Ode.La: Making Writing Fun Again


A great thing about a place like Reverb is that it’s bursting with talent. Besides the terrific work done for the company, people show their chops through their passions outside of work, whether it’s music, photography, building bicycles, racing motorcycles, or writing books.

Ayush Gupta is a freelance developer who has been consulting with Wordnik and Reverb for almost three years. He’s a full stack engineer who works on everything from data and deployment to building user interfaces. In his spare time, he enjoys creating consumer-centric Internet apps.

Today we spoke with Ayush about one of his projects, ode.la, a site dedicated to writing and having fun with words, something right up Wordnik’s alley.

What is ode.la and who is it for?

ode.la is an online community for anyone who likes creative writing, the way SoundCloud is music lovers. Our focus is on keeping things playful, away from the stress of getting published. ode.la is like a playground or gym – a place to workout your creative writing muscle.

What inspired you to start ode.la?

In the writing world there exists a fixation on getting published which is unhealthy and a terrible killjoy to the love for creative writing. We wanted to create a stress-free environment where people can just enjoy the art of writing with others who respect and love it too.

At ode.la we won’t get you published, but we’ll sure help you have fun writing. Whether it’s about a train ride back home with your five-year old daughter, urban angst, mosquitoes, or a road trip. At ode.la there are a lot of fun things to do around writing. You can post challenges or writing prompts for others, or play writing games where you take turns adding to a story. There’s a writing app that helps you find your inner voices.

Did your work with Wordnik influence you?

Absolutely! I’ve always loved writing and words but it was at Wordnik that I got an opportunity to apply computing to language and words. Working with the awesome computational linguists at Wordnik and Reverb helped me learn so much about a field of work that I’d paid little attention to earlier. I started toying around with topic modeling and some other text algorithms. That eventually resulted the first version of ode.la.

How did you come up with the name?

I wanted something short which evokes writing and has a lyrical ring to it. After torturing myself contemplating some really terrible names (dottededge.com!), I bolted out of bed late one night, punched in ode.la, saw it was available, and bought it. The rest is history.

What are some challenges that you faced while creating your product?

We knew that online communities which focus on specific interests (SoundCloud, Flickr, Vimeo, Ravelry) do well. But we had no idea how such a community would look for writing. The biggest challenge was creating an experience around writing that was playful. While we’ve been successful with that, we’re organically funded at the moment, so the biggest challenge we’re facing right now is how to scale our community when we don’t have a lot of money to spend.

What have you learned?

The world of writing and writers was new to us and there have been some interesting lessons along the way. All artistic pursuit reveals something about its creator – this is perhaps truer of creative writing than other abstracts art forms. When pursuit of writing is treated seriously, it leads to a “stiff collar syndrome” and people are hesitant to share. Also, writing is often a solitary activity but once it’s done, people want to connect with others through that written piece.

We’ve applied those learnings at ode.la and through our online experience lowered the threshold to create, share, and engage with others around writing.

What’s the feedback been like? Anything surprising?

It has been amazing. We regularly hear things like, “Wow! Wordplays are great, they seem like a kind of literary chess.” People appreciate the little features like “the little scramble of words that shows up on your profile screen from the words you wrote.” In interviews we’ve heard repeatedly that writing is therapeutic and users feel drawn to ode.la when they feel like engaging with creative writing.

What advice would you give someone interested in creating their own product?

Find a need that people have and dig in deep. Explore the labyrinth of the need you’re addressing but don’t get lost. Keep a wider perspective but stay anchored to short term goals.

It helps to address a need you can relate to so you’re building a product you’d like to use yourself. Don’t risk burnout by doing too much; do less but do often. Don’t over-optimize or over-engineer.

Be ready to reinvent. Don’t get emotionally attached to specific things. If something stinks it’s probably rotting – don’t spray air freshener on it. Cut it out and throw it away.

Dream but don’t fool yourself. Never drink your own Kool-Aid. Focus on what’s interesting for your users, not what’s interesting for you to build.

Most of all have fun doing it. It takes a lot of effort to create something from scratch. If you’re not having fun, it won’t go anywhere.

[Photo: CC BY-ND 2.0 by Silvia Viñuales]

Welcome Hannah and Tom!

We’re happy to welcome two new folks to the Wordnik team!

First off — Hannah!

Welcome Hannah!

Hannah Russin is a marketer with broad experience in both B2B and B2C customer acquisition. Prior to joining Wordnik, Hannah worked at start-ups, including GREE, Clean Power Finance, AdRoll, and Sungevity, where she focused on communications and acquisition channels, including mobile UA, SEO, SEM, email marketing, website optimization, and social media outreach. Hannah began her start-up career as the eighth employee at Sungevity, where she built everything from her desk to a marketing strategy that helped grow Sungevity into a top solar installer in California. When she’s not working, she’s organizing events, people, and un-alphabatizing her bookshelf, or attempting to improve her cooking skills. Hannah holds a BA degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.

And Tom!

Welcome Tom!

Tom Naughton comes to Wordnik from Apple where he spent 15 years working on localization, internationalization, WebObjects, and Xcode. Prior to that, he worked on edutainment titles at MECC including The Oregon Trail. He studied French, Japanese, and Computer Science at Michigan State University, and Computational Linguistics at San José State University.

In his spare time, Tom likes to read non-fiction, work on iOS applications, ride his Harley, and stare at spectrograms.

We’re very glad to have Hannah and Tom with us!

Welcome Beatrice, Rami, and Tiger!

The Wordnik office is hopping lately — we’d like to welcome three new Wordniks: Beatrice, Rami, and Tiger!

