Max Dunn President/ Silicon Publishing
Max Dunn was born in 1962. He grew up in Berkeley, California and was fortunate to have encountered computing at a very early age. At a UC summer camp in the early 1970s, he assembled computers from chips, guided by a friend of Steve Jobs. Max was taught Basic programming at a kids’ program at UC Berkeley and didn’t fall in love with it initially, but gained experience and became friends with several geeks who went on to fame and fortune. He played with Tandy computers and Commodore 64s, but was not deeply enthusiastic initially.
Max’s passion instead was music, and he has an associate degree in Pianoforte from Trinity College of Music London (1981) and a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Music from Wesleyan University (1985). He played professionally with band members of Digital Underground, Tony Toni Toné, and Prince.
It was at Wesleyan where Max regained an interest in computing, as it enabled his music. He programmed an Apple IIe in FORTH to produce sound waves programmatically, and when the Macintosh came out he wrote MIDI drivers and learned the software of the time for wave analysis and sequencing. He got to meet luminaries in the field such as John Cage, Don Buchla, Ed Blackwell, and Alvin Lucier.
Upon leaving Wesleyan, Max began a successful career in music that lasted 7 years, including diverse work (from playing piano/keyboards to programming in studios to managing musical groups) across diverse styles (classical, funk, jazz and ultimately mainly African music).
Max married a South African singer/dancer, Mubi Mathunjwa (leader of the dance troupe Uzulu Dance Theatre and the band Zulu Spear) in 1987, enjoying a whirlwind of encounters with leading African pop musicians (Manu Dibango, King Sunny Ade, Miriam Makeba) of the time. He managed her career as an artist.
When Mubli’s career ended due to health problems in 1992, Max moved to pure programming work. He started as a database programmer for health plans (Aetna and Lifeguard), where he would manage the data that turned into healthcare provider directories. This art became his passion.
At Aetna, and later at Lifeguard, Max managed the core healthcare provider databases (lists of doctors and metadata about them) and would provide extracts to a print house, which would work their magic to flow this data into beautiful healthcare provider directories that would be printed. At Lifeguard, Max fed data to a very advanced database publishing operation that had recently been acquired by Bertelsmann.
Max moved from producing data to consuming it, first as a Software Engineer at Bertelsmann in 1997, and later as the Director of Software Engineering in their database publishing operation in Silicon Valley in 1999.
This diminutive branch of the giant Bertelsmann conglomerate grew at an astounding pace, growing 20 fold during the three and a half years of Max’s leadership. The database publishing group was in the right place at the right time, building the very first web-to-print applications and participating in the birth of XML (“SGML for the Web”) along with the earliest forms of “SaaS” computing (which was then known as “ASP” or “Application Service Provider”).
During Max’s time at Bertelsmann, the division expanded in two ways: first by moving into content management with SGML/XML, and then by web-enabling what had previously been print-only publishing. Max managed a team of programmers who created solutions primarily for health plans, such as “doctor finder” applications for Blue Cross Blue Shield, CIGNA and others, which offered online search and instant generation of custom doctor listings in ready-to-print PDF format.
Perfectly timed for a dot com scam, in 2000 Bertelsmann spun off this division with little respect for the 30 people working there, several of whom had been there 20 years, and none of whom were offered equity in the new venture. Within a month all the developers quit, including Max and the lead developer, Alissa Whitney. Most quit without a job lined up, but Alissa and Max decided to start a new company.
In August of 2000 Alissa and Max incorporated Silicon Publishing, with the intent of doing precisely what the Bertelsmann operation had done, database publishing (ideally as an “ASP”). They had a continuous learning experience ever since that time.
From the first day of its existence, August 21, 2000, Silicon Publishing enjoyed instant success, landing a database publishing job (through a Craigslist posting) as well as custom development work for Adobe. These two jobs represented the two types of work that SPI would focus on during the next 10 years: services-based output of catalogs, directories, and other dynamic content; and custom development.
As a small company, Silicon Publishing had a broad range of engagements: it was easier to get work programming in the niche XML-related technologies where their skills were the deepest (SVG, XSL-FO, XSLT, and the new FrameMaker expertise they rapidly gained) than to follow through on the original dream of offering Bertelsmann-like database publishing services.
Max wrote on the topic of XML, tech-editing SVG Unleashed, and writing the “WYSIWYG XML Authoring” chapter of the XML Handbook with Charles Goldfarb, as well as numerous articles and whitepapers for Adobe.
One early challenge was in having rather naïvely assumed that database publishing would be a breeze. The main server-side software at Bertelsmann had been Xyvision, an expensive industrial-strength tool that required a trained operator to run.
As described at this medium post:The Medium Post
Max and Alissa explored all options. They finally settled upon on Adobe InDesign, which was very new, yet fantastic in all respects… except for the fact that it was not a server.
The Adobe relationship kept expanding, as it does to this day. For the FrameMaker group, Silicon Publishing produced demos of SVG, XML, and XSLT, and with FrameMaker 7.0, the company became involved in making the XML support actually work. Soon they had a formal development contract, and began adding features to FrameMaker. After prototyping a Documentum/Frame integration and adding U3D support to Frame, they took on a very large project to put Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) into FrameMaker. This work continued for years afterwards on enhancements for new versions of Frame, and branched into a project with Leximation to produce DITA-FMx, a high-powered advanced form of DITA plugin.
