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Dedicated to Clay Johnson, founder of

Ask cjoh Anything?
 the Founder answers questions from the membership...
from April and June 2000

"Ask Cjoh Anything!" Hey folks... cjoh here. Thought I would try something out on you.  Here's your chance to ask me any question. I will ceremail you the answer.  In the interest of good content, I will rate the best questions with 5s and the worst questions with 1s. I'll post the 5s publicly in a update to this question.

What gets a 5?

Anything that makes me go "Good question."

Whats a 1?

Non-serious questions. By non serious I don't mean non-personal. I mean questions that you really don't want an answer to or questions that really don't pertain to me-- like "How many calories are in one can of CocaCola?"

Where do you do your marketing? Underground popularity surely only goes so far... is user supported. There are two main reasons why you don't see major ad campaigns out there for and I will go through them now.

First, is in the early "frontier" stage of building this community. Believe it or not, you, like the rest of the KnowPosters, are pioneers to some extent. Part of the early stages of community growth involves very careful planning. So we have to let the site grow slowly and on its own, so that it can create and inherit its own personality from the sum of all users.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is underfunded. We depend on our users to acquire new users for us, because, well, we can't afford to do any agressive pursuit of media outlets.

This will change, however, in the coming weeks.

Do you think that leaving college before graduating has helped or hindered your ability to manage your business or be taken seriously by business contacts?

Wow. Good question.

The wisest thing anybody ever said to me was "One's greatest strength is also their greatest weakness" and I believe this is the case here.

While I don't have any problems being taken seriously (I did when I was younger) I do feel that sometimes I lack certain experience that would be helpful in me running and managing KnowPost. For instance, I've never had a real job working for somebody else professionally. So I don't know, at all, what it is like to be an "employee" or to feel "managed." I have no experience to draw from to do it.

But this also means I don't have any limitations as to what I can do, or what I think about it. This enables me to "think outside the box" as far as my managerial style is concerned, and my leadership style is concerned.

As far as the actual degree is concerned-- I was a political science major at a underfunded state university. The degree, while it would have made my parents happy, wouldn't have done me much good in this arena.

For the most part, I have only come into disrespect from people I have had to manage. Only one instance where a fellow we hired had problems because he had a degree from a really great school, while I was a URI dropout.

Fortunately enough this was settled. He doesn't work for anymore :).

How long have you had this site up and how did you ever learn to put this all together.

I always love talking about this... has been up and around since April 1st, 1999. Its just over a year old. I'd have liked to have thrown a anniversary spectacular, but alas, since KnowPost continuously evolves, its like it almost has a rebirth about every six months. Used to be even shorter than that.

As far as learning how to get it together-- from the technical aspect I was committed to the idea, and wanted to make it happen. Thats the first thing you need. Having no technical expertise whatsoever, I quickly had to teach myself how to do what I needed to do. I dug up some tutorials on a language called PHP and a database server called MySQL over at (

Read them, rented a server for $35 a month on a credit card, started putzing around, and prayed that my credit wouldn't go bad before I could make the first release.

Guess I was lucky. I just paid off that bill last month :).

As far as the Knowledge of dot com, so to speak, that came from a few places-- first of all, from jbum. He's currently a member of the KnowPost community, and he was the creator of a program called "The Palace," which is an online chat program. I used to be addicted to the Palace, and thats sort of how I learned how to (and how not to) manage virtual communities.

I also read a LOT. Several book reccommendations come to mind:

1. Net.Gain by John Hagel
2. The Virtual Community by Howard Rheingold
You can find the book complete and online, free of charge, here:
3. Webonomics by Evan Schwartz.
4. Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, both by Neal Stephenson
5. Accidental Empires: How the boys of Silicon Valley Make their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date by Robert X Cringley
6. Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration by Patricia Biederman and Warren G. Bennis.
7. Startup by Jerry Kaplan

The last three are perhaps my favorites. They are mainly corporate-biographical books about the creative process, and what it takes to really change the planet.

I'll leave you with this word of wisdom:

Whether they know it or not- every entrepreneur wants to grow up and be like Steve Jobs.

What is your ultimate goal for KnowPost?

