After the Deadline

After the Deadline: Acquired

Posted in News by rsmudge on September 8, 2009

Today I have big news to announce for After the Deadline.  But first, I have to tell you a story.

I left the Air Force in March 2008 to pursue my dream of launching a startup and to finish graduate school.

Coming from the US Air Force Research Lab, I wanted to solve a problem and invent something cool.  The most recent problem I had when leaving the Air Force was writing technical reports.  I knew what I wanted to say but always had doubts about my style.  So I decided to hunker down and write a style checker.   I launched this tool as PolishMyWriting.com in July 08 and it went…. nowhere.

Later I wrote to a friend of mine in NYC who showed PolishMyWriting.com to his boss at TheLadders.com.  His boss wrote something about it in their customer newsletter and thousands of people came to my site.  They processed many documents and wrote to tell me how much this style checking tool helped them.  This inspired me.  I asked myself “if I’m selling umbrellas, where is it raining?” and I saw an opportunity in the web application space.  My goal–bring word processor quality proofreading tools to the web.  It was at this moment After the Deadline was born.

I submitted the style checker embedded into TinyMCE as part of an application to Y-Combinator, Spring 09.  Later, I was greeted with a rejection letter.  But that was ok!  I knew I didn’t need permission to start a business.  So on I went.  I adhered to the proposed schedule and milestones.

By Mar 09, I had a pretty kick ass system going.  The spellchecker accuracy was showing potential to rival even MS Word (context makes a big difference) and I knew the style checker was comparable to similar commercial software.  My favorite feature though was the misused word detection.  Outside of the latest MS Word–no one else really had this.

I applied to several other seed funds and after an encouraging meeting with a seed program in Boston, I found a trusted and qualified friend to handle business development if we were funded.  At this time I took some cost cutting measures (*cough*sold everything, moved in with my sister*cough*) to keep going.  My partner and I landed an interview and prepped like crazy for it.  We weren’t funded and I received feedback that the idea was good but the problem was too hard.  I’m thankful we had that interview though and was encouraged to make the first cut.

My short-lived partner went to a real job and I devoted another month to coding and launched in June 09.  As part of the promotion process, I posted about AtD to Hacker News. I also left this comment, hoping to impress someone:

This paragraph is from a NY Times article. Can you find the error in it?

Still Mr. Franken said the whole experience had been disconcerting. “It’s a weird thing: people are always asking me and Franni, ‘Are you okay?’ ” he said, referring to his wife. “As sort of life crises go, this is low on the totem poll. But it is weird, it’s a strange thing.”

Neither can the spell checker in your browser. Why? Because most spell checkers do not look at context. After the Deadline does.

Besides misused word detection (and contextual spell checking), After the Deadline checks grammar and style as well.

Visit http://www.polishmywriting.com/nyt.html to see the answer.

That must have worked, because later, I received an email from Matt Mullenweg asking me about bringing After the Deadline to Automattic.  Matt and I are both big believers in open source.  We like to eat but at the same time see a bigger picture where impact matters.   He is also an incredibly smooth chatter and anti-aliasing does wonders for his online presence.  I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to.

And so here I am.  We did the deal in July 09 and since then I’ve moved After the Deadline to Automattic’s infrastructure, rewrote the plugin, improved the algorithms, and today it started checking the spelling, style, and grammar for millions of bloggers.

So what’s next?

I’m continuing this natural language processing research under the Automattic banner.   We’re planning to expand AtD to support other languages.

After the Deadline will stay free for non-commercial use and we hope to see others build on the service.

And finally, our goal is to raise the quality of writing on the internet and give folks confidence in their voice.  We’re planning to open source the After the Deadline engine and the rule-sets that go with it.  This will be the most comprehensive proofreading suite available under an open source license.  I’m excited about the opportunity to be a part of this contribution.

And some thanks…

The hardest part of waiting to make this announcement is I haven’t yet had a chance to publicly thank those who believed in this project from the beginning.  I’d like to thank Mr. Elmer White for his legal counsel and support.  Congratulations on your second grandson.  Ms. Hye Yon Yi for her support and putting up with me when I was completely unavailable.  Mr. Dug Song, Patron Saint of MI Hackers, for advising me on the business side. Ms. Katrina Campau for coaching me on the investor interview.  The A2 New Tech (Ann Arbor, MI) for letting me present and being encouraging. Mr. David Groesbeck and Ms. Michelle Evanson at Why International for being my earliest business cheerleaders.  Mr. Brandon Mumby for providing hosting, even after AtD caused a hardware failure.  My colleagues, who serve at the Air Force Research Lab, for inspiring me to stay curious and keeping me in the community.  The crew in #startups on FreeNode and the Hacker News community–thanks for showing it can be done.  Of course my family (esp. my sister who let me turn the basement into a “command center”) and the makers of Mint Chocolate Chip ice-cream.

