Sam Brown

Great architectural experiences in NYC

I’d like to do something with architecture too. I just started a page on Foursquare that’s all about buildings in New York that I love. I have a classic text by Paul Goldberger called The City Observed: New York, which is now out of print. The author is still alive and I thought it would be cool to get his permission to take new photos of each building in his text, give each building its own web page, and tie it all into Foursquare. You could essentially go from building to building and discover the history—who designed the building, what compromises were made, what changed over the years. That’s interesting to me and there are only a few cities where you could go to town with an idea like that.

This is a fantastic use case for foursquare Lists, marrying historical data with location data that you can have with you in your pocket at all times. I can’t wait to start crossing off some more of these Great architectural experiences in NYC that Jeffrey has kindly put together.

Quote from The Great Discontent’s one year anniversary interview with Jeffrey Zeldman.

Checking into full-time employment

Yesterday, April 11th 2011 marked my first day as a full-time foursquare employee! I have been working solely for foursquare since August last year on a contract basis and it was around this time last year that I first started doing some occasional freelance work for the NYC startup.

This last year has been a complete blast and to have been offered a full-time position whilst still based in the UK was amazing. At only 55 full-time employees our team are really cranking out some amazing new product and it’s a job I am absolutely relishing.

Now you know why so many cobwebs have grown over this site, I plan to change that too. :)

Have you tried foursquare? Check out the new sign up flow and start exploring today →

New Adventures 2011 - My experience graph

The Albert Hall in Nottingham saw 650 web design aficionados descend upon it for the first New Adventures in Web Design conference hosted by the venerable Simon Collison last week. This event brought a very large portion of the web design community together, both speakers, attendees and contributors (to the The Paper) – Simon did a superb job of curating the event into what felt like a real coming of age party for our industry.

New Adventures Conference 2011 Experience Graph

All ten talks at New Adventures were of such a high caliber, even those that were brand new and being delivered for the very first time. Stand out talks for me were Dan Rubin on the new language of web design that we need to forge for ourselves – Mark Boulton on designing content out, creating connectedness and binding this to the device – Andy Clarke on storytelling and shaping your content for the visitor and of course the hilarious Brandan Dawes on the beauty of product design, I could literally listen to Brendan talk all day!

Our host, Simon was as charismatic as ever and deserved every bit of the warm reception he received at the end of the day spurred on by Andy Clarke. New Adventures was one of the most enjoyable, forward-thinking and community focussed events I have attended. Simply fantastic.

Suggested Reading

Build Conference 2010 - My experience graph

I spent four days in Belfast at the beginning of November at the fantastic Build Conference which in reality is a Web Design Festival. Andy McMillan put on 5 days worth of events for the attendees in what is quickly turning into the mini-SXSW of Europe. From Book Clubs and Exhibitions, to Evening Lectures and Pub Quizzes, to Launch Parties and Film Screenings, you would be forgiven for not realising there was an inspiring conference to be had in the middle.

Build Conference 2010 - My experience graph

I’ll spare you my detailed diagnosis as others have written well about the days speakers at length which I have linked to below. It was a joy to meet the super talented Keegan Jones, Tim Brown was a masterful speaker and Liz Danzico really impressed me with… the pause. Frank’s intelligence and wit were provoking and it was a real honour to hear Dan Cederholm talk so passionately about pushing forward with CSS3 today. All in all, the best web event I’ve attended.

Suggested Reading

Brooklyn Beta 2010 - My experience graph

The inaugural Brooklyn Beta Conference was held on the 21st & 22nd of October 2010 and it was a phenomenal success. Cameron Koczon and Chris Shiflett created an inspiring event held over two days at The Invisible Dog Gallery in Brooklyn that started with four half day workshops from Simon Collison, Meagan Fisher, Patrick Lauke and David Kaneda.

Brooklyn Beta 2010 Experience Graph

The main event hosted talks from six inspiring speakers who spoke about their experiences, trials and tribulations of creating products and businesses. I’m almost certain every single person in the audience left the event wanting to go create something new for themselves, I know I certainly did.

Shelly Bernstein is the Chief of Technology at the Brooklyn Museum and spoke about how successful the museum had been in employing social media to increase foot traffic and buzz at the venue. Their use of foursquare was particularly interesting and has proved to be a big success.

