This week we’re back for part 2 with Adam Wiggins — going beyond Heroku and the story of Muse (listen to part 1). After a six-year adrenaline high on Heroku, Adam needed time to recover and refill the creative well. So, he moved to Berlin, did some gig work with companies…dabbled in investing and advising. But he wasn’t satisfied. Adam likes to build things.
Ultimately, he was just waiting for the right time to reconnect with James Lindenbaum and Orion Henry — the same fellas he created Heroku with. Eventually they founded Ink & Switch, an independent research lab which led to innovations that made Muse possible. Muse is a tool for deep work and thinking on iPad and Mac. Today’s show is all about that journey and the details in-between.
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|Chapter Number||Chapter Start Time||Chapter Title|
|1||00:00||This week on The Changelog|
|3||01:54||Start the show!|
|4||03:04||Where do we begin?|
|5||05:58||Who's idea was Ink & Switch?|
|6||11:14||Who's the "We" of Ink & Switch?|
|7||16:11||There is no cloud|
|8||18:19||From research to Muse|
|9||23:40||Shipping Muse and the App Store|
|10||32:02||Getting to deep thought is a struggle|
|12||35:44||Why is this your focus?|
|13||38:37||Is this your Sophmore album?|
|14||43:01||What is success for Muse?|
|15||46:30||Is Muse collaborative?|
|16||48:02||Tools for thought|
|17||52:24||The big ideas of Muse|
|18||1:02:51||When tools get in your way|
|19||1:08:13||The struggle of multi-platform|
|20||1:14:58||The end game for Muse|
|21||1:18:33||Do all roads lead to the Metaverse?|
|22||1:21:15||Values & principles|
|24||1:26:19||The state of the business of Muse|
|25||1:29:44||Muse might be perfect for Adam|
|26||1:32:43||Are you writing any code?|
|27||1:36:13||Adam's web stack|
|28||1:40:09||Ride or die on Muse?|
|29||1:43:03||Curiosity + uncharted territory|
|30||1:46:05||Try Muse ~> museapp.com|
|31||1:47:55||Closing out the show|
Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
So we’re back, part two, Adam Wiggins is here, and we’re going beyond Heroku, Adam. Are you ready for this? You’ve got your seatbelt on, you’ve buckled in…
I can’t wait.
Are you a five-point harness or a three-point horse person?
Well, I like the five-point because it makes me think of the – I don’t know, like a spaceship, or a fighter jet, or something like that… So we’ll go that way.
Alright, we’ve got – well, how many is that? That’s three clicks… I don’t know. How many buckles go into that? But either way, click them all in, let’s get settled… So we’ve got many different angles we can go. So you exited from Heroku, we told that story in part one. So listeners, if you’re coming to this, it’s part two; you don’t have to go back, but it would be wise to go back and listen to part one, which is right back one layer on your feet if you’re listening to the Changelog feed. Now, if you’re on the Master feed, now it’s a couple; it’s several back. Either way, go find it. What’s the best way to open up going that next step, Adam? You’ve got Ink & Switch, the lab, you’ve got Muse, which you’re doing now… But you went to Berlin… Where do we begin this next journey beyond Heroku for you?
Yeah, I think it was pretty natural to start with, at the end of such a powerful experience, life-changing in so many ways, to be a part of this phenomenon, which really was, as we talked about in telling the story - I’m certainly happy to take credit for my contributions there, and we had a great team that did a lot of great things… But so much of it was serendipity, and things going on in the industry, and just being part of a particular moment in time for Silicon Valley, for Ruby, for Agile development, with Git, with cloud, etc. So having been on that journey, which is really just this kind of
nonstop adrenaline rush… You know, they talk about the emotional roller coaster of entrepreneurship, but that’s just turned up to 11 when you do find that moment in time where you can really have a big impact, and where what you’re making is having that kind of lift.
So having done that for, I guess it was six years and change, which is basically the longest I’ve ever worked on any single project, and then once I left that behind, and a period of rest, I needed to refresh the brain, and refill the creative well… And that’s all kind of what led me to go and do some gig work with companies here in Berlin, including SoundCloud and a few others that were up and comers at the time. But I was mostly waiting for – I knew that I wasn’t done with entrepreneurship. I was still relatively young, kind of prime of the career… And furthermore, that I wanted to do more with the same two fellows that I did Heroku with, and that’s James Lindenbaum and Orion Henry. We had kind of scattered to the winds in our own ways, and were maybe recovering from this - yeah, again, this six-plus year adrenaline rush; that’s the only way to put it.
But then somewhere around - I think it was 2015 is when we – let’s say we reconvened, a little bit refreshed. We had all been off, doing different things… James went on to start Heavybit, which is an accelerator program for developer companies, and has gone on to be a very successful business/program. And Orion actually was working in philanthropy, in the global surgery space… So we were all – and here’s me off in Berlin, doing these gigs… We were all off doing weird stuff. But I think that’s necessary. You just need that creative refresh. But then when we did come back together, that’s when we said, “Okay, let’s think about what comes next”, and that turned out to be Ink & Switch.
So whose idea was Ink & Switch? What is it? What did it start as, what did it become? etc.
[06:04] So I guess we had the luxury of being able to think in terms of a slightly longer time horizon, and were less thinking in terms of, “Okay, what’s the startup we can start tomorrow that solves a really immediate pain point, and we can get customers, and get into YC?” and sort of that very pragmatic aspect of commercial business. And we all started to get interested in more academic research. In particular, we ended up kind of taking a deep dive on the industrial research labs that have been very influential in our industry. So Xerox PARC is one that I think is oft quoted; they basically invented the modern GUI, and the laser printer, and Ethernet, and so on… But then you go more back in time, you can also look at something like Bell Labs, where Unix was invented. And also lasers, and also GPS, and also transistors. Now, they obviously had a very long run over several generations, but that’s a dramatic example. And there’s others; you can go even further back and look at someone like Thomas Edison, for example, and what he did with his Menlo Park; it was like a private industrial research lab, you might say.
So looking at all these historic examples, we got inspired and said, “Okay, well, we want to think about what the future of computing looks, not just in terms of what’s an immediate pain point we can solve right now, that might be a business opportunity, but taking a little bit longer time horizon, a more academic perspective.” And we sort of combined that interest in what’s called R&D, if you like, with a look at the current state of computing. So in 2015, the iPhone and the App Store have become pretty well entrenched, Facebook has become this juggernaut, social media generally… And it’s interesting, between the time when we started Heroku and where we were here, thinking about “Okay, what’s next?”, the computing industry had gone through a shift where before – you go back to, I don’t know, certainly when I cut my teeth in computers in the ’80s and ‘90s, but even in the 2000s, computers were really for making things. They were for word processors, spreadsheets, programming, Photoshop etc. And you could do email, and stuff like that, but in general, they were devices for productivity and creating things. And I think the thing that really happened in the last decade or two is a shift to the mass market, where they’ve become more consumption devices, right? Like, a phone is more for messaging with your friends, looking at social media, watching videos, shopping, that sort of thing. And that obviously has been an unprecedented boom for the computing industry, and we see more people using computers than ever before, and there’s many, many ways that’s a good thing. But we had this strange feeling that what we thought of as the original use of computers was sort of languishing away.
I always like to think of the example of like - think of how far we’ve come in something like the ability to watch movies, or TV; what did that look like circa the ‘90s? It was like broadcast TV, and VHS tapes that you could rent from Blockbuster, or whatever… And you compare it to today’s always on demand streaming, on your iPad, whatever… It’s like science fiction technology, comparatively.
We had TGIF back then, which was Thank Goodness It’s Friday… And the reason why we had that is because those shows only came on on Friday evenings. And you had to watch them on a Friday at 6pm, or whatever it was.
We don’t have those constraints anymore.
Absolutely. And by comparison, maybe you look at something like word processors or spreadsheets, some of those programs I mentioned before, and obviously there’s been some advancements, but… I don’t know, if you look at, say, Google Sheets, is it that much different from Excel circa 1995? If you look at the screenshot of them side by side, together… You know, you’ve got the collaboration aspect of Google Sheets; that’s obviously a huge leap forward. But that’s kind of it.
[10:14] So we sat down to think about “Could we combine the idea of the classic industrial research lab, like a Xerox PARC or a Bell Labs, with a thinking about how can computers be better, or what might they be like in an ideal future, 10 or 15 or 20 years out, focused specifically on the productivity side?” And one piece of that is the end user programming, which is the same thing that went into Heroku, and as I said, we only partially fulfilled that vision. We did make it easier to deploy apps, and that does open up programming to a lot more people maybe than what they’d been able to do before… But that idea of everyone being able to program computers - still, that remained elusive. So to me, the end user programming is one piece of it, but broadly speaking - okay, if computers are beautiful as creative devices and productive devices, what can we do to push forward the state of the art there, separately from the advances happening in (let’s call it) consumption computing?
When you say “we” for Ink & Switch, obviously you mentioned your co-founders you came back together with… But were you all involved in the research and the work? Or were other people? Because I’m looking at some of the things you’ve got involved here, and there’s other names involved. So how does that – how does the royal we play out with Ink & Switch?
Yeah, well, the at this point, because the lab’s been going for quite a while, and Peter van Hardenberg, who also was part of Heroku, best known for running the Heroku Postgres team, and had a lot to do with that product being as good as it was - he’s the lab director now. So really, it is a lot of the same folks who built Heroku, who are now part of Ink & Switch. But we structured it a little differently. It’s not a startup, it’s, again, a research lab; it’s more of a grant-driven thing. And we do these individual research projects which might last a month to three… So someone might come onto a project, be part of that project for that period of time, publish an essay at the end with the findings, and then they essentially go off to do other things.
So at this point, we’ve had many dozens of people involved Ink & Switch projects, but there isn’t like a stand– the core team is pretty small. So by we here - yeah, it is James Ryan and myself, Peter van Hardenberg who got got very involved, Mark McGranaghan also from the Heroku world came in… And then there’s a number of other great researchers, including Martin Kleppmann, who’s really big on our local-first and CRDT track. Geoffrey Litt, and many other great people. But again, because we are this more loose collective, rather than a company, you can have someone like, say, Geoffrey Litt - he’s also doing a Ph.D. at MIT at the same time he’s doing research projects with us. Or Martin runs a research lab at a university, but he’s also involved in Ink & Switch. So we can have this looser… Again, it’s the academic model, which is a little different from the - you know, you join a company, you’re going to only work on that company, it’s sort of like a top-down, command and control structure.
