Web3 Galaxy Brain πŸŒŒπŸ§ 

Web3 Galaxy Brain

Jong-Kai Yang, Co-Founder of HackMD

31 May 2024


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Nicholas: Welcome to Web3 Galaxy Brain. My name is Nicholas. Each week, I sit down with some of the brightest people building Web3 to talk about what they're working on right now. My guest today is Zhang Kai Yang, co-founder of HackMD. HackMD is a multiplayer plain text editor on the web. People use HackMD to collaborate on text notes, share read-only documentation, and collect feedback from commenters. HackMD plays especially nicely with Markdown and other common markup languages, making the documents one produces in HackMD highly portable. On this episode, Zhang Kai explains the origins of HackMD and how people are using HackMD today. We learn how HackMD situates itself amidst other tools in the space, and Zhang Kai shares some lesser-known features hidden inside. It was great getting to know more about HackMD and the team that's building it. I hope you enjoy the show. As always, this show is provided as entertainment and does not constitute legal, financial, or tax advice or any form of endorsement or suggestion. Crypto has risks, and you alone are responsible for doing your research and making your own decisions. Zhang Kai, welcome to Web3 Galaxy Brain. Hi.

Jong-Kai Yang: Nick, happy to be here.

Nicholas: So how did HackMD get started in the first place?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, it was a side project by Max, which is the HackMD CTO co-founder. The side project started in 2016. We started seeing some traction there, and then on the end of 2018, we decided to incorporate. And yeah, that's where it started.

Nicholas: Originally, was the product the kind of multiplayer text editor that it is today?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, it has always been a markdown as a focus form. So basically, it started off like a markdown collaborative editor that, you know, you always had a Google Doc, and then Evernote, you have a lot of other proprietary format of a text editor. But then, like, adding this collaborative element to markdown editor was something Max wanted to experiment on, and now we started to sort it out.

Nicholas: Right. And you have a background as an investor, right?

Jong-Kai Yang: No. So I was a financial analyst. I actually was a trader, and then became a financial analyst, and then eventually decided, hey, I wanted to really build something instead of, like, live off income and trading things. I'd like to build something that's really... I didn't know what to build at first. So I kind of said, okay, so now I'm, like, way past college. How do I learn to build something now? And then, obviously, internet came up when there was, like, you know, software. It seems pretty...relatively. Easy to get started. Like, there's a lot of tutorial online. There's a lot of resources out there. You can pretty much self-teach yourself to learn to code. And now, yeah, then I kind of told myself what to code and become a security engineer first. You know, being hired, because it’s always easier to get hired to see how things are really done and, you know, see, like, having this, I guess, insight into a bigger system out there and then see how things are running. And then, yeah. Kind of... And then also... It was a relatively easier time to find a job as a software developer back in 2012. Sorry, back in 2015. And then I started learning in 2012 and then basically found a job in 2015. And so that's kind of how I started.

Nicholas: And as a former analyst, what do you think the TAM is for something like HackMD? How many people do you think might eventually be interested in this product?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, we kind of talked about this. And I feel like it's really hard to think about it. Like, it's probably somewhere between 100 million to a billion people. I guess the guests are really just, like, people who ever have, like, doesn't have to be software developers to really write a markdown or really just a text format. So a lot of people, for example, data science, you know, researchers, even students of other subjects or teachers at school, like, if they want to type something in, let's say, LaTeX, they probably know, like, this sort of markup language. And, yeah, so I would say somewhere between, I guess, probably less than a billion.

Nicholas: And, yeah, I mean, markdown is, like, a big part of the brand. It's right in the title. Do you think it's important that users know what markdown is? Or I suppose it's useful for other people as well?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, markdown is really just a way for, it's just one flavor of a way to write things. The gist of it is just to write. So if you want to add your format into your text content, that makes it so readable. And then if your text editor are supported, can render it more beautifully. So the idea is, like, to try to port, because that format is also part of your content. Like, you can look at those, like, titles and then, you know, bullet points, you know, what have you. Like, bold, italics, those kind of things are really just part of your reading experience. And that should be portable in this open source format. So markdown, I think, to us, like, we're not super, it wasn't that markdown on its own that, like, made it super hype. It's more like that, the idea that this format of your text, it should be part of it. It's open source, portable with you, portable across different platform, devices, and hopefully across time. So, like, any of us, like, we're a startup, right? So it's probably easy to say that. I guess it's fair to say that one day we'll perish, you know, with history. But then your content shouldn't go down with us. If you say, I mean, people still remember using Evernote. I was a user of Evernote maybe 10 years ago. And then with this getting out of fashion, it became a pain in the ass. You have to sort it out. You have to sort of get all your content out of it. I've never successfully done that. I mean, I still have my Evernote account. Sometimes I still go there to find some of my old content there. Yeah, so the same goes with your content store in .docx, the Microsoft Office Word format. That, I mean, today, I guess a lot of people who's been hired, their company offered them the access, you know, Office Word. Those access, you don't feel that you're paying that. We call it Microsoft Tax. But if you're hiring yourself, I guess you're self-employed or work for yourself on your own project, and then you didn't pay your Microsoft Tax, you find it hard to open those files.