Elliot Jay Stocks spoke about his fantastic type magazine 8 faces, where the idea came from, the steps he went through from start to the final product and the issues he had with fulfilment and resolving things on a limited print run.

Cameron Moll first played a well put together video of the Brooklyn Bridge that he may or may not be studying for a future endeavour, then went on to speak about the story behind Authentic Jobs and how he turned this fantastic little side project on his blog into a fully-fledged business that supports him and his family.

Kevin Cheng is the Product Lead of #newtwitter and spoke well about how that came to be, the iterative steps involved in making such a big change with a small core design and development team. Most interesting to me were Doug Bowman’s mockups of what a #newtwitter could have looked like, you need to track these down if you can – I know which ones I prefer!

Marco Arment who recently left Tumblr to work on Instapaper full-time was another very inspiring speaker who talking about taking his small side-project that he created initially just for himself and has managed to turn into a successful business that is now his sole focus.

Lastly Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures spoke about what he thought were the 10 golden rules of successful web apps. As a VC Fred obviously has great insight into what these are and I’m sure it was very reassuring for people creating web apps to hear these things from someone so successful. What I liked most about Fred’s talk at the end of the day was the relaxed nature of a 20 minute talk and 20 minute Q&A session, this is rarely done at conferences and I feel it’s something we should be seeing more off. It was a super way to end the day.

One of the real highlights of the day was the several hours after the last speaker came off when pizza and beer arrived and everyone was able to have a chance to talk to one another, to the speakers themselves and other attendees in an awesome environment. There was no blaring music to shout over, nor was it too cramped or hot. Cameron and Chris really nailed the overall experience of getting a bunch of really awesome designers, developers and business folk in one room to talk shop!

As a whole this was an incredibly hard experience graph to create, all of the speakers were fantastic and even the demos were enjoyable to watch (if slightly pitchy). Furthermore the audience that attended Brooklyn Beta was of the highest caliber, it was a true delight to be there and I would highly highly recommend it for next year.

dConstruct 2010 - My experience graph

The sixth year of dConstruct may very well have been its best to date and it certainly was from my point of view. Design & Creativity was this years tag line and it was right up my street, it’s safe to say I came away from the conference with a lot of thought and inspiration.

dConstruct 2010 Experience Graph

The selection of speakers and topics at this years event was fantastic, it was nice to have big names like John Gruber and Merlin Mann come across but likewise it was great to finally get to hear Brendan Dawes and David McCandless speak.

Robbie Manson has written an insightful overview from each of the talks and I would highly recommend you simply download the audio from the talks and dive right in. As usual, a fantastic event that I look forward to attending again.

My passion for Side Projects

I have written about why I think Side Projects are massively important and something everyone should be doing regardless of full-time employment or being freelance before on several occasions in How to stay sane when freelancing from home & Why I love being freelance.

Now I’m planning on speaking about it at SXSW Interactive Conference 2011 in Austin, Texas next March. Infact, I am that passionate about it that I am part of two fantastic panel line ups:

Collaboration Nation: How Side-Projects Can Keep You Relevant →

Pet Personal Projects for Fun and Profit →

If you plan on attending SXSW and are interested in this topic or either of the panels specifically I would be grateful for your vote. Thanks.

Empowering Users with Two-Sided Incentives

Drew Houston the co-founder and CEO of Dropbox gave a talk at Startup Lessons Learned in San Francisco on the 23rd of April and he spoke about the Customer Development Case Study for Dropbox. I highly recommend you go and watch the video, it’s interesting and inspiring.

What was particularly fascinating to me was their switch in strategy from using paid-for advertising such as AdWords to a referral system that actually worked. Their referral program rewards not only the person who is sending out the link, but also the person who signed up because of clicking on the link. Both parties receive an extra 250MB of space. It’s proved to be such a success for them that it has permanently increased their signups by 60%!

My Dropbox Referral URL looks like this for example:

So often I see spammy looking referrer URLs just like the one above that people link to and 9 times out of 10 I’ll copy the URL and remove the referrer code. The biggest issue I have is the random unfriendliness of these links, my username or email address instead of the garbled noise at the end would probably work out even better for Dropbox!

