Editor's Note: We interviewed Boston-based TipTheWeb founders Dave Fogel and Eric Ferraiuolo by email for this Guest Post post.
The PayPal X Developer Conference, Innovate 2010, runs tomorrow and Wednesday in San Francisco at Moscone West, and YDN will be there. Stop by and visit us on the show floor — we've got booth #G7. Don't miss technology evangelist, Jon LeBlanc, who'll be speaking on Wednesday at 1:00 pm in Room 2020 about enhancing payment tools and services with YQL.
We're also excited to introduce Eric Ferraiuolo and Dave Fogel, creators of TipTheWeb, PayPal X Developer Challenge Yahoo! Award finalist. Dave and Eric will have a demo station at Innovate to show off their app. In the meantime, here's an introduction to TipTheWeb and the work they've done with YQL and YUI. We won't meet in person till tomorrow, so for now, we're sharing the conversation via email.
So, what is TipTheWeb?
DF (Dave Fogel): TipTheWeb is a service that lets you directly support your favorite web content by tipping it. There's a lot of great stuff that people publish online, and our vision is that as you browse the web and you find something you like, you can decide you want to support it by clicking our "Tip It" bookmarklet or button. Choose an amount, such as "25 cents", and then just continue on with whatever you're doing. Later, you can come back and fund your Tips by making a donation to TipTheWeb (we're non-profit), and we make monthly awards to publishers accordingly.
What kind of things can you Tip?
EF (Eric Ferraiuolo): Pretty much anything that has a URL and is publicly accessible. Things like blog articles, photos, videos, (we've integrated with sites like YouTube, Flickr, etc.), but also things like recipes, how-to instructions, essays and games. We're also pretty excited about the
potential for musicians publishing their music for free on their website and making money from the Tips their fans leave, as well as TipTheWeb being used to support open source projects.
How did you guys get started on TipTheWeb?
DF: I had the idea for an online tipping service sometime in 2003-2004, but at the time it seemed too hard to do, so I just wrote
it down in a notebook. One of the core parts of that idea was that a tipping service would never get off the ground if it required that all potential recipients sign up with the service before anyone could tip them — the classic chicken and egg problem — so it would be important that users be able to tip first and let the service figure out the rest.
Eric and I met working at another company a few years ago, where we discovered that we worked together really well, and had a lot of similar ideas about what's important about the Internet. So when we left that company we decided to take the plunge and try to build TipTheWeb. We wrote up a sort of manifesto to capture why we think what we're calling "Community Supported Web" is so important, which you can read here.
Can you talk about your choice of YUI and YQL in making the app?
EF: I started using YUI around three years ago, with YUI 2. But it was really the work on YUI 3 that got me excited, and I jumped right
on board after the first developer release came out. YUI 3 is really strong as a framework on which to build rich web application user interfaces, particularly due to its modular nature and self-aware dependency management (so you get only what you need), and also its component model and support for building your own custom modules. For more details, check out my previous blog post on the YUIblog, Building TipTheWeb with YUI 3.
In TipTheWeb, we need to gather various data about the links that our users are tipping, and it was kind of a shock when we realized how useful YQL could be for us. YQL is perfect for making a series of requests to various web services and mashing this data together. That ability fit really well with some of the link processing we needed to do, such as finding the correct username of the poster of a tipped photo on Flickr — which we can do right from the tipper's browser. And instead of duplicating this logic on our server, we're able to call into the same YQL tables from our back end.
I will be presenting more of the details on how we're using YUI 3 and YQL at YUIConf, which is November 8-10.
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I know youve been involved in the YUI community, can you talk about your contributions to the YUI project and how you got involved?
EF: With the early releases of YUI 3 came a move of the code-base to GitHub and the creation of yuilibrary.com. These two things, spearheaded by Dav Glass, really opened the doors for a YUI community to flourish; we now have a place to gather, access to the YUI Team, and can get new code as it's written. Being an early adoptor of YUI 3 meant I had to get involved; with the resources on the YUILibrary site and the open codebase, I was able to have discussions with the YUI Team and get bugs fixed, often in a matter of hours. I have also been able to share what I've learned from using YUI 3 to help other developers in the YUI community.
A year ago the YUI Team changed the game for community contributed code with the release of the href="http://yuilibrary.com/gallery/">YUI Gallery. This allowed me to contribute back some of the modules I've developed while making TipTheWeb, that other people would find useful. You can find my modules at yuilibrary.com/gallery/user/ericf, including ones we use on almost every page of TipTheWeb.
What other open or Open Source tools do you use in your daily work flow?
DF: Well, every piece of technology we use in our stack besides our application code is open source or an open standard. Standing on the shoulders of the development community really is the only way a small team can built something substantial. We've published a
list of most of the technology we use to build TipTheWeb.
Tell us about some great technology content that youve tipped lately, that youd like to shout about here...
EF: We were so excited when TipTheWeb was working well enough that we could start using it ourselves, and we've been having a lot of fun seeing how we can integrate it into our day-to-day web browsing. One
very new feature we've just added to TipTheWeb is a public "Tip
Stream" page for each user, which they can share with friends. There's also a corresponding Atom/RSS feed for each user's Tips. The easiest way to tell you what we've been tipping is just to link to our Tip Streams: Dave's stream and mine (Eric's).
When you say my contribution will go toward making an award to the publisher of the web content I tip, what percentage goes to these awards? How much of my contribution does TipThe Web keep, and for what purposes?
EF: We are very proud to say that we pass on 100% of claimed Tips to publishers. In fact, we actually hope to give 100% or more to publishers. As a non-profit company, we can also accept larger grants and donations towards furthering our mission, so we intend to use such additional funding to enhance the awards we give publishers over and above what they'd get due to the funded Tips from our users.
DF: The only way a voluntary system like TipTheWeb can be successful is if there is a high level of trust between us and our users, and a
high level of transparency in our operations. Would you contribute to
Wikipedia if you thought they were secretly making millions in profit? Our feeling is that if we want to convince people that supporting web content can make a real difference to the internet, then we should "eat our own dogfood" as the saying goes, and so TipTheWeb is supported in part by accepting Tips from our users! We have a few other ways of paying for operating costs, but we're very focused on trying to make a difference with TipTheWeb, not a profit.
How did you find out about the X Award?
DF: One aspect of TipTheWeb is processing credit card transactions, which we needed to integrate into our software. Paypal had come out with a bunch of new programming APIs for their platform. In order to
learn more about those APIs, we attended a talk in the Boston area about payment platforms where both Paypal and Yahoo had speakers (Praveen Alavilli from PayPal and Tom Hughes-Croucher from Yahoo!). We introduced ourselves after their talks, and they both encouraged us to enter into the Paypal Developer challenge. I'm glad we did!
Were excited to meet you tomorrow at PayPal Innovate. Is there anything else you want to share now?
EF: We'll be opening up TipTheWeb to the general public very soon, but in the meantime we've launched the service as an invite-only "Beta", so we can gather early feedback and finish a few more features. So we'd like to invite readers of the YDN blog to try out TipTheWeb and tell us what you think. You can sign up to get an invitation at http://tiptheweb.org/ and we'll send out as many invite codes as we can right away.