Nicholas: Right. So basically by choosing Markdown, you've chosen this plain text format. that's not, you know, maybe the proprietary formats are convenient. They don't expose the formatting, text, stars, et cetera, to the user, but they're less portable.

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. So there is the idea called what you see is what you get kind of editor. There are some good text editors. For example, I've seen students doing it very well that all your text is still Markdown, but it kind of formatted for you. We believe that is also a way to go. Back in 2016, '17 when we started hacking DVD and immediately go with that. It's like, yeah, Markdown itself is beautiful. And then I would like to let you see a text editor. Because PostMix and I were developers. So, yeah, we just think of this as something we built for ourselves. And then it kind of took off. And then a lot of developers also loved the idea. So we kind of --. so instead of making your editing experience a what you see is what you get kind of experience, we actually allow you to switch your favorite of your text editor on HackMD. So there is a button to switch your Markdown editor in HackMD from, you know, either you want to Vim or Emacs. We actually support three basic things. So Vim, Emacs, and just plain text kind of more like traditional coding text editor.

Nicholas: Do you think that makes it -- to me, it makes HackMD seem more technically oriented that you expose the Markdown directly. Do you think of your audience as people who are more technical or over time? it doesn't matter?

Jong-Kai Yang: I mean, right now, definitely. So I guess there's good and bad to it. The bad, obviously, is that it feels a little bit -- hard to approach for a lot of people who just get started or are not familiar with Markdown at all. But I do think that Markdown on its own is really just a flavor of writing. It's really just plain text typing and then just adding a few things here and there, adding a pound here, adding these asterisks here. Those are not really hard to learn. But we definitely -- like I said earlier, we put in the text editor there. I mean, the kind of like coding text editor there. Maybe. But it's pretty intimidating for some of our users, for sure. But there's also good to it. The good thing is that the users to HackMD are pretty -- I feel like the good software -- I'm sorry. This is not said by me. I'm just quoting someone else. It's like good software is like having taste. Like you don't -- obviously, everybody has their own preference, right? So instead of trying to find, you know, put a thing for everyone, which is impossible, you might as well build something for people. Like you. And then you know. You actually know what you like. You have your own taste, right? So the good part to it is that a lot of our users who use HackMD loves it. And almost 78-something, 80% of our users are -- almost 80% of our users are kind of more tech-savvy people. And by doing -- so we can put -- we can keep our product relatively sleek, kind of look -- look at it as pretty simple. But the powerful features can hit it. So like you don't have to really -- I guess give you a very clean slate to work on. That's a pretty cool thing.

Nicholas: Yeah. One other design decision in HackMD that's pretty different from other software that's out. there is this sort of markdown -- classic markdown style editing mode versus preview mode. Is that something that you feel committed to long-term given the technical audience? Or is that something that's just a feature for now but ultimately you could get there? You know, you could get to a mode -- like a mode-less editor.

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. We definitely still debating on this one. We'll keep it as is today. As -- well, I guess for another couple of, I guess, quarters, if that -- years. The idea is that right now it's becoming a little bit cumbersome because a lot of our users actually found that in addition to real-time collaboration on HackMD, this commenting system we recently -- well, we added for, you know, more presently. the commanding system provides this feature of asynchronous collaboration, so if you're leaving a comment there, a discussion over the content, specific text, and then you can also suggest edit there, giving some text, suggesting some editing to replace that part. So asynchronous editing is becoming important for a lot of our users, and that two-column view is actually squeezing all the space for commenting. So that is definitely one of the motivations we want to switch to more Obsidian-like, just single column, and still typing in pure Marlani, but as you type in, it will kind of render in real time for you.

Nicholas: Are the comments current? I haven't used the comments actually. Are they in the preview, or the editing mode, or both?

Jong-Kai Yang: They're both. They're both. You can just select a text and then start. of that. That is actually a very loved feature. So if you're working with other people, pretty much every notes around HackerBeat goes through this lifecycle. It started off from just a few jot down ideas, and then you probably just deviate those ideas further and then from paragraphs into an essay. And that also moved it from draft to the kind of internal circulated with your friends, circulated within your friends to seek comment and then eventually kind of publish it as a white paper and things like that. So in the second stage of the drafting to the kind of circulated version of it, that commenting feature is very important. A lot of people use that. We see that people using commenting feature are still growing. And then that people who use that, tend to stick longer with this because it is not just for real-time collaboration. It's really not just for your personal writing, but a way for you to collaborate on things using your favorite text editor.

