A fool and his money

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HB
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#1: Post by HB »

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker. It began with an instant message (I'll call him Wassim to protect his identity):
Wassim: hi dan. how goes it?
me: Good. Hope it's going well with you too. What's up?
Wassim: good here. are you in the office today?
me: No, I'm at the home office.
Wassim: in tomorrow per chance? I'd like to grab a few mins to chat with you
me: Did you want to take me to lunch?
Wassim: sure, that'd be great. 12:30 tomorrow?
me: Now we're talking. Subject is?
Wassim: subject is: wassim and dan eat lunch
me: Am I in trouble?
Wassim: lol, nope. far from it
me: If you were my manager, I would be really worried. "Dan, let's chat tomorrow. I'll buy you lunch... offsite. Get away from the office, ya know?"
Wassim: I'm not - so don't be...I want to chat web communities with you
me: I know a little about web communities, but mostly outside of my real job. (I run a coffee website).
Wassim: yep, I know
me: Oh, sorry. I probably mentioned it before. It's a fun hobby.
Wassim: you didn't - but I know these things :-) talk to you tomorrow
me: OK.
We ate at a nice sushi restaurant. Wassim is part of our user experience group and was interested in applying what he's learned on the job to starting his own online community. He evidently knew about HB and figured that I would have some practical tips and advice to share. I don't think of myself as an authority on the subject, but he was buying lunch, so I made my best effort to present my thoughts in a logical manner. My intro bullets went something like this:
  • You better enjoy it because it's a ton of work.
  • Your site must have something unique about it. There's no shame in pursuing a niche market.
  • Internet patience is less than 30 seconds. Visitors should have a good idea of what your site's about at a glance.
  • Search engines are your friends.
  • Your friends and other "power contributors" will make or break the site's forums.
  • Content is king.
No surprises in the items above. As I dug into lunch, Wassim related the story of Plenty of Fish, an online dating board based in Canada. The website claims to have millions upon millions of visitors per month, all run off four servers by a guy and his girlfriend. "Riiight... millions? I don't buy it," I said between sips of green tea. He insisted it was true (*), but moved on to his next point: Community-based Internet collaboration is the future. It may seem like the Internet is dominated by a few 800 pound gorilla websites, but Wassim believes in reality "niche interest sites can be setup in your spare time for pennies" (I choked on the wonton soup at this point :shock:).

That evening Wassim sent me various links of related material, including Coase's Penguin, or Linux and The Nature of the Firm. Not exactly light reading:
In this paper I explain that while free software is highly visible, it is in fact only one example of a much broader social-economic phenomenon. I suggest that we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. I call this mode "commons-based peer-production," to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands.
Did you know by contributing to HB, you're "following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals"? I thought it was about making an exceptional espresso, but I've never been published in The Yale Law Review either. I'll admit, given the weight of the tomes he suggested as study material, the links sat in my Inbox. Recent events however reminded me of his commentary, specifically The Great Synesso Basket Group Buy. For historical purposes and for those who missed it, the story began innocently enough:
Mark Prince wrote:Right now, the best basket I've ever used has to be the Synesso double basket. It's what I've been using for half a year now, and until something better comes along (and I'm hoping it will at some point, because there's a lot of work to do in baskets), it's got features I find valuable in proper extraction:
  • the steel used is thicker than most other filter baskets I have (and I have about 200), so less flex from tamping or pump pressure.
  • the hole pattern seems more consistent and less random than other baskets
  • the placing of the hole pattern overall is well centred in the bottom of the filter basket - LM baskets seem all over the map these days in this regard
  • there are no initial plugged holes in the filter baskets (I'd say about 50% of the filter baskets I have would show some manufacturing defects in the filter holes - some are simply not pressed all the way through)
  • almost all the filter holes are an even size to the naked eye - can't say the same about the 2 dozen or so LM double baskets I have.
From Let's talk PF baskets!
In the span of a few days, this one post on CoffeeGeek exploded into a 100+ basket buying grab with JonR10 as coordinator across two sites. Below are the wonder baskets behind all the excitement:

Image

I have a weakness for any espresso-related gadget. Some may recall similar furious discussions about ridgeless baskets years back (got 'em). Or the La Marzocco portafilter, known at the time as the "Ultimate Upgrade" (got it). Of course I dived headfirst into bottomless portafilter mania, although I did manage to recover (see Neverending Novelty of Nakedness... Not for my take on the non-stop online obsession with it). How about the E61 thermocouple adapter? I've got two and an extra PID, just for kicks. And the so-called Synesso baskets? I was first on Jon's list, only to discover later that I already had both the 14g and 18g baskets lounging in the corner of my coffee drawer. I feel like such a lemming. :oops:

All these purchase dramas played out because of a post on a coffee website. Wassim is right, Internet collaboration is here and its influence is only going to grow. But sometimes it moves too fast for my taste. Next time, I'll wait for the reality check, in this case, delivered by TerryZ and cpl593h:
cpl593h wrote:Terry's absolutely right, guys. I've had one of each of the above baskets since July. I got an e-mail regarding the basket sources from Synesso. I won't quote verbatim.

In summary:

The three baskets are obtained from 2 different suppliers. The 14 and 21g baskets come from a common supplier of espresso equipment in CA. They are made in Italy by a company that manufactures baskets for Astoria, CMA, Rio, and San Marco. The 18g baskets come from a Spanish manufacturer.
Oh well, it's still a good price for some very nice baskets.

(*) According to alexa.com, Plenty Of Fish is ranked number 636 in the world.
Dan Kehn

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cannonfodder
Team HB

#2: Post by cannonfodder »

HB wrote: It may seem like the Internet is dominated by a few 800 pound gorilla websites, but Wassim believes in reality "niche interest sites can be setup in your spare time for pennies" (I choked on the wonton soup at this point :shock:).
What is wrong with an 800 pound gorilla? Those gorillas started life as a small venture years ago. It was not that long ago that SAN and NAS technology was just budding; now EMC and NetApp are 800 pound gorillas. Point being even a seemingly niche market can grow given the right marketing, product and value added service.
Recent events however reminded me of his commentary, specifically The Great Synesso Basket Group Buy. For historical purposes and for those who missed it, the story began innocently enough:


Oh well, it's still a good price for some very nice baskets.
LOL, I believe I said early on in that thread that the 18 gram basket looked just like my LM ridgeless so I passed, but was tempted.
Dave Stephens

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cpl593h

#3: Post by cpl593h »

HB wrote:Oh well, it's still a good price for some very nice baskets.
No doubt about it. I love my Synesso baskets. I didn't intend to discourage anyone from buying the baskets, I just wanted to get the facts out there - and also help Terry not look crazy.

Your coworker is definitely onto something. I wouldn't have bought half of the things I have today if it wasn't for Coffeegeek and HB. The forums really set a higher standard for "acceptable" equipment, definitely much different from the mass market.

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chelya

#4: Post by chelya »

Dan,

I stumbled across this article after I read your post:
How to Be a Great Host on A List Apart.

It may be a good "out of the box" answer for Wassim.
Creating a community like h-b is a huge amount of work. My hat goes off to you for making h-b happen.