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  1. [...] You can read more about the story behind Automattic acquiring After the Deadline on their official blog. [...]

  2. Adam Dempsey said, on September 8, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Congratulations! So do you know work for Automattic?

  3. [...] makers of the popular blogging platform WordPress, have announced the acquisition of After the Deadline today. After the Deadline has created a contextual spelling and grammar [...]

    • Chuck said, on September 9, 2009 at 4:24 pm

      Now that’s a funny trackback. :lol:

  4. [...] After the Deadline‘ı aldı. WordPress için via: blog.afterthedeadline.com var skin = {}; skin['HEIGHT'] = '73'; skin['BORDER_COLOR'] = 'transparent'; [...]

  5. [...] After the Deadline, an amazing next-generation contextual spelling and grammar checker, is now part of Automattic and the service is live on WordPress.com. For self-hosted WordPress users, grab the plugin at [...]

  6. Adam Chavez said, on September 8, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Thanks for the good work on this man! Just installed it on the site & am looking forward to using it.

  7. mncaudill said, on September 8, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Congratulations! I’ve been using your service for awhile now back from when you first announced it on HN and it has done more for my writing than other method.

    Just got the plugin working on my self-hosted WP blog. Works like a dream.

    Congratulations again–this is very well-deserved.

    Will this ever be open sourced? I’d love to get to hack with it. Or better yet, do you need any help at your new job? :)

    • rsmudge said, on September 8, 2009 at 9:21 pm

      Hi there, yes the plan is to open source it :) I also plan to try and break out parts of the system into easy to digest chunks and write blog posts on them. My main goal is that the concepts of how AtD works get out there so other systems can incorporate this kind of technology.

      • that girl again said, on September 9, 2009 at 1:09 am

        I’m puzzled by your reference to ‘free for non-commercial use’. Do you mean that you will charge for commercial use (bearing in mind that GPL doesn’t allow for such differentiation between end users) or that the software will not be available for commercial use by companies other than Automattic (again, contrary to GPL)?

      • Matt said, on September 9, 2009 at 5:42 pm

        The web service will have restrictions on usage — if you want to run the code yourself you can do whatever you like with it.

    • rsmudge said, on September 9, 2009 at 5:56 am

      @that girl again – we’re working out the details on commercial use and will make sure what we do is within the spirit and the intent of the license we release under.

  8. [...] The Deadline’s founder says the deal was completed in July. The startup will continue to upgrade the tool, though under the [...]

  9. Fred Posner said, on September 8, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Raphael,

    I really enjoyed your presentation at ARBSEC and congratulations on the success!

  10. Paul Stamatiou said, on September 8, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Congrats!

  11. Kyle Mulka said, on September 8, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Congrats! Sounds like a story of how hard work and determination paid off!

  12. linuxandfriends said, on September 8, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Really good tool. Congrats on getting acquired by Automattic.

  13. Honey Singh said, on September 8, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Congratulations !
    Never give up when you believe in your idea !

  14. [...] September 8, 2009 Reply Automattic has acquired a cool new service called After the Deadline. Raphael and Matt have the story. [...]

  15. banago said, on September 8, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    That is a lovely story – thanks for sharing it. I love this one the most “(*cough*sold everything, moved in with my sister*cough*)”

  16. [...] ATD ini saking menariknya, hingga Automattic (perusahaan di belakang WordPress) memutuskan untuk mengakuisisi startup yang didirikan oleh Raphael Mudge itu. ATD sendiri merupakan startup yang bergerak di [...]

  17. [...] Acquiring press release [...]

  18. [...] makers of the popular blogging platform WordPress, have announced the acquisition of After the Deadline today. After the Deadline has created a contextual spelling and grammar [...]

  19. Gonzague said, on September 9, 2009 at 12:42 am

    congrats ! hope to see it running as a plugin soon if doable and in several languages

  20. Navjot Singh said, on September 9, 2009 at 4:27 am

    Great News for you. Tool looks awesome. Will install it on all my blogs!

  21. Asif2BD said, on September 9, 2009 at 5:00 am

    Its nice to see you under same hood. Way to Go Buddy.

  22. Jamie Parks said, on September 9, 2009 at 5:14 am

    Inspiring story :) Matt is to the web what Tesla was to the grid. Thanks for building such a useful tool and keeping it free for all to use. Love to see that Y-Combinator rejection letter.

  23. Kate Mag said, on September 9, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Congratulations! ATD is a great software. I can’t wait to see it available for many languages.