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. So I guess we can call ourselves lucky, I guess. Back in 2017, a foundation came to us saying that, "Hey, they like using HackMD. Can they have some way to host HackMD on their own?". That was before we even incorporated, right? So there being one of our earliest customer, definitely led us to think maybe we should have entity to receive funding for that, revenue for that. So that's where we kind of incorporated and start selling this. The thing we call today, we call enterprise cost addition. Really, enterprise plan is just a standalone HackMD package into a Docker image, and then you can host it on your own. So that is pretty much how we set up for Ethereum Foundation. And we're lucky in the sense that Ethereum Foundation is starting uses in the early days of... I mean, back in 2017, Ethereum is not totally new, but it's still in the relatively smallest people who knows about it. I mean, compared to today, seven years later, Ethereum being one of the biggest and most active communities, decentralized foundation out there. So we're lucky to have been supported, that's been supporting Ethereum Foundation since then. And we're also kind of lucky when we set out to decide to raise our angel fund in 2020. Vitality himself actually invested in us as an angel investor very early on. So I guess that's kind of how we become popular. But then I also... There's one thing I want to, I guess, probably if you're not saying is that this portability of your content that you own your thing, kind of resonate with crypto people. I guess, decentralization thinking, the thing today we call Web3, as opposed to Web2, like user-owned data, as opposed to just generating for big corporation, that kind of resonated with us that, "Hey, Markdown is designed to be portable with you, right? With your content.". So I guess a lot of the people who started thinking, "Hey, I want to have this thing that is not tied by any proprietary format out there." They start looking for a Markdown, and they just say, "Hey, Markdown, collaborate in the trend, you find .

Nicholas: Right. I guess before HackMD, most people were using probably Google Docs and maybe to an extent Notion, which kind of emerged, I guess, around the same time. Yeah. So it is far superior if you're doing kind of technical work. to be in HackMD over Google Docs, for example?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, I mean, so if you're doing Google Docs and then you want to save that Google Docs somewhere from there with you, like if you are a software developer like I am, the version control system you trust is probably Git system or GitHub. So HackMD integrated with GitHub that allows you to push all your previous versions into. So you can push every version of HackMD, HackMD nodes as a commit into GitHub entry, and then you can just push those commits into a branch on GitHub so that you can merge that into your GitHub version during pre-order. So HackMD integrated well with technical workflows. So if you are a developer yourself or if you are a kind of a protocol researcher, you probably wouldn't want your thing to be in GitHub. You want it to be locked up inside your Google Drive. You want that to be easily shareable. People can trace the version history of it, see who contributed to which part in your version country history. Yeah, so that's kind of... If you are people who care about your workflow, your productivity tool choice is probably going to be HackMD over Google Docs.

Nicholas: And what are the advantages of the self-hosted version that someone like Ethereum Foundation wanted?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, I mean, you can come to us. We also have the open source version on HackMD. Just go to our GitHub account and find it there. It's called CodeMD. And, well, I have to say that the version, the affordance of the capability of both versions, the open source version versus HackMD is going to be different. HackMD for our sharing service, we have a lot of more, for example, team plan, like Teams workspace, that's like, you know, so make it more easy to work with. It's more organized and also easier to do your collaboration with this trusted circle.

Nicholas: And an enterprise might want the enterprise version because that way the private documents don't live on a shared cloud service, basically? Yeah. Yeah.

Jong-Kai Yang: So the enterprise plan is really just like, you host your own thing, we'll just provide you with this thing and then just start using that in your own internal settings.

Nicholas: And what other communities, aside from crypto, are big into HackMD these days?

Jong-Kai Yang: So crypto people, like crypto communities on HackMD, they are very active compared to, and also one of the fastest growing companies on HackMD. But they are accounting for about 10 to 15% of our total users. So crypto, if you are inside the crypto world, you probably see a lot of people, talk a lot with your folks who are in crypto. But the total population of crypto as a percentage of the total, I would say crypto developers as a percentage of total developers, it's probably not even 1 to 2%, I guess. Yeah. So that, like we have, in addition to crypto community on HackMD, there's also a lot of software, like traditional software developer, with two kind of, you know, front end, back end, data science people. There's also cybersecurity people, cryptography researchers as well. So cryptography there, well, they're not cryptocurrency, but they're also kind of in crypto, but talking about like, you know, a lot. So we are very good for people who try to, who write a lot of like, formula, scientific expression, pseudo codes. You know, if you want to draw like UML diagrams, those are, you'll probably grab it through HackMD.

Nicholas: If there are people like inside Google, even for example, who find HackMD just preferable to the heaviness of something like Google Docs.

Jong-Kai Yang: You mean employees inside Google?

Nicholas: Yeah, or in larger organizations that maybe have subscriptions to all this. It's not for lack of access to other fancy software, but just prefer the simplicity of HackMD.

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. I mean, like. there was a project called AngularJS. That is, I believe some of their, some of their core developers work for Google and they've been using HackMD for a while. There's also a lot of like, for example, Rust, Rust is a language. It's not very familiar inside of crypto space, but Rust language, there are also a lot of core developer, core team also using HackMD. Swift, the iOS coding, iOS app coding language also uses HackMD a lot. They also like, Swift is also an open source community, but I believe a lot of their core devs are hired by Apple as well. So there was a second.

Nicholas: So do you think of HackMD as being, like, does it fit at all into the no-code stack? Is it, are people using it, integrating it with things like Airtable or Zapier, or is it in a completely different lane?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. So we do offer APIs and the way that people use our API really just all sorts of things. The RAs, the API is really simple, right? It allows you to basically see all your nodes content, and then you can sync everything into your local, maybe sync your local thing to HackMD, so that it's turned into a collaborative thing. So yeah, we're just another storage on HackMD. So those are basic uses. But if you're, we don't, we'll probably, as opposed to being Zapier, like, you know, do it all, we don't provide really a whole lot of management, capability there. We're probably one of the tools that Zapier can incorporate into, but probably not as powerful as Zapier itself.

