Archive for ‘cork’d’ category

Cork’d Finds a New Home

When “Dan Benjamin”: and I launched “Cork’d”: a year ago, our primary goal was achieved immediately: building something we _personally_ wanted to use to discover and share wine. Twelve months later, it turns out other people wanted to use it as well, and we’ve had a blast listening to the community, improving the site and watching it grow (to over 20,000 users today).
One thing became clear throughout the evolution though: that the site always deserved far more attention than it received from its founders. We were building Cork’d on nights and weekends, and keeping up with new site features, member requests, etc. often took a backseat to other client work and dayjobs. Cork’d needed a new home — but not just any.
h4. A New Home
After talks with companies large and small, we realized we didn’t want Cork’d to become just an advertising bucket for a media company that would most likely let it fizzle out. It was important to us to find a home that would _get_ what the site does and how it uniquely fit in the wine world. We’re happy to announce today that *Cork’d has been acquired by a newly formed company* with “Gary Vaynerchuk”: of “Wine Library TV”: at the helm.
“Gary”: has been changing the wine world as host of WLTV has built a rabid following of wine fans (“Vayniacs”, they’re called — myself included) with his energetic take on making wine _fun_ — this is precisely the same mantra we had building Cork’d. But Gary also really _knows_ wine — something Dan B. nor I can really claim. The recycling guy in my neighborhood knows how much I love wine (and regularly) — but that doesn’t mean I _know_ wine. You know? To get an idea of the show, be sure to check out “this video summary”:
Gary really _gets_ community. And with his mix of knowledge, energy, fresh take on wine, and his embracing of technology and the web, we’ve found a _perfect_ fit. And that’s really what’s most important for the site — that Cork’d continue to grow under an organization that gets wine, gets the web, gets what Cork’d was trying to do, etc.
We’re excited that Gary along with “Rails”: whiz “Erik Kastner”: will be able to take the site to the next level (something it’s always deserved), integrating Cork’d and live tasting, having a real wine authority behind it. Cork’d will not only continue on — but it’ll get even better. For the last month or so, we’d been helping transition the site over, and out of that came some cool new features:
* A switch to the more widely used 100-point rating system.
* “Cork Board” on every profile page to start discussion between members.
* Easy import of wines for CellarTracker members.
* New identity and layout for Wine Library TV, to further tie the two destinations together.
Gary and team have more things in the works like support for “OpenID”:, mobile and more. Dan B. and I will remain on as advisors, but we leave the site in very capable and enthusaistic hands. Cheers to WLTV and the future of Cork’d!
h4. A Learning Experience
The last year has been a tremendous learning experience on so many levels. Sure it’s just a little wine site that Dan B. and I created in our spare time — but the process of building, maintaining, and transitioning was filled with lessons and “ah, so that’s how this all works” moments.
Working with Dan B. taught me volumes about how Rails can be a fantastic environment for designers to create in. I’ve talked about it before — but the concept of using “Subversion”: (SVN) and “chipping” away at the interface _in real time_ made it a bit like sculpting the application. I’m hooked.
I credit Dan B.’s talent as a developer for being able to easily handle the real brunt of the work here — having spent most of my time handing over XHTML and CSS templates to clients and then walking away, seeing and _learning_ how everything falls into place by watching Dan work his magic was invaluable. And fun.
Read more about “the Cork’d acquisition over at Hivelogic”:
h4. What’s Next?
It’s been a busy Spring, with the Cork’d transition, large client projects, and a book revision in the works. But I’m looking forward to the Summer to brainstorm on the future. An office move, expansion and a new SimpleBits-branded product are all probable — we’ll just see how all the juggling goes.

Microformats for Designers

In a little less than two months, I’ll be heading to Vancouver to speak about “microformats for designers” at Web Directions North. It’ll be a fun topic, and I’m starting to put together the material. I’m looking forward to talking about microformats from a designer’s perspective, including a little bit about the logo development, the implementations over at Cork’d (and the unexpected cool things that came out of that), as well as applying CSS to microformats.

But I’m also looking for help. What are some interesting things happening with microformats and design? Know of any great examples, visual experiments, etc.? Here are a few to get started:

I know there’s a lot happening out there, so let’s hear about it. And thanks!

