I think I’ve just created something that will change the web as we know it. But I’ll write about that another day. Instead, I’m going to talk about a fun new thing I launched last night. Actually, it’s a couple of things.
I owe you a beer.
I say this quite a bit. For friends, family, people that deserve a pat on the back. I also often forget to make good on the promise. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to keep track? And then also keep track of who owed you?
So, I decided to build Foamee (hey, there were plenty of abandoned ‘e’s lying around). It’ll keep track of who you owe beers to and vice versa. But don’t worry, this is NASN (not another socical network). Like you, I’m tired of creating another login, another set of friends/contacts, another avatar and more tears. So instead, Foamee piggy-backs on an existing one. As I was tossing ideas around, I realized a lot of the functionality: short messages directed at another person, web/IM/mobile messaging, etc. already existed elsewhere — so why not make things simpler and utilize the indispensable Twitter as a primary interface for the app?
Using Twitter’s API, Foamee will harvest replies and direct messages to create a barnacle-esque utility (props to Josh Porter for coining that) on the already-popular messaging service. If you’re already on Twitter, using Fomee is as easy as following ioubeer, then using specific syntax to announce an I.O.U. Beer to the world. We’ll repost these virtual pats-on-the-back, and also create a people page for anyone that sends a beer. Your people page will show who you owe, and who owes you. The sender or receiver also has the option of “redeeming” an I.O.U. via a direct message to Foamee, completing the deal.
I realize this is a silly (but potentially useful) service. And I’m excited to see where it leads, if anywhere. What it does now is incredibly simple (and there’s a reason for that, partially explained below). It’s also a shameless brand vehicle. How so, you ask?
Right out of the gate, there are two cool things to buy at the Foamee Store (because two weeks from now, when you’ve long forgotten about this little site, it’d be too late). T-shirts (of course) and I.O.U. Beer Coasters: a pack of six pulpboard coasters shipped in a drawstring cotton bag with a Foamee-branded Mini Sharpie. The coasters have a spot to write your name, perfect for handing out tactile I.O.U.s in person to deserving recipients. They work great in the mail as well. And they are awesome.
Special technical geek notes
Building this little app became a personal challenge. Could I handle the backend as well as the design? Could someone who primarily spends their time worrying about interface solutions roll up their sleeves and create a fully-functional product? And so the process of investigating APIs, databases and frameworks began. It reminded me of the old days, learning HTML (and later CSS) for the first time. Late night experimentation, utter frustration and then those “little victories” that make it all worth it.
Foamee runs on PHP, using the CakePHP framework, which turned out quite well. Cake uses the same model/view/controller setup found in Rails and other frameworks, has a good community and is dead simple to install and move around. I owe Jonathan Snook a beer for blogging about Cake (surely where I heard about it first). My code is likely terrible and other smart folks could probably bang out the same functionality in an afternoon, blindfolded and behind-the-back. But it works, and my familiarity with PHP coupled with my experience with Rails while working with the imitable Dan Benjamin on Cork’d and other projects (I owe him several beers as well) made baking with Cake tolerable for a noob like me.
Foamee is hosted by the fine folks at Media Temple, and I owe them a beer (or twelve) for that.
The motivator here was fun. Fun to build, fun to create for, and (hopefully) fun to use. I’m hoping fun continues to motivate around here — for Foamee and for whatever else cures the constant desire to create. Special thanks to Biz Stone at Twitter for helping tap the keg last night.