The ultimate goal for KnowPost? To connect people in every way shape and form. KnowPost isn't about questions and answers as much as its about community.

There's a long term plan in place all right, but I can't show you all my hand, otherwise I wouldn't live up to my nickname of "Darth Vaguer."

There are a few goals, and they come from different areas. As far as the product is concerned, I'd like to have a catalog of every question and answer mankind has.

I'd like to have about 5 million users in here.

For the most part, I see KnowPost as something more than a website, and largely infrastructural. We're not a dot com-- this website is just one way for you to see and interact with the content and the KnowPost community.

The Pagers are a good step towards that paradigm. There are other steps that will be taken shortly. Anybody out there have a Palm VII?

what on earth do i have to do to get a kp t-shirt?

We're working on the next batch of t-shirts right now. Of course, t-shirts cost money, and my main job right now is finding investors to help us pay for them, amongst other things... like... a salary... and health insurance... and legal fees... and rent.

A lot of money goes into the running of We spend thousands of dollars just to keep the site operational. T-shirts, as well as other promotional items, are next on the "purchase" list.

Why are you such a damn sexy man?

Great question.

I am a damn sexy man because, well, I take after my father.

Every girl I've ever dated has had some form of crush on my dad. I can't figure it out. Perhaps its his small stature, or his cheezy sense of humor, or perhaps its because of the way he and mom interact with so much love... anyways, gets the girls every time.

Wait... let me take that back. I can't give Dad all the credit. I mean... I am probably smart because of dad. But I got my sexiness and common sense from my mom. Lets give credit where credit is due.

A lot of people also ask me "Your dad uses KnowPost, how come your mother doesn't?" and I asked my mom this very question last week.

Her answer?

"Your father is always logged into KnowPost!"

Good answer.

Anyways, if you think I'm sexy, and you want my body baby wont you let me know?

Keep asking people!

What are the "job descriptions" of you, taragl, and kovacsp? What sort of specific questions are best directed to each of you?

Thats a really good question. I have pretty well defined job descriptions for everybody BUT me.

I flip flop Tara's title around sometimes, but I am beginning to really like the title of Community Director. Her main facility basically revolves around just making sure things in the community are going right. If there's problems, she and I chat about it and try and figure out how to solve them. She also helps us out by doing some misc. writing tasks here and there that need done.

Peter's job isn't really 'tech support' as many of you have pegged him as. Thats still mainly Tara's department. Peter's just better at replying to ceremails than I am. Peter's job title is 'Lead Engineer,' and as of January, he makes the website. He's the guy who writes all the software that makes KnowPost work.

Generally the process is quite simple... Peter and I sit around for about two weeks and do nothing but have conversations that begin with 'Wouldn't it be cool if....'

Then we start going into detail as to how they should be done. We start making sketches of new features. And then, finally, its time to make it. I always want to help, but Peter is FAR better than I am at writing the code (99.9999% of all the bugs in KnowPost have been my fault) so he no longer lets me touch it.

My main job, I suppose, is 'Product and Business Development,' in that I steer the general vision of the product. Generally this means keeping Tara and Peter working towards the same goal, which is serving our own community.

In addition, my function involves acquiring resources so that they can better provide you all with what you want. For instance, right now my primary function is raising money so that we can pay our rent in May. And coming up with new models to make money out of KnowPost.

The three of us are perhaps the most visible of all of the KnowPost staff, but there are more, in fact. The other part of my job is keeping the 'other half' of KnowPost working in line with Tara and Peter.

Let me go through their responsibilities as well. There's Jonathan Short... his job is to make sure that the server is always up and running, and that our local machines don't go down. He is our Systems Administrator.

There's Nathan Short. He's our Lead Integrator. New to the team, his main job is to work on the co-branding and licensing deals that I make with various vertically established content providers.. some of which we will be announcing shortly.

And Sean Langford, employee #3 of I haven't come up with a really great title for him yet.. but his internal title is 'Zen Master of Ubiquity' and its sorta stuck. He wrote the wireless access to KnowPost, and is currently working on other ways to ask questions into KnowPost without actually coming into the site.