  24. [...] and adaptive ) contextual spelling and grammar checker.  The service,  run by Raphael Mudge,  is now part of Automattic and we turned it on   live today on WordPress.com.   If you are running self-hosted WordPress, [...]

  25. [...] Weitere Hintergründe zur Übernahme durch Automattic gibt es im Blog von After the Deadline [...]

  26. Joe said, on September 9, 2009 at 9:25 am

    I typed “Im going home” into http://www.polishmywriting.com/ – “No writing errors were found”
    “i dont believe this works. this is a peace of carp.” – no errors found.
    “There our plenty of errors in this peace and this software cant find there location’s.” – no errors found.
    “This is a nerror message” – finally it found a spelling error!

    Hmmm. I think I’ll leave it for now. Good luck to you for the future, but this doesn’t seem like a particularly useful service yet.

    • rsmudge said, on September 9, 2009 at 1:24 pm

      Hi Joe, that’s fine and good luck. AtD is a safety net. The grammar and style checker applies 30,000 rules to your writing when you pass it to AtD. While this number grows each week, it’s catching a lot of things already… certainly more valuable than the browser based spellchecker.

  27. ovidiu said, on September 9, 2009 at 11:58 am

    has anyone paid attention to the footer on the After the Deadline site? It says:

    An Automattic invention

    Doesn’t that strike you as wrong ,seeing that they bought the service?

    • rsmudge said, on September 9, 2009 at 12:45 pm

      I actually updated the footer to say that. I didn’t mean to imply Automattic took ownership and credit for all past work. I just wanted to convey this is something new, exciting… it’s an invention.

      • ovidiu said, on September 9, 2009 at 1:03 pm

        :-) ok, it just sounded so like matt…
        I think due to past statements, a lot of people are actually eying his every statement for thigns like this. I’ll take it back and apologize, the service is great.

      • Matt said, on September 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm

        Any statements in particular?

      • Dr. Mike Wendell said, on September 9, 2009 at 8:06 pm

        Unfortunately, that’s what it means. They did the same with Gravatar when they took it over. They changed the site and the blog to make it look like they had created Gravatar and took all credit for it. They also did the same with my old forum posts in the wp.com support forums. I think you should change it back but I learned a long time ago that Matt gets whatever he wants.

  28. [...] can learn more about the deal via After the Deadline’s founder Raphael [...]

  29. [...] can learn more about the deal via After the Deadline’s founder Raphael [...]

  30. swamije said, on September 9, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Hello Sir,
    I could not understand fully the after-the-deadline-acquired! Anyhow I am interested that my blog http://www.swamycosmology.wordpress.com too have to be checked for its Grammar and spell check. As I have no basic computer knowledge I hope that you will do the needful.
    Thanking You,
    R.Swaminathan.

  31. Faisal Asif said, on September 9, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Very interesting. And happy for your success! :)

  32. [...] can learn more about the deal via After the Deadline’s founder Raphael [...]

  33. [...] Deadline, een super handige contextuele spelling en grammatica controle plugin, is nu onderdeel is van  Automattic. Mocht je een blog op WordPress.com hebben dan is kun je de plugin al in werking zien. Indien je [...]

  34. [...] via After the Deadline: Acquired « After the Deadline. [...]

  35. Review Of After The Deadline said, on September 14, 2009 at 11:01 am

    [...] ATD on your blog, download the plugin from here. Also, congratulations to Raphael Mudge who has a great, inspirational story of how he  ended up in this [...]

  36. [...] the Deadline provides word processor quality spell-checking technology for online.  Press Release   [...]

  37. [...] the Deadline provides word processor quality spell-checking technology for online.  Press Release [...]

  38. prettyorganizer said, on November 17, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I tried “the data showed an increase in sails” in the sample box that held the New York Times example, and it found neither of the problems…

    • rsmudge said, on November 17, 2009 at 5:55 pm

      The misused word detector is statistical, it won’t catch everything. It could–but then it’d flag a lot of correct stuff too. I’ve tried it, you don’t want that. Trust me ;)

      The misused word detector is based on fixed pairs of potentially confused words. I have sale/sail in there and if you try “I made a sail” that will likely get flagged (even though someone *could* be making a sail for their boat making it wrong).

      I looked and sales/sails isn’t in the list of potentially confused words. I added them and we’ll see how they do. They’ll go live the next time I retrain AtD.

  39. [...] the Deadline provides word processor quality spell-checking technology for online. Press Release [...]

  40. [...] I started with Automattic. Matt and I had worked out the deal several weeks earlier. We announced the acquisition of After the Deadline in Sept 09 and also made AtD available on [...]


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