Upcoming Speaking Events

A few years ago I would’ve told you that two of my biggest fears are: flying and public speaking. Thankfully, that’s no longer entirely true, and like anything, the more you tackle things that frighten the hell out of you, the easier (and even enojoyable) they become.

That said, I’ve lined up a few speaking events that I’m quite excited about, and conveniently they’ve all been just announced within the past few days:

  • Carson Workshop: Bulletproof Design with XHTML and CSS

    November 2, 2006 9:30am-5:30pm ·

    Having a whole day will be excellent for diving deeper into the concepts and techniques described in the book. I’ll be using the design of Cork’d as a model for much of the day, discussing the bulletproof methods for designing with lean markup and flexible style. It’s also a bit daunting having an entire day — but the 40 seat limit will (I hope) create a two-way conversation, and I’m looking forward to talking about things that would otherwise get tossed out of a short presentation. I also like the commute to this.

  • Web Directions North

    February 6-10, 2007 ·

    The best conference of the southerrn hemisphere comes north to Canada. Brought to you by John Allsopp and Maxine Sherrin of Westciv, Dave Shea and Derek Featherstone. A great lineup, and skiing at Whistler. I’ll be talking about microformats (with more details to follow).

  • @media 2007 (America)

    May 24-25, 2007 ·
    San Francisco

    The best conference in Europe comes stateside!

  • @media 2007 (Europe)

    June 7-8, 2007 ·

    Vivabit knows how to put a really great conference together. Last year’s event was fantastically organized and a real blast. Wish the World Cup happend every year though.

Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be speaking about this year at @media yet (a conference that’s gone tri-continental this year, with a stop in Hong Kong as well). Actually, feel free to suggest something in the comments (topics could include “ukuleles” or “designing with baby toys”).

Pairing Wine and Microformats

While working on Cork’d, I realized this was a perfectly fine excuse to implement some microformats. What goes great with a nice 2003 Pinot Noir? Meaningful markup, naturally.

We’re currently using three microformats on Cork’d:

  • hCard (for member profiles)
  • hReview (for wine reviews or “tasting notes”)
  • rel-tag (for indicating tag links)

Our implementations aren’t perfect, but it’s a start. The rest of this article will talk about how we implemented hReview for member-entered tasting notes (example) and specifically how I used CSS to style the markup.


Cork’d Update #2

I’m going to try not to post general Cork’d news here, instead saving it for the Cork’d Blog, but we’ve just rolled out some new features that are too big and exciting not to talk about. I’m looking forward to sharing more design-specific stuff here at SimpleBits, but I’m not looking to bore those that aren’t interested in wine (and/or wine web sites).

We’re (Still) Listening

Member feedback has been enormously valuable since we popped Cork’d (now just 2 weeks ago). We’ve been listening to what you guys want to see implemented, evaluating what makes sense, and acting on it. So far, every new feature we’ve added has been a direct response to member feedback. Dan B. has been working feverishly on turning “it would be really cool if…” into reality. And that’s been really fun. A true wine community has been born.

There’s a real difference between being a hired hand on a project for a specific amount of time and someone who has ownership as well as passion for what they’re working on (ownership and passion can be exclusive as well, but combined, they pack quite a punch). The short-term, part-time attention of a freelance designer or developer can often lead to clunky, duct-taped solutions after the contract is over and the site is actually being used by real people. Cork’d has been the complete opposite situation, where we’ve been able to launch a product that would be considered “done” under most circumstances and then react to member feedback using the same attention to detail that went into the initial construction.

Now, on to the brand-new features that we’ve just rolled out to help make Cork’d even better.

Browsing and Advanced Search

Many members requested an easier way to browse wine on Cork’d. Now you can find wine by category, varietal, region, winery, year, price and more. If you want to look under the hood to see all the great wines being added and reviewed on Cork’d, here’s the place to start.

Speaking of finding wine, there’s now a brand new advanced search that allows searching a term in addition to refining by any of the categories mentioned above, and sorting the results as well.

Buddy Messaging

messages tabAnother frequent request was the ability for members to communicate with each other. Now they can with the new buddy messaging, built right into the site. Send messages to your buddies or other Cork’d members. Tell them you love them. Tell them often.

Bottle Quantities

Own more than one bottle of the same wine? Then you’ll probably want to denote and keep track of that in your Wine Cellar (a list of wines that you own). Now you can add and edit quantities for wines both in your Wine Cellar and Shopping List (a list of wines you want to buy). Managing your wine collection just got a whole lot easier.