Nicholas: Of course, of course. But how are people, do people use HackMD like a kind of simple database or in other interesting ways? Are they using it programmatically with the API? How are people making use of it?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. So a lot of people use HackMD, especially API call for other kind of backup systems. So, you know, you're backing up things from HackMD to your local, local storage or the other way around. Like, so that is really the majority of use case. Some, some, we heard this use case from one of our, I guess, lover fans, So just have a user of HackMD talks about like how he used, how can the API call to dump his console log. So when he was doing this kind of, you know, pair coding with his, with his colleague remotely today, who doesn't work remotely, right? So, when he's doing that, he would just like, write, you know, do a log, log in from his console and then do a pipe and pipe into HackMD API call. Yeah. So, share that HackMD link to, to his colleague. And so people can look into what's happening there. That is kind of like a paste bin tool. Some people, if you're, yeah, so it's kind of like a paste bin tool. So like that is something pretty cool. I would say, and a lot of people use HackMD for like, so this is how we, you know, draft a, so for example, if you and I were working on this kind of blog together, or maybe you have like a collaborative, sort of like, yeah, blog is a good example. You and I will be working on this HackMD note and then together, separate it within yourself. And then things we're, we're done kind of just put it some, put it with, add it with a tag, and then RBI, just constantly called it and refresh our, our blog. So kind of use like some sort of like publishing flows being handled down there. But then, then drafting part is handled by, by, by HackMD.

Nicholas: Talking of dumping logs into HackMD and then maybe collaboratively assessing what's going on. Does AI change the score for HackMD in any way? Do you imagine integrating AI tools, which I think a lot of people, like me, use it to use things like ChatGPT to analyze logs and quickly understand what's going on? Can you foresee something like that in HackMD?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, we have definitely looked at the possibility of that. We don't see, I guess, I guess if we, when we find some, I don't think it's a problem. if it's more like when, when we find a powerful enough use case that, that this is going to add value to our user, we're going to add it, going to add it to, add it to our user. But right now, as our thinking goes, is that, you see, HackMD is for collaboration rather than when you're done. Basically, even in collaboration on nodes, everyone writes things for those things to be read by other people. Like, I don't believe there's anyone here writing things just so that it can be read by a machine. And then, so you want people to read your stuff, react to it, give you feedback on that, or admire your, you know, your genu, your genuinity, right? So like, basically you write things to, to, to, to, to gain feedback of the others. Like those two, that can be like direct feedback. Text feedback could be like kind of emotional feedback. Oh, you're so, you're so smart, right? So, in this loop, we don't see, I mean, not directly, AI being part of it. Yeah. But then again, when, when, when we see the opportunity, they arise, we definitely think about it. I would say that, if you, even with AI today, you think, like, for example, chess, the program chess, right? If you play chess yourself, you probably notice how chess, like, it's becoming like the way you train for your chess. Like, you play a game, the game is another real person. And then you feed those, PGN into your, those move, per move data into your, into your AI engine, and tell you, learn from that, your own mistake, or some of those people's mistake, So, AI becoming a teacher, or as a system, in that human to human thing, I feel like, maybe in the future, we definitely can do some property, possibility there.

Nicholas: So, the core functionality of HackMD, it sounds like you're not jumping on the band, bandwagon of any kind of AI features, in order to, I don't know, do a new raise or something, but instead really serving your audience, whose core interest is this kind of, fast, simple, collaborative, note-taking software. Yeah.

Jong-Kai Yang: I mean, at the end of the day, you and I, as a human, we're probably only interested in human. I mean, even, even all those AI generated, picture out there, right? People still generate a whole lot of things of, other human, right? Even as an animation, or other character, but all those characters, animations, or, have some resemblance of human being. So, definitely, you're interested in other human. So, I feel like that connection is gonna, is, is a very core to HackMD, because we're a collaboration, collaborative, and, you know, we care what other people think.

Nicholas: Do you think HackMD is being scraped for AI training? Have you noticed that in the logs?

Jong-Kai Yang: Oh, yeah. I, I'm pretty sure it is being scraped from, by any AI outlet. The, the reason is that, if you publish things on HackMD, we flip a bit of, like, in our assignment of saying, okay, this node is, you know, if certain isn't crowded there, just crowd it, because, like, people want it to be published, right? People want it to be spammed on search engine. And there's really not a whole lot of way to stop any crowd there. I mean, even the robots.txt, I'm not sure, if you, you know, what it works like. This is like a gentleman's agreement. If you have this robots.txt file in your, in your, in your website, say it's like, okay, this is a gentleman's agreement between the site, website host, and the search engine, or any crowd there. You see that robots.txt, if your, your crowd are seeing that, you should honor whatever is saying that you should not crowd something that's not allowed there, right? But, yeah, a lot of AI agents doesn't give shit about it.