Finally, there's David Sand, who is our Adult Supervision. Currently an advisor, his job is currently to support me in the business development aspects of and the fundraising aspects. He's not working full time with KnowPost, or even part time yet. But he may very well be soon.

Now.... as far as specific questions directed where. Thats a good question as well. If its a question that other people could use the answer to, the ask it in the KnowPost category. That way other people can make benefit of the answer. If they are strategy/idea related, then you should send them both to Me and to Tara. I'll probably read it but not respond. Tara will read it, and if its really great, she'll nag me until I give some sort of solid answer as to whether its going in or not.

For technical questions, ask Tara as well. She's got her own little knowledgebase built up for answers to your questions.

Hmm... for Peter, I'd say any really wierd bugs that you see... AND CAN REPRODUCE... things like the page border not lining up, or if the page says something like 'Parse Error on Line 218.' Or if you can't login. Stuff like that Peter can take care of.

what can I do to further KP?

The number one thing you can do for KnowPost is figure out who the 10 smartest people you know are that are not on KP. Then go to their house, and show them KnowPost. Then make them register. Then make them answer a question... not ask a question... but answer one. Then find another person.

And promote the site in the most bizzare ways possible! Auction off your credits on Ebay! Get tattoos!

The number two thing you can do for KnowPost is sit back and think about how powerful this concept is, if you have not done so already. A worldwide medium for people to get answers to their questions.

It brings back mutual respect to the world. My token phrase around the office is 'Everybody is an Expert about Something.' and that philosophy will carry us through. Like I said... KnowPost is largely infrastructural. We want to provide a mechanism for the world to be able to get answers, without the sociocultural barriers that exist in the world today.

After you think about it for awhile, you'll know what to do.

The other thing you can do is send us stuff. We like presents from the real world. We've gotten a few greeting cards, and we'd love to see more. They're great for decorating the office, and for keeping morale up.

What happened to the site? didn't get used that much. If at all.

This was, however, before our community got so much bigger.

We're thinking about taking the functionality of some of it and integrating it straight into .com. But by god, kovacsp has enough to do as it is. And once we get some more engineers, we'll get that stuff up and running again.

What was the original plan for KnowPost?

Its an interesting story, the History of KnowPost. Origionally it was called HumanSearch, and it started off in 1996. Way different model though-- you came, asked a question, and I was the only person who answered them. Just one answer from one guy. That's all.

After awhile though, I got tired of answering questions, and, well, I just found that the model wasn't very scalable, to say the least.

Interestinly enough, when I came up with the idea for this iteration, known as KnowPost, I thought there'd be more people asking questions than answering. Which, if you think about it, seems like the obvious answer. I mean think about it, more people want to receive than to give. Thats why there's that credit system in place.

Now we've found that people don't come to the site to ask questions nearly as much as they do to answer them. Sure, its obvious now, but it wasn't that obvious then.

Now I just gotta figure out how to get people to ask questions, and rate their answers.

You say you want this to grow into a site that is a community of 5 million, are you not afraid that the community feeling will disappear?

5 million is just a short term growth target. I won't rest until we have 100 million.

Am I afraid that the community feeling will dissapear? Absolutely. We're trying hard to make sure it doesn't by making enhancements to the system now, that make the community more scalable.

Right now I am really into this term that I call 'fractal depth.' What that means is, the community can consistently subdivide into little pieces so that instead of having one nice warm and fuzzy community like we do now, we'll have hundreds of them that are interwoven.

Its going to be a tough ride, but I am looking forward to it. I think we have a great core community who can help steer me, and kovacsp and tara, as well as the rest of the team through it all. We just need your help to do it, by telling us what you want, and asking us what you need to know. Thats what this question is all about!

How can Knowpost make enough money to cover its expenses?

Banner ads are not even consequential to our future revenue model. We're going to start implementing our business model within the next few months, so watch out for it, and again, tell us what you like and don't like.

Its important for us all to understand that KnowPost has bills that need to be paid, and that eventually, I have to show our current and future investors a sizeable return on their investments. Your ideas are always appreciated!

I can't go into liberty right now about how we are going to do it, but we've got some really great ideas to implement. In the meantime, how do *you* think KnowPost can make money? What are your ideas?

