Mentoring and Judging

I’ve been blogging about some of my own projects lately, but wanted to capture/announce/disclose/link a few other things I’m please to be involved in:

  • I’m now a technical advisor to MinuteBox. I’ve been singing these guys praise since I discovered the product at SeedCamp last year. The concept is so damn useful and the founders are capable of delivering on it, so I’m proud to be associated with it.
  • Judged for Node Knockout. Did so in its inaugural year in 2010, and again this year, now from the perspective of someone who’s Noding daily. My votes.
  • Judged for HTML5 Open Call, for GDD Russia. HTML5 Canvas and SVG galore! Actually, it was great to see an upswing in SVG use…really, it has a lot of benefits over canvas in some cases, and it seems people are beginning to see it.
  • Mentoring at SeedCamp next week, as I did last year. Looking forward to seeing what’s new, and I’m pleased to have made lasting connections at the last event (MinuteBox being one of them).
  • Mentoring at GammaRebels next week (remotely). Looking forward to this event too. Polish startup community is thriving right now.

Startups Share Chrome Web Store Experiences

Part of my role in developer relations is to work with startups who are using Google’s platforms, and for me, that mostly means people doing interesting things with HTML5 and the Chrome Web Store. Here are some early reports from developers of great apps which were present – and in many cases, featured – on the web store. It’s early days, but the reports here suggest there are benefits in terms of discoverability and usage.

1. Todo.ly

Todo.ly indicates how being featured can impact on the stats of a young product:

Thanks to the store, our user base has increased by 780%, achieving the goals we planned for the next 1/1.5 years within the first 3 weeks. Traffic of Todo.ly has increased even more – by almost 1000.

2. SlideRocket

SlideRocket lists their experiences, including installation stats:

#1 Results – The SlideRocket app on the Chrome Web Store received over 50,000 installs in the first 10 days of availability and the volume hasn’t yet dropped off. As much as 60% of SlideRocket’s daily lead flow now comes from the Chrome Web Store.

#10 The revenue share is only 5% – With all of the benefits in points 1-9 we feel like sharing 5% of our revenue with Google is a small price to pay. Compared to the other marketplaces and apps stores which usually charge between 20% and 25%, this is kind of a bargain.

3. LucidChart

LucidChart emphasises that it’s not all about being featured:

First, thanks to the almost 30,000 users who have installed LucidChart to date, we are one of the top paid apps and also one of the highest rated apps in the Web Store.

Google rotates the applications that are featured in the Web Store, so LucidChart has been both featured and not featured in the store. While featured status definitely brings a significant bump in overall exposure and traffic, we have found that the store still brings an important volume of users even when unfeatured. So the Web Store can be an important driver of traffic and user growth for any web app.

They also comment on the nature of users on the store. I think this is an overlooked-point – we often hear X store has X number of users, but the nature of the users and the way they reached the store should also be a factor.

Second and perhaps just as significantly, we’ve found that the Chrome Web Store brings really well qualified traffic to LucidChart. Our user signup rate for visitors via the Chrome Web Store is about 75% higher than traffic from other sources. So the store not only brings significant numbers of new visitors to our site, but it has an even larger impact on the number of new users we’re registering. In fact, it turns out that a visitor to our listing on the Chrome Web Store is almost as good as a visitor directly to our own site.

4. Streamie

This is of personal interest to me, as I know the developer Malte (who now works for Google), and I had a hand in kicking off its Web Store presence. I wanted to scratch my own itch, so I took 15 minutes out to make a Streamie app, which is a lightweight wrapper of the app at streamie.com. Malte has subsequently incorporated the web store presence into the core Streamie code base, which is nice as an open source example of listing on the store, and he’s submitted it to the store. I was pleasantly surprised (given it’s a “beta” app developed in Malte’s spare time) to see Streamie subsequently featured on the front page of the store. He recently wrote about the front-page experience:

I’m personally somewhat surprised with the overall traffic that Streamie is receiving. It is nice that people like it. The Chrome webstore definitely helped pushing the traffic to a new level, though, which, of course, triggered a lot of blog posts and tweets and then more traffic :)

Discussion: Great Apps Get Featured

These days, there are many significant platforms for an HTML5-powered app, beyond just running in web browsers, and I think developers who can leverage them will do well. Chrome Web Store is one of those platforms; others include the Android Market, Apple’s iTunes, and so on. But wait, aren’t those “just mobile” platforms? No – aside from the fact that “mobile” means all manner of tablet, phone, and PDA form factors – Android apps also run on TVs, for example, and HTML5 can be the user-interface driver behind that 10-foot experience. And pure speculation, but I’m fully expecting HTML5 (or “open web standards” if you prefer) to power apps running on watches, cars, kitchen appliances, assorted furniture.

