Building sandcastles on the Web

North American Sandsculpting Championship

2007 North American Sandsculpting Championship, Virgina Beach, Va.

As I’ve been figuring out what to do next, I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about what I’ve done in the past. The sad reality of building Web products is that your work quickly disappears. Just as waves and winds tear down sandcastles, the rapid pace of innovation on the Web means that your best accomplishments get wiped away.

Despite all of the talk about newspapers having failed to innovate these are some of the things we did at the Star Tribune:

  • Created one of the first dynamic publishing systems.
  • Launched a local Yellow Pages product, complete with maps and driving directions.
  • Launched a home search with full MLS listings. Someone actually ran a tape over to the building from the MLS offices to make this work. It even had Google Street View-type pictures of all the homes in a neighborhood.
  • Created a searchable entertainment guide.

We even tried to get people to pay for news! (It didn’t work in the mid-’90s, it won’t work now.)

That work has been washed away, as has most of my other work. My work at Tellme still exists, but experiencing that requires buying a new Ford.

Sure, I have screenshots of some of the products I’ve created. But they don’t capture the essence of  the work. If a Web site can be captured in a screenshot, its creator didn’t do a good job.

My longest lasting legacy is partnering with genius designer Jamie Hutt to create the weather mascot for Someone had pointed out that there was a thermometer on the roof of the Star Tribune building that was recording the temperature for the Strib’s audiotext system. We decided to incorporate that reading on to the front page. To capture some local flavor, we made the weather icon a snowman. He appears differently depending on the weather. This a typical summer look:

Star Tribune Snowman

My favorite is when it gets really hot — you see a puddle with glasses and a carrot. The snowman’s look and placement have changed over the years but the essence of the idea remains.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
This entry was posted in journalism, newspapers, product management. Bookmark the permalink.