Has there been any GUIs, or Xeroxes, or mice, mouse Unixes come out of this yet? Any a-ha’s so far? Any big things jet?
Yeah, so the probably some of the papers I would point your listeners to if they’re interested… So usually, what we do is publish – sometimes we publish open source, and there’s prototypes you can go and try out either on the web, or you can download and tinker with it… But really, the output is these academic-style papers. It’s really interesting, because in the academic world publishing a 30-page PDF that’s rich with citations, and prior art, and it goes into great detail about what you learned; it’s a pretty normal thing.
[14:02] But in what you might call the practitioner world, you’re used to a blog post that says, “Here’s how I think we should do things differently with React” or whatever. And if it’s more than 1,500 words, your attention starts to wander, you’re probably gonna hit the Back button to go back to Twitter, or whatever. So we’re kind of in an in-between place a little bit. Most of the essays we publish are in the 5,000 words range, which is very long for a blog post, but actually pretty - I don’t know if quite succinct is the word for it, but pretty commonplace in the academic world.
So yeah, if you want to read some very long and philosophical pieces, but that also include videos and screenshots and information about what we’ve learned, a few I can recommend. One of our top ones, I think, is the paper called Local-First. This is the culmination of a bunch of research on essentially a synchronization layer that lets you get the benefits of cloud without the downsides of cloud. Sometimes we call it Google Docs without the Google. It looks into ways that you can use in particular CRDT’s, which are a type of technology for essentially multi-writer synchronization, but you can potentially bring that together sometimes with peer-to-peer networking, like IPFS type stuff, sometimes not… This is a technology Figma has used a little bit, that also is starting to really have a bit of a groundswell… Which also is a funny one, because of course, me and Peter and lots of others involved in Ink & Switch, we helped the rise of cloud through Heroku, and in a way, Local-First is not quite a rejection of cloud, but a desire to say, “Okay, cloud brings a lot of benefits, but we also lost things that we had when we had local file systems and native applications. Can we really get the best of both?” We hope so, we think so, particularly because data ownership for individuals is – interestingly, developers have always worked this way, right? Like, I have all my development tools locally, or whatever, and I don’t want to put stuff in the cloud; I want control, I want it on my machine… So this is an extension of that same idea to every other productivity software out there.
Yeah. It’s interesting, some of the things you say there, because – there was a quote, I believe it was about the ownership, I suppose, of cloud, and this promise… There was a bumper sticker; I’m trying to find it, because I was looking through that paper as you were talking… It says “There is no cloud. It’s just someone else’s computer.” I kind of like that, because it describes it pretty well.
Yeah. Some others worth checking out maybe is – actually, for your audience here, because we do do a lot of stuff that’s more design-oriented, so like Infinite Canvas, we can talk about that as it relates to Muse… End user programming is a big area… We’ve relatively recently published one called Potluck, which is about basically adding little bits of computation to text notes, so that you can have these spreadsheet-like dynamic documents, but it’s all sort of in plain text. And that’s kind of an end user programming line of things.
But one I suspect that your audience would probably appreciate really well is called Cambria, which is talking about data lenses. So data lenses is, again, an idea from the academic world, but this is sort of an updated and extended version of this, which is really all about the fact that when you think about a database, or an API, you always have versioning, you have schema, and you have migration. And usually, even that word migration sends a little chill down the spine of anyone who’s worked on a big production system, the idea that your data was in one state before, and you need to change it in some fundamental way, and it will be in this other state later. And that’s true for like API versioning, and so forth as well. And the paper lays out a bunch of these related cases of things. But basically, there’s this idea from computer science academia of data lenses, which is an idea that you shouldn’t have to ever do the one big migration, but actually should, can, and in fact, it would be very desirable to be translating your data all the time.
So this is rather than maintaining a whole bunch of versions of an API, or having several database schema that you have to migrate between, that actually you can translate smoothly between it. So that’s the sort of thing that – definitely, this is much more on the developer and technical side, but again, I think your audience might appreciate it.
Yeah, so I ran the lab from 2015 to about 2019. I was the lead author, or at least – I didn’t necessarily do all the research, but I did most of the writing for, I don’t know, the first probably six or so of these essays that we put out. And then since then, now I’m just part of the board there, and help contribute editorially to these essays. But I can’t take any credit for the ones that have come out recently. Again, great team that’s there.
And notably, that does lead us a bit to the to the Muse story here, which is that it was in the process of doing a category research that was around interfaces. You mentioned the Xerox PARC and the GUI, and one of the things that PARC did, of course, that was so interesting, is they said, “Look, computer graphics are getting better. This text-based interface that we’ve always used - can we improve on that?” And they sort of invented the idea of overlapping windows, and many of the things that you take for granted in like a Windows, MacOS, or Linux desktop environment today.
And so for us, one of the questions we were asking was, okay, you actually have a generation of people now who are growing up on touchscreens. And they actually, in some cases, there’s some interesting studies that people who are in this younger generation, who are now hitting university age, or working age, actually struggle a bit with a mouse and a keyboard. This is kind of the grandpa way of using a computer, and the touchscreen is actually the native way that sort of kids are growing up with these days. But I think we’ve probably all seen the discussion around the fact that, in a way, it’s very sad and limiting that if an iPad is your main device, as it is for a lot of kids when they’re younger, there’s no path to programming that, or there’s very limited paths to programming that, I should say. There’s some glimmers of hope with things like SwiftUI, or Hopscotch, or so forth… But again, very, very limited compared to, certainly - you know, I grew up with the Apple 2, where you were basically just at a basic prompt, right at the start. And then even going forward from there, the ability for a person who is interested in computers, or a young person who’s interested in computers to go deeper, and learn how it works on the inside, and build something for themselves has become much more limited, sadly, with the mobile platforms.
Yeah, it’s a real bummer.
Yeah, it’s a shame… But I guess I’m a big believer in, for technology generally, the mindset of “We’ve lost something, so therefore we should go back” really doesn’t work. What you can say is “We’ve lost something. Can we go forward, but in a way that maybe retrieves some of the best elements of what was there in the past, and brings it forward into the future?”
So for myself, for example, who’s such a huge lover of Unix, I’m always thinking in terms of, okay, it’s not that I think that Unix should be the basis for a mobile phone. I mean, it is, underneath the hood, but the interface should be that. But are there ideas from Unix that we can bring forward into modern interfaces?
One track of research we did here was just saying, “Okay, so a touchscreen right now is a very crude device, right? You have the big buttons, you punch them with a single finger, compared to the precision of a keyboard and a mouse is very limited, and so relatedly, the applications that go with it are also pretty simple emitted.” But is there a world where you could have a tablet be as fast and powerful as a great developer sitting at a desktop workstation?
[22:01] Another prompt we use for this was “What’s the version of Vim for a tablet, where you have this command gesture interface that’s very fast, and powerful, and takes a while to learn…? There’s a learning curve, but that pays off, eventually.”
So that was kind of a track of research we were pursuing. There was a related thing with infinite canvas, which is sort of an idea of like a two-dimensional document type that you can spread things out on. Design tools, like Figma, and Sketch, and Illustrator have a version of this; we were sort of exploring it as a general-purpose document type.
So several of these tracks of research all came together, and we eventually published one of our essays, which was titled “Muse, a studio for ideas.” And that essentially showed this prototype that we had built, that put together a few of these different ideas. And that one seemed to be far enough along, or based on the response to it, or just our personal experience using this prototype we had, that we said “We think there’s something that could be commercialized here.” So we want to spin it out of the lab in the same way - you know, many would argue that Xerox PARC failed in some ways to fully commercialize things, and instead, others just borrowed those ideas… But in theory, a research lab, an industrial research lab, at least, part of its purpose should be to develop technologies that can be applied in the real world. And applied typically means a commercial product, right? You have a thing that solves the problem people have, and you sell it to them. So we saw the opportunity to potentially make a product based on this research, and have a few of the researchers who worked on it basically spin out, form a for-profit company, and start to work on that product. And that was the birth of Muse.
Gotcha. So Muse has been born, it is out there on the app stores. You can run it on your iPad, you can run it on your Mac, which I’m doing currently… Although on my Mac, I can tell it’s built for the iPad first, and the Mac is usable and good, but I can tell that your heart’s desire is on the iPad. That would make sense with the story that you’re telling here about Muse. It’s dubbed as a tool for deep work, and you got it out there in production, so you shipped it, which is awesome. Tell us the timeframe of like when you decided to spin it out to like shipping, and maybe a little bit of that tail, what it all goes into… Because this is a new world for you, right? Consumer-based iOS software…
It is, yeah. Grappling with the App Store, and certainly, yes, Swift and sort of these native technologies… We also had this dimension of – yeah, I really went pretty deep in the research world, and the big idea, the ivory tower of Academia, you might call it, which has many things going for it, including the ability to be very thoughtful about things, think things through, it’s all in the open, you’re sharing ideas with others, and you’re thinking these grand thoughts and exploring them in a way that’s unconstrained from - let’s call it the real world, for lack of a better word… And then you go to implement the software, put it through, say, even just going through Apple’s App Store review… Part of the point of the app is it breaks the status quo, that it does things in a new way, because we think, for example, the iPad has a lot of potential as a creative tool, but it hasn’t really found that potential. It tends to – I don’t know, creative people buy iPads and they have a vision of themselves being like Leonardo da Vinci sketching in their notebook, and instead it turns into the thing they use to watch Netflix on their living room sofa… So we think that –
Yeah, exactly. And we think a lot of that is the software, and the way the software is built, and how the interfaces work… But a lot of that is even baked, to some extent, into the operating system… And so breaking those rules a little bit. And I think this is a theme of my career, and my colleagues’ as well, which is part of what made Heroku able to do what it did was we broke some fundamental assumptions that people had. A big one - I don’t know if you both remember this, but the read-only file system, this was just a huge fight for us for many, many years, which is people wanted to be able to just save something from their app onto the file system, and expect it would be there later.
[26:10] And part of the containerization - again, what later came to be called containerization, where you can throw away these processes, and that if you want to persist anything, it needs to go into a database, or something like that, or a similar service, that was core to making it possible for this platform to work the way that it did, but it also broke this fundamental assumption. it created all this friction, and the number of support tickets - I can’t even begin to tell you, that we had on that particular point.