What pair of shoes did you get? Why did you pick Russ as your running mate for President of the Student body at URI?

I got the shoes that Norris recommended. Or rather, a slight variation thereof. I am a sucker for Docs. Always have been.

As for Russ, Russ and I were best friends in college, and he was always my right-hand man at everything that I did. It was a natural fit for him to be my Vice President. At that time, I wouldn't have considered anybody else.

Although now that he's working over for the competition, I guess I should have. I think part of the reason why he did that was because, as arrogant as it may seem for me to say this, he was sick of living in my shadow and being #2. He was like my kid brother, and I'd bring him in wherever I went, whether it was my radio show freshman year, on the student government my sophomore year, or with the company throughout my college career. The kid had to exit my coattails somehow.

Unfortunately he turned his back on that, and sold me out to the competition. I am sure he didn't think of it that way, but that's what happened from my perspective. Guess its true that you can only count your friends on one hand.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

My biggest pet peeve is falsity. I can't stand somebody trying to be someone that they are not. And, since Dad's a therapist, I can usually pick up on that within two or three words of a conversation. A smooth talker, or somebody thats not really telling me whats on their mind really drives me up the wall.

Tied to that is when you ask somebody a question like "Whatsamatter?" and their answer is "Nothing."

MAN that drives me nuts. Personally, I am a no BS kind of guy. Gets me into a lot of trouble sometimes, but its the best way for people to deal with me, thats for sure.

There's a difference between being impolite, and false, however, and its a thin line. I'm fairly good at keeping the balance, and walking the rope, so to speak. You can be direct, and still be polite about it.

My other pet peeve is people who assume that they automatically know everything about electronic commerce and Internet based stuff who obviously do not. I hate it when somebody says "What you really need is somebody whos good at H-M-T-L and java" without having the slightest clue that its HTML, and not knowing at all what java is.

Anybody that is that aristotilian really ticks me off.

Is the person who created KnowPost the same person who created The Palace?

No. But I did some contract work for the palace some time ago. And Jim bumgardner and Mark Jeffrey are both personal heros of mine, despite the Palace's problems becoming a mainstream success.

It was ashame to see the Palace degenerate over the years-- back in 1995 they had something really incredible. Unfortunately, 5 years later, its the same damn thing, with no real innovation behind it anymore.

But Jim, known on KnowPost as jbum, was the creator of the Palace. And generally a great guy, who plays a mean game of chess. He beat me every time we played *in* the Palace.

How do you manage to continue the development of KnowPost, find investors, respond to what must be countless correspondence from users and others, participate in the community AND stay in the top 100???

Basically I don't sleep that often. I have a really odd schedule for sleep-- I catch about three hours of sleep a night on the weeknights, then sleep for nearly the entire weekend.

The real way I stay in the top100 (although I should be out by the end of next month if things keep going the way they are going) is by only answering questions in the KnowPost category. That way, I am nearly certain to get a 5.

As many of you all Know, I don't personally care for the easy questions-- meaning I don't care to answer them as a user. As for whether or not does-- I think that they serve a purpose.

As far as the countless correspondence from users is concerned, I used to get a lot of ceremails, but now I don't anymore. The community has learned that I am not good at responding to ceremail, and can usually get a better response out of me by emailing Plus, they can generally get better answers out of Tara and Peter that are non-strategy related.

And finally, I think I already did a bang up job of answering what our different responsibilities are, but I'll provide a synopsis:

I provide the vision, the mantra, and the philosophy.

Peter provides the technology.

Tara provides the tender loving care.

Do you know how many actual manhours of work it took to get the new KP online? If not, will you hazard a guess?

It took well over 600 man-hours of work, I would guess. The new KP is over 30,000 lines of code. Its interesting because the new KnowPost started out as just a couple of new features. Then Peter, Sean and I really started brainstorming. The howtos were the first great idea.

There's a couple ideas that didn't make it in. We'll put those into KP4.1 or KPNG, whichever one we decide to push out first.

