An Interview with The Creator of Calepin

Jökull Sólberg Auðunsson is the author of Calepin, the Dropbox powered blogging engine built off of the open-source Pelican, and also serves as interactive tech director at Icelandic agency.

Over our email discourse, we discussed the recent static blogging engine craze and how it seems to be picking up steam, how his product Calepin came into fruition, thoughts on being a writer and what tools you should be using and of course what his own tools and workflows are like.

Alex Knight: I believe I found out about your product when Merlin Mann first tweeted about it. I imagine someone with that kind of clout brought some new users to your door. So what’s the scoop with Calepin? I suspect you built it to scratch your own itch. Tell me more about it and how the project came to fruition.

JÖKULL SÓLBERG AUÐUNSSON: One week after the launch I actually came across a comment I wrote on Hacker News that pretty much documents how Calepin started. I noted that such and such product should exist to make static blogging easier. It must have been the sixth blog post on Hacker News about how some geek ditched Tumblr or WordPress for Jekyll or a similar tool. But Calepin has evolved from just a static blog service. At least the ideas I have for it. 

I had no idea who Merlin Mann was at the time. I’m following him on twitter now though :o)

Alex: Can you talk about some of your thoughts for the longevity of the platform? I say platform, because it seem like a fair way to describe what Calepin is. Right now the service is free to use, but have you thought about a business model for the long term?*

JÖKULL: I want to ensure Calepin continues to work as a reliable platform for the long term. The way to do that is to innovate around a user base that’ll be passionate about the features I add. Calepin has reached people who know Markdown. I want to find people who need Markdown but haven’t been introduced to it yet. That’s where my market is, and that’s where I can bring in more passionate users. I’m sticking to the “serious writers” tagline. It’s a reminder of who I’m working for: one of the most passionate consumers out there; consumers who create. 

That’s kind of my business plan. More concretely, we’ll probably see a free and premium plan early 2012.

ALEX: I can see why you’ve been able to reach Markdown users, but it sounds like a potentially complex problem to solve when it comes to articulating to non-Markdown users why they should use it. I imagine this poses a slew of design and marketing obstacles that need to be solved. How do you communicate the benefits in a concise way, and how do those people go about learning how to use Markdown without a huge learning curve? What are your thoughts on that?

JÖKULL: As a user of a product, when you take something seriously you are more mentally adjusted for a learning curve. You can see the opposite when you look at the development of social network apps; an experience that is more casual. Facebook, as an example, has to use gamification and build upon user experiences people are already familiar with. That’s why Facebook could never have preceded Hotmail and MySpace. They can’t have a perceived learning curve (although certainly there is one). So maybe the trick is to make the learning curve non-perceived? 

Along that thought, I believe Calepin should present itself as a serious, even dull tool. Somewhat similar to what recent focus text editors have done by stripping out features. Speaking of the focus editors; that would be smart alliance. Integrate publishing into editors and let them do the marketing and presentation. After all, it’s easier to market an iPad app than a platform.

ALEX: I agree with the notion that it’s easier to market an app, as opposed to a much larger platform. It’s much easier for people to make an impulsive purchase, knowing that within minutes their content could be published in a professional looking site, thus taking away the thinking needed to get everything going.

JÖKULL: I spend a lot of time in TextMate. I’ve tried Sublime 2 and TextMate 2, but came back to TextMate. I love that the choice of text editors is so good now days that it’s just come down to taste. 

The Calepin user interface is written in a toolkit called Brunch. It’s stack of tools that makes modern frontend engineering as painless as possible. I’m completely sold on things like CoffeeScript and Stylus, which Brunch forces you to work with. I built the Calepin interface in an afternoon and it still feels future proof and readable. It feels great to have invested in forward thinking syntax. 

I do all my coding on a Macbook Air and Cinema Display. I look forward to a retina display Air-like Mac. I never understand people who skimp on hardware and still use computers every day. These things are incredibly cheap when you do the math. 

For software logistics I rely heavily on Amazon Web Services and GitHub. If GitHub offered public stock I’d put all my savings into it. I believe GitHub could become a Fortune 500 company in very few years. The proprietary social layer they’ve built on top of Git is something the world is going to start standardizing around and consequently relying on. Software is still eating up the world, after all.

Alex: Very cool stuff. Thanks for sharing your tools and workflow with everyone. I think a lot of people are looking forward to seeing where Calepin goes in the next 6-12 months months. It sounds like you have a game plan and already have a growing list of stuff you want to accomplish with it.

*You can read Jökull’s weblog over at and follow him on Twitter at @Jokull or @Calepinapp for product updates.