Well, I can give you as a user and as a person who was along for the whole Heroku ride pretty much - I hated that thing. I hated it, but I put up with it, knowing what it bought me. I realized - and I don’t know if it was through good communication by you all, or what it was, or enough googling where I’m like “Why the heck is it a read-only file system? It seems so stupid…” That I realized this is actually what allows these other things to happen. And so I was like “Put up with this thing, which is painful, in order to gain all these other things”, and it was worth it for me, and I stuck around I did it… But so many times I bumped my head up against that… When all you want is “Can I just persist a file on the disk here for a minute?” Well you can’t count on it – you actually could. Like, there’s ephemeral. You could do it. But you couldn’t trust it.
Exactly. Yeah. So you could write things there, but it wouldn’t necessarily be available in the next web request, because that could be a different process. Exactly.
That did break some assumptions. It’s just doing things in a way that developers haven’t had to do it that way, which required a lot of rewriting of stuff, and picking certain tools versus others…
Yeah. And you could certainly have a whole long philosophical discussion about opinionated products, right? Something that tries to encode values, or a worldview, or a creative process, versus something that tries to give you as much freedom and flexibility as possible. And for whatever reason, I’m drawn to opinionated products; I guess I have opinions… But in particular, exactly as you said, when it lets you do something you couldn’t do otherwise, but you need to break some assumption that is baked into the status quo. That’s to me where interesting innovation potentially lies.
As a side note, I wonder - you probably can answer this, but how many customers did you push to S3 over the years? Because it’s like, well, you want to use Heroku, and of course, it’s on top of AWS anyways… But you’ve got to have somewhere to put your storage. Well, S3 is the simplest, fastest… And it’s fast both in terms of getting to using it, but also it’s fast with Heroku, because y’all were on their infrastructure anyways… I’m sure tons of people signed up for that because of Heroku.
Yeah. Well, I’m alright with that. I think S3 is an incredible product in some ways. Maybe the best part of the Amazon Web Services just it’s so well simple as the name says. It does something simple, but very needed. Solid, reliable, it doesn’t offer a lot of complexity, or it doesn’t offer a lot of features, you might say, but that’s actually part of why it can do what it does, because it is just so simple. It is just kind of a blob store in a serving platform.
It certainly adheres to the Unix philosophy you said you were inspired by in part one, where you were saying “Just do this one thing right”, whereas maybe your constraint said, “Well, this is how we have to do it. There are ways you can persist the file etc, it’s just not on here. There are other ways to do it. There’s workarounds, essentially, and that’s fine. This Unix tool works this way, and it’s fine.”
[29:40] That’s right. That’s right. Yeah, so I’m tying that same theme back to Muse, is that we want to show maybe computing can be different in some way… That we can embrace touchscreens, for example, but in a way that isn’t necessarily dumbing things down… And so that kind of led us to the tools for thought community, which actually had a real rise in the last few years. Roam Research was one of the first, but basically a lot of these linking, back-linking tools, like Obsidian… Now you’ve got Obsidian, and Logseq, and many others… Notion, obviously, is sort of a team version of that… And people got really interested in these knowledge management tools, that were largely based around linking, and kind of more powerful features.
So we got to be a little bit of part of that community and world of things, and there’s, again, researchers who are working more on the academic side, but people also making commercial products, who are trying to push the boundaries of what computers can do, again, for productive uses… And in particular, we’re really interested in, and from Muse, the center point is what we usually call thinking, which - computers are very good for creating things, but they’re less good for thinking. And so the evidence of this usually is if you need to think through a tough programming problem, obviously you’re going to send it to your code editor or whatever to grapple with, to understand the situation, or to look through the logs or whatever else… But at some point, if you really need to think it through, you’ll probably get up and take a walk, maybe you scribble on your whiteboard, maybe you write in your sketchbook… There is– In front of a keyboard is not necessarily the best place to think. And so this whole tools for thought community, which I really enjoyed being a part of, or I haven’t really enjoyed being a part of in the same way I enjoyed being part of the Ruby community 10 or 15 years back, is sort of a small but pretty passionate set of people who are thinking “How can computers help us think better? Develop ideas, be wiser, be more thoughtful”, which in many ways is a very sharp contrast to I think what is going on in a lot of the consumption computing, which is driving us more towards “Let me just consume as much information as quickly as I can, and sort of form hot-take opinions, and not really be that thoughtful.” So that’s been a really fun community to be part of, as part of this project.
Getting to deep thought and deep work is, in today’s fast-pace-moving world, is an absolute challenge. Your tools have to enable you to do that, or you forget you can, or you never learned. Some people just have never deep-worked, or deep-learned, or deep thought. They just sort of just – I don’t know, they’re just in this fast-paced moving world, so they just never slow down enough to think, “Well, I can actually deep-work this, or deep-think this”, and it’s sort of missing. And I think it’s a tool that enables you to do it and reminds you you can.
We try to embrace those ideas in a lot of ways. Yeah, I guess briefly, it’s probably worth sort of defining deep work. Probably different folks have different definitions of it, but I feel like for programmers who are always trying to defend their calendars from the managers who want to cut up all their time or whatever, we understand that you need a good two hours minimum to really get into the headspace of a problem. You can talk about state of flow, or you can talk about loading up the context or whatever, but a 2, 3, 4-hour session - that’s where you can really go deep on a truly difficult problem. And we also know that getting interrupted in some significant way, obviously a meeting, but even something like a phone call, or a notification on your phone, or something like that can really break that fragile state. And because we live in a world that’s driven by interruptions now, and that’s true even on our work tools as well, right? Like, I love Slack, but it is part of this like interruption-driven culture. And then we have notifications on all our devices, and all that sort of thing.
So the idea of just sitting down to truly go very deep on a problem for hours at a time, extended concentration, pushing yourself to the limit of what you can do - that’s an increasingly rare, what’s the word for it… Skill, or just tool to deploy? So that’s one of the things that we stand for, and our product is built around that idea of “Let’s come into this space where you won’t be interrupted.” It can be sort of a sanctuary for going deep on a particular problem.
What makes this be the place that you replant your flag? It seems like Muse is where you’re planting your flag. You’re podcasting around this, you’re putting all your – seemingly from the outside; we haven’t asked you this, but it seems like you’re putting all your attention into this, or the large majority of it. So why is this problem we’re solving so much for you?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think, as an entrepreneur, or a creator of any kind, right? …what draws you to just be completely a man on fire about solving a particular thing… And it’s hard to say; it comes from something deep inside, and maybe post-hoc you can better explain it… Yeah, for me, it does come back to this reason that we started the lab, which is I love computers, and computing, and I think they have the potential to enhance a lot of what makes us human. Like, they allow us to do better at things like art, and science. And certainly, the remote work world is also its whole own thing that I think has been a huge enabler for people being able to live more flexible lives, but also do the creative work that they love. But that tends to be balanced or countered out a little in some ways by what we just talked about, this like always-on, 24-hour news cycle interruption, hot-take, culture, if that’s the right word for it… But it’s really enabled by technology. And so you see this tension, I think, in computing, which is “Okay, my Mac - is it a bicycle for the mind, like Steve Jobs said? Or is it a way for me to get breaking news, and constantly breaking my flow when I’m deep in a programming problem or a design problem?” I think in a way the computing industry really is sort of pulled in these two directions right now.
So we started the lab to see what we can do to put more thought and resources and energy into that, again, productive, thoughtful, “How can we become better at, we think, these noble pursuits? And how can computers help us with that?” And so Muse is one piece of that; it’s not necessarily the whole thing, and indeed, Ink & Switch has a grander vision of which maybe Muse would be an app in that ecosystem, if that’s the right way to put it… But for whatever reason, this kind of fluid environment for thinking, and thinking through difficult problems, and doing deep work, and the specific technologies that go with it - the infinite canvas, the local-first sync, and a few other pieces, just, I don’t know, somehow really caught my passions. And so yeah, we’re three years into it now, and still just loving it.
[38:35] I have a couple of meta questions while we’re talking meta Muse here… Not the podcast, just about Muse and your desires there. Two phenomena that happened that I want to ask - they’re kind of on other sides of the coin. The first one is the sophomore album. So anytime you have a band - of course, pulling from the music industry - that comes out with their huge hit record, and it blows minds, and it’s amazing… And then they have this time off to regenerate their creativity, and they have money now, and they have fame… And then they have their sophomore album. And so historically, it’s been a stumbling block for a lot of bands, because what do you do? Do you give people more of what you started with? Do you redefine yourself? Did you catch a flying star, or whatever, and then you can’t do it – can you not recreate the magic, you know? And some bands fail, and other bands succeed at having that second album be great. And I’m just curious, if you have – I’m not going to ask you if you’re gonna succeed or fail, or whatever, but do you have any of that trepidation of like “Gosh, what if I can’t do it again?” Or do you even want to do it again? Or what are your thoughts on Adam Wiggins’ sophomore album?
Yeah, I thought about that really specifically, and I think my partners did as well, in our aftermath of Heroku time, which is - before I even thought about what I would do next, I just said, “Look, this is probably going to be the most successful thing I ever do in my life. I’m not going to use this as some kind of benchmark for what I want to achieve in the future.” My goal for success is having something interesting to say, and doing creative work with a great team, and doing my very best to bring something meaningful into the world. And I certainly hope that we could capture that lightning in a bottle again.
I feel like you see this also with, I don’t know, maybe like film directors… It’s always interesting to me when I – I’m a bit of a film fan, and so I see a really incredible film, and I go, “Who is this director? It’s an incredible work.” And you go look up their other stuff, and you see that maybe they’ve had one or two hits, and then a whole bunch of other things that were not that well received, or maybe just in between… And you go watch them, and you see they all have the same style, you can in many cases they have the same team; a lot of the same people came to work on it, and a lot of the same concept, and you can see they put the same like heart into it… But sometimes all the pieces come together in a way that produces (what do you call it?) box office success, or whatever, and other times, it doesn’t.
I think you really have to be at peace with that as a creator, and you count yourself lucky if you get even just one of those in your career. Of course, you want everything you ever do to be a success, whatever way you want to define that, but I think it’s important to be proud of the work, and invested in it, and not benchmark yourself based on - I think something that’s almost out of your control, the serendipity element of it that we talked about quite a bit last time. So I definitely went into it with that perspective.
[41:44] The other thing that I like to think of… I like sophomore album metaphor; the other one they mentioned is for book authors, where if you have like a New York Times bestseller or something like that, your next book, your publisher is going to want you to follow up with something else pretty quickly, because they think, “Okay, this person is a good author, they can make us some more money.” But they usually say “You have your whole life to write your first book, and you only have a year or two to write the second book.” So a lot of the ideas and thinking and whatever that may have gone into that first book was your accumulated experience of your whole life… Whereas you’re on the shorter, shorter timeline.