Beatrice Bernard

Beatrice has been instrumental in building and optimizing the office and process infrastructure for numerous start-up companies across Silicon Valley. Most recently she was at Criteo, an advertising re-targeting company, where she successfully managed all aspects of several company moves as the team grew from 0 to 80 US employees (450 worldwide). While working for the French-based company she was able to hone her language skills to interact with corporate HQ as well as better understand jokes told by the French expats and interns.

Beatrice has held similar positions at Habeas, Flowpoint/Efficient Networks, and a few others, in all cases handling whatever needed to be done to facilitate the growth and expansion of those companies. Born and raised in Switzerland (although she does not ski or yodel), she brings to each job a passion, commitment, and attention to detail that have been key to her career success over the years. In her spare time, she tries to stay healthy and likes to hike, do yoga, read, and is slightly obsessed with Sudoku (but her real passion is adventure travel).

Rami Habal

Rami comes to Wordnik from cloud security leader Proofpoint, where he was an early employee and instrumental in growing the business to an IPO filing, holding various product and marketing roles. Prior to Proofpoint, Rami held positions at Mohr Davidow Ventures, Cisco, Hughes Electronics and several startups. Rami has also cofounded 2 non-profits, started 3 businesses and serves as an advisor to early stage startups in Silicon Valley. In addition to an MBA from MIT and an MPA from Harvard, Rami has a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Virginia. Rami is passionate about form+function, the post-pc mobile hypernet, discovering new things, Moleskine notebooks and jazz. Follow him on Twitter at @rhabal.

Tiger Lan

Tiger Lan is a seasoned technology veteran with expertise in large-scale web software development and operations. His mantra is “Ship it!” Tiger has successfully built up strong and talented engineering teams at Reputation.com as CTO and VPE, and at Plaxo as Head of Development, and his focus has always been on developing entrepreneurial developers in an engineering-driven company culture. Tiger holds a BS in Computer Science from Tsinghua University in Beijing China and an MS in Computer Science from Michigan State University.

Remember, you can always find out more about the folks at Wordnik by checking out our team page.

Welcome Gregg!

We’re happy to announce the addition of Gregg Carrier to Wordnik!

Gregg Carrier

Gregg joins us as a Senior Server Engineer and comes to us from DreamWorks Animation, where he worked on core service infrastructure for their next generation of animation tools. Gregg has also taught community college CS classes, beertended in the Anderson Valley, worked at a winery, was a park ranger at Shenandoah National Park, and has been a ski instructor!

In his non-server-engineering time, Gregg homebrews (and has for 18 years!), loves scuba diving, hiking, and camping (and is waiting for his two little boys to get big enough to do those things, too). He also plays the ukulele and spins glow poi. Gregg (the extra ‘g’ is for ‘great’) can be reached at gregg@wordnik.com.

Welcome Alex!

We’re happy to announce the addition of Alex Le to Wordnik!

Alex joins Wordnik as a Senior UI Engineer and has been tasked with making our Javascript more caffeinated and our Ruby shinier.

Alex fell in love with Ruby on Rails at an airport and it was love at first sight. During the day he’s a Rails/JavaScript guy, but at night he helps people get happily married with his wedding planning tool, Marrily.com.

When not working, he likes chilling, reading, Netflixing, browsing HackerNews, and playing his piano. He can be reached at alex@wordnik.com.

Welcome Will!

We’re happy to announce the addition of Will Fitzgerald to Wordnik!

Will is leading the effort to build Wordnik’s analytics platform. Before coming to Wordnik, Will was a senior research development engineer for Microsoft’s Bing search engine. He joined Microsoft as part of their acquisition Powerset and their semantic search engine, where he was in the first round of employees. While at Powerset, Will led the development of their lexical server (a kind of Wordnik light) and spent a lot of time tuning models to find references to people, places, and organizations.

Prior to Bing and Powerset, Will helped build an autonomous helicopter for NASA, led some translation projects at Canada’s National Research Council, taught computer science, built dialog systems for NASA and others. He got his PhD from Northwestern University at the Institute for the Learning Sciences, where he built semantic dialog systems for embedding in educational tools.

Will proudly evidences the Northern Cities Shift, likes to sing loudly, and is an editor of The Trumpet, a thrice-annual periodical for singers and writers of dispersed harmony and fasola music. Based on a statistical analysis of his writings, his favorite word is the. He blogs at Will.Whim, and can be reached at will@wordnik.com.

Welcome JeanFrancois!

We are very happy to welcome both JeanFrancois Arcand and Atmosphere to Wordnik!

JF at Wordnik

JeanFrancois already improving the Atmosphere at Wordnik

JeanFrancois is a contributor to the extremely popular Apache Tomcat web server and created the GlassFish web container. He authored project Grizzlyand the Glassfish v3 micro-kernel, a framework for creating NIO and HTTP applications. JeanFrancois led the GlassFish Application Server project including its migration to open-source. Grizzly was one of the first production ajax push+comet frameworks, the technology which brought “chat” to the web.

At Ning and Sonatype he went on to author the Asynchronous HTTP Client (AHC), a client library for asynchronous java remote event processing. He conceived of Atmosphere, a framework for real-time communications through HTTP streaming, Comet, and WebSockets and has been leading it ever since. He was an active member for NIO.2 and Servlet 3.0 JSP committee.

JeanFrancois will work on Wordnik’s software architecture and algorithms, and Wordnik will become the sponsor of the open-source Atmosphere framework. We welcome him and his framework to the team!