“XOXO-style software”, or, What I learned from trying to build a niche site

A friend of mine is a great fan and supporter of the annual XOXO conference held in Portland, Oregon. According to their website, “XOXO is an experimental festival celebrating independently produced art and technology. We’re bringin’ the love back.” To me, XOXO is about using computers to have fun, and to entertain friends and likeminded people with whimsical software. Looking at the works presented there, I’m reminded of programming before it was my full-time job, when I spent all of my programming time tinkering and gratifying my curiosity, instead of implementing some boring widgit for the twelfth time. It’s a beautiful concept, and I coined the shorthand term “XOXO-style project” for software that would be appreciated by the folks who attend this conference.

A few months ago, I decided to try my hand at being an independent entrepreneur. I followed the directions I found online from successful people with profitable websites, which said to find an underserved market and create a website about it, whether or not you knew anything about the market. But as I was doing the research, I realized that even if I was successful making a niche site, I wouldn’t enjoy the process. I want to write software, and making a niche site requires very little programming or sysadmin ability these days. And writing trumped-up copy about products I don’t believe in isn’t how I want to spend my time, even if it means I don’t have a boss.

My vision of being an independent entrepreneur was hacking on interesting code, and doing XOXO-style projects. The reality was very different and disappointing, but I’m glad I put the time in, because I learned more about myself and what kind of work I prefer. I want to spend my time programming, preferably on my own XOXO-style projects, and given the choice between working for someone else, but writing code all day, and not having a boss but not coding, I’d rather code for someone else than run an independent business where I have to only do businessy stuff like write copy, sell, read emails from customers, etc.

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