That’s similar with the sophomore album as well. A lot of musicians - they spend their whole lives building that first album, and it’s like what they have to say to the world. And then eight months later, it’s like “Where’s your next one?” It’s like, “Well, I’ve got eight months to put things together.”
Yeah. Indeed, there are incredible artists, whether it’s musicians, or other kinds of arts, or authors, or whatever creative works you want to think of where someone manages to build on – their first one is good, and the next one is better, and the next one’s even better, and they’re kind of telling a story, and evolving it… Others, like you said, just do the same thing over and over again, and for me, I have no interest in that. I guess I could have gone and done another developer tools company, but… I don’t know.
Yeah, well, you’re certainly picked a different domain. You changed your genre. So that’s one way of not sticking to the formula. So in light of that, which I think is a very mature and wise way of looking at it, if you’re not shooting for another Heroku-sized hit, like if that’s not your metrics for a success, then when you look at Muse and you think about what success would look like for Muse, what does that manifest as for you?
Definitely. I will always come back to impact to the world, and for me, it’s both about – you know, business success I take to be as something that’s, you know… If you take a capitalist perspective, let’s say profit is a measure of value you’ve created in the world, right? So there’s a lot to be said for that; if people are willing to part with their hard-earned money for a product you’ve created, or an album you’ve written, or whatever else, that’s a good sign that there’s something good there, and you’ve put something good into the world.
But yeah, a lot of it for me is impact, and the ideas coming through. So to me, it’s more important to, for example, has Heroku been influential in the industry in the sense of inspiring others, or helping shape how we think about for example developer experience, and that we can make that better than it was before? That to me is almost that I’m more proud of than any particular product innovation, or certainly something like any of the just business metrics for success.
So for Ink & Switch and for Muse both, which are - all those separate entities that are coupled ideas, or I should say they’re very entwined in the sense of what they’re trying to do in terms of impact, for me success would be, okay, helping to, with the greater tools for thought community, get people thinking about how computers can be better for allowing us to be more thoughtful. Or how computers can be better for productive devices. Like, what is that 10-year-old right now that’s on whatever devices they have, what’s going to inspire them to create the next great game, or the next great company, or the next great piece of art? What are the software, and the computing, and the internet components in that that make it possible for our next generation to go even further than where we have gone?
So being part of the “Can computers help us with thinking?” and then there’s a lot of sub-elements of that I think as well, which is like this local-first sync, which I’ve mentioned a few times, Muse has implemented a version of this… This is a huge track of research for Ink & Switch, but it would be a seismic shift for the industry.
Cloud has become so pervasive, and if we say, actually, we can take a step beyond that and get all the benefits of cloud, but actually get a lot of other benefits that are sort of downsides for the cloud - if we can have some effect of that. And we’re starting to see that, actually. More and more products are marketing themselves as local-first, or using some subset of these technologies. So that, to me, is really exciting. And if someone uses Muse, feels what it’s like to have all your data be local and fast all the time, and you never have a spinner, and you can go offline and everything still works completely well, even though it’s a collaborative environment, and then they go, “Hmm… Software can be like this? That’s interesting.” And then maybe they either want to hold other products they use to a higher standard, or if you’re a software creator yourself, maybe you think, “Hmm, maybe I could or should build my app in this way.” So that kind of impact is what matters the most to me.
[46:30] Is Muse collaborative at this point, where you can have other people, multiple people one document, or whatever you call the boards, I guess, or one infinite canvas, whatever terminology you use?
So that is in alpha right now. So we’ve built the technology, it works pretty well, in my opinion, although we’re in the process of testing that. So essentially, right now the version you can download from the App Store you can use for individual ideation, as you mentioned; you can link together your devices, and you can see how they sync between each other. And this was actually our little trick to de-risk the technology, because this is such a bleeding edge technology; it really just came straight out of the computer science world, and no one’s really implemented it fully working in production systems yet. So we tested it out by saying “Okay, we’ll just use this in a personal product to sync between your two devices, and use that to shake out all the edge cases and the operations challenges, and so forth.” And we’ve been doing that over the last few months, since we launched that product. And then, with that being really solid, now we can build the multiplayer. And the multiplayer basically looks similar to a Figma or something like that, where you have the avatar, and you can see someone’s cursor, and it’s all completely real-time, but it also has the capability that you can just get on a plane at any time, or turn off your Wi-Fi or whatever else, and everything still works.
So yeah, that’s in alpha right now. In fact, if you’re a team interested in that, you can check our website and we’ve got a little memo about group ideation, a little type form survey you can fill out if you want to join that alpha program.
Can we talk about tools for thought, at this point? As we were talking here, I’m trying to like wrack my brain with how I think, and how I capture my thoughts and my ideas… Because in many ways, my DMs with Jerod are my – you can probably attest to this, Jerod… Most of my ideas – some of them are just like shotgun; like, this is actually a bad idea, but I’m gonna share it anyways, because I just don’t care if it’s a bad idea… Even if it’s like “That’s stupid, Adam. You should just do this thing this way, or whatever.” But either way… My tools for thought - I don’t know if I use… Some people use notebooks, like physical hardcopy, can’t collaborate, there is no sync because there is no sync situations. And I just think, how do people think, and what kind of software is already out there that enables thinkers to capture their ideas in ways that can give them speed to capture during the eureka moment, or just be able to just capture any ideas at all? I feel like Notion, or notes, or text is a very crude way to capture ideas. I guess it’s the most basic. Maybe you draw, maybe you open Photoshop or some sort of like grafting app that you can draw something… But then I feel like that doesn’t – like, it’s a bunch of hodgepodge of tools that don’t really come together. Maybe that’s kind of what you’re doing with Muse, because you’ve got this infinite canvas, you can zoom in, you can do all these different things… But like you said, you’re still at the bleeding edge of a lot of this technology, truly enabled. I guess, long story short, my question is, what kind of tools are out there already for tool for thought that are this kind of fidelity? Is there anything? Has there been anything?
Yeah, that’s a great question. Let’s see how I can…
Probably not much, right?
…unwind things a little bit, yeah. For me, the classic tools for thought are sketchbooks, whiteboards, post-it notes, index cards, and so on. And not everyone uses this exact set of things, and people do different combinations, and some draw beautiful sketch notes in their notebooks, and other people just scribble down a quick idea to a post-it note and that’s kind of it. But most people use some kind of externalizing of your ideas.
[50:04] And I always like the idea that – even here just thinking in the analog world, there’s a great interview with Richard Feynman, the famous physicist, where they’re asking about his notes. He has all these sketchbooks where he’s working through his physics problems, and they’re basically asking me to see the notes, and it’s like, “Oh, this is a record of your thinking.” And I’m going to butcher the quote a little bit, I think, but he says, “No, no, no. This IS my thinking. It’s the process of getting the ideas out onto the page, seeing them, and then kind of like bringing that back into my mind. That loop is actually how I think.” Because there’s sort of a limit to what you can hold in your mind, in your short-term memory… And especially when you get into visual thinking, which obviously a lot of mathematics work tends to be that way. For me, this is very true with programming work as well. At some point, I’m doing architecture, I need to sketch a diagram, right? It’s not enough for me to either do it in code, or just to do it in text. There’s a visual and a spatial component as well. That’s not true for everyone, but that seems to be true for quite a lot of people.
So yeah, the analog tools are the classic. And then I think all of those, what you would classically called note-taking tools - I think Evernote is probably… While it fell from grace a little bit, it was one that was popular for a while. I use just plain text files, and markdown files, and a Dropbox folder for many, many years. And then in modern times - exactly, you have this tools for thought revolution that’s happening; a lot of that is tech space stuff, ranging from the outliner stuff, like Emacs Org Mode, and Workflowy, and Roam, and so on, as well as the more visual-oriented stuff, which would include something like probably like Miro, or FigJam… Obviously, Muse is in that category… But I think it’s pretty early days, and in many ways, for me, in terms of digital tools for thought, sometimes we haven’t even just beaten a folder on my file system, because I can throw in “Here’s three images, and a screenshot, and a PDF, and a text file. Here’s a collection of loose multimedia”, that actually is also a really good thing for like bringing together my thinking or my source material on a project. So that’s maybe a quick overview of how I think about that world.
There are so many tools, and as purveyors of fine digital goods - is that what a purveyor does? We’re users of fine digital goods; we don’t make any of them. You do, Adam… But we just use and talk about… I’ve seen so many - what do you call them… Ideation tools, productivity, collaboration, note-taking… They all have a little bit different view of the world, and so they’re all bringing something different, some unique perspective of why this is good. And it’s like the note-taking app space, where everybody uses notes a little bit different. There’s a lot of room, I guess, for different entrants, because it’s not like there’s one grand way of creating, or ideating; there’s lots of different ways. And so what is Muse’s perspective? We’ve talked about infinite canvas, maybe you can describe that in more detail… I’ve also seen the nesting functionality… Like, what are the big ideas in Muse that makes it a unique entrant into the creativity space?
Yeah, infinite canvas is something that I think is going to be a much bigger category going forward. We actually even have a little microsite on that infinitecanvas.tools, where we try to document all the movement in that space that’s happened very recently. Apple’s just now launching a product in that space, and several others that are up and coming. But historically, this has been design tools. Illustrator I think of as the first infinite canvas. We had true zoom, in and out… You could just put things wherever.
[53:59] Photoshop, you have an edge to the document. And obviously, the classic – say a word processor, or a text editor, is a very linear thing. There’s a top, and it goes down, and that’s it. You can’t just put something to the side. But on a desk, or on a pinboard, or on a whiteboard or something like that, you’d be like “I’ll stick these off to the side here, and I’ll put this one over here. And I think this little pile here represents this one set of ideas, and this little pile represents another set of ideas.” And that concept doesn’t really exist in most computing tools. And partially it’s because computers are very structured and organized and rational. And that’s actually what we want from them. We like that we can dump a bunch of junk in and it gives us a nice, neat list, or a grid, or something. But actually, we think that ideation is something that can be a little messy…
Freeform is probably a better word for it. But yeah, it’s just like “I’m not quite sure yet. I think these things go together. I’m gonna stick them over here.” This happens to me even when I’m like writing an article or something, where I have like a paragraph and I’m not quite sure where it should go, but I think it’s pretty good… I’ll kind of stick it down at the bottom, in kind of like an attic section under a thing, so I can bring it back later… But again, that one-dimensional thing is limiting, in a way, and I think why these design tools and Figma really is one of the best implementations, just technically, as well as its multiplayer capability. And you see a lot of people using Figma, for what I call off-brand uses; like, we’re having a team retrospective, we’re having a roadmap planning, and so therefore, we’re going to all go into this thing and be able to shove these things that look like post-it notes and whatever around, to understand a problem together, to work through an idea, to make a shared plan, etc.
