Monday Mar 27

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This is Electric Pulp

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Issue #4 - Insight

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I
n the first of the Agency.Asia series on hotshops with under 40 staff but lots of star power, we've gone to the outermost antipodies of Asia, the United States. That in itself isn't a bad thing, because we got to know Electric Pulp - but we're kind of disappointed and more than a little bit surprised that Asia apparently hasn't got any jalapeño hot boutique agencies or interactive agencies - or seemingly any creative people -  that are holding their own against the big multinational players [and wouldn't mind a bit of the limlight].

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There you are, Asia. You have been beaten to the punch by a bunch of brash talents with a huge sense of fun and few terrabytes of prime websites they've designed. End of lecture 'til next month, when we hope you'll get off your Ikea chairs and nominate yourselves ... meet Electric Pulp

Agency.Asia: You guys collaborated with one of the great marketing communications-communicators, Mr Guy Kawasaki, and created a website that wholly simplifies the process of aggregating information. When we first stumbled across it, for that's indeed what transpired, we thought to ourselves that this look like a 'nice' concept - that some industrious soul had gone to a fair bit of work aggregating the best marketing sites. Of course, we appreciated their efforts, but what we didn't completely fathom was how deep this repository was. To kick things off, can you please give us the lowdown on Alltop and how you guys got involved.

Electric Pulp:
Aaron Mentele: So, yeah, Alltop's pretty deep if you consider it has more than 640 topics and approximately 40,000 hand-picked feeds. Oh, and then there are more than 25,000 MyAlltop topics. The utility is pretty shallow, though, so it's been fun to see it take off. Our own inclination would have been to set the site up with all the controls a power user would need to discover, filter, and read their stories. And given the other available options, I'm not so sure all that innovation would've actually been innovative. Guy sees things some of us don't.

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Agency.Asia: Being the great investigative journalists that we are, we tracked you guys down - which required about two mouse clicks. On your blog you remarked about the scaling efforts that the Alltop site required. To quote you: 'One of the topics actually has more than a thousand stories at any given time - complete with excerpts and microformats (not that anyone notices). We've had to tweak to get it to play nice with the increasing traffic.' We're laughing now, because of your almost teary 'not that anyone notices' remark. Isn't that one of the markers of a good piece of web architecting? Do you have a set of golden design rules you'll share with us?

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Electric Pulp:
Michael Lehmkuhl: We pride ourselves on producing code that takes advantage of geeky, semantic web features like microformats and web standards. In a lot of cases, it's more of a craftsman detail for ourselves than for our clients, but it does provide them with hidden benefits. As far as golden rules, we try to estimate the capabilities of our servers and sites to a point where they'll be able to handle the initial post-launch rush and accommodate future growth. The trick is to find that at a price point that keeps our clients profitable.

guy-kawasaki-agency-asia-w325Agency.Asia: After checking out your company website and some of your work - which we'll showcase here - we headed off to see what Guy Kawasaki had to say about the Alltop enterprise. He wasn't more than a paragraph into his explanation, and he was already mentioning you guys. Quoting from one of the most oft quoted men on the Web - which translates pretty much to mean Twitter these days - he said this: 'All the development work was done by the amazing folks at Electric Pulp. I don't know why I tell you who they are because they're always booked, but you'll be amazed at their work if you can hire them.' Nice! Have you calculated how much it is worth getting a mention on Guy Kawasaki's blog? How do you feel about social networking and do you consciously work 'engagement' into most of your projects? You Twit!

Electric Pulp:
Aaron Mentele: Guy K's a phenomenon -- he's definitely had an impact on our business. When we first started working with him, Guy was an author turned blogger. His posts on Truemors sent whole waves of established and would-be entrepreneurs (and a few crazies) our way. With Alltop, we're working with Guy Kawasaki, blogger turned twitterer, and it's a lot harder to track the source of referrals. We did spot our name in Guy's most recent book, Reality Check, so that makes it even more difficult to quantify. We just call it 'a lot' [of value] and appreciate it as such.

As far as social networking goes, we're huge fans of what it will be. To be honest, though, I think social networks are currently adding a lot of noise in terms of credibility and authenticity. That seems like a tangent, though, so I'll just say we feel pretty good about it -- we rarely take on work that doesn't have some kind of tie into the networks.

Agency.Asia: Anyway, we kept reading Mr Kawasaki's blog and arrived at the comments section where a reader by the name of 'Chris' wrote: 'My question is, where did the name "Electric Pulp" come from anyway? Sounds like someone got electrocuted while making an orange smoothie.'  Where indeed did the name Electric Pulp come from? Tell us a bit more about YOU!  We know you're not in Asia ...

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Electric Pulp:
Stefan Hartwig: You know, a lot of people ask that same question. Here's the scoop. Back in 1996, we wanted a really unique name for our fledgling business.  We build websites, so we started with that word. Websites. If you split up the word into "web" and "site" and change them up a bit, "websites" becomes "digital paper", which, taken one step further is Electric Pulp.  So the name is actually an extrapolation of "website", but adjusted to stand out. Based on the number of people who have commented on it over the years, I think we hit the sweet spot.  It's unique enough that people are curious, but not so unique that people back away warily.

These days, Electric Pulp is a team of 12 people based in the proverbial middle-of-nowhere in Sioux Falls, SD, USA. We focus on user-centric design and open source technologies, blending the two together to make websites that are tailored to the needs of the client and their users. We definitely don't have a specific visual style, and we are constantly changing our game from every perspective. Ever-pushing for an even better solution.

