February 29, 2012

Kicking the Tires on Pinwheel and Talking to Founder Caterina Fake

On February 16, Flickr cofounder Caterina Fake announced private beta testing for Pinwheel, an online "Flickr for Places" type of service. Fake sent me an invitation to try out Pinwheel and answered a few questions about her new project, which is built and powered by Linux and open source solutions.

First, I should clear up some potential confusion about the Pinwheel name. Another photo-sharing service, Pinweel, also launched in February, and the nearly identical names are bound to cause confusion with users. Pinwheel's service focuses on sharing photos, location, and notes, whereas Pinweel specializes in group photo sharing.

Pinwheel is still working on its iPhone app, so I wasn't able to have the full mobile experience when posting my first note during my beta testing. Instead, I set up my account from my laptop and made my first post.

Posting on Pinwheel

Pinwheel doesn't have the same character limitations that Twitter has, which gives you more room to write something on your About page.

When I looked at the map of my area, I found another post in my town. When you think of Lawrence, Kansas, you might think of the Django framework, which started here. When college basketball fans think of Lawrence, they think of the University of Kansas Jayhawks, which was the subject of pmonet's Pinwheel note.Leave notes and images at locations on the map

Does the world need another photo-sharing service? Possibly. I can see Pinwheel being a hit with photographers who want to share their photos and the stories and places behind them, and frequent travelers might also like perusing personal notes and images as they explore new areas. And then there are the foodies. Foodies should go nuts over Pinwheel. Who wouldn't like capturing that killer crepe in St. Louis or perfect prosciutto sandwich in San Francisco?

Linux.com: You recently announced beta testing for Pinwheel.com. What does the road map and timeline for the project look like right now?

Caterina Fake: We're excited to be going into private beta, which means that we are going to be sending invitations to people interested in being beta testers who sign up at pinwheel.com. It's still beta, so people should expect to see some bugs and some not so perfect UX, but as my friend Emily said to me years ago, if you're not a bit embarrassed about your product, you've waited too long to release it!Allen Fieldhouse

Linux.com: When did you get involved with the project, and how did the project start?

Caterina Fake: We raised angel financing last spring, and started working on a prototype this summer. The team came together in the fall, and we've been working hard on it since.

Linux.com: How does it work? Do you only see notes that people you follow leave? Or all notes that people have left?

Caterina Fake: You can see all public notes and will be able to filter notes by who and what you follow, and most popular. You can follow people, sets, and places. What's good about that is if you find a good set by an individual and you don't need to follow all of the person's notes, you can follow just that set. You can follow a place, such as the place you work, or your favorite restaurant, to see if they are posting specials.

Linux.com: Sponsored notes will pay for the site so that it's free for users, but how will that be controlled so users aren't overwhelmed with too many sponsored messages?

Caterina Fake: The most important thing about designing products is making sure that it is a product that people like, want to use, and would recommend their friends to use. That includes sponsored notes. If you want your users to love your product, you have to make the advertising useful and not intrusive.

Linux.com: What role does Linux play in the project? Can we peek under the hood and hear about all the open source and specific Linux technologies you are using?

Caterina Fake: We've got a small mix of Ubuntu releases, mostly 10.04 and 11.10, but we're trending back toward 10.04 for LTS. Our environment relies heavily on Chef for infrastructure consistency, and Chef will make the transition to 12.04 LTS much simpler.

Since we're a Rails shop, it's no surprise that we're running nginx and that it's doing a great job. We've also running Solr for search services and memcached running piggyback on every box with spare memory. We've also got Nagios, Ganglia, and Graphite running for internal monitoring and for making pretty graphs. All of these pieces are wired into Chef, so pretty much our entire infrastructure can be shrunk down or expanded at a moment's notice.

Linux.com: What code will Pinwheel contribute back to the open source community?

Caterina Fake: We've already contributed some JavaScript utilities, and we plan to contribute back to several Ruby gems and open source several of our internal gems.

Linux.com: Thanks for your time and good luck with Pinwheel.

If you want to try out Pinwheel, you can go to the website to request an invitation.

Click Here!