Android app development cross pollination

SnapToMe Plus iconToday I had the pleasure of pushing the new generation of our SnapTo apps to the Google Play Store. Our three apps, SnapToMe, SnapToMe Plus, and MyDumbBoard are all variations on a theme: give the new or very busy phone user the simplest possible way to snap a picture straight to his or her email inbox. The new Version 2.0 editions are a great demonstration of how the retail products of an Android app developer can benefit from custom app development projects and vice versa.

Frankly, it doesn’t take a lot of key strokes to email yourself a picture from your Android photo gallery. But if you are a novice user, that process is just one-more-thing-to-master. Or, if you are a busy retailer or seminar leader or real estate agent and you routinely need to send yourself pictures to document a problem or record a whiteboard or take note of an opportunity, any extra steps can turn should-be-easy into never-quite-got-it-done. Especially if you don’t always have connectivity and need to remember to do the mailing later when you get back in cell range.

The SnapTo apps all make taking one picture straight to your email inbox a two-click operation. And all but the free app make that work even if you don’t have connectivity when you take the picture.

The new versions of our three apps were inspired by contract Android app development we did this spring for CaptureBites, a Belgian company. Continue Reading →

Wyoming Team Earns First Place in Google GovDev Challenge

Our GovDev Challenge Prototype


Google’s own post about the challenge, with video, is now up on their Enterprise blog.

The GovDev Challenge

This past weekend, I had the fun and honor of participating in the first-ever Google GovDev Challenge. The 24-hour coding competition was created to explore ways modern technology could be used to transform government’s interaction with its citizens. It was a blast. And, oh BTW, my team earned first place in one of the challenges!

The competition was co-sponsored by the states of Wyoming and Colorado, both of which have active partnerships with Google in many areas. In fact, the state of Wyoming was the first state to ever convert its whole IT infrastructure to Google Apps. The three challenges focused on state-specific issues. Two were posed by Colorado, seeking better ways to help citizens in the event of another disaster of the magnitude of last fall’s Boulder floods.

Wyoming posed a Budget Transparency challenge. The state wants to make state budgeting and spending data available to all citizens and, in fact, has existing web interfaces available that do just that. But the current interfaces generally share the problem that the data is available but not very consumable — that is, the resulting grid-of-rows is hard to understand and digest. Continue Reading →

Facebook for marketers and other humans

Late last year I signed up to get email updates from the Pew Research Center. I get an email a week from them with 4-5 quick summaries. I usually find at least one item to click on and learn more about. This week, it was Facebook, which I am continually trying to understand and use better.

Demonstrating that even the Pew folks are always trying to increase readership, the title of the piece includes a number, which is said to boost click-throughs substantially: 6 New Facts About Facebook 

It’s a quick read, so I encourage you to scan it yourself. A few of the ‘facts’ struck me to me as having implications for marketers:

  • The extent to which Facebook users prefer to see photos and videos instead of straight text updates. (Fact #2)
  • The increased network effect when using Facebook to reach younger people versus older people. At the bottom of Fact #3, there is a remarkable stat: “Younger users tend to have significantly larger friend networks than older users: 27% of 18-29 year old Facebook users have more than 500 friends in their network, while 72% of users age 65+ have 100 friends or fewer.”
  • How people prefer to like or comment-on someone else’s content versus updating their own status or, even, wanting feedback on the content they do post. Even in a Facebook world, the majority of us are still lurkers at heart. (Fact #5)

And, perhaps not useful, but certainly interesting, Fact #6: “Half of internet users who do not use Facebook themselves live with someone who does.”

Lean Startups Go Mainstream

economistLogoI’ve been talking to my colleagues, around town and around the state, about the Lean Startup movement for some time. I was delighted to see The Economist get on board this week with their Tech Startups: A Cambrian moment special section. Lean Startups, aka Agile startups, focus on using new technologies to build what customers need and will use, not just what techies think would be cool to have.

The technique has its limitations, but it aims to ground innovation in the real world. And for both self-funded startups and those looking for angel or venture-capital investors, the real world is a very, very important thing to consider.

My own summary of what’s important about this approach is a slight variation on what you’ll find in some of the books:

The product of a startup is a viable business model, not a technology or, even, a solution.

And, BTW, if you don’t already have a subscription to the Economist, you might want to buy a newstand copy of the January 18th edition or just check out some of the other articles online. It’s full of interesting and even downright alarming pieces about technology, the prospects for specific jobs/professions in the next 50 years, and the promises and perils for individual prosperity of our accelerating technology revolution.

Not every issue of the Economist is as good as this one but many are. And the special sections, especially the regular quarterly one on Technology, pretty much justify the price of a subscription for me.

Ada Lovelace Day 2013

Ada_Lovelace_Chalon_portraitThis is Ada Lovelace Day. I got the best possible reminder of that, this morning, from my dear friend Catherine Tuxbury. The folks who organize and promote this celebration encourage all of us to post today “about a woman in science, technology, engineering or maths whose achievements you admire.” And Cathy chose me for her contribution this year. I am flattered beyond belief.

This got me thinking about my own technology mentors and realizing that none of them were female.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly have had strong female role models in my life including my mom, Elizabeth Gunn. And I have learned many lessons from the women with whom I have worked over the years.

But when it comes to mentors in the field of technology, the most influential ones happen to have been men. Continue Reading →

Goal setting: update on picking five things

Goal setting progress monitoring in action!In June, I kicked off my Summer of Product with a post describing how I intended to use the Zig Ziglar / Seth Godin Pick Four goal setting program as a framework for making the transition from mostly-freelance-programming to full-time startup founder.

This was a bit of a risk, making a public declaration. I’m just not a methodical, program-following sort of person. I was afraid of embarrassing myself by having to report, about now, that I’d filled out the workbook pages for a week or so and then just let the whole thing fade away. That’s has certainly been the fate of every attempt at journalling I’ve ever made. Continue Reading →

Rails Routing with Phusion Passenger to support multiple apps on a single domain

Late last year, we published a custom Ruby on Rails web application for a college instructor. She wanted to provide her students with a specific learning activity and then monitor if, and how, it improved their mastery of some critical material. The app had two equally important parts: the UI front-end for students and the data collection backend for the instructor.

After the project was completed, our customer began using the app in her own teaching and showing it to colleagues.  Several expressed interest in integrating the app into their own courses. This was good news; the customer had always hoped she might be able to license the app to others and, perhaps, builds up a revenue stream from it.  She was eager to explore the business opportunity but wanted to have a strict separation of the data collected for each instructor, both for simplicity and for privacy considerations.

The ‘right’ way to provide this separation, if the current interest turns into a real opportunity, is for us to develop a more robust administrative back-end for the app, with role-based administration that would let each instructor manage his or her own students and their data.  But, in the spirit of providing a minimum viable product to allow the customer to explore the opportunity without sinking a lot of money into development, we came up with the idea of creating a single site with multiple copies of the application, each with its own database.  We figured that for a reasonably stable codebase, the duplication of installed code would create minimal problems for the first 2, 3, maybe even 5 customers.  After that, she’d have to invest in admin code if she wanted to support more.

And, at first glance, the approach seemed simple enough from a technical perspective. My famous last words.

In reality, this was a complex problem containing several hidden pitfalls, and requiring a high degree of knowledge in both Phusion Passenger and Rails configuration. I was surprised by how little documentation I could find on more advanced topics in the areas of Rails configuration, Rails deployment, and Rails routing. I found my ‘simple approach’ was actually a recipe for a few hard days of research, experimentation, and work.

Continue Reading →