it was had you know, it was just occupied my thoughts for years you know, and so some ways vapid is like a rebound project, you know, like it lets me focus on something new to kind of forget the old it's that stuff that you know is sort of you know in between your thoughts you kind of let you know when you're in the shower you're on a walk you like something to kind of like just think about and it gives you momentum it's like inertia for your life for this project that kind of needs you know needs you to see image that I have when you talked about that because I'm like I was picturing black box like a small planet
S. Salis: and your your orbit is around that. And then eventually, you have enough momentum to break out of the orbit? And then vapid is there as a better planet. And you start to
S. Robbin: Yeah, be around that. But the times in between are, like, really kind of scary, because you've got nothing, you know, that's the point, you know, you're mentioning brought up earlier, is like, when all the doubt seeps in I was feeling really good when I was attached to black box. But now that I've got nothing to I have anything like, what what do you know, do I have skills do I it was at the end of the line was I just kind of writing a high and now I'm gonna go have to, you know, gets it all. But IBM
S. Salis: wake up in the morning, fix the
fix for a few hours, that code maybe automate your way out of it a little bit. And people think you're working more than you do.
S. Robbin: But you know, and then you find something new, any project in your life. It just, it makes you feel good, because there's, you know, the other learning curve again,
S. Salis: in your spare time, I noticed that you have some, like, open government like open Gov projects for Chicago. One is sweep around us. We around us. Yeah. Yeah. What is your purpose for? So you see your new and managing this, like open source projects where you are not new at creating something that is useful for the community in your free time? What is your drive to do that?
S. Robbin: Well, in some ways, necessity living in Chicago? Yeah, I got a lot of parking tickets. Oh, but then you know, it, it felt good. It's, I think we live in a time where everybody's trying to build everything for a global scale. Hmm. You know, and when you get to build something that just affects you, and what you think I'm in Chicago is not small, but it's not thinking worldwide. It's thinking, here's a tool that's useful for a small subset of people. Mm hmm. Which, you know, is vapid at its heart. It's, it's a very specific tool for a group of small group of people. And it's, you know, it's kind of self identifying. If you're not part of this group, you probably don't need this, and you can move on, and that's okay. street sweeping was something similar, or there was one it's different now, but it was was my car towed calm. And it was just like your car was towed. Mm hmm. And, you know,
you put in your life, like, I came out my, there's my car, they put in your license plate and checks the city database and says, Yeah, you got towed. And here's where you can find your car, you know, and I got a lot of feedback, I would submit it to like, you know, hackathons and contests and people be like, Yeah, but once they use it one time, they don't need it anymore. And I was like, Yeah, yeah, that's what's great about sometimes
S. Salis: things are like that
S. Robbin: are the how are you going to keep people around? How you gonna monetize it, you don't like it's fine to have this thing that's like, useful in the moment, and then it's gone. And
S. Salis: how do you approach your, your digital life with that, because most This is the attitude that drives me insane. You there is the goal of everybody is to get you stared the thing the most, and go back at it and look at it. And that's how notifications work and everything. And in my own my phone, I will know it's a hybrid. But at some point, I had this approach. I was like diversification can be on if comes from a real human being one. And that is the only case I don't want any apps going like he this theme teaching is, you know, shut up. Yeah. And then the app is on my home screen on the if it's a service that I open and I don't get sucked into but I use it once say GPS maps, see transit, say Yellow Pages.
And that was my that was my approach. But you seem very much aware as a developer and as a human being Yeah. of this how do you approach that digital life
S. Robbin: I mean, I sort of has evolved over time I'm the same way like I'm very I try to be very deliberate about how I use something we're starting to feel the fatigue of constantly being that's the right bush yeah it is a brain fatigue fling me I say trying that and and to tie it back together as a Raskin recently started with some other people foundation I guess or some sort of organization that helps but you know, I think it's, it's, it's a problem that we're going to need to solve Well, you know,
S. Salis: we have limited attention and we have limited time in general and we need to learn to let go so looking at your future What would you think is one thing that matters to you at the end of the day at the end of the journey family with the communion Laker with yourself What is one thing that you look back at like, I am glad I'm proud that I cared about that in my life.