But of course, Figma as a design tool, so you can very easily get hung up on “Hm, should the border radius on this be four, or eight pixels? Do I want this font size or this one? Do I want a medium or a bold?” And of course, all that kind of fidelity is really getting in your way when you’re in that ideation phase… Which I think is part of what makes, for example whiteboards… Or I’m actually a big fan of Sharpies. Back before I had Muse, I would keep just big sheets of butcher paper in my office, and Sharpie markers, and just kind of draw stuff on there… Because you just can’t get too precise, you can’t be too neat; you have to really stick to just the raw idea, and the raw, just like the big, broad strokes of it. And so that’s part of what Muse is trying to do. If you think of those off-brand uses of Figma, where people like the openness of the canvas, the sense of place, bringing everyone together, that get rid of all the design-specific stuff, and hierarchical layers, and the auto layout, and whatever, and make it more of just this loose, loose space for ideating together.
That’s where I almost wonder if like Muse, you can – and this may be exactly what the idea is… You can put these higher-fidelity files into the board. So rather than having to create it within the thing itself… This is one thing I liked about Dropbox Paper, was that unlike Google Docs, you can change the heading sizes, you can change the font and styles, and you can really… You know, Jerod can have one style, and I can have another, but the idea kind of got “Well, is this a paragraph? Is it a heading? Is this a list?” Like, formatting got in the way with Dropbox Paper, or with a doc from Google, or whatever. But Dropbox Paper was like “No, this is the one style.” And you can add maybe another return between paragraphs if you wanted to, but that was the most you could really do. But I think they have not done the most amazing job with that product, and we don’t use it anymore, just for whatever reasons.
But in the case of say Figma, where you get a more high-fidelity, and Muse, maybe it’s more, as you said, freeform thinking, maybe it’s about embedding certain larger format files, where maybe you can add an Illustrator file that gives a fidelity, and you can eject back out to Illustrator to say, “Well, here’s the design for this thing. And here’s where it points to this” or whatever that… Maybe that’s a 3D space, I don’t know… Maybe that’s a way where you can be like “Here’s how you think, and here’s how we can organize what we’re doing as a team, or individually, I guess, currently… But here’s the literal embedded high-fidelity file that we can examine in its current state, but also eject out to that application, and go deeper and finer, with a whole different workflow.” But Muse is about putting this idea on a board together and saying “This is where we’re at currently, or where we’re moving towards.”
[58:17] Yeah, absolutely. Those kinds of integrations, whether it’s classic files, let me drop in an Excel sheet, or a video, or something like that… Or whether it is more of a cloud service, a Figma, or whatever. I think Notion probably gets the closest on this… And in many ways, Notion is the big success story for the tools for thought world to date, where they do manage to bring together multimedia of all different kinds, and the text blocks, and the linking, and all that sort of thing. But again, it is – well, there’s not an infinite canvas; it is a classic, page-based, top to bottom, it’s text-oriented first and foremost, rather than visual or spatial, or sketch… You can’t start with a sketch, and then start to add text. The place you really start with Notion is text.
So I think Notion is great product, and it’s obviously been very successful, but we think that if you can imagine a world where there is a proliferation of tools for thought that are in the same vein as Notion, but explore totally different directions, such as visual and spatial in the direction we’re going, and that teams and individuals have a lot of different choices to choose from, just the way that – you know, I’m a big believer also in just diversity of tools. So I don’t think there needs to be one programming language to rule them all, nor do I think there needs to be one tool for thought to rule them all. One, because you might use different ones in different circumstances, and two, just because you have different ones that just fit with your brain. someone might say “I like Rust, because it just fits my brain.” I say “I like Ruby, because it just fits my brain.”
And you can debate over performance, or what kinds of applications it’s most suitable to write, and those are valid discussions… But a lot of it does come down to taste, and feel, and vibes, and I think that’s also a thing that could and should happen in the tool for thought world. But right now, we have just note-taking apps, and file systems, and then there’s a few early movers, like the Notions and Roams of the world… And I just hope to see much more proliferation of that, so that we all have more choice.
Right. Yeah, I think of Notion as a great tool for a knowledge base – you know, it actually even gets into production, to a certain extent; it’s like, “Here’s your database tables. Put your data in here that’s important to you, and stuff”, which is awesome. It’s very multi-purpose in that way. I do find it too formal and stringent, I guess, for actually ideating. There’s also like the world of mind-mappers; there’s mind-mapping software, which is very much tools for thought, right? And I’ve tried those over the years as well. I think in outlines a lot; mostly – not really like coming up with a new idea, but like planning something. I just think in outline, so I use outliner tools… And it seems like Muse is in the middle. There’s definitely mind-mapping things going on, especially with the drill-downs.
Now, the mind mapping tools, lots of them - they want to put everything into like this tree structure, and for me even those… I’m too busy thinking about how to use this tool than about my ideas.
In formatting, I guess –
Yeah, formatting. Yeah, that’s what I was saying.
does my idea jealous this tree?
Right. And so I guess the primitives inside of Muse, what I’ve seen so far, is you have the board. And boards have boards, right? So there’s your nesting. You can drill down from a board – a board can have multiple boards, right? And you double-click down into one.
Exactly. So it’s infinite nesting, just like a file system, basically. And we think that maps to your brain, but also to just how ideas are, which is you’re in the middle of exploring one idea, and you realize there’s this whole sub thing that goes with it, and you start that board, and you drill down deeper, or you link to another board, for example, and there’s potentially no bottom to that. You can go as deeply as you want.
[01:02:05.00] And indeed, the way we’ve implemented it - it was a huge engineering challenge. There’s no opening – there’s no point where you have a list of documents and you double-click one to open it. You start on a home board, you smoothly navigate… You know, if you’re on a device like the latest iPad Pro, it’s 120 frames per second; you pinch in like you would on a Google Maps or something, and you smoothly navigate into that board, and it all feels like a kind of seamless, continuous video game world, that you’re sort of traveling through this space of ideas… And that’s part of the feel maybe that we’re offering. And you can argue one way or the other on the pragmatic benefits of that, but again, the feel, and the vibe, and the sense of fluidity to me is a big part of the idea we’re trying to express.
Yeah. So it’s almost like a visual/spatial outline, because it’s the same thing with an outline - you drill into an outline. “Now I’m thinking about these particular subsections. I can also go back out to the higher level.” And so it’s like that, but it’s like boards inside of boards. Now, what are the primitive objects that you can put into a board? I know there’s text, I know there’s images… Because that’s the other thing. The thing with Notion, I get confused, like “Is this a page? Is this a database? Should I put a page in here? Should I link between databases?” Like Adam was talking about Google Docs… Is this an H1? Should I make this a subheading? You start to get stuck in the formatting, or the objects… And so how does Muse help us not have to maybe think about so much what we’re putting in our boards?
Certainly, as much as possible, we try to have the tool get out of your way. There can be a learning curve there partially, because it is a power tool, it is supposed to be fast… And when you really learn it, whether it’s the keyboard shortcuts on the Mac, or the advanced gestures on the iPad, there is something to learn there. But the core primitives are incredibly simple. They’re basically cards; everything’s a card, they can all be resized the same way, you could navigate into them the same way… And a board - it’s just a special type of card that contains other cards.
Now, here we’re calling back yet again to a Unix philosophy here, right? Everything’s a file. So this is “Everything’s a card.” But again, we’re putting together the old, sort of the Unix hierarchical file system, and everything’s a file, with the new. So for example, one of the sources of inspiration for us is just the Photos app that’s on your phone, whether it’s an iPhone or an Android, but particularly the iPhone one… Every time you snap a photo, it goes into a bucket. When you load it up, you get this grid of photos. You don’t need to choose a file name, or figure out what folder to put it in, or really think about it. You just have your photos there. And if you want to take it somewhere, you can grab it and drag it someplace, or use the Share Sheet to send it someplace else. And the simplicity of that - we wanted to bring that to every media type. So yeah, let’s call it the core native types are images, videos… Links, obviously… Links to the web are very important in the modern world… Links to other apps, which you can have in the Apple ecosystem… And then there’s text. So we have a kind of like spatial – what we call like spatial text; you can double-click anywhere on a board, or double-tap anywhere on a board, and essentially just start writing.
So if you want - and indeed, we sometimes do do this - you can make a new board, double-click in the upper left corner and just start typing, and you have a thing that just looks like a plain text document. But unlike a plain text document, you could, at some point, decide to grab that paragraph, and instead of needing to put it at the bottom, like we talked about before, you just shove it off to the side somewhere… And then you can pull out your pencil, if you want, and scribble a little note… “I don’t know where this goes”, think about it later, this kind of thing, right. And this gets particularly fun in the collaborative setting. So when I’m working with my colleagues on – you know, for example, we were doing a little demo video script recently, and kind of going back and forth on what should be in the script, and storyboarding it, and so forth… And we had – it was basically just a vertical top to bottom text document, which was the script. But in the margins, on both sides, we have like ideas, and notes, little comments, we have “What about this one? Here’s a still image, here’s a little sketch of what it could be, here’s an alternate paragraph of… Here’s an alternate order that we could do things…” And you get this thing that looks a little bit more like a notebook, or a whiteboard, or something like that.
[01:06:17.00] Again, it has this freeform nature; it’s visual, it’s spatial, it’s just sort of more fluid, and more multimedia than what we usually get with our text documents… Or even something like Notion, which is, again, very good multimedia-wise; you can drop in links, and videos and things like that. But once you get into the comments, for example, they’re just plain text again; it’s like having a chat over Slack, or something like that… Which is fine to a point, that sometimes you need more than text to express an idea.
