I’m excited to present an interview today with Maciej Ceglowski, the developer behind Pinboard.in. Pinboard is an increasingly popular bookmarking service, taking up where Delicious left off. It’s a for-pay app with a unique pricing structure, as well as a subscription link archival service.
I first reviewed Pinboard last December after it seemed that Delicious was being shut down. Since then, it’s become one of the web apps I rely on the most, and we’ve included it in a number of recent roundups. I store all of my new bookmarks in it, but then it also automatically imports my Instapaper and Twitter favorites, and saves an archive of all my Tweets. It’s this seemless integration that has made Pinboard an irreplaceable part of my workflow.
After the break, Marciej shares with us some of his development tools, thoughts on design, and some unique Pinboard features.
Tell us a bit about yourself and Pinboard. Is Pinboard a 1 man operation?
I started Pinboard in the spring of 2009 and opened it up to paying users in early July of that year. I do all the development on the site myself. My girlfriend helps out with billing and localization.
What’s your daily workflow like? What apps do you find crucial to your work?
Most of my day to day work involves handling routine support requests through email and Twitter. This typically means just answering questions or logging in to the server to find out why something’s not working right for a user. I use TweetDeck as a Twitter client although it’s pretty awful, just because I don’t have time to try much new stuff and I’m familiar with it.
For development work on the site I use BBEdit and run a local version of Pinboard on my laptop. I use Subversion as my code repository and update the production servers after pretty much every change with a simple script. I don’t have any kind of staging or testing server.
What makes bookmarking uniquely challenging?
People are (understandably) very risk-averse when it comes to their bookmarks, so it is very important not to spook users. An archiving site like ours is meant to be around for decades, so I need to be very conservative in how I run the site. At the same time, we’re in a field that’s full of free competitors, so I have to constantly make sure we’re offering great value in comparison.
How do you pack so much power into Pinboard’s simple interface? Do you test multiple colors of blue and fuss over each pixel in a line?
No, that way lies madness. I try to find something that looks reasonable on a Mac and a PC, and then stop futzing. If people hate it I ask for suggestions and try again.
Pinboard has one of the most unique pricing schemes of all web apps I’ve seen. How did you come up with it, and in your opinion, is it working good?
The idea came from Joshua Schachter. I wanted some way to keep spammers out of the site, so an up-front fee seemed appealing. He suggested having it go up with each signup, which was a brilliant twist.
I think this worked extremely well for us in early days; now that the site is bigger I’ve scaled down the rate at which the signup fee grows and it’s attracted less attention.
Most web apps are either free or subscriptions. Why do you think more web apps are not sold as a product, with a one-time purchase like Pinboard?
I believe part of it is cultural. We have no problem spending $7 on a meal up front, but paying for a web app (even with a refund policy) seems to give people much more trouble. I also think billing is still very cumbersome, both on the customer and on the developer side. You can see on the Apple app store (where it’s much easier to make a purchase, and where there is a curated collection of apps) that people have no problem paying small amounts for good software.
As for subscription pricing, I think it’s very attractive to developers because it creates a permanent revenue stream and is just as easy to implement as a one-time fee. However, it makes the customer have to constantly re-evaluate whether they are getting value from the product, and creates more work for them if they decide to cancel. I like the simplicity of a one-time fee and hope our customers do too.
One of Pinboard’s best features, in my opinion, is integration with other apps like Instapaper and Twitter. Do you think more and more web apps will start working together like that?
I believe so. There is intense pressure from users to make useful connections with other services, and the technical side is maturing to the point where such connections are easier to set up. I particularly like working with Instapaper since Marco is also a sole developer and the two products are particularly complementary – Pinboard is a kind of long-term archive for many Instapaper users.
Is Pinboard your only job? Any plans for building other apps?
Pinboard is my full-time job. I don’t have plans to work on anything else, and I have a big to-do list for the site.
For the most part, would you rather use a simple app that does one job well, or a larger app that includes every function in the world?
I think drawing the correct border around a feature set is the hardest thing in product design. When you get it right, it feels magical, but you never get it right.
What features might we have missed in Pinboard? Any awesome things most people usually overlook?
I also think the browser plugins are pretty great, since they allow you to quickly save your set of open tabs and give it a name.
Editor’s Note: For some more unique Pinboard features, check out Maciej’s recent blog post: Ten Pinboard Features You Might Not Know About
I’d like to say a special thanks to Maciej for taking time to do this interview with us! Pinboard has taken some extra attention lately after their datacenter was raided, but he’s kept the service running great and still found time to do an interview. Pinboard is an awesome bookmarking service I’ve come to rely on, and it’s a pleasure to get to learn more about how it’s been developed.
If you’re not already using Pinboard, be sure to check it out, and if you have any questions about it, just leave them in the comments below.