The Taylor McKnight Interview

I first met Taylor McKnight at a SXSW conference, which one I don’t recall. Probably 2004. Or maybe 2005. It seems like many years ago, especially in terms of Web years.

Back then Taylor was a Web Developer for the University of Florida’s Web division. The university’s Web site is so successful it hasn’t gone a major redesign in years and is still the template that other universities copy to this day.

Taylor has since left UF, but still lives in Gainesville, working on pushing forward Internet-enabled entertainment endeavors that we all wish the music and movie industries were undertaking on their own.

I’m happy he agreed to be the first one in my new on-going interview series of Web developers helping to move our industry forward.

Taylor McKnight header


Christopher Schmitt: For the record, what’s your name and what you do? 

Taylor McKnight and I play on websites for a living.

CS: How would you describe yourself? 

TM: 24 year old entrepreneur who likes to create things, travel and listen to music.

CS: What are you currently into right now musically?

TM: Brightblack Morning Light — really chill, Sunday lounging music. The Ghost Is Dancing — Indie pop/rock that can’t go wrong with horns. Mika — Crazy pop that was popular in the UK and recently made it’s way over here. Boy Eats Drum Machine — This guy’s voice is bizarre, but it grows on you.

CS: Where have you traveled?

TM: In the past six months I’ve been to New York City three times, Boston, Austin for SXSW, London, Barcelona, and San Francisco. Most of it was work and or conferences but when you like what you are doing so much, it’s not really work.

CS: With all the traveling, do you have any tips for dealing with traveling? 

TM: Packing wise, I got these Packing Cubes that make it easy to find stuff in my suitcase. I try to concentrate on staying hydrated so I feel good when I get there.

CS: Anywhere you like to go that you haven’t been?

TM: I’m thinking about living in Berlin for a month next summer with some friends who already did it a year ago and want to go back. I also want to see Japan.

CS: What was your first exposure to the internet and/or Web? 

TM: Prodigy. When I was like 10 at my step mom’s office. I barely remember it but it was slow… and awesome.

CS: In what way was it awesome?

TM: I remember being excited that it was this different level of interactivity. Video games were pre-programmed months ago, magazines were written weeks ago, but things you were reading and playing with—even on dial-up—were as close to instant as you could get.

CS: Do you remember what Web sites you used to visit regularly back in the day?

TM: Well, I didn’t use Prodigy for that long, but in the AOL 9600 baud days, it was pretty much chatrooms trying to talk to cute girls who were probably old men.

CS: Was Podbop your first Web application/mashup? What was the experience like in building it and the reaction from the online community?

TM: Yes, Podbop, was my first webapp. I built it with Daniel Westermann-Clark. I was a bit naive and really thought we were just building it for ourselves and a few friends. It was built in our spare time over a few months—most of which was building up our database with MP3 links. At the urge of the Eventful.com crew, we took it to Mashup Camp and ended up winning best mashup. People really enjoyed how insanely simple it was yet useful.

CS: How is podbop doing?

TM: Podbop is on the back-burner these days as I concentrate on Chime.TV and Hype Machine. It’s not growing, but has a steady user-base.

CS: I’ve recenty moved to Cincinnati and I noticed a lot of local bands here don’t have their MP3s listed with the site. Any tips on how I, as a fan or potential fan of some local bands, could get them hooked up on it? Other than emailing them?

TM: Well, anybody, can add them, so if you know of a band with an MP3 go for it. Otherwise, what has been most effective for me is letting labels know about it since they usually have a bunch of bands under them.

CS: Chime.TV is a departure from music and into video from your recent projects of Podbop and Hype Machine. Describe Chime.TV and how it was accomplished? 

TM: Chime.TV is a super video aggregator that is probably the closest thing you will find to TV online with the most content and nothing to install. We combine 10 of the top video sites from around the web into 20+ channels, if you don’t know what you want to watch, and global search, if you do know what you want. It was created by myself and Chirag Mehta and was done over six months in our spare time. It’s easily the most complex project I’ve ever been a part of and I’m very proud of what we’ve done.

CS: Did you win another mashup award for Chime.TV?

TM: Yes, Chime.TV won the Best Mashup Award at Mashup Camp IV this past July in San Francisco. It was my second time winning that award and was very exciting for both of us. Hanging around people and the environment in general at Mashup Camp is really enjoyable.

CS: There is really a lot going on at Chime.TV. Recently, I’ve been searching for Chime.tv videos and having them play sequentially without a lot of hopping around. 

