A Conversation with James Miao, Co-Founder of The Sixty One


This was an interview that Silkworm did with James a month or two ago but it never saw the light... until now. A Max Bumps exclusive interview with The Sixty One co-founder James Miao!

Silkworm: Hi James. Thanks for taking the time to do this, I know you guys are busy so I appreciate it. Our blog contributors are curious - what's an average day like for you guys? Is the majority of your time working on thesixtyone.com spent coding or planning, or in some other ways?

James: Our day starts pretty much like everyone else: get up, get dressed and go to work. Except "going to work" means walking 2 steps from bed to desk. It's quite the luxury.

Tasks generally revolve around development, though we spend a good deal of time analyzing site data/trends to help keep the game elements of thesixtyone fair and balanced. I also spend a fair amount of time prototyping new features.

Silkworm: Maxbumps.net founder batface89 was wondering, what kind of bandwidth are you guys burning through, and how are you managing to pay the bills so far? What's your vision for future revenue apart from click-through ads?

James: Funny question.  I'll just say that it's expensive, but we've invented some clever techniques to help keep costs under control without affecting the user experience.

Silkworm: Speaking of maxbumps.net, what does it feel like to have a fan blog for your site? Have you guys been able to check out any of the content on the blog or forums?

James: It's neat.  We aren't too involved but check in from time to time.

Batface89: Thanks, James!

Silkworm: In what ways does the thesixtyone.com embody what you guys set out to achieve, and in what ways is it different? How do you see it evolving over the next year, or five years? For example, one blog contributor wanted to know if your eventual goal is to sell the site to a bigger company. 

James: I'd say we're pretty much on target. I won't bore you guys with "big picture" mumbo jumbo (since the beginning of time...), but I will say that Sam and I didn't start thesixtyone to flip it.  We made thesixtyone because we believed it would help people by empowering listeners and artists alike. It wasn't -- and will never be -- about money.

Silkworm: A recent changes that has generated the most controversy since the removal of browse:new are the use of meta-data to recalculate artists rankings (the gripe for some of the artists being that this reduced their ability to upload songs, while others benefited)

James: We realized that artist rankings were being gamed across the board, which -- this may sound harsh -- unfairly rewarded some for progress they didn't actually achieve. The goal behind the change was to use more reliable means to calculate a far more accurate measure of artist progress.  We're well aware of the expressed discomfort from existing parties in the artist community (it does suck to feel like you've "lost" something), but it's important to remember that this was a problem that we simply wouldn't have been able to anticipate until thesixtyone grew to a certain scale.

Silkworm: The adjustment to the bump reward formula which saw drastically reduced points being awarded to listeners... could you address what you were trying to achieve with the changes, and how these have been re-balanced since the controversy, if at all? What specifically would you like to achieve in terms of bump usage and the gaming aspect of the site?

James: We observed that too many people were getting rewarded for doing very little.  While it can be a great feeling to earn point rewards, it only stays fun when points are actually earned and risk (spending points) is properly balanced with rewards.  In this case, we had a mini bubble on our hands where pretty much everybody was hitting the jackpot because we hadn't adequately scaled our rewards algorithm with traffic growth.

Silkworm: It's clear from reading the forums that the site inspires a lot of passion and commitment, in both artists and listeners, in what's ostensibly a late-stage Beta site. There's been a lot of sentiment expressed in both the t61 and maxbumps forums, from both artists and listeners (including myself) that there needs to be more frequent and more specific communication from you and Sam. Blog contributor iyzie notes that he doesn't think users need to know all the formulae, but when major changes occur, users may deserve a) some advance notice, and b) some specific reasoning as to why the changes have been implemented. What do you feel could be done to improve communication? Do you guys have any procedures in place for keeping users in the loop?

James:I'll be starting a development blog in the near future (editors note: The blog was launched last week. A blanket answer to your question would be:

- We hypothesize and implement a lot of changes throughout the day, most of which goes largely unnoticed.  Some tweaks work and some don't. The bottom line is that there's such a quick turnaround that it's not practical to document such madness.

- The unfortunate fact is that there are people out there that will take advantage of any transparency for unsavory goals.  We'd rather be tightlipped (safe) for now until we eventually work out an optimal balance in communication flow.  There's a reason why Google doesn't maintain a comprehensive change log on their search engine algorithm.

Batface89: Yes, I can see how you wouldn't want anyone stealing the forumula.

Silkworm: Blog contributor radhruin is wondering how you feel about the creation of user-generated scripts to effect the behavior of the site on the client side?

James: Don't always see the need, but it's cool that somebody's taken the time to share tweaks with others.

Silkworm: Lastly, are you guys still having fun at this?

James: Of course!


Apocalypse said...

Very good interview and even though this was done a few months ago, it seems apropos to the current situation and rumblings.

BTW, where IS Silkworm?!

silkworm said...

Hi, y'all. Been dealing with some serious family health issues, but hoping to be back soon. Glad that batface89 got this up there (thanks Michelle!)

Tyson said...

Excellent interview. It definitely gave me some insight into their thought process. Thanks!

Tyson [loyalty]