Polycot Lab’s first packaged product, Dust Bunnies: Secret Agents has launched in the App Store. Yay for us!
The end of April’s getting close, which means that summer’s on it’s way and making it’s presence felt. As a web developer I’m still feeling the after-shocks of Facebook’s F8 conference. A lot of things were presented, but as the biggest platform on the web even their smallest change sends seismic waves through the foundations of what we build upon. Connect is dead, OAuth 2.0 is the future, arguably the meta-point aggregation system I was talking about earlier will be Facebook Points, the like button will come to a wide variety of pages on the web, iFrames are the new way of integrating, and a huge user/web backlash may be coming, nobody knows. This year is going to be a tumultuous one, the iPad is fighting to break out of it’s shell, mobile is coming on strong and people are starting to make real money, the economy’s still in the toilet in a lot of places and nobody knows what the future really holds for the environment. Apple, Google and Microsoft are having a three way shadow war for the future of the tech industry, with Facebook as the dark horse coming up fast and Amazon as the incumbent punching bag. Yahoo’s off in a corner crying to itself.
It’s a good thing that new development platforms make creating sites and systems easy, because nobody knows what’s going to happen or be the state of the art in a year. Will Facebook Points be the next Flooz or will they be the next PayPal? 300 million users is a pretty good head start.
So here’s a buzz generating idea for one of your designer friends: Create a witty poster-style page ala How To Use An Apostrophe, but for when to Reply All. Put it on it’s own domain name, sell posters through a print on demand service, have a ‘know someone who doesn’t know when to use the proper reply? let them know!’ email sharing link. If you come up with a particularly clever graphic, put it on a shirt. Digg, Facebook fan page, all the social media options. Generate links for a few weeks and watch the visitors count balloon.
April 1st is always a tricky day to be online. Even pre-web, I remember when LambdaMOO had a LambdaMUCK (Or was that MUSH?) April Fools event. April Fools pranks challenge your fundamental assumptions. Some April Fools pranks are funny and obvious, some are not and some fall into a strange realm of inspired wonderfulness. It struck me today that a lot of things that make for a compelling web application are the same things that make a great April Fools project so wonderful. They’re unexpected, they reward the visitor and they encapsulate a creative concept in a limited scope. April Fools projects have to be limited since we don’t have a lot of time to work on them and they have to be interesting since that’s the whole point. It’s a shame that so many projects are hum-drum day to day, full of never ending feature creep, only to have a burst of great creativity once a year that only lasts one day. April Fools may be a great excuse to think outside the box and create a magical user experience, but we should be doing that every day.
I’ve been thinking about heading to my local home improvement superstore lately to place a pretty big order. Like, more than $2,000 worth of stuff for delivery on one of their big trucks. The problem being that I know getting the order into the system with all the right products is going to be a pain. There’s no bridal registry hand scanner option where I can carry it around and flag all the stuff I want. I’m going to have to write down all the inventory codes and read them to someone, and it’s going to take forever. These places already have a lot of pricing data exposed, so why not create the following:
A smartphone app, iPhone to start, other platforms later. Camera-based shelf tag scanner, you open the app, create a new ‘shopping list’, approve giving it your location (so it can pick the right store and confirm that you’re actually at the store) and then start tagging items. Here are 2″x4″x8′ boards. Scan, I want 8 of these, add to list. It grabs pricing information over the web via a simple API. Shelf tag + store, return product and price data. The app keeps a running total, maybe the list is broken down by department. Rev 2 could push availability data into the app, so if you hit 20 panels of sheetrock it tells you the store doesn’t have that many in stock. Once you’re done with your shopping list and ready to go you hit the ‘send to store’ button which in rev a could fire off a fax with bar codes printed on it that could easily be scanned. Rev 2 maybe drops it into the order system fully formed. Then you just go up, give them your name or phone number, confirm the order total and availability and checkout.
It seems pretty simple to me and would likely apply to other market segments. Why not have a grocery store app where as you use things you know you’re going to need again, you scan the upc with the camera before you toss it in the recycling or trash? I’m sure a standalone app like this exists, why not tie it into a call-ahead ordering system?
Here’s your billion dollar startup idea for March 22nd. Games and incentive systems are growing, Farmville has 33 million users and when they roll out a new feature they can add 2 million new ones in a day. People like to play games, they’ve been playing games for thousands of years and just like the polishing and honing of the performance/play dynamic into Lost or Dancing With the Stars (note the game/vote aspect there), games are starting to reach the same apex. Using a system you can ‘game’ to drive consumers/visitors/society towards an end is going to be pervasive and big business. We’ve already had fits of this, the Monopoly game at McDonalds, the Pepsi Points bottle top games, etc. It’s all out there and it’s just going to continue to grow.
We’re at a particular point in time right now where there’s a space for someone to grab the market for ur-game point aggregation. You have all these points in all these different systems (Microsoft Achievements, Farmville points, Playstation Trophies, etc) but if you could somehow aggregate them all and provide a meta-game on top of that, as you grew and your user base developed you could create a point currency, something not encumbered by existing financial rules but a new kind of thing. Metric wuffie, whatever.
Once you have the mindshare you can open that up as a market, an economic model, let people exchange points at a set rate or trade points into a meta-currency that can be then used like credit card reward points. Games start to pay to be involved (the credit card model) and promotional campaigns (get 500 points this week in the health and homecare category for a free tube of Colgate toothpaste!) derive revenue from manufacturers. Players pay with their time and interest. Your api becomes ubiquitous and pretty soon you’re the Paypal of the wuffie world.
We’ve done a lot of projects in the last decade, and while most of them have come and gone (The joy of political projects. We’re looking at you, Kinky.) a few of them we still maintain. In the last month it seems like a lot of these projects that have been dormant for months to years have suddenly started to twitch and are about to open their baleful, terrible eyes and gaze out on the new world of the social web. Clients are waking up to the new state of things. 300 million people on Facebook. Full browsers on cell phones. These are things we didn’t have to consider when we built web projects five or six years ago, but now they’re here.
Viridian compadre Bruce Sterling had a great panel at SXSW Interactive yesterday where he talked about how the generation after us is going to hold us accountable for what we’ve built, the small pieces loosely joined that are shaking themselves apart, and we’re going to have to help them fix it all. This is especially concerning for those of us in the web development business that feel responsible for previous projects. It’s easy to say ‘they’re never going to pay what the upgrade should really cost, we can’t do anything for them’, but I’m wondering whether or not this approach is the best. There are plenty of developers in third world countries that could disassemble our creaky PHP code and ensure it’s ready for a Facebook Connect world, but that means a lot of time creating documentation that didn’t need to exist back then, or bringing someone else up to speed who may or may not be there in a year or two either.
In the end we have to decide whether past clients are just that, past clients who paid for a fixed set of deliverables, or whether we’re somehow more fundamentally responsible for our creations on the web.