It’s going to be perfectly possible to sell a single app on all of those platforms, where the majority – or even all – of the code is reused across the platforms. Beyond app platforms, you can also be featured in other ways, e.g. by using certain (non-app) platforms or APIs. To take a random – and very cool – API, meet Withings, a smart French outfit with wifi scales that upload your stats to a server. Here’s a page where they list apps using their API. Do you think it’s in Withings’ interests to promote these apps?

Now, I do indeed work for a company with app platforms, so take this advice how you will. My main aim here is to highlight the benefits of working with platforms and to be aware that each of these platforms have developer relations people you may be able to work with, under certain conditions. Why would companies who run app platforms provide free to support developers, especially developers who are already committed to building apps for that platform? The reason is it helps ensure developers are building the best possible apps – the platform people see a lot of apps and know what works and what doesn’t. This leads to (a) great apps for users; (b) “role model” apps for other developers. I recommend you bear these goals in mind when you aim to be featured in the store, because they are important considerations when it comes to being featured. A further reason for developer relations is to listen to developers, and feed bugs and requests back to the platform’s engineers.

In terms of the Chrome Web Store, apps that have done well are typically those which are following good UX principles and making the most of the platform at hand. In the case of an HTML5 app on the Chrome Web Store, making the most of the platform could mean apps using application cache, local storage, HTML5 notifications, CSS3 styling, etc. And for packaged apps, suitably leverage extension behaviours, since those are available to packaged apps. Finally, landing page matters, and fortunately for many developers, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit on their landing pages.

As t → zero

Andy Hunt asked a while ago, What happens when t approaches 0?”

One of the interesting topics that came up today at Software Trends was “what happens when the time to develop a new application approaches zero?” It will never be zero, of course, but it will, over time, asymptotically approach zero. Suppose we finally get to the stage where a single developer, sitting at a laptop, can develop an application as fast as the end user/sponsor/customer can describe what they want.

I’ve been noticing a few web projects lately that are built at light speed. There’s nothing new about this as I’m sure lots of cool programs in history were written in a day or a weekend. Still, websites are the coolest programs in history because they’re immediately accessible by the whole planet, so it’s great to read about these projects happening. Thanks to the power of social networks, blogging, etc etc, it means a new service can come on and immediately its creator gets an idea about how big it will be and where to take it.

Here are some examples:

  • Startup Weekend brought 70-odd people together to build a new startup in two days. The blog from the event and the blog of the subsequent website, VoSnap is candid and the insights and admissions fascinating.
  • TwitterVision was built in four hours.”>built in four hours. This is, at present, my canonical example of lightning-fast development and the power of the mash. Not just spiking the concept, but actually a full delivery. (Twitter itself is rumoured to have been built in a week, which seems fair as it’s more the idea that makes it what it is.)
  • TransferBigFiles.com, which claims over a million big file downloads, was built by two guys in a weekend in ’05, two normal 8am-6pm days. Here’s how
  • RailsDay challenges developers to build something real in 24 hours. (The idea is sound, though execution lacked apparently, hence no repeat this year I guess.)
  • Yahoo! HackDay encouraged fast mashups and led to the GetUsOrganized startup.
  • AnAppADay The “software jedi” wrote 30 apps in 30 days. I’ve often contemplated taking a week off and doing 7 websites in 7 days. I’ve got enough ideas and can code them fast enough to get something out with Rails, the problem is deploying in a manner that’s stable, cheap, and secure. Looking forward to the day when Rails deployment becomes as simple and cheap as PHP … or maybe I should just bake cake.

The Irony of Dot-Com Acquisitions

It goes something like this:

  • Startup website takes off
  • New features continue pumping out like crazy. Soon, you have everything covered – tags, RSS feeds, gradient bling, and your very own corporate blog
  • Cha Ching. FunkyBigDotCom just bought you. You explain on your blog now you’ll have the resources to do all the things you’ve been wanting to do.
  • You spend the next 12 months integrating into *their* legacy system while the rest of your industry charges ahead. In the old days, it was just “cultural disparity” or some-such that would cause friction after an acquisition. Or maybe the hassle of plugging enterprise systems together. But here, you’re working on the bleeding edge – that’s why they bought you – and it’s all come to a screeching halt…instead of integrating with Pownce and Twittergram, you’re now porting your Linux server over to BSD. Woohoo! No more innovation and your site fades into obscurity and innuendo. So much for extra resources to free things up. Oh the irony.