S. Robbin: I hope it's more about the community when it when it's all said and done 10 years from now, you know, vapid may not even be around or web development will be done by artificial intelligence, and they won't need us anymore. And that's fine. I think that idea of, you know, communication with people and, and sort of helping people also learn, you know, it's kind of it's an got sparked teaching a little bit, I think that this is, you know, rapids a vehicle for building websites, but it's about helping people along that path, like building something. And, you know, if, you know, in 10 years from now, something come back and not remember what it's about. But they remember, you know, a point in their life where they learned something along the way from this, I think that that would be time well spent. I also think if, you know, the idea of shutting complexity and, you know, embracing constraint and embracing simplicity or something that I mean, I think that there's, there's something about constraint that lends itself to, in a sense, like doubt, you're faced with the situation where you feel like, you can't have access to everything, you need to complete something, we start, you know, questioning whether or not you know, our skills are for capable, like, if you're only given a screwdriver to build a house like that can't possibly be done, you know, and then some, he's like, Well, yeah, you could turn it around and kind of hammer with the back of it. No, maybe you can actually build
S. Salis: sure, but, like sighing reporters in like being forced to report
S. Robbin: Yeah, yeah, you're, you're, you're you have to be more creative and clever and resourceful. I think it's sort of like, it's like a really small bursts of like, maybe how we feel over a long period of time about doubts and setting goals and overcoming. Like, if you can kind of squeeze that into like, a small little thing and, and just test yourself quickly and then succeed quickly. It I think it builds confidence, you know, you figure out whether or not it succeeded or failed, and it builds confidence by knowing that you survived it, or it went well, I love things like, like those movies they were that's like, the entire movie is set like one scene
S. Salis: or like Doug, my 95 those kind
S. Robbin: of buried with Ryan Reynolds just like you like the entire movies in a coffin underground. Like, how's that gonna work? That's me. Often, there's no way you're gonna be able to entertain me for two hours, you know, but somehow it happens. And then you just like, delighted, because you're like, That's incredible. How did you do that? You know, how did you pull off an interesting storytelling without changing the viewpoint? It's that much more enjoyable. Do you
S. Salis: think that constraints are able to help develop creativity, creative solutions, if they come from the outside, or if they are self imposed in the same way? I think
S. Robbin: they both are really interesting projects to do. They come from the outside. I think we certainly start off in life, you know, but people giving us challenges and constraints and we work through them. You know, ideally, at some point, we kind of become masters of that, at least for ourselves, where we can create our own challenges. We set our own goals, but I still think you know, even to this day, I really love when somebody else gives me constraints. It's so enjoyable to have somebody else set that up for you gaming games, that's what games are to me. Somebody else setting the constraint?
S. Salis: What is the way that technology can help to rebuild unconstructive communities? Do you have any idea? I know this is a very broad question. But
S. Robbin: I think that, you know, I don't participate all that much in social media. But I think that the, the real benefit the way that you know, it can benefit communities is by offering means to, you know, to help people but a lot of social media, because we know right now is about showing you're sharing something, you know,
S. Salis: and he's a little bit like, of a constant show.
S. Robbin: Yeah, it is. But, you know, I know people that use Facebook communities, I know, people that have used it for grief when they've had a loss, and people are there and they're supportive and very useful to them. My wife is as, you know, very active member of groups that involve mothers, like new mothers and people that need help. And, you know, they, they come together as community and like, ways, wonderful ways that I, you know, I haven't experienced, but I see the benefit communities.