Nicholas: Did you keep like, is it actually, on the published notes, can you see the view count in HackMD as the user?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yes. Yes. And that's, yeah, it's actually very important feature for our readers, for our writers. So, you know, it's for people to read, you want to see how many people are actually reading those, So, that is a very important feature for our users. A lot of our user cares about that number a lot. Mm-hmm.

Nicholas: Coming back to talking about sort of alternatives or things that are in a similar lane, potentially, do you imagine something like, like Jupyter Notebooks, like where there's code execution in the course of a text file? Is that something that you're interested in for HackMD in the future?

Jong-Kai Yang: Even if we do, it's probably going to be something very limited within HackMD, but then, that is really affording a lot of security vulnerability there that, essentially, if you allow HackMD to run something for you, for anyone, and then anyone could just put any code there, this is a formula for disaster, I feel. We will be very cautious on that, for sure. That being said, the Jupyter Notebook folks behind the IPython, Jupyter folks are using HackMD as well. I believe that we saw some of their public documents being passed around using HackMD.

Nicholas: So they still have a use case for something more stripped down for communicating.

Jong-Kai Yang: I mean, Jupyter is more like, it's a great, great tool for data science or specifically, right? HackMD is more like for ideas circulating. I guess there's just, yeah. And also, Markdown, we support a lot of Markdown syntax flavor that is not being supported in Jupyter.

Nicholas: I wanted to ask you about that. I remember there was some drama when GitHub created a fork, or I think maybe initially they didn't call it a fork. They just called it regular Markdown, but actually it was different than the original Gruber version, and whoever else maybe worked on it at the time. Is there still drama in the Markdown world, or has the standard pretty much settled around the GitHub flavor? Oh, yeah.

Jong-Kai Yang: I mean, there's no single entity there saying, "Okay, every Markdown should look like this.". The flavor of GitHub, GitHub flavor Markdown is generally based on the flavor called common marks. HackMD is based on common marks. We also extend a bit of it, but then we try to maintain it. Just same with GitHub flavor of this. Basically, the core idea is that whatever, so the plain text with the formatting size should be readable and easily understandable by the reader. Even if you're just reading the plain text, you should see that, "Okay, this part is being emphasized with two asterisks on the front, this is emphasized.". We'll call it bold, right? And then if it's only one pound, this should be a H1 title. So that idea is that this should be easily processed by your brain that, "Okay, you can just read through a plain text and understand the highlights, understand the structure of it.". So GitHub extended that flavor a little bit. We incorporate that as well. So obviously, our use case is really to sync that with GitHub. And then, so we also support what I supported. I guess there's no longer a drama, as you would say. Obviously, every time there's something new pushed into a standard or pushed into a product that is deviating from the standard, common mark standard, there's going to be people complaining about it. But then there's really no malice, no malicious intent there, right? I mean, people adding this new flavor so that it looks more beautiful, more useful for you as a user. And you don't have to use it if you don't like it. Nobody can force you to do it. But yeah, so as long as it's readable, as long as it's portable, you still have your full ownership over your own content.

Nicholas: Speaking of all the syntax that Markdown enables, I know HackMD also supports some interesting, maybe lesser known things like you can write sheet music. What are the other features that Markdown, that HackMD has? that people don't realize?

Jong-Kai Yang: So sheet music, so you can just type in, almost like you can actually type. I don't really write sheet myself. I mean, I'm not really a musician, but a musician can use HackMD to support that feature as well. We also support some very basic data visualization. So you can really just put in like, obviously it's going to be, if you want to put in a huge data set, it's going to take a lot of space on your note, but we just turn that into a data visualization of your choice. We're so obviously thinking, so the idea is, so kind of going back to Markdown idea, we've kind of talked several times in this chat already, that it's plain text, readable and understandable by the human. We just make it more beautiful. Render it in a more beautiful way. So like, you know, chess pigeon, that's something, that's something we're thinking, because like, just a lot of people love us, love chess, and they will play that a lot. So like, maybe turn that into your thing. It's not supported yet. So I don't, the whole thing on that, we haven't put that in there. Yeah. So they have visualization, sheet music.

Nicholas: LaTeX too.

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. We also support it.

Nicholas: Maybe people don't know.

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. UML diagrams. Yeah.

Nicholas: Oh, UML diagrams. Or mathematical formulas.

Jong-Kai Yang: LaTeX for sure. Not just LaTeX, but other, there are three flavors of like, it's a scientific, I'm just kind of blanking out right now, but we wrote blogs about it. So you can definitely find it. on HackMB support. There's a whole lot of things supported there. Then again, these are not standard common marks, but it's plain text, portable. You write it in HackMB, render it good for you. And then one day, the day will come, eventually, HackMB will become history. But I'm used to having your history with you.

Nicholas: You mentioned Obsidian and I haven't used it, but I think it's a little bit similar to Roam Research, right?

Jong-Kai Yang: So Obsidian is more like a local, like so on your laptop is an app.

Nicholas: But similar in the sense of like a mind mapping, I guess, bi-directional linking notes, right? Yes.

