I’m a Scottish designer and internet entrepreneur, co-founder of Yelp, The Origins Network, Moreover Technologies and Realtime Anywhere. I co-authored the Internet standard RSS 1.0, introduced the convention of one-line-bios and created the visual bookmarking concept behind Pinterest.
I grew up in London and as a teenager, survived an 800 ft fall in a mountaineering accident.
I started the first Internet company in London’s Tech City hub, Shoreditch in 1994 and later moved to San Francisco then New York.
I worked as an architect for Norman Foster on projects ranging from the Kings Cross Masterplan & Channel Tunnel Terminal, to Foster’s apartment. In Paris, I worked for Valode et Pistre on a Lyon University scheme and briefly for Jean Nouvel on the Euro Lille project.
Having gotten stuck on large scale projects which take forever and involve doing toilet details for six months, I begged and begged to work for Fisher Park who designed stadium sets for what they called the ‘dinosaur’ bands: Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and U2. What could possibly be more fun.
After Fisher Park, I set up a design practice in London, where we did event & trade sets and retail design, mainly for Levis and Caterpillar. We were featured in Building Design and Blueprint and shortlisted for a Millennium Bridge competition. I knew a bit about computers, so when the web took off in earnest in ’94 we did some early database driven websites and more wacky stuff such as a 3d search engine.
The Internet stuff became more about technology rather than design, so the practice was split in two and Angus Bankes and myself ran the technology side, where we built the first large scale intranet in the UK, linking staffing between 60 hospitals. Eventually we co-founded Origins.net with my father, a genealogy service which created the first online access to government data and was the largest online database in Europe, at the time and the first pay-per-view website.
Nick Denton, Angus Bankes and myself founded Moreover technologies, a news search engine which powered Yahoo and MSN and Altavista news, before Google had news search. Moreover sold to Verisign.
While at Moreover I co-authored the RSS 1.0 standard.
After Moreover, I worked as an Entrepreneur in Residence at MRL Ventures, with Max Levchin, where I helped found Yelp.
I left San Francisco to move to New York and started a series of product blogs, under the umbrella of Curations.com.
I was born in Scotland, in 1966, in Selkirk, lived in Glasgow till I was 3, before moving to London. I lived in Paris for a bit, and went to college in Turin, for a few months. I have been in the US for 9 years, 6 in San Francisco and 3 in New York.
I dropped out of university twice (Economics then Civil Engineering) then trained for 7.5 years to be an architect because I was too frightened to quit. I studied at the Bartlett for both under and post-grad.
Architecture teaches you how to not lose sight of the overall design of a building, while designing a tiny detail and to deal with the whole rather than component features. This ability to zoom in and out, seems to be a skill which could be applied to areas other than buildings.
I once heard that if ‘Brunel were alive today’ he would be building things on the Internet, yet there is a long way to go before software is designed by Brunel types rather than put together by the usual type of engineer. Web design still usually refers to the way things look, rather than the way they work, Web Designer being a title given to a front-end UI designer. Software itself is often built by passing feature requests via a marketing department to the engineering department, with nobody independent in between. This is like tract housing design rather than architecture and it results in junk. If Brunel were alive today, he wouldn’t have a job title. Changing this is what keeps me awake at night.
My Dad is a physicist and I grew up reading popular science books. As a hobby, I have spent the last 3 years working on a physics problem that tries to relate logical entropy to natural selection and shows how systems self-configure to ‘learn’. It sounds pretentious, and it probably is, but if you are interested, some of the notes are in the sidebar. Secretly, this is what really keeps me awake at night.
I have a lovely, infinitely patient, French wife who was born in Switzerland and is a US national, and a completely fantastic baby son. Come to think of it, he literally keeps me awake at night.