I’ve been thinking a lot about side projects recently. About what they mean to me, why I love them, and why some become burdens. About which ones are successful, the ones that fizzled out, and the ones that never even made it off the launch pad. About what even is success in a side project. About overcoming others’ expectations and making what I want to make.
In the last twelve months some of my side projects have become incredibly successful by external measures; Pride.Codes, Live Memories, and of course Atlas. Others haven’t even been published, or are still brewing. All of them serious, though.
While searching through the archives of Zach Holman’s blog as I prepare my talk for /dev/world/2018 conference, I came across a piece from 2010. It struck a cord with me. The sentiment? People should make more small stupid hacks/projects for no gain, no purpose, other than whimsy. Not to start a “start-up”—for the fiftieth time, no Atlas is not a start up—not to “learn some new technology”. Just for the sake of making something silly.
It made me think of a friend at PennApps in the Fall of 2016. He didn’t have a team, and didn’t come up with some hackathon winning idea in the first few hours. How was he going to occupy his next 36 hours? By making something highly silly, of course. He made a pay-per-use Terminal, with in-app purchases to buy coins to spend per character and per command. It served no purpose. It was great.
Sometimes my side projects begin to feel like work, and then I resent them. I build things out of the simple pleasure of building and solving problems, but when projects start to look too much like businesses, or become too successful from the outside, they take on a new role. I have new responsibilities. Simply; they cause me unwanted stress.
Since it’s the new year—well, financial new year; but a line-in-the-sand is a line-in-the-sand—I’m going to make a change. I’m going to keep working on my current, more serious, side projects. However, I’m going to strive to add no more new ones. And I’m going to be ok with not working on them for periods of time if I’m not enjoying it.
Further, I’m going to start making more small stupid things just because. Because projects that encompass whimsy, humour, and stupid shit are the ones I always remember the most. I’m not going to hold myself to any schedule, no “one every fortnight” or anything silly like that. Of course I did think about it, but that seems to go against the whole purpose of this shift.
Also, unless I really need to for cost reasons, or it adds to the humour and fun of the project, I have no intention of charging money for them.
I want to make stupid shit, for the sake of making stupid shit. Bring back the fun in side projects.
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