Building Empathic Websites

Paul CampbellPaul Campbell is like a walking, talking Maslow’s Hierarchy. A “bona fide geek,” he exudes enthusiasm for his work: building empathic websites.

A web developer from Dublin, Campbell was a founding member of Contrast.ie. (You can read more about their current work here), and is developer of Ketchup. He now works with Brian Flanagan at HyperTiny.

Speaking at Refresh Dublin in the Science Gallery Wednesday, Campbell outlined his philosophy. Four words sum up his approach, he said. The first is passion. It’s about caring, arguing about his work, returning emails. “If i didn’t have passion I wouldn’t get up in morning and do what I do,” he said. “It’s the first principle of everything I do.”

By contrast, Campbell said, passion is no good without discipline. That is about perfecting the use of tools, finishing on time and getting the job done.

Also in the mix is finesse, which Campbell said he hasn’t achieved yet. This is about the little touches, attention to detail. “It has a mystical ring to me,” he said.

Empathy seals them all together. Campbell said empathy in his work is tougher to define but could be described as when “something in this product touches me.” On the other hand, examples of bad customer experiences abound. He recounted some of those episodes, both in person and online, that left him frustrated or annoyed. “That is the kind of thing that is anit-empathic. That is the kind of shit I have been trying to overcome,” Campbell said.

Explaining why he does all this, he practically walked the audience through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Like everyone else, he needs the basics, paid for by money. But he acknowledged he is also selfish. He wants to do what he likes. “I built Ketchup for myself. Building it felt great, owning it is better but having customers is even better,” he said.

Campbell said he also wants to have fun doing what he does. And he also told of his desire for “credibility” and how that fulfills him. Ketchup got 11,000 visitors when it launched. “That was incredibly fulfilling and empowering,” he said.

But, most of his customers are like that, too. They also care about themselves, and they like making money. Campbell said he has taken problems that were annoying for developers and solved them well. If these tools help people in their daily work, it will help them, too, to make money.

Websites can be fun, and those that are invariably attract users. Speaking of credibility, Campbell asked how many in the audience were on MySpace. No one was — or at least they wouldn’t own up to it. Yet a few years ago, musicians and hipsters had to be on it if they wanted to be credible. Websites, particularly those building communities desperately need to build and guard their credibility. Campbell said he needs to feel for the customers he is building for.

“Getting a bit preachy,” Campbell said we are lucky to be alive in 2010. It has never been cheaper to learn, build, spread knowledge or gain followers, he said. That comment was backed up by an older gentleman — not me, mind you, but a man in my age group — who has been building web apps since the mid 90s.

Asked how he rustles up business, Campbell said he goes to conferences and does presentations where he invariably finds people who share the same problem and need a solution. Blogging works if you create things related to what you are doing and write about it. And “Twitter is amazing,” he said.

On his approach to self-employment, Campbell avoids venture capital. “I don’t want to be nobody’s bitch, is my mantra,” he said. He needs to build Ketchup V2, and will finance that by working on customer projects.

Refresh Dublin is held on the second-last Wednesday of the month. They’re on Twitter at @refreshdublin.

Image of Paul Campbell was whipped from his Twitter page, @paulca. It’s not mine to share under the Creative Commons or any other license. It may not even have been mine to take!

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