TM: Good idea, I made a Flight of the Conchord channel.

CS: That’s fantastic. I didn’t even know you could do that or that one could be registered user of the site. Does Chime.TV support openID?

TM: Chime.TV doesn’t support openID.

CS: Any other features Chime.TV has that people who like YouTube would prefer over simply surfing youtube?

TM: So with your free user account you can create your own channels, bookmark favorites, and send video mail to friends which shows up when they login to Chime.TV. All the videos play non-stopwe even preload the next video) and are resizable. It’s also better than Youtube because we include videos from: blip.tv, Break.com, DailyMotion, Google Videos, GUBA, Kewego, MetaCafe, MySpace, Veoh.com, and YouTube.

CS: With sites like Chime.TV, Podbop.org and Hype Machine, you are leveraging social Internet trails and turning them into useful applications for people to in turn digest. Are you finding a lot of potential profit in this area? 

TM: I’ve been too focused on creating fun, useful apps to worry about profit too much. A.k.a, I have usually had a day-job that pays the bills. For Podbop and Hype Machine we make money off advertising, which has done pretty well.

CS: Were able to pay the bills right away with these two sites? How long did it take?

TM: For Podbop, our only cost is one $50 a month server, so we were able to cover that pretty easily. Hype Machine was around 2 years before I came aboard and was already making income when I joined.

CS: Could you describe Hype Machine and why someone would want to use the site?

TM: The Hype Machine follows music blog discussions. Everyday, hundreds of people around the world write about music they love and it all ends up here. You can find out what’s popular among music blogs this week, listen to the latest tracks being posted or even search for a specific band to hear more of them. It’s one of the best ways to explore and discover new music.

CS: What’s a typical work day for you? 

TM: Wake up at 8 or 9am, walk down the street with my laptop for a croissant and iced coffee while I check my email. Come back to my home office and work 6–8 hours on various projects like Hype Machine, Chime.TV, my blog, etc. Intersparsed with random errands and lunch. Call it a day usually around 4 or 5pm.

CS: What are typical work-related activities do usually do om a day or week?

TM: Currently I am spending my days working on the Hype Machine redesign. Chatting with Anthony over IM or Skype and implementing various design and code changes. For Chime.TV it’s a bit more marketing oriented. I look for new places to spread the word about our site and come up with new ways to promote it. I’m also currently obsessed with my Tumblelog so I post a lot.

CS: When your workload is heavy, how do you cope? 

TM: Make a physical list of what the steps I need to accomplish. Add copious amounts of
music and caffeine. Shut the door.

CS: How often does that happen in a given week or month?

TM: Probably 2–3 times a month.

CS: What software do you use on regular basis?

  • Synergy. I have a Dell and a 15″ Macbook Pro that share a 24″ monitor, keyboard and mouse using
    Synergy. It’s incredible.
  • Subethaedit is what I handcode XHTML and CSS in (it’s the only thing I use)
  • Transmit and CuteFTP are my FTP clients of choice.
  • Adium and Trillian are my all-in-one chat clients

Also, there is Photoshop, Winamp as all my music is on my Dell, IE7, Firefox, and Safari.

CS: What’s your greatest strength? 

TM: Creative brainstorming.

CS: Anything special you do in brainstorming?

TM: Nothing original. I surround myself with things that inspire me like posters, artwork, music and browse web design galleries like CSS Beauty and other Web sites like NotCot.org.

CS: What’s your greatest weakness? 

TM: Distracted too easily.

CS: Lots of people have that problem, but they haven’t been part of three Web properties like Chime.TV, Podbop, and Hype Machine. What keeps you focused to carry these projects out?

TM: They interest me personally. I love videos, go to concerts and like discovering music, so improving these sites benefit my life and that’s motivation.

CS: In your opinion, what parts of the Web need to be improved or fixed in order for the Web of today to evolve into the Web of the future?

TM: Overall, I’d say more aggregators like Chime.TV and Hype Machine to help filter out all the noise that inevitably comes with everything becoming cheaper/easier/common like making your own music or videos or blog, etc. Maybe even super aggregators for the aggregators.

Music on the Web needs to find a legal way to better cope/compete with things like bittorrent and album leaks. Things like pre-release album orders when music leaks and the ability to actually get everything in one place.

2 thoughts on “The Taylor McKnight Interview

  1. Hey, great post Chris. Love the q & a format. I’ve heard you talk about Taylor’s work before — man, if only FSU had/has enough insight to hire someone like him to create a design strategy as seemingly timeless as UF’s.

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