I’ve been sitting here playing with it, and it’s pretty – it’s pretty interesting how you can like paste tweets in, and there’s images in those tweets, it brings it to the sidebar, which you can either like, I think, throw away or get rid of… I’ve put in like PDFs, I’ve titled things… You can go into those PDFs… I haven’t figured out how to eject out of the Muse scenario, like go to the actual PDF in Adobe Acrobat, or preview or whatever it might be… But it’s really interesting how you do this. And I think the one thing – I’m obviously on a Macintosh right now, a computer, a desktop, and I happen to have a pen in my hand, because I’m a Wacom user. So my left hand, my far left hand is the magic mouse from Apple, in the middle is my keyboard, on the far right hand side is a Wacom tablet. So I’m on the left hand scroller/touchpad thing, and I’m on the right hand side with a very iPad-like pencil. And so I’m like, “Man, why can I not treat my computer like an iPad in this scenario?” I guess, a real challenge you must have is defining features and enabling features based upon platform, right? That must be a true struggle for you all, because I’m finding when I’m using what would typically be a mouse touch or movement with the pen, I’m actually drawing. And you treat that as a drawing application, and I’m like drawing lines on my screen when I don’t want to be. And I can double-click with it, and I can’t treat it like a mouse, I literally have to go over to my touchpad. So can you talk about how do you design this tool to do what you want, but also take into consideration what the platform has to offer? …whether you’re on an iPad, or whether you’re on desktop, how do you favor or enable? I imagine you’re in the early innings of making this work really well, because it seems a little kludgy, but… Speak to the struggle.
Yeah, sure. Well, we’re a big believer in designing for each device specifically, and obviously, there should be things that are shared across them. I think it’s really the reality of a creative professional’s life that we really all have a minimum two devices, which is the desktop/laptop form factor, and the phone. But you do different things with them, right? They serve a different purpose, especially when we talk about your productive life. I think earlier, someone made mention of the capturing, the quick capture of that idea in the eureka moment, which might be while you’re out on a walk in the park, and you’re just not in front of the computer, and you want to get that written down.
It’s like, “My Muse is not here. Aaaarghh!!” Right?
Exactly. But at the same time, you also wouldn’t expect to do detailed long-form editing of a huge article on your phone; that’s just not the right device for that. You bring in potentially a tablet, whether that is something like a Wacom, but we also think that the standalone tablet, like an iPad, has a potential additional use, particularly in this thinking mindset thing. You’re getting away from your keyboard, you want to pace around the room, you want to go lean back in a chair and scratch your chin, and this sort of thing… We think the iPad potentially has a lot of potential for that. I think that’s also the success of something like Kindle plays a role like that as well, which is that it can be this middleground that’s between the phone and the computer.
So we think that each of these three devices has a special place to play in the creative person’s life, and that we’ll design the app for each one to all work together, but also embrace the unique strengths of each platform. Now, exactly, as you said, we have not fully fulfilled that vision. The Wacom tablet aspect of things is something that we just haven’t had the chance to put a lot of development effort into.
[01:10:19.05] Another thing we’re doing sort of unique with this company is trying to stay really small, capital-efficient, not going the big venture route, at least not yet… So we’re right now a six-person team, so we’re trying to develop features sort of slowly and thoughtfully, rather than breakneck pace. So some of what you see is intentional choices of we leave things out – we don’t want a bunch of font size choices, because we think that doesn’t go well with ideation. You get stuck on that when you should be thinking about your idea. That’s something we’re intentionally leaving out. Other things, like that the Mac doesn’t have enough like drawing capabilities relative to iPad just reflects the fact that we only released our Mac app five months ago, and so we just need to do a lot more work on that. So we’re a pretty long way from fully fulfilling the vision.
I’ve realized I’m also an edge case too, Adam. Me having a Wacom is uncommon; it’s not a common tool for most people… Although I’ve met a few that share my exact same setup, where right hand is a pen. Like, my mouse is not a mouse; it’s always been the pen. And I never have any wrist issues either, because I’m not there, holding this mouse in one position, clicking, clicking, clicking. It’s just far more freeform, and I’ve loved that for those reasons. I do a lot of creative work for us, but it’s very uncommon in comparison to the common. I do it it’s just maybe it’s 10%, 20% maybe. But I’m always using a Wacom tablet as my right hand, and it’s my mouse, and my left hand is my scroll… And maybe I’ll tap with that, but it’s an uncommon scenario, I totally admit that. But they are out there.
That is very interesting. We have a lot of Wacom tablet users who are basically – for most of them, their complaint is you actually can’t get access to the Ink tools. The gesture that you use on the iPad as you swipe in from the edge of the screen to get the Ink toolkit to come out - you actually can’t do that on the Mac… So you only basically can have sort of the one black pen, effectively… So usually, that’s the complaint that we have from the Wacom tablet users.
The cool thing about the Wacom too is it’s got those extra keys; it’s got things that you can tap into specifically. So if you wanted to tell - and maybe this is still an edge case, and we’re getting so hypothetical here, but I’m sure it’s common enough for you… That if you want the iPad experience on a desktop, then adopt this way of doing things. But the thing with your tool is to get adoption is to go where the users are, not reroute them to new routes. So that’s why I totally admit, I’m an edge case, don’t design for me… And I don’t have an iPad, because I find that – it’s usually Netflix, or something like that. It’s a watch, or it’s a consuming device… And I always go for the Pro Max, so for the larger phone, because I just like to bridge my gap where I have a strong desktop, maybe, and my desktop now happens to be a laptop, too… So I used to have a desktop and a laptop, and a phone, whereas now I just have a desktop, which is a laptop and a phone. So I only have two devices in my case. And Jerod, I think you’re the same.
So for me, iPad’s never really been a creative device for me… But still yet, Muse is such a functional thinking thing for me, and that’s why I’m asking so many questions, because thus far, I haven’t found something that beats Notion to think in outlines, as Jerod said, but at some point, the fidelity just isn’t there. Or a mind map, which doesn’t really fully map. I’m not going to bust out Sketch, or Photoshop, or Illustrator to start putting my ideas out there, because then I can’t collaborate with Jerod or others, and then it’s this AI file, or a PSD file. It’s just this fractured world where nothing comes together, where Muse has a chance to bring it all together.
[01:13:55.02] I love that articulation of the vision. I think you really see it there, and we’re trying to slowly and steadily work our way towards bringing all those pieces together; the devices, all the different capabilities you expect, the multi-user collaboration as well… And by the way, end user programming is part of our grandmaster vision on this one as well.
Oh, good. I was wondering when we were gonna get back to that.
Somehow I can’t seem to not work that into anything I ever do… But Ink & Switch has some really excellent research going on right now, basically, about how to program with a pen, as well as different ways to create sketchy exploratory programming environments, even if it’s more visual, with a mouse, or some mix of sort of symbolic representations. Spreadsheets are actually an interesting example of this, with a mix of like a spatial and a formulaic environment. So we very much hope to – once we nail all the devices and the multi-user collaboration, the final stage here would be you have this essentially programmable ideation space.
What’s the end state? Sometimes – I can’t help it, Jerod. I’m sorry…. I’ve been listening to a lot of plausible science books, and I think farther in the future because these books, the way they make you think… And we can get caught up in like the early innings, like you’re in now with Muse, and some of the limitations that we’re sort of here saying like “Will you succeed?” Let’s imagine ten years goes by and you have succeeded… What is Muse? I don’t care about the number of years, but like some further future where there is success, and it’s not like revenue, or user… More on impact and usefulness. So can you speak to what is the end state of usefulness for this kind of application? Where do you want to go that’s the most useful?
Yeah. Well, certainly when I envision the usefulness in the creative person’s life, it would be the same way that someone has an attachment to their sketchbook, for example, where they just – when they’re in the position of “I have my next great idea”, this is what they pull out.
But I think the other piece to add into this - it’s not just a matter of taking those analog ideation sketchbooks and whiteboards and whatever and putting them on the computer; I think that part is sort of straightforward. Where I think it gets a lot more interesting is now you’re on the computer, which is this dynamic medium. And so again, that programmability, that flexibility that we would expect from the dynamic medium, and bringing that to your ideation space.
And the additional component here, which we haven’t talked too much about, but actually is a huge part of our vision, is remote work. So for me, going back to where we sort of started part two, you know, one of the things I wanted to do is not necessarily be stuck in the Bay Area. I wanted the ability to explore the world, to meet teams elsewhere, to live where I wanted to live, have the quality of life I wanted to have, and the degree to which tools, remote work tools, those Zooms and Slacks and things that have been life-changing, I think, for many of us - those really were an enabler of that. But the place that still remains just uncontested for thinking through problems, and coming to consensus, and making great decisions with a team - it’s being in front of a whiteboard together, right? It’s being in-person together. You can work through stuff in-person, I think, in a way that you can’t with digital tools. Not yet.
So I guess my dream place for impact would be not just that personal tool, where I have this personal programmable sketchbook that is a great private place for me to think through my ideas, but also is a place I can meet with other collaborators, whether it’s for a side project, whether it’s team in my workplace, where we can work through difficult problems together, and not only have it be as good and high-fidelity and high-bandwidth as working through a problem in-person in front of a whiteboard, but actually even better, because we have this dynamic medium that’s so powerful, and we can do things on-the-fly, that we would never have been able to do with analog tools… And be able to have all remote teams that are every bit as effective as an in-person team, but the individuals can live these more flexible lives, can live where they want to live. It’s easier if you’re a family person, etc. So that kind of enabling of great teams and great ideation together, but more flexible work lives for creative people - that’s the combination of impact I want to see.
[01:18:32.06] Do you see the Metaverse playing a role, ever? I feel like the potential evolution of Muse – so maybe Muse 1.0, high impact, great tool… But then the far future version might be like “Well, let’s step into our Muse.” Or like these boards you create it… And you mentioned avatars and collaborations… Do all roads eventually lead to some sort of Metaverse, considering remote work and togetherness? Do you think about that ever?
Absolutely. Yeah, we looked into that. This is part of what research labs do, right? …is try to think about every possibility, including the stuff that’s way out there. At least the VR side of things, and that’s not even counting the augmented reality side, I felt, based on the evaluations we did a few years back, was just so early. I think that for a while it is going to be a place for entertainment, and new kinds of media experiences, certainly communication… But I think the kind of precision that you need out of productivity tools – I mean, we’re still trying to get the kind of precision and performance out of a touchscreen that you can currently get out of a keyboard… So in a way, anything that sort of turns it into a VR/AR type of a thing is, I think, even further out. So we sort of like felt like that wasn’t super-fruitful right now. I think the technology there needs to advance a lot, and really mostly has to do with the input. The head tracking and all that sort of stuff is amazing. And maybe there is a world where, I don’t know, you’re using some kind of conventional computing input device while you’re wearing the headset; I could see something like that. But I think the input devices are so key, and that’s the thing that I think we’re pretty far away on that sort of world of things.
