In the midst of World War II—likely a bit before all of our times—Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin) funded a highly creative group of engineers, focused on developing the next generation of aircraft. Shrouded in secrecy, the project turned out concepts that continue to influence the aircraft at which we still marvel today.
And which, with all likelihood, continues to secretly burn the midnight oil constructing concept craft that will provide the transport of tomorrow.
The project, according to Wikipedia’s entry, was affectionately dubbed the “Skunk Works,” after a popular comic of the day:
The term “Skunk Works” came from the Al Capp comic strip Li’l Abner, which was popular in the 1940s. In the comic, the “Skonk Works” was a backwoods still operated by Big Barnsmell, known as the “inside man at the Skonk Works”. In his secret facility, he made “kickapoo joy juice” by grinding dead skunks and worn shoes into a smoldering vat.
So why the history lesson? Did I change the blog focus to have more of a Lost Oregon vibe?
No. But, tarry a moment longer, gentle reader. Bear with me. Please allow me to explain.
Why, in the name of all things AJAX-y, would I ever try to equate this sort of old-school aircraft engineering concept with anything occurring in the Web 2.0 world of today?
Because, I’ve long held the opinion that Portland-based Vidoop—with its hires like Scott Kveton and Chris Messina coupled with its continued incubation of some very cutting edge projects—is well on its way to creating Skunk Works 2.0.
And Kveton and Messina aren’t alone. Vidoop has hired up a laundry list of talent. A list that bled Tulsa dry and caused them to look for other markets. And now, they’ve been hiring a very intelligent group of folks here in Portland.
But what Vidoop is doing with those people is as interesting as any of the projects on which they’re working.
You see, Vidoop is giving them space. Giving them free reign. Giving them autonomy. And allowing them to be creative. Or to continue the creative works that they may have been pursuing elsewhere.
Only they’re giving them more resources with which to work.
And today, they formalized that ad hoc effort of the last 4-6 months a bit more with the announcement of Vidoop Labs.
Still not making the Skunk Works connections? Well, the intuitive leap becomes far less difficult when you consider this little snippet (also from the Wikipedia “Skunk Works” entry):
[Skunk Works was an] organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on advanced or secret projects.
Ah ha! Now, it’s starting to work.
Vidoop is clearly pursuing something unique. A Skunk Works of its own. A development organization that pushes the envelope for the Open Web. That dreams up what could be. That lives free of the bureaucracy that tends to hamper more thoughtful and progressive projects. That seeks to fund and feed those projects that may not otherwise get the care and feeding they deserve.
And that’s happening right here in Portland.
And with the launch of Vidoop Labs, the Vidoop folks have begun formalize an umbrella for the projects already underway:
Today we are launching Vidoop Labs as a central place where we will be showcasing existing and future technology projects that we believe will help take the Internet and its users to a better place. Since most of these projects are open source in nature, I’d like to encourage everyone to get some code on their hands. We are all in this together!
Now, granted, one major difference between the original Skunk Works and Vidoop Labs is the veil of secrecy. Vidoop Labs is churning quickly and fairly transparently, if the Emailtoid to EAUT progression is any indication.
And I expect that trend to continue.
Not to get all Pollyanna, but man, what a great experiment.
Get a bunch of smart people in a room. And let them create. Let them do what they do best. And see what comes of it.
Not knowing, at the outset, what you’re going to get. But having utmost confidence that the team will deliver something creative, well engineered, and valuable.
If that’s not the kind of work I’d like to see happening in Portland, I don’t know what is.