Jong-Kai Yang: Yes. And Obsidian also have that. We don't have bi-directional. We have like just one direction of things within HackMB, with also embedded notes. So I think in the sense that HackMB is very different from these tools, is that we build HackMB because we're a builder, right? So there's one thing we call the embedded note. So you can embed one note into another note and then just be rendered together. So you think, yeah, why would I do that? So, but if one of the notes is being embedded into a note, there's a CSS file that governs styles, that governs different things. And that, basically, you use your own CSS styling sheet. So you want all your notes to look at that. This is your personal flavor, HackMB, or your markdown render, if you like it, you can create this kind of style sheet inside the HackMB note. And you can embed that note into any other notes with a one-liner. So one line is being embedded. Every style will be applied to that embedding note. So, yeah.

Nicholas: But not, you see like a pretty big difference between the kind of collaborative note taking that HackMB specializes in and something like a personal knowledge database, I guess. Oh, yeah.

Jong-Kai Yang: Oh, yeah. Like personal knowledge, going back to preference. So personal knowledge, I don't think there's a clear winner in that space. Roam research being a very one, a good one. Obsidian is also a very good one. It's more personalized. So, sorry, but Obsidian is like really just your personal software. You download the ones that lives in your laptop. There's. no, yeah, it's local. Yeah. So, Roam, Roam research is more online. A lot of people also love, like we kind of mentioned earlier, Notion. There's all sorts of things for personal knowledge management. I, like I said earlier, I still have things in Evernote, which I never, I seldom use today, but I still, there are things there, right? So, but HackMB really focus on collaboration. Like it's really for, for you to write things, with your colleagues, with your friends, and then publish that, publish that on HackMB for your audience, your community. So, like our slogan is build a good community with collaboration. That is, you know, we want to help you build communities. I believe this is a very important point for, for us today. I guess for any technology project out there, you build technology for people to use, But then you have to, once you're starting having user, and you're starting to have to build around your technology, you have to incorporate their, their voice. You have to see what they really want, what they really need, to use your tech, to build it, right? So like you have to give them a voice somewhere. And that is normally done through either Twitter or Telegram, or maybe this course, there's a forum, forum app. But these are all easily, like Telegram is really just always constantly watching, like in any Telegram group, more than let's say four or five people, it's really hard to go back to things you didn't, or discuss, And Twitter as well, Twitter and Telegram, these are not designed for serious discussion. Whereas the discourse, the forum discourse, now the Chinese discourse, discourse as a forum is definitely good for discussion, but then the context is always kind of hard to follow. if you do that, how is that timeline scroll. So how can we, that's why our coming feature become more and more important to our user, that you can select a very specific text, and expand your discussion over that text, determine between those texts and what is important there, and then try to fix that for everyone. So yeah, that is a very different use case.

Nicholas: Yeah. This reminds me of a question we got from the audience from Samuel Huber on Farcaster, who asks, how do you think about article distribution? And I guess it sounds like almost HackMD is somewhere between something like a discourse and a sub stack, but it's mutable, you know, with the commenting feature, it's about getting feedback. But from my perspective on HackMD, there's not really like, unless you're in a team, there's not like a higher level perspective of all of the different notes that might be belong to an organization, unless you're a part of a team, or someone manually creates a separate HackMD that has links to all the child documents, which I guess some communities probably are doing. How do you think about people finding HackMD documents and participating in these communities?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, that's definitely a need we start seeing arising. We talk about collaboration, and initially we thought that collaboration is like people, like basically, I know who you are, I collaborate with you. But now that there's more and more of an open collaboration, there's more of more like cross pollination, cross pollination. So like, basically, I have some idea, we collaborated as a group, I have some idea, some other people come from other groups, come with this idea, best idea, and actually make us both better, right? So we're definitely thinking, how can we make it more easy to discover each other's work, you know, finding each other, connecting with each other on HackMD. We don't want to, though, we don't want to scare our people. There's still, HackMD is still being like a, you know, note taking, kind of like a collaborative text editor thing. We do want to scare our users with a bunch of like unsolicited bombardment of our news. Like you want to focus on writing, we want to help you with that. But maybe at some point, you know, down the line, we should add some sort of like, you know, kind of like square, sorry, kind of like public speech, kind of forum, like people can find each other somewhere. So, yeah, that's definitely something we are looking into.

Nicholas: What's the most sophisticated ways that people are using HackMD?

Jong-Kai Yang: So, a lot of, there, there, there's like, there are a few actually, maybe 10 to 15 conference every year that use HackMD for collaborative note taking. So, you've ever been to a conference, you know, that conference normally have like opening remarks and then there's probably two, four, maybe eight tracks on the same day. And for those four tracks, you probably see that, okay, I want to go through this one, but I also want to go through that one. There's conflict schedule. So, a lot of the conference come to HackMD and we help them with like creating this HackMD book mode. This is going to be a book of all those, all those notes, each note for one track, one session. So, people can, can do collaborative note taking inside those notes for each section. So, for example, if I, if you and I go to a conference together, we're both interested in these, to talk, I go to one and start taking, typing, taking notes inside that note. And you can take notes on another one. These are all contributed to the, the book that's being owned by the conference host. And yeah, so this seminar conference kind of sponsorship, we do, there's a lot of conference out there, so they can just spin up this HackMD book and then collection of all this talk note. And then people can start taking notes in those notes.