S. Salis: So we go back to forums and
S. Robbin: without, like, people kind of crashing it and making it a horrible place.
S. Salis: Okay. And kind of like elections for moderators?
S. Robbin: Yeah, I mean, my, my dad is a big, he's big fan of classic cars. And so 27 years ago, probably even 30 now, he started in a Classic Car Club. And in the Car Club, they had a forum, right, they had a monthly newsletter that would get mailed out, you know,
and they were constantly writing each other like letters, like writing letters to each other, or emails, but they built this like, amazing community of people. Very, very tight knit community is based on like, helping each other and answering questions said before on this and I think that's maybe the way it moves forward. And maybe it's something a little bit more focused than a forum with the ease of have all the tools we have now to post things online, it filters out a little bit more of the you know, hey, look over here type thing
S. Salis: Okay, so the next evolution of vapid is gonna be called thoughtful,
and he's gonna be a forums. Yeah, that's just me
S. Robbin: a forum system actually, they so this is the first time speaking of trying to become a better community moderator we installed a forum to have people ask questions, so nice. And it's, you know, I haven't been involved in that many forums before. And it's, it's been really nice connecting with people and just like, in helping them out and, and, you know, approaching each question from the standpoint of like, this person took the time to come here and ask a question because I think it's really easy to get bothered by people know, this is like, this is like, the, the sort of, you know, the downside of attention, you know, when, when you first do something, you want everybody to, like, look at you. And every single time somebody interacts with the really excited and then after a while, like the kind of high goes away, and then these are people that just need something from you. And then you're like, a little less receptive, you know, and how do you approach every interaction from a fresh standpoint.
S. Salis: So, apathy ism is a matter of
constant recommitment, every focus and attention I think,
S. Robbin: so, I think it's, it's like, whether it's, you know, through a company, culture of your company, or, you know, or individually, just like, you know, thinking about the qualities of the person on the other end of the equation. Yeah, how does, how does the Rolling Stones come out every night play, get satisfaction and get excited about it? How do they do it? I must have to think about how much they love their fans. They must have like, have to psych themselves up even more.
S. Salis: What puzzles me is like, stand up comedians, take a stand up comedian. It does the same job 400 times. Yeah. And how do you feel that I
S. Robbin: yeah, how do you do with any sort of passion? I mean, it must be must be you know,
S. Salis: it becomes a technical thing I think like to you there is less emotion involved then I don't know it's that's how I approach I'm just trying to figure it out because another thing that I do for a job is reading one liners in Italian like the own style Yeah, and read them in front of the camera and some of those I read 200 times or on a recording they are shooting day I sometimes I think the most I read it was like almost 401 liner chokes Yeah, yeah, three a day and people look at me or leave a communist like, how does he stay serious? I was like, you say, it's not funny to me anymore.
To me is a game to me is a game of how you read and put the intonation at the right moment with your punch line. So I don't know it's just maybe refocus and maybe you just become more detached and on emotion
S. Robbin: that about like the onion the writers room. It's just like people like sharing ideas like nobody's laughing.
S. Salis: Well, Scott decreased. one of the founders of the onion led me tell I had a couple of chances to interact with him. And like having looking at jokes been reading him the most that happens if he's lightly curves the model to the left. That's, that's a Yeah, that's when you know that like, at least that's what I figured maybe you need spraying the person is totally different. But there's where he was, he was like, Oh, the guy moved his mouth a little bit, it must be the best job they were reading earth like that. But so you're experiencing that it throughout the projects, you're also noticing how sometimes there is this like high and then he gets exhausted and you eventually need to refocus your attention and energies to being committed and making the product better and better and better.
S. Robbin: Yeah, and then, you know, it's, it's one of those things like that. It's an interesting situation, you know, any of these things are where you're building something that's highly technical, where the end product is hopefully something that doesn't require a lot of technical ability. Hmm. So how do you how do you maintain a connection with the people who are we're using this thing? If, if you feel like you don't necessarily they're not necessarily, you know, facing the same challenges.
S. Salis: So, being the user and the creator at the same time can help you make the product better? Maybe?
S. Robbin: Yeah, yeah, I think so. I think community is something that, you know, I hope, I hope this thing is remembered for
S. Salis: Scott Robin today on the show. Thank you, Scott. Thank you,
Scott. Robin is a web developer work this product director and lead developer. He also created vapid.com and intentionally simple content management system for developers, designers and everyone. You can learn more about that on VentureBeat. com.
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