Max had been begging Adobe for an InDesign Server since 2000, and finally in 2005 (no thanks to his passionate requests to Acrobat salespeople) Adobe decided that such a product would be a good idea. Silicon Publishing was in the first Beta of the product, and Max flew up in October 2005 to meet the great Whitney McCleary (a.k.a. the “Empress of Adobe” see:Empress of Adobe Article
Silicon Publishing worked on demos and materials supporting Adobe’s IDS launch, and was part of the first group of 10 resellers. Today (2017) Silicon Publishing is the leading reseller of InDesign Server in the world.
With InDesign Server, Silicon Publishing finally had a viable, scalable tool, and they went to work building solutions on top of it. Database Publishing, the initial goal of the company, was a service that could be offered without limits or caveats. There was also the exciting prospect of online editing.
Max found it rather perplexing that his company’s database publishing solutions and services didn’t instantly see huge demand. Instead, there were far more requests for online editing solutions that would hit the “public-facing” flavor of InDesign Server to create PDFs in response to web requests. This wasn’t new. Max and Alissa had built many such solutions back in the late 90s with Xyvision as the composition server, but what was new was the demand for a WYSIWYG online solution, which was (as of 2005) just barely possible in Flash, and not really possible at all in the HTML browsers of the era. Internet Explorer 6 still held sway, and only Mozilla had sincere aspirations for SVG support.
When Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2006, they embarked on some exciting work in porting InDesign text features into the Text Layout Framework used by Adobe Flex (a Flash development tool). This led to some promising WYSIWYG editing capability. Silicon Publishing had already created WYSIWYG Flash editors (most notably for Real Estate services company Seemlux), but while working in the Flex 4/Flash 10 beta it became clear that a really robust, perfect, online editor was possible.
As of 2009, Silicon Publishing was all of five people, including recently added COO Aaron Hodges, who brought a software product background. He convinced Max to make a product, which they named Silicon Designer, and announced it during Print 09. It was a resounding hit. Within a few months, Silicon had (over)committed to many large-scale Designers for huge, brand-name companies. Having too much work was a new challenge for Silicon Publishing: five people could not have possibly delivered on the initial Silicon Designer commitments, so it became a time of growth.
By a twist of fate, Adobe decided at that time to move most InDesign development from Seattle to Noida, India, and suddenly there was a flood of incredible engineers on the market. Silicon Publishing recruited from this great pool of talent, and most still work with the company to this day.
While the InDesign team added a huge influx of talent that dramatically scaled the company and improved quality up by orders of magnitude, 2009 and 2010 remained difficult and chaotic. There was an impedance mismatch between some Adobe engineers who were used to multiple 18-month release cycles, as opposed to Max and Alissa who were fast hackers from the print industry (at Bertelsmann there had been a “standard 5-business-day turn” for almost every project). It took time to assimilate the new people, and the web expertise required kept growing in complexity. Many consultants were brought on to share the burden, but only an elite few could keep up with the extremely demanding technical work and hectic pace.
On April 29th, 2010, Max witnessed the birth of his son, Max 2.0, to his second wife, Isabel (Mubi had passed away in 2007). On that same day, Steve Jobs wrote “Thoughts on Flash” which made it clear to Max that Flash had no future.
Immediately Silicon Publishing began working to replace the web client of Silicon Designer with an HTML5 version. They dusted off old SVG skills from the early 2000s, and thus began the passionate internal arguments over the right architectural approach for the client, as well as the best tactical approach to text on mobile devices, which as of 2010 was a minefield of dysfunctionality. It’s very easy to say “don’t use this technology” but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that any viable replacement technologies are available.
Also in 2010, a large photobook manufacturer deploying one of the first “Silicon Designer” implementations asked Silicon Publishing to more fully connect the template setup process to their asset management system, Day CQ. This was dear to Max’s heart, as he recalled the CS4 Developer Briefing for InDesign Server, in which Heath Lynn (who now worked with Silicon Publishing) explained a new “under the hood” feature: URL-based linking.
Silicon Publishing hired Michael Easter, the Adobe engineer who had architected linking in InDesign, and a beautiful plugin was born. This simple C++ plugin let InDesign talk directly to URLs, and initially worked great with Day CQ. The Day team was very friendly and Max had high hopes of partnership with Day.
Adobe, however, decided to acquire Day Software, and it was a long time before they were able to bring the resultant new product (Adobe Experience Manager) to market. While Connector for AEM stalled, Jason Bright of MediaBeacon fell in love with the power of URL-based linking, and one by one, every other DAM did the same.
By 2014, the HTML5 flavor of Silicon Designer was working well. Silicon Connector had seven DAM implementations, and even Adobe had come back and embraced the AEM version of Connector. The Silicon Paginator product had gradually matured as well, bringing database publishing more significantly into focus.
In 2015 and 2016, attention turned to scalability in several dimensions. From improving the code development process to building out SaaS infrastructure, Silicon Publishing attained stability as never before. A SaaS partnership was formed with Wayne Creel (who had deployed the very first Silicon Publishing WYSIWYG authoring tool in 2006), and the services tier of Silicon Designer was refactored in node.js to scale in SaaS multi-tenant environments, like the one that Wayne was building.
In early 2017, Silicon Publishing partnered with Brandfolder to introduce “Brandfolder Templating” – a hosted SaaS Silicon Designer implementation tightly integrated with the Brandfolder DAM. Silicon Connector also reached its 20th DAM partner, and Paginator continued to advance both in terms of technology and partnership. After a mere 17 years, Alissa and Max had attained much of the original vision of the company, even though the route was circuitous and had taken 10 to 20 times as long as planned.
“Patience isn’t my first virtue,” says Max. In fact it’s a virtue I can’t understand. People keep telling me how patient I’ve been, yet I’m not patient in the least. I was just extremely impatient for a very long period of time.”