I think more companies running referral programs need to start empowering their users and rewarding customers the way Dropbox has. Imagine if for example clicking on an Amazon affiliate link to a product not only earned the referrer a little extra coin, but gave you the customer a slight discount as well. Win win.

DIBI Conference - My experience graph

The inaugural DIBI Conference kicked off on Wednesday 28th of April 2010, hosted at The Sage Gateshead by Newcastle and was a split conference for both designers and developers. Organised by Codeworks and brought to you in no small part by Gavin Elliott, it was the first big web conference this far north since Edinburgh’s infamous Highland Fling’s of 2007 & 2008.

Dibi Conference

DIBI: Design It, Build It was an interesting concept bringing both developers and designers together in one location for a two-track conference that you could freely roam between. I was particularly interested in most of the design side of the conference but hear the development side was just as good.

I am not going to go too in-depth on individual speakers talks, you will be happy to know they will be available to watch online in a few weeks time if you couldn’t make the event or the online broadcast. I have yet to find out how successful that particular option was, hopefully we do soon.

Adii talked about how design should be a key focus of any startup, it was an interesting start to the day and is definitely something I am a firm believer in. Adii managed to answer some tough questions on commoditising great design and personal branding, he handled these well.

Sarah spoke honestly about the principles of iPhone UI design the struggles designers can face and managed to cover a good array of tips in a short amount of time.

Tim blasted through his 2020: A Design Odyssey discussion and emphasised the need for designers to continue evolving else you’ll turn into lazy monkeys. Always interesting to hear Tim speak and the extended Q&A session was a refreshing take that I hope we see at more events soon.

Simon spoke in depth about the theory behind design and how we should be bringing these offline thoughts into our online work. There was a wealth of information in Simon’s talk and some great book recommendations to boot.

Dan presented us with a unique and interesting way to handle usability testing that is so simple and effective. In-browser prototyping and fast iteration during testing sessions looks like it might be a thing of the future.

Andy was last to speak and is always a treat to hear, he spoke about working with the most modern and interesting CSS techniques and designing from the top down with best browsers first. Always inspirational and Andy talks about everything I very firmly believe in.

Gowalla vs Foursquare

Gowalla vs Foursquare

Some Highlights:

  • Pre-party Venue and general good times.
  • Gowalla vs Foursquare banter with Tim! ;)
  • Location – The Sage was a great conference venue.
  • Field Notes on Entry, Red Bull’s at the Afternoon Break.
  • All of the Design side Speakers.
  • Catching up with friends and new faces.


  • Lunch – I can’t imagine cooking for 325 people is easy.
  • Sponsored Talks – Always a Catch 22.
  • After Party – More on this below.

The After Parties at all web conferences suffer from the same problems, a small and crowded venue, too dark and always with music that is way too loud. It’s been an inherent problem for me across the board, FOWD, dConstruct, Build & now DIBI. I love a party as much as the next person but after a super successful event I want to then be able to talk with people and not have to yell in their ears. Hopefully better locations can be sought after at future events.

To wrap up, DIBI was a super successful and very enjoyable event from start to finish. Gavin and the Codeworks team really nailed their first conference and I can say without any hesitation that this will very likely be a conference worth attending again next year.

Web designers who can't code, need to read this book

Upon returning from my month long vacation down-under I arrived home to see that the ‘should designers be able to code’ debate had reared its head once again, there has been plenty said about that already and it is certainly an interesting discussion.

HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions – A Web Standardistas’ Approach →

HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions - A Web Standardistas' Approach

This book by Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson is the book to read if you are wanting to learn how to write standards-compliant XHTML and CSS the right way. I have been fortunate enough to meet both Chris & Nic on several occasions, have had lengthy discussions with them about how web standards should be taught and also managed to sneak into their workshop at Build Conference. These guys are teaching the right stuff the right way.

Occasionally I am approached by designers looking for someone to write the markup and CSS for their designs and it is always easy to tell who knows how to design for the web and who does not. This is the book I will be recommending from now on, it covers all the fundamentals of web standards today in one neat package that I would thoroughly recommend to anyone looking to learn. Check out the Web Standardistas.

Sam Brown co-founded Iterate, and was previously VP of Design at Foursquare. Based in NYC.