Describe a typical day in the KP office, (in haiku if you want!)

bonsai flourishes
cjoh rolls off bonsai bed
walks into office

Peter beats him there
blasts him with massive nerf gun
they play zen frisbee

Jon, Nate, Sean arrive
Each sit and code. Clay paces
Steers each one towards light

Ack! More Nerf Attacks!
Settle down now, we must work
to make the KP.

cjoh returns home
Watches his little saplings
makes sure all is well.

Are you Free Next Weekend?? And can you pay my way out to see you?

I sleep on weekends. Honestly. Friday night through sunday morning I am usually asleep. You can come out, but you'll have to pay your own way, and you'll probably be bored.

Do YOU consider the "grand redesign" of KP a success or not? Also, are there yet more changes of significance coming soon (as in within the next three months)?

Good question. Of course I consider the grand redesign a success. Otherwise I would have never released it. The purpose of this release is really not to grow another bonsai, but to replant the tree into a bigger pot. Our problem was we had this great product which was incredibly sloppy as far as code was concerned. Now we have a technology base to grow from.

The new features, of course, and the credit-point transition are, in my mind, bonus features to a scalable and optimized code base. Watch how fast we get this netscape fix out-- it took two weeks last time.

When, approximately can we start getting excited about the search function we ALL want. Notice I didn't give an option for there not to be one...

Search is really hard on KnowPost. Because we don't want anything but the best, we demand a search technology that constantly updates as users use it. The problem is this: KnowPost is not a technology company. Knowpost is a community company

That's really what separates us from our competitors. We put a lot of emphasis on community. Whereas they come from the temple of technology. So we'll probably have to license that technology to incorporate into the system. THe problem is, there's just no good product out there that suits our needs exactly.

So... after we iron the kinks out of KP4, that's our first priority. We'll probably end up making it ourselves.

Can you come up with a way to organize HowTo's into their own box/category, like the Soaps?

Probably. I'll ask Peter about it.

Is there a live bonsai tree/plant in the office at KP headquarters? If so, is there one, or are there more than one? If not, then, cjoh, have you ever owned a live bonsai plant? If so, when? Where'd the big fascination/great analogy come from?

Interestingly enough, I have never owned a bonsai tree, nor are there any in the KP offices. I've always wanted one though. I'd probably kill it.

The analogy came from an Essay I wrote in a series of documents early on called the "KnowPost Manifesto" which is quickly becoming a new essay called "Zen and the Art of Online Communities" but I haven't finished it yet.

I don't know exactly where the inspiration came from. It just made sense. Maybe Marnie thought it up.

Where are you hiding Norris?

Norris is hidden
In the shell of a turtle
She is happy there.

How can I get a date with cjoh?  (HE ASKED FOR IT)

All right you punks, first thing's first.

I read every c-mail I get.

Often times people write me, and don't ask me anything. They just say something. So therefore if they don't ask for my response, they don't get a response. If they solicit my opinion, often times they get it.... But don't say I don't read c-mail. I read them all.

Here's how to get a date with me:

1. Talk to me about KnowPost, but don't be all freaky about it. I mean, if you really like it then let me know. BUT, if I think that its your obsession in life, then its a turn off for me, because then I know that the whole "date" is going to be talking about work. And I work so often that when I go on dates I like to be the one in control of how much I talk about KP.

2. Get in with my Dad. Currently he's trying to convince me to Marry norris, mainly because he is fascinated with linguistics and wants her as a daughter-in-law. Has nothing to do with me. Selfish old coot.

3. Demonstrate good capability for understanding what I do, what my job involves, and the industry of which I am in. Basic understanding of Metcalfe's law, community-building theory (there's a reason why I am quiet on KP nowadays), Moore's law, and must like either Richard Stallman or Eric Raymond, but not both. Knowledge of Either Randy Farmer, or Howard Rheingold is a plus.

4. Don't object, or call me sexist if I want to pay for the date. I'm southern, and it has nothing to do with you that I wish to do so. Rather, my mother would beat the hell outta me if I didn't do it.

5. Now for the process. Its tough for you folks because I've generally cast knowposters out of my 'dating pool' because of section one. However, IF you can discuss something with me that is not about KnowPost, Yourself, or Me, then we've got something to build on.

6. You've got to be my age (Under 26, over 19) and good lookin.

How bout them apples. Damn, I'm tough.

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