Nicholas: What does the book mode look like?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, it is really just a note, just a HackMD note that is collecting other notes together. And then if you, when you do publish, so there's a share button on the right hand corner of HackMD, right top corner there. And then you click on there, there's a dropdown menu, you select book mode, and then HackMD will render all those links into a book. A book is basically a collection. You think of like a documentation site, a kind of static site. So like you have on the left hand side, there's like a, there's like, there's like a panel of like each note. And then you click there, that just leads you to your notes.

Nicholas: Got it. We had a couple of other questions from sdv.eth on Farcaster who wanted to know, what is the deal with the RWeek? I believe integration.

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. So, we, like, I guess this goes back to your promise. Like you want all of our content, all the HackMD, we want you to be able to put your content with you. Like, we don't want to hold your note hostage. This is like, we're a tool, you know, if you use HackMD, you like using it, you pay for us, but then there's no, like, if you don't like us and we help holding your note hostage, you're not going to pay us more. So, that is not the way we look at it. So, in that promise, when decentralization, decentralized storage become a really viable thing, instead of like just theoretically working, becoming a viable solution is actually useful. We started looking at self-social out there. We definitely look into file coins, IPFS, but then back then, IPFS and file coins were, we're not so sure which one is going to work. We're just going to outlive the other one. And then, are we become a very, very promising options. And they also, they're being very, I guess, collaborative with us. So, we're saying, Hey, we want to integrate some sort of decentralization, decentralized storage for HackMD. You know, we do a survey, we reach out to these people, and then they are, we first, the first one to say, yeah, let's do this. We can help you with that. That's not a lot of head holding there. And, you know, we share all the API. We do a lot of that with Flare. So, that kind of builds us together within. The little promise is really to, just so that if you want, if you care about decentralized storage, and you're storing your content, ROV is optioned there. But, during our implementation of this ROV integration, we definitely thought about, Hey, ROV is not the only storage out there. We made our implementation modular, not that we can cover it with other storage as well. Well, that said, we haven't heard a whole lot of IPFS or Filecoin. People can't do this. Hey, we want that. Okay. If you guys really want the HackMD, you can definitely talk about it. Yeah, it should be doable.

Nicholas: Got it. So that's basically just for saving off an immutable version of a HackMD document to our, if you can do it from straight inside the interface. And do you have to pay for that process? or does HackMD cover the AR cost?

Jong-Kai Yang: Right. So, the first couple of months we integrated with ROV, ROV agreed to pay for it. But then, right now we have to pay for our own storage. It's really cheap. Well, depending on how much you're storing there. And it's also like, we are not, it's not automatically stored because you don't want your work in progress. Sure.

Nicholas: Every keystroke.

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. So, it's a really optional thing. You have to click it. I'm going to export to ROV.

Nicholas: Speaking of crypto integrations, I know you also have a sign in with Ethereum integration. What does that do? How does that work?

Jong-Kai Yang: So, right now, sign in with Ethereum is a way for you to sign into your account. And then, that's, that stuff's there pretty much there. So, like, you don't have to create an account. You can just use your wallet to sign in. That is, that is our attempt to, to, to, to see if like, we're definitely exploring maybe some sort of token gating out there. So, like, if you have signed in with your wallet, maybe going forward, we can, you know, just do token gating there. There's something we're exploring. We're also looking into integration with ENS. You know, a lot of people use HackMD for documentation. If it's integrated with ENS, like, you have your own domain name, that's going to be useful for you as well. So, those are the aspects. Token gating and ENS are the aspects we're looking into in the future. Sign in with your, I guess, wallet in general is really the first step to it.

Nicholas: Yeah. How does HackMD make money?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, we're a subscription-based tool. So, and it's a little freemium model. So, like, if you start using HackMD, signing in is actually useful. You know, you want to collaborate with more people, but in a private setting, our team plan is the most highest growing, like, our highest growing product offering. so that, you know, people working within a team group, kind of, pretty much like Notion or Godot, it's a seed-based monthly payment. You can obviously have a huge discount if you pay annually. Yeah, that's a subscription-based tool.

Nicholas: And what's the price point for that?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. So, if you pay annually, the monthly cost is only six bucks, I believe.

Nicholas: Great. And how big is the team working on HackMD?

Jong-Kai Yang: So, we have 14 people right now. Yeah, we plan to add maybe two more people. This year, we're a pretty good size. We like it. We're actually a very efficient team. And we are, obviously, our backlog is long. I'm thinking, maybe, when will we get you the feature people wanted? But right now, the team is working pretty well. So, smooth. And I feel like, yeah, we bought the right size.

Nicholas: And part of the team is in San Francisco, right?

Jong-Kai Yang: Part of the team is in, I don't know, in the area. The other part of the team is in, North Carolina, on the East Coast. And those are a lot of teammates in Taiwan.

Nicholas: Okay, great. Well, I had one silly question for you, which is, actually, we talked about this a little bit earlier, but I don't know if you ever noticed that the bold italics, strikethrough, and header spell bish in the toolbar. I wanted to know if you knew that, but you told me that you hadn't realized that.

