Introducing Cork'd

So really, it started a few months back. I was in a local wine shop and couldn’t remember the wine Dan Cederholm had recommended to me a couple of days earlier.

So I called him on my cell phone, and after picking up the bottle, we got to talking. Why wasn’t there a really simple, fun, easy to use website that could handle managing wine lists like this? Turns out, Dan C. had been thinking the same thing, and had a few great ideas in mind already … and even a very cool domain name to boot!

We wanted to build a system that we would actually use.

Cork'd Welcome

After a bit more discussion, we’d outlined the core functions for the site that we’d want to use ourselves. It would need to let users:

  • review (and tag) all of the wines they’ve tried, like a wine-journal
  • keep track of the wines they have at home
  • keep a list of the wines they want to buy
  • search a database of wines and see other users’ comments about them
  • add a wine that’s missing and rate it or add it to their lists
  • make it easy to share wine recommendations with other users

The site would need to be simple and fun to use, and it would need to extend a bit beyond itself, into user’s blogs and maybe further. We’d want to make it easy for people to show their wine lists on their weblogs, print out the lists of wines they want to buy, and maybe (eventually, if not on day one) get access to their lists using their mobile phones.

We wanted to make the site free for people to use, and encourage them to sign up and add their reviews and wines and help build a wine community. Also, we’d want to make sure that the entire site’s content would be accessible to everybody, even non-members.

Cork'd Welcome

Down the road, we could envision members having their own wine blogs, and maybe even podcasts, winery and wine shop reviews, and more. But starting simply had to remain our primary focus.

Sure, there were already sites that managed lists, and a few others that had wine reviews, but we thought it would be cool to build a community-centric wine site that would actually be fun to use and, if we nailed it just right, maybe even make wine a bit more accessible to people like us … normal people with a real interest in and love for wine.

And this is how Cork’d was born.

How It Works

Inspired by smart, easy to use sites like Netflix, Flickr, and Backpack, we really wanted for the whole experience, from signing up to creating a wine journal to be simple and fast … otherwise we wouldn’t want to use it ourselves. With that in mind, we set out to work.

Cork’d works like this: after filling out a (hopefully painless) 1-page signup form, you can start tracking the wines you’ve tried in your Wine Jounal. You can rate, review and tag wines, adding “tasting notes” as you go. You can build a Shopping List of wines you’d like to buy (just like a Netflix queue), and a Wine Cellar for wines that you own.

Cork'd Welcome

Want to keep track of what your friends are tasting? Easy … just add them to your list of Drinking Buddies and you’ll be able to see what they’re up to. And of course, you can recommend any wine you’ve tried to anyone on your list.

Where’s The Wine?

It wouldn’t be any fun if Cork’d didn’t have any wines to search or read about. So, working with, we were able to import a special selection (about 1200) of their bottles into the Cork’d database. Each of these bottles has a link that lets people buy a wine they’re interested in right away, from the wine review page. We’ll make a small referral fee if people buy wine this way.

Of course, people can add their own wines if they’ve tried one and can’t find it in the system.

Cork'd Welcome

How We Made It

Both Dan C. and I spend our days working, paid to build validating websites and web applications (respectively). Neither of us have much spare time for “fun” projects like this. Dan C. even had a baby on the way, with a delivery date right around the corner.

We only really were able to work on this during off time, weekends mainly, and even then, not as often as we’d have liked. But we knew the development process would be slow, and we just fit it in whenever we could, usually not at the same time, sometimes not touching code for extended periods of time. It would be a slow-to-be-born labor of love. But that was fine by us. It would get done … eventually.

Tools like Basecamp and Subversion (tied into another project, more on that in another post), paired with the fact that we are both Mac users made working together easy from the technical standpoint.

Working with Dan C. was (and always has been) great. He creates XHTML and CSS the way developers write code. He’s smart and experienced enough to anticipate future issues and pre-compensate for them. The result is logical, clean, concise, extensible, and even readable. The guy’s got skills, and once he’s on a roll, there’s no stopping him. I found myself continually surprised by how consistent, appropriate, and darn cool everything looks throughout the site. Hopefully some of it rubbed off on me.

Dan C. has published his thoughts on Cork’d here.

Technical Details

As you might have suspected, Just like A List Apart, Hivelogic, and most of the sites I’ve built in the last year or so, Cork’d is a Ruby on Rails application. I get paid to build Rails applications all day every day, and I really enjoy it, so it’s only natural that I’d want to develop my own applications in the framework I enjoy most.

As I’ve mentioned before, I use TextMate for all of my development these days, develop locally on an iMac Intel and Powerbook, and deploy to servers in a couple of different datacenters (which I manage myself).

As both Dan C. and I are Mac OS X users, many of the tutorials I’ve written recently (like Installing Rails on Tiger and Building Subversion on OS X) were developed to help with this project.

Cork'd Welcome

The site itself was built with XHTML and CSS (no Flash, etc.), and as far as I can tell, the whole darn site validates. How’d Dan C. do that?

One final note here: Cork’d is not a beta. We’ve been testing the site privately for a number of weeks now, and feel confident enough to call it 1.0 right now. That doesn’t mean that bugs won’t crop up as they do with a lot of released software. It just means that when you sign up, you’re not a beta tester, you’re a user, and there’s a difference.

What’s Next?

Dan calls the process of building Cork’d an “evolution,” and I couldn’t agree more. But now comes the fun part … turning the site over to you, the users. Hopefully you’ll tell us where to go next, and help the site evolve naturally, based on your ideas and contributions.

There’s a Cork’d Blog (though it’s a bit quiet right now) and more additions coming down the road in a bit. We’d love to see Cork’d grow, and can see other cross promotional opportunities through getting involved in the real world wine community. We’ve got a ton of ideas for integrating wineries, wine shops, vineyards, other wine blogs and podcasts, and even Cork’d user blogs.

But for right now we’re just thrilled to open it up to the world. So what are you waiting for … go check out our latest project … Cork’d!

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