But absolutely, I would love a space that is more physical, where I’m not just like stuck in a chair all the time… And that’s a little bit what I like about using iPad, is being able to actually go and pace around the room with it in my hand, or sit back in maybe at least a different chair, one that’s not at my desk. But maybe my dream state is something that’s more like – maybe something like Tony Stark’s lab in the Iron Man movies, where you’ve got many screens, and you’ve got the holographic displays, and you’ve got the voice, and you’ve got the various different kinds of inputs, and you’re not in just this one fixed position, but the work is all around you. So whether that’s some VR/AR, whether it’s something like Bret Victor’s Seeing Spaces, whether it’s something like Tony Stark’s lab, I think there’s a world that’s like this.
One thing that overlaps between some of my research was Adam’s Heroku values, which I am not sure if that was ever truly Heroku’s values, and then Muse’s principles. So you seem like you have to start from this state of like “This is who we are, so this is what we create, and this is how we value, and this how we treat each other. This is how we work together, and this is how it effects the world.” You have to sort of have these valuable boundaries, I suppose, in both cases. Can you speak to how that helps you operate, and maybe those around you operate effectively, and reach the mission? And how do your principles and values on either side sort of like help you play out in the best way possible?
[01:21:59.19] Yeah, well, as you can tell from both of those examples, I’m absolutely a start-from-principles kind of guy, or start from values… My Heroku values gist is actually something I published – I think, basically, it was on my last day of work there, if I’m not mistaken…
No way… [laughs]
Well, the backstory there actually was we knew that Heroku had this strong point of view, and we wanted to articulate some of the values about not just what’s in the product, but how we work as a team… Which are sort of related, right? We’re making a product that we ourselves want to use, that embodies the way that we like to work, and they kind of feed back to each other. But it’s more about how the team worked together. And we had had a number of meetings and discussions about “Okay, we should really write these values down, so it’s more clear to new people coming onto the team” and whatever. And we got some like good, loose ideation, let’s say, but we never really boiled it down to like “This is our agreed-upon canonical 15 set of values.” And so I always found that a bit annoying, but I also understood why we didn’t get there; we were busy building the product, so on my last day I was like “You know, I’m just gonna write down mine, and I’m going to call them My Heroku Values, so that I’m not claiming, if someone else in the company disagrees that points three, seven, and nine or whatever…” But that ended up probably being one of the best artifact of those early days in terms of how our teamwork together.
And then yeah, Muse has kind of a principles on our site, which I think is a little more refers to the product… But maybe this is the nature – I don’t know if it’s just something I tend to do in my businesses, or maybe it’s the nature of when you’re building creative tools… Heroku is a tool for developers, Muse is a tool for anyone that needs to do thinking… But in doing that, sort of how your team works and how the product helps you work - those two things are pretty closely related, and indeed they should reflect each other in a lot of ways. So yeah, we have some principles on the Muse website.
And coming back to this thing where we often make these counterintuitive choices, break the status quo, it creates a learning curve, someone comes in, they want to do something in a way that they’ve – if you come in assuming “Oh, Muse is a note-taking app, so it’s gonna work like Apple Notes”, for example… Which - Apple Notes is an amazing application, right? And there’s a good reason that it is a good cornerstone way to just take simple notes on your phone and your other devices. But if you come in assuming it’s going to work the exact same way, and all these things that you can assume from it, and other standard notating apps like that, you’re gonna come in and you might be surprised, disappointed, overwhelmed, annoyed… So having those principles to point back to, both for us as a team to be able to say, “Okay, are we building things that are consistent with these principles as we go?” and then second, for our users and customers to be able to understand, “Okay, we didn’t just make this one counterintuitive design choice to annoy you. It supports something deeper, and something we think is valuable. And if you agree with these values, then you will probably – it’s worth your while to get over that little hump of friction, and learn how the product works. If you don’t agree with the values, then probably don’t waste your time, right? Maybe it’s not the right product for you.”
Okay, so let’s talk about the now. You’ve got pricing on the Muse website… In terms of – you said impact, but you also said revenue; it is a business… You mentioned how you’re running the team lean in terms of a smaller team… I wasn’t sure of all the details, of specifics there, but you’ve got pricing on there… What’s the current state of user base? Do you have a lot of users, a little bit of users? Are you profitable? How do you break down now - okay, creative product, works great, you’re iterating and evolving… What’s the state of business? Are you succeeding on that front? Are you being profitable? Give me some details there.
Yeah, we’re too early to say a lot about the success of the business there… And we’re also trying to balance, I guess, a big ambition against my desire to be capital-efficient, sustainable… It’s tricky. And time will tell whether we’ve chosen a good path here. But the hard thing is that we could have been sustainable, but then we really saw the way that a lot of the ways we wanted to expand on these other platforms if we had this additional person or two on the team, you bring in – of course, people tend to be your biggest cost. So the long and short of it is I think our ambition is usually running a little bit ahead of what our revenue is.
So I think on the spectrum of – there’s sort of pure, classic customer revenue funded, and this is usually started by one person, or two people, they probably do consulting in the beginning… If you think of like Basecamp, it began this way; lots of companies began this way, where you’re doing consulting for a few years, you keep the team just incredibly small, and you try to get to a sustainable revenue point, and then you only grow what revenue will allow. The other extreme is the venture world, where it’s just like get millions, or tens of millions, or even more money, hire, hire, hire, don’t even worry about putting the price on the product… And we felt some of that in the Heroku days as well. We didn’t even put pricing on it for several years in, and it really wasn’t a motivation to earn revenue really, because we were funded by venture money. And I guess I’m a believer in understanding the value of your product by charging money for it…
So we did start charging money for Muse very early, and a big part of that was building that discipline that was more a little bit closer to the like indie hacker, solo entrepreneur kind of world of things… I really liked that world of things. On the other hand, we have all these big ambitions, we’re doing these cutting-edge technologies, like the local-first sync… We need to be on all these platforms, we’ve got the multiplayer, and so on. So we have used investment money to basically spend more than we’re bringing in, so that we can build towards that ambition, but we also very specifically are trying to not just go the direction of “Okay, take that seed round or series A, hire the 20 people, and then worry about the money later on.” So we’re trying to find a middle ground there.
It’s gotta be challenging, because you’ve been to the mountaintop, right? So you kind of know what it feels like. But then you’re like “Well, we’re back down here at the bottom”, in comparison, of course… And you have to scrap, and you have to scrape, and you have to earn that value… But that’s kind of nice, because you said in other articles that - and I’m gonna butcher some of the paraphrase here, that you sort of pushed back against the advising and VC things, because it just didn’t help you think. You like to be in the product, you like to deal with the hard choices, and the details, and that’s kind of where you’re at right now. So this might just be your perfect place, Adam, where you’re at now.
[01:30:21.14] Yeah, maybe. Well, to me it’s sort of an ideal thing, is to mix having a great team and going after something ambitious, but maybe there is kind of an excess that naturally – and I’m not trying to complain about the venture industry. I know that’s a popular thing to do… But there really is something to be said for when you raise a bunch of money, at a big valuation, that money is burning a hole in your pocket, you’ve got to hire, and now you’re focusing on hiring, rather than maybe proving out your core idea… I’ve seen plenty of teams – I think Heroku in a way even dealt with this… We’d raised enough money, and started to hire a team before we had that real product figured out. We weren’t the platform, we were the web editor. And I think there is a world where things might have gone a little differently. You start to hire people, you get invested in the path you’re on, you’ve got this money to spend… So I think it can keep you from finding that product-market fit, and finding that right piece.
So for us, really getting to this – for Muse at least, getting to this multiplayer step and checking the product-market fit on that, with a small team, and being capital efficient. But yes, you’re right, having been down the road of “Here’s the venture money. Get a big, shiny office. Pay top of market salaries, all the perks, get the T-shirts, get the top-of-the-line computers, or whatever…” And we’re trying to run in the middleground here, of bringing great people onto the team, paying them fairly, getting good equipment for everyone… You know, spend the money that you need to accomplish your business goals, but not overspend. And what even counts as overspending - it’s all very much a judgment call. But I’ve been there, in that temptation, and just the ease of you raised the money at the big valuation, then the money is there… What are you going to – I don’t know, you sort of lose some perspective.
So I don’t know, time will tell if that was the right path, maybe for my next venture. I’ll come back and be like “Yeah, screw it. I just raised 20 million bucks at the start, and then just spent lavishly.” You know, there’s a lot to be said for that. Or the other way around. Maybe I want to go full indie hacker and just try to like build the whole thing myself, or with one other collaborator… I’m not sure. But I really wanted to see if something was possible with this middle path, where you could both be ambitious, have a team, but not necessarily go down this road of getting addicted to venture money before you’ve even discovered your product market fit.
So something that’s different this time from last time is you’re not slinging the code, right? I think you said that on our last conversation… You’re not actually coding. You used to be a prolific open source person Heroku days, even before Heroku days. But during Heroku - I’m looking at your GitHub right now; I still see Pony on there. I think I was a Pony user, of your – it delivers email, right? It was like a simpler than Action Mailer, and I liked that for my Sinatra apps back in the day. I always appreciated your taste as an API designer. But man, there’s just no contribution graphed anymore. Like, it’s just emptiness out there… So I’m just curious, are you completely not writing any code anymore, or do you scratch your own itches? What’s the status there?
Yeah, I’ll admit, that part of thing is a loss, I feel sometimes. I do write a little code here and there, usually, either for fun, or just to be in touch with particular technologies, sort of try something out to understand how it works, rather than to deliver any finished piece of software. Certainly understanding Swift as a programming language, which I really like, is excellent; the whole Apple world of developer tool chain stuff, X-code and whatever is its own interesting parallel universe to the web technologies world. I also try to stay abreast of web technologies and dabble in those things…
[01:34:02.20] So I think it’s very important for someone like me, who is in a role of guiding a technology, or guiding a team that is using technology to accomplish its goals, or do something new in the world - you’ve got to know how it works, and you can only do that if you’re really pretty hands-on with it. But yeah, I’ve found myself – actually this was true in the later part of Heroku as well… One funny thing was there was my title, my official title is CTO, Chief Technical Officer, but I was not the most technical of the founders. That was my colleague, Orion Henry. He did all the really deep work with, say, the routing layer; he and Blake Mizerany did all the really deep early Erlang work, with the routing layer… And even though I did write a lot of the early code, I’m not sure that software engineering has ever been my best skill. I think it was always a means to an end for me. And you mentioned API design… I think actually that is much closer to what I’m all about. And when you’re building a developer product, of course, you’re designing things like command lines, and API’s… Whereas when you’re building something that’s a little closer to the end user, productivity software, the design work has a slightly different shape.