Jong-Kai Yang: I never, I never realized that. So, like you said, those are just, like, so, Hackenley being a text editor is not very user-friendly for people who never use this kind of text editor, So, we put those kind of, like, visualized, kind of WYSIWYG, you know, just, like, quick selector on top of it. And you talk about, like, then there's obviously bold, italic, strikethrough, and header. So, these are most basic markdown elements, If you find anything online, try to say, how do I learn markdown? Or markdown 30, markdown 101. These are four things that people talk about. There's also number, bullet, and intention, right? So, we just put it. I never thought of it as a dish. Yeah, we should change that. We should change that.

Nicholas: Maybe put header first.

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah, that's not intentional. You are probably, yeah, you're definitely the first one who ever talked to me about this thing. I was like, why are you talking about it? I never thought about it.

Nicholas: Good, good. Good catch. So, what do fans of HackMD have to look forward to for the rest of 2024? Is there any interesting things coming up that you can tell us about?

Jong-Kai Yang: Yeah. So, HackMD, we've been around since 2016. This year, we're looking to kind of just change the, kind of providing some color scheme changing. So, obviously, dark mode, a lot of people asking for dark mode, and this is long overdue. So, we're going to change that. We're also going to increase integration. So, our interaction ways for readers to interact with their author. We see that, like I said earlier, kind of asked about like the viewership count, viewership count. That number means a lot to our author. And so, we do interview with our author. Why do you think it's important? And we then, then our user, our author actually value interaction or feedbacks or comments left by their reader. They want to know how their reader think, right? So, we're going to add more interaction there. Also, we want to build our book mode into more like a block experience. So, like we're adding this, like I said earlier, ENS integration, adding this book cover, we call it a book cover, so that you can turn your book into a block and then add a domain name to it. Oh, nice.

Nicholas: Like a sort of, I guess not a static site, but like a, like a blogging software based on Markdown.

Jong-Kai Yang: Like, you know, Yeah, there are, there are definitely a few of them out there, but we don't, we don't really think of it as competition. More like our user wants that as produce or yes, I don't know.

Nicholas: maybe, maybe Gatsby is not one of them, but this is definitely a popular application. And I think people would definitely love that feature. So that makes a lot of sense.

Jong-Kai Yang: Substack.

Nicholas: Substack. But I mean more like the ones where you just save Markdown files and it sort of on the fly, transforms them into HTML pages for every, I don't know. Vitalik's blog is maybe like that.

Jong-Kai Yang: Maybe.

Nicholas: I forget what they're called. Anyway, that's great. Okay, so that's an exciting feature people can look forward to. And have you ever thought of doing anything like an email subscription to updates of a document or something like this, like bridging not only into the blog area, but also maybe into this newsletter domain?

Jong-Kai Yang: Oh, yeah, we already have that. So you can subscribe to our user, any user on HackMV, and then that subscription can be email. Obviously, emails can turn off by default because we don't. But then again, yeah, we can maybe add email there so that make it more easy. A lot of people, like. we don't want to be put into a spam folder. So you can actually subscribe to HackMV notes and any change made to that note will notify you, mostly through in-app messaging. But then if you turn it on, you can also be turning into email. This is just going to be a whole lot. There's a lot of things. if you subscribe to. You get every change. No. Right. You can. You can do kind of daily digest, but it's still a lot.

Nicholas: Maybe it would be interesting to have a way for people to replace Substack with something like HackMV. Maybe this blogging feature eventually could do something like that. I know HackMV's got this very technical audience that are, I'm sure, super demanding and have all kinds of very specific things that they want. If they want to get in touch with the HackMV team, if they want some feature implemented, what's the most convincing way? What's the best way for them to get in touch? Yeah.

Jong-Kai Yang: Send an email to support at HackMV dial. We see all those. There's a lot of support there. Also follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn. We're HackMV.io there, H-A-C-K-M-D-I-O, on Twitter, on X.com. Yeah. And then we're very responsive there.

Nicholas: We've got to get you on FarCaster next.

Jong-Kai Yang: Okay.

Nicholas: Okay, great. Are there any subjects that we didn't cover. that you think we should discuss before we call it?

Jong-Kai Yang: No, I think this is a great discussion. HackMV, we're trying to build this community with other people for technology builders. So if you are thinking, how do I build a community on HackMV, it can be helpful.

Nicholas: Awesome. Yonkai, thank you so much for sharing all this info. I'm sure people are going to be really excited to hear this interview with you.

Jong-Kai Yang: Thank you, Nick. Have a good one. All right.

Nicholas: Bye-bye. Hey, thanks for listening to this episode of Web3 Galaxy Brain. To keep up with everything Web3, follow me on Twitter, at Nicholas, with four leading ins. You can find links to the topics discussed on today's episode in the show notes. Podcast feed links are available in the show notes. They're available at Web3GalaxyBrain.com. Web3 Galaxy Brain airs live most Friday afternoons at 5 p.m. Eastern Time, 2200 UTC, on Twitter Spaces. I look forward to seeing you there.

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Jong-Kai Yang, Co-Founder of HackMD