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sundance-w225Agency.Asia: You've got an all star list of clients, including Stephen Colbert, Virgin Music, Sundance Institute, Guy Kawasaki's Alltop, Rusty Surfboards ... and the New York City Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene. How do you consistently sell great creative work? As you know, that's not as stupid a question as it sounds. What're the most important ingredients in maintaining a non-violent relationship with clients?

Electric Pulp:
Stefan Hartwig: Well, in our experience, great work comes from getting a client involved right from the start. There's nothing worse than working in a void, because design is informed by it's limitations. Our projects begin with a kick off meeting where we bounce some ideas back and forth with the client.  We ask a lot of questions.  We then start the design process and visually summarize their expectations. When we show our designs to the client, we'll explain our thinking behind our decisions but there's very little selling of the design. We aren't pushy and, on some level, we let the work speak for itself. The client's input is respected and we don't stop working until the client is satisfied. That approach will keep just about any client from throwing a punch.

Agency.Asia: Along with Viral Spiral, you also rolled a few apps like Feedrinse yourselves. Of course, you were your own client with those. Was there much scope creep? Were you a difficult sons of bitches to yourselves, moving the goal posts every five minutes and demanding added functionality though you'd already nailed down the brief? Did you threaten to stop paying yourselves and go and find some some polite young boy or girl in Bangladesh who'd work for one tenth of the cost and not talk back?



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Electric Pulp:
Aaron Mentele: Feedrinse took us 11 days from concept to launch, so I think we're our own perfect client. The one problem is that it's easy to focus on the easiest solution to implement when you're working for yourself. Easiest to implement is rarely best.

Agency.Asia: What are your top ten favorite websites - only nine of which can be your own? You've also created some interesting apps, so you can throw them into the mix as well. Presumably you've been keeping an eye on Cannes. What a titanium year it was, hey? It seems that effectiveness and creativity might be angling toward some kind of awkward Yahoo + Google merger at last. As a company, are you big on entering award shows? It's no secret that not too long ago Electric Pulp were voted the Best WebDeveloper in a survey performed by the Sioux Falls Business Journal.

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Electric Pulp:
Aaron Mentele: Hah! The Business Journal nod was based on a local vote, so it might just be that we waved at the right people that week. We haven't entered an award competition in years -- I don't think we'd even know where to start.

Top sites are tough -- mine probably change by the day, but here's a stab at my top 5:
http://hypem.com
http://hulu.com/
http://nytimes.com/
http://flickr.com/
http://ffffound.com/

Stefan Hartwig: Very difficult question, but I'll take a shot at it. There are a lot of sites out there that I like a lot, but for very different reasons. Some of them have great visuals (http://ma.tt) while others are because of the user experience (http://vimeo.com). And others because of their simplicity and functionality (http://wearehunted.com/). For just looking around at interesting stuff, I'd say Monoscope is my favorite though (http://monoscope.com). Great content with nothing in the way. Literally no interface elements to get in the way.

Michael Lehmkuhl: Being a programmer, most of my frequently visited sites don't possess what I'd consider elegance in design, but these are a few that I consider as treats.
http://www.boston.com/bigpicture
http://flickr.com
http://hulu.com
http://uncrate.com
http://electricpulp.com (designed by my favorite designer)
http://dopplr.com

Agency.Asia: If you could be any other web developers than Electric Pulp, who would you be?  Who's consistently doing the best work out there? Speaking of good work, we felt it might be worth mentioning to our readers - and any nasty would be detractors - that Agency.Asia Magazine was already deemed cool enough to be included on the uber exclusive Alltop 'All the top marketing news' websites http://marketing.alltop.com/ - before we contacted and said lots of nice things about Electric Pulp. Yes, we're in there between Guy Kawasaki, PSFK, Seth Grodin, Weiden + Kennedy ... sorry. Go on, as you were saying!

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Electric Pulp:
Aaron Mentele: That's tough again. There are a lot of great web design shops I'd be proud to be a part of, but if I was going to be someone else, I'd probably also be something else. (Emphasis on 'thing.') I'd be 37 Signals, and I'd move all our apps off Ruby.

Stefan Hartwig: I've always had a hidden desire to be a part of a multi-disciplinary collective like Pentagram.  Or I'd be something different, like a fontographer. Or something ENTIRELY different, like a tree farmer.  You gotta have dreams.

Michael Lehmkuhl: The internet is brimming with talent these days. Right now, I'd like to be one of those energetic young kids again, and being able to take advantage of all the fantastic tech that wasn't available back when we started out.

Agency.Asia: We ask all our of esteemed guests who they think out readers would most like to hear from next. We normally interview individuals, to be honest. This throws up a bit of a dilemma as there is a handful of you at Electric Pulp. Ir's completely up to you. Would you like to create a Wordle http://www.wordle.net/ of people we should interview - or are you going to drop names into a hat and pick out just the one? Thanks very much for talking to us and if you ever get down to Asia, please promise to look us up. We're sure our readership across the Asia-Pacific will have a look at your crazy blog - http://electricpulp.com/

Electric Pulp:
Aaron Mentele: Run down Josh Spear of Undercurrent. He's a gripping guy.

Stefan Hartwig: I'll second the Josh Spear nomination. And knowing his travel schedule, he'll probably be in your area at some point. He gets around.

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