There is still a lot of very technical design work, so this whole world of syncing where it doesn’t rely on the cloud means how do you display the status to the user? For example, if you’ve been offline for a while, and you’ve been doing a bunch of changes, how can you see that those things have not been synced to other collaborators? There’s prior art from things like Git in the developer world, as well as – there’s prior art there, but there is a lot of really interesting design work that is also very technical. So certainly, I get to do plenty of that.
But yeah, in terms of writing code, I think the last line of code I wrote to contribute to Heroku was probably, I don’t know, three years into that journey, and most of the rest of the time I was leading teams, and doing design, and other aspects of designing the add-on system, things like that… Which obviously very much touch the technology, but ultimately are not sitting down with a code editor for most of my day.
Alright, so hypothetical, Adam Wiggins’ next venture Muse succeeded, you sold it to Salesforce for 20 bills. [laughter]
For billions this time.
And you decide you’re gonna go indie hacker; you’re gonna build it all from scratch yourself. It’s gonna be a SaaS; let’s just put you in the web world. What tools are you picking up first, or at least trying first? What would you grab? Would you go grab your Ruby still, or would you try something else? What do you think?
Yeah, well there’s what do I like to write or have skill with, and then there’s where do I think is interesting in the technology world? So I would be surprised if whatever I want to do in the future doesn’t channel the same close interface for the user, fast… Like, I really, really become very big on that; like, performance… I’m just so tired of, spinners and all that we suffered through with modern computers; fast as they’ve gotten, somehow we’re always still waiting for them. And so this is one reason why I was really drawn to Swift, and the native technology development stack that you do have in the Apple world of things.
I’ve also been variously interested, early in my career as a video game developer, in things like SDL, which is an open source video game library, and more kind of just writing C, and sort of like kind of more raw Canvas. Canvas rendering is also very interesting to me.
If I was to go web technologies, which for sure is still - that’s still where the most interesting stuff is happening, ultimately… Even though actually the first version of Muse we’ve built with web technologies, and we just couldn’t basically do the things we needed it to… But where I think it gets really interesting is when you decouple it from the browser. And obviously, a browser is great for a whole bunch of reasons, the main one or the top one being that you can type in a web URL and you’re essentially running a program written by – you’re downloading and running instantly a program written by someone else, and it does that completely in a safe and sandbox way, which is, from my point of view, just an absolute miracle of technology, that hasn’t been accomplished anywhere, in any other technology stack.
[01:38:14.02] But at the same time - yeah, browsers are ephemeral, and they tend towards slowness, and you just need this connection, this always-on connection… So the decoupling of those technologies, which obviously Electron has been a poster child for… One that I’ve gotten interested in recently is Tauri, which is the idea of taking the core concept of Electron, but like doing it in a way that’s more high-performance, and a little closer to the metal, use more system components, that thing. We’ll see if they are successful at putting that together into a good package… But you combine that potentially with system languages like Rust… And then I think we’re still figuring out how to do good rendering in the web stack. You know, the DOM isn’t really that suitable for web applications, high-performance web applications, but there are – yeah, you’ve got the Figma route, with WebGL, which maybe touches on that SDL, kind of more raw Canvas rendering… So I don’t know, there’s some combination of those things that would be interesting.
And one thing I actually dabbled with also in my research time at Ink & Switch, and I might come back to, is I actually had basically forked the Chromium OS, to have a Chromebook that could basically boot directly into a web app, but the web app is running locally, kind of native to the hardware.
So I think there’s some unbundling of web technologies that could potentially get a lot of – again, coming back to maybe the same theme that was in the local-first stuff, which is “Can we get the good parts of cloud and leave behind the bad parts?” I wonder if there’s a way we can unbundle the web technologies and take some of the bright spots in that world and put them together in a way that lets us get fast, high-performance, powerful local applications, but also a lot of the things we love about web technologies, including developer experience, and the openness of it, and the ability to interface to backends and so forth.
So sometimes when people like you do what you do, you think “I’ve got this many years on this thing here.” Are you a Muse ride or die? I’m just thinking far forward; what can we expect from Adam Wiggins, what can we expect from you? Where can we expect to see you in your creative output? Will it be Muse-focused, will it be the podcast and talking to folks around tools for thoughts? The next several years, is it Muse for life, or what’s a good next step from here for you?
It’d be hard to fully predict that. I certainly can easily imagine spending basically the rest of my working career, however long that turns out to be, on Muse and larger Ink & Switch universe of next-generation computing, productive computing, end user programming, and so forth. So very, very absorbed in and passionate… Even though I’ve been essentially working on that world of things now, for seven, eight years, I don’t see any end in sight in the sense of sort of my personal passions and drives.
That said, I think for me, business ventures and products in a way are a venue to express ideas. And when I feel like I don’t have something to express anymore within that space, that’s when I start to think about, a graceful exit. And that’s what happened with Heroku. It was not only the six years that I spent on that product, but the couple of years leading up to it, that I was getting into the world of Ruby, and agile and so forth. So after - I don’t know what it ended up being in total; let’s say eight years - I felt like I didn’t have a lot more to say, and I thought very seriously about staying on longer, and there’s a lot I could have done there that would have been less about like expressing of some grand vision, and more continuing what we’d started, and making sure it can be as successful as possible. And a lot of that would have been just being a manager in a larger organization, because of the size of the team there… But yeah, for me it really is “When have I tapped out my passions and my ideas in a space?”
[01:42:15.16] And it’s really hard to predict. I have had businesses that have only had a year’s worth of ideas, and then I’ve moved on. That’s a little more rare. But yeah, at least at the moment, it very much feels to me like news, and the larger world of Ink & Switch is my life’s work… But you never know if entrepreneurs, right? We have shiny object syndrome, I think, which is - there’s a being drawn to novelty. And so yeah, five years from now, hard to say. But at least in my ideal world, we’re continuing this grand vision of a next-generation computing platform that’s great for thinking, that’s great for programming, that lets you do deep work, and that is something that a new generation growing up can be inspired by how to create things with computers, and not just how to consume.
That’s something interesting to marinate on, because that’s one thing I like a lot about what we do here, Jerod, at Changelog, because I feel like every new curiosity I have, or any new idea that comes from that curiosity can be applied here. And I think that’s what you’re saying, Adam, which is “I couldn’t apply any of my curiosities and what that drew me to or led me to at Heroku anymore, so it felt like a natural departure”, because you weren’t exiting, you were just –your creativity well for there and how you can apply it seemed to be mostly done, unless you pushed a little harder and stayed in management.
But with Muse - that’s why I asked you that question. Less on what’s next for you, but more like how long will you push this? Because I can see success for this, and once you get there and you hit that fit, there’s just lots more ways you can sort of like iterate and get more finite in the details, like I said with the Wacom. Even with that, for example - that’s a detail that y’all haven’t really touched much on, but there’s an application there, and there’s just so many of them out there in the world Intuos is still a very well-known brand, and I love this thing. I’ve used one for many, many years, so it’s my way of doing things. I can imagine so many more out there like that.
But to be able to find something that you care about, and work with people that you enjoy working with on an idea that really makes sense and can have impact, and every new idea that you have, or if there are more can be applied there, then why change, right? I mean, obviously, you have an outlet, which is sort of like more question mark and open-ended with Ink & Switch, but a direct application of potentially even a lot of that research you are doing, which has got to be just super-interesting to have that kind of uncharted territory on one side, but then application on the other. It must be a way to keep you grounded as a creator, because you can always ask the questions, but then find applications as it makes sense.
[01:45:00.09] Yeah, absolutely. Curiosity and uncharted territory are both terms that resonate very deeply with me. That’s when I know I’ve found the right space for myself to do the work that I do. Obviously, a lot of it does also have to do with the people that you’re doing it with, and their sense that you’re charting that uncharted territory together, and that you’re being curious together, and exploring the space. And yes, I think there’s a fractal world of tool for thought space to explore, that I think is very likely to keep you engaged for many, many years.
But of course, it also depends on the market, which is - as we move into, for example, the multiplayer version and how do groups think together, and are our ideas things that people want, need, resonate with people, does another team execute the same ideas better, etc. - all of those are always possibilities. That’s the discipline of the market. So we’ll get in there and express these ideas the best we can, and if they resonate with folks, then we can expand, and go further, and go deeper, and just see how far it goes.
Let’s give a little nudge on that front, the fit front. Let’s give our listeners an opportunity to go and try Muse and check it out. So it’s Museapp.com. There is a recent memo, which are, I guess, kind of like blog posts that mention the group collaboration. There’s a short survey down at the bottom, so if you feel like your team is in that two to eight-person spot, then they have a survey, so I imagine you’re looking for people who want to give you that collaborative feedback and be patient, and be kind potentially even with the feedback, to do so. I think Jerod and I fit in there, because I kind of think that he and I are visual, but we don’t have tools to do it… And if we had a group infinite canvas, we might just keep it there. It’s just always there and we just go add to it. It’s not like “Hey, can we work on this document together?” It’s more “Can we go to our infinite canvas together and just throw ideas there?” And whenever he gets a chance, he goes and looks, and when I get a chance, I go and look, and it’s this place where we can sort of meet digitally, that’s more fidelity than simply notes, or an outline, and things like that.
So the nudge is Museapp.com… It’s free to try, right? I mean, there’s a pretty generous free tier to just play and have fun. I think you basically charge by boards… Or by cards, sorry. So there’s a lot of room to try before you buy.
That’s right, yeah. I’m taking notes here; your pitch is pretty good.
I might want to work some of this into our marketing language here. And by the way, I would be very, very happy to onboard you both to the alpha such as it is today, assuming you have time for a buggy, quirky, early-stage product.
Well, we’re used to using our own website, so we’re used to buggy, quirky, alpha software that I write, so… [laughter]
Well, as app developers, you probably have as much sympathy as anyone for what the early days are like.
Well, Adam, I imagine we can come up with more questions and go deeper on more things, but I feel like that’s a good place to leave things. I really appreciate you giving us the part one, breaking your role, going deeper on Heroku… I think a lot of people out there really were curious the backstory, the story of Heroku, essentially, at least from one perspective; so we got at least one co-founder to give us that. Maybe we’ll talk to others, but I think this is enough for us. But I really appreciate part one, and I’ve really appreciated part two as well, going deeper into Beyond Heroku, and the story of Muse, and what that might mean for you… Tools for thought - who would have thought, right? So cool. Thank you, Adam.
Thank you for letting me walk through it all. It was a fun walk down memory lane for the past, and a better understanding of where I’m at today, and trying to put it all into context of a career well spent, or a life well lived.
Yes, sir. Thank you.
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