Some good websites have gone this way, which is a bit sad. I think one reason is that no-one ever considers technical factors during acquisitions…it’s all about how many eyeballs you have, talent of the staff, and so on. Of course, those things are all absolutely critical, but if you leave the entire process up to a buzzworthy MBA, that could be a big mistake. Ultimately the agility of the operation going forth is going to be heavily influenced by (a) the quality of the architecture and code that’s just been inherited; (b) how well it fits with the acquirers’ systems and competenecies.

Web 2.0: What Happened to Organic Growth???

Another day, another round of VC. From TechCrunch this week:

Online social network Multiply has closed a Series A funding round with $5 million from Transcosmos and $1 million from the company’s founders. Multiply is a service that filters all networking functions, from highlighted users to visible tag clouds, through a proximity filter with a slider. In other words, users determine whether they want to view information about people just on their contacts list, who are friends of a friend, etc.

And this from last month (via The Medici Effect):

Wine.com has become the most stubborn dot.com hangover ever.

The San Francisco online wine retailer, which depending on how you count is now on around its seventh reincarnation since launching in the 1990s, will announce tomorrow that it has raised $12 million in new venture capital from New York-based Baker Capital.

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p>Technorati also announced a new $7 million round this week. Hardly significant for a company people speculated to have been talking about a billion-dollar acquisition a while ago, but still, it makes you wonder – if the organic growth model really works, how can a Web 2.0 poster-child still need a cash injection after being live and successful for over 2 years?

Cameron Reilly I believe had planned to go organic with ThePodcastNetwork, but he reported this week that he started to opt for the acquisition path instead.

Funding last week for some hotel version of myspace I’ve never heard of that wants to expand to Japan; Rumours of upcoming funding for HuffingtonPost; I could go on.

VC is all good if you know what you’re gonna do with the cash, but what happened to organic growth? You know, all the arguments about “everything’s cheap now” (open-source argument), “people are willing to pay for virtual goods” (37S/Flickr argument), “avoid overplanning” (agile argument), “Adsense rocks” (plentyoffish argument), “VCs burned us in 2000” (learning from history argument), “we can outsource development” (naieve naieve argument).

Am I missing something? Has Web 2.0 entered a new phase where VC is now the thing to do? Did the organic growth model just fade away?

Sometimes the world is ready …

Researching JSON-RPC for the “JSON Message” pattern, I came across this interesting slashdot posting from January 24, 2005, a few weeks before “Ajax” was coined

Seen those funky remote scripting techniques employed by Orkut, Gmail and Google Suggests that avoid that oh so 80’s page reloading (think IBM 3270 only slower) … Now is the turning point. Forget that horid wait while 100K of HTML downloads when the application just wanted to update one field on the page. The XMLHttpRequest object has made it’s way into all the main browsers with it’s recent introduction into Opera and Konqueror (sans the Konqueror bug). This new form of web development now works on Internet Explorer 5, 5.5, 6, Mozilla, Firefox, Safari 1.2, Opera 8 Beta and Konqueror 3.3 (with a much needed patch). (Emphasis Mine.)

Ben and Dion @ Ajaxian also mentioned in their recent podcast they had to stay up late in Las Vegas reworking their TSS presentation because Ajax had just been coined and matched their content.

Sometimes the world is just ready for something.

A recent podtech podcast had a VC mentioning how he’ll often hear a great proposal for the first time, then hear the same idea from five different startups within two weeks. It reminded me of this ridiclous-but-true dotcom-days story from 2000, where a journalist wrote an April Fool’s story about a startup offering free cars with advertising on them. Several real companies meanwhile were planning to do just that, and legend has it that they sweated upon encountering the article. But here’s the punchline:

FreeCar’s Mr. Butler purchased the FreeWheelz joke Web site for $25,000 from Esquire and Mr. Fishman, who split the proceeds. “They got a lot of hits to their Web site,” Mr. Butler reasons. “I have access to their database and prevented anyone else from buying it.”