As with our first update, there was also more than a handful of other tweaks and improvements, like showing more information in wine lists, suggesting related wines on wine review pages and more.

A sustained “thank you” to all the members for continued feedback and suggestions. You’re helping us make Cork’d better and we think that’s pretty cool (plus, we like making Cork’d better). Stay tuned here for more nuts-and-bolts thoughts on the design of the site, and be sure to subscribe to the Cork’d Blog RSS feed for future updates and other cool news.

Introducing Cork’d

I like wine. I’ve even touted it’s ability to act as a design enhancer. The problem with wine (for me, and for many) is knowing what’s good. There are infinite choices out there. It’s overwhelming. Oftentimes, I lean on the suggestions from friends — people that probably know more about wine than I do.

When I finally find a wine that I like, it’s always impossible to remember it for the next trip to the store. Some people keep a journal, writing down what they thought about the wine in a notebook. But wouldn’t it be great if you could do this online? And wouldn’t it be also great if we could share those lists with our friends through a simple, free interface? And while we’re at it, wouldn’t it be the if this same interface allowed you to review the wine, tag it, and set up lists for wines that you want to buy or that you own in your cellar?

Cork'dIntroducing Cork’d. A brand-spanking new site devoted to reviewing and sharing wine created by Dan Benjamin and myself. We’ve been working on this for quite some time. Just the two of us. Call us the Bartles & Jaymes of the wine web world (wait, no, don’t do that).

What is Cork’d?

Cork'd screenshotThe basic gist of Cork’d is this: after painlessly creating a free account, you’re able to keep track of wines you’ve tried in your Wine Jounal. You can rate, review and tag wines (more on that below), and these “tasting notes” end up attatched as comments to each wine in our database. You can also build a Shopping List of wines you’d like to buy (think of this like you would a Netflix queue), and a Wine Cellar for wines that you own. Keeping track of what your friends are tasting is as easy as adding them as a Drinking Buddy. You can also recommend wines to your buddies after you’ve rated and reviewed a bottle.

We have a partnership set up through, where a selection of their bottles have seeded the Cork’d database with about 1200 wines (which will grow as members add their own bottles), each with a link to buy that wine right away. But we can also see other cross-promotional opportunities by getting involved in the meat-space wine community. There are endless ideas flowing about connecting with wineries and vineyards, other wine blogs and podcasts. We’re really looking forward to watching it all grow.

Tasting Tags

The idea of tagging a wine may sound absurd — but when we started to realize the benefits, it became a must-have. We call them tasting tags, and by applying keywords like “oak, pepper, vanilla, berry” to a wine, we’re then making it easy to find similar wines based on those flavors. If you like oaky wines, for instance, then it should be easy to find them.

Why and How

What’s funny about Cork’d when looking at it for the first time, is that it’s pulling in many of the current technologies that have been brewing out there, and applies them to… wine. And why not? This is something Dan B. and I built quite simply because we wanted to use it. We’d been trading favorite bottles, realizing there would be an incredible benefit to keep track of things through a web interface, building a community around it, and making it easy to subscribe to buddies and wine lists. It had to be.

It’ll also be interesting to continue to talk about what we learned by building a web application with a team of 2. Working with Dan B. is a natural fit, as our areas of expertise overlap only slightly (design/ui/development), and where they do overlap actually made things run all the smoother. I was continually amazed by the way Dan approached building the app in Ruby on Rails, the speed, the structure, the way he thinks about a problem for a while, then takes all of about 3 minutes to write the working code — he’s a developer who designs in code. And I’m sure he’ll have much to write about regarding the process, including his already-published thoughts on the launch over at Hivelogic (far more thorough than mine).

This was a giant learning experience for me in terms of dipping my toes in Rails, becoming more familiar with Subversion (more on this later), and in using these tools as a collaborative and iterative way of building a web application. It’s a gratifying way for a designer to work on a large project, chipping away at things in real time, using real data — it’s a bit like sculpting. An evolution.

Go Forth and Uncork

I’m excited to share much more about the site over the coming weeks and months, and we’ll be rolling out some additional features and tweaks. But until then, if you dig wine (or want to start digging wine), then head on over and, um … uncorkCork’d.