Ideas, Needs, and Complexity

As a software developer, I’m generally drawn to complexity, andI generally view “hard” problems as much more worthwhile, from abusiness perspective, than easy problems.

For instance I never considered many of the “successful”.COM-type ideas as worthwhile, and I naturally feel the same aboutmany of those percolating up via Bubble 2.0, because they either seemed too obvious, ortoo easily duplicated (aside from the fact that most of themhaven’t a hope in heck of ever having a sustainable revenuemodel…but that’s beside the point — If you can get Yahoo orGoogle to buy you out with big dollars, it doesn’t matter if yourflighty userbase would never pay a penny, and that they would nevertolerate a single ad impression).

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As such I discarded a lot of “neat ideas”, only to see thembring success to someone else. I was keeping my eye out forsomething both unique and difficult.

Yet often it’s the simplest of things that hold the most valueto people.

Just over a year ago, late December 2004, I was working on somecustom C++ JPEG parsing logic (scary pointers and all), and noticedthat some of my test files were bloated up with a lot of extraneousdata. We’re talking 4KB JPEGs that had an extra 60KB+ of dataappended to them. Apart from EXIF data — useful at times, butcompletely irrelevant at other times — Adobe Photoshop wasparticularly notorious for stuffing files full of worthlessapplication blocks.

Many of the images you find on the web have all of thisextraneous info, slowing transfer times, increasing server loads,hiking bandwidth bills, causing pestilence and suffering (okay I’mgoing a little overboard).

As such, I gathered up a ridiculously small amount of theparsing code, compiled it, and “released” it as the rashly namedPureJPEG. I expected it would see maybe a dozen downloads fromnitpicking webmaster looking to ultra-optimize their user’sexperience.

Over the past year, over 40,000 people have downloaded thisutility directly from yafla. It’s been mirrored on quite a fewsites (particularly in Russia, for some reason), so I have no ideahow many worldwide have downloaded it, but presumably a greaternumber still.

I would have never imagined that something so simple would havefilled such a niche, and I’m a little embarrassed about how trivialof a micro-project it really was, but there it is. As far as littleutilities go, it’s been a stunning success.