Balsamiq, an interesting taste of things

Balsamiq.com
Balsamiq.com

Balsamiq.com is a web application (that also comes in a downloadable software version) that allows users to quickly create mockups for web sites and iphone products.  I was skeptical at first, but 2 things made me pretty happy with thier approach to this common problem.

Mockup
Mockup

The first was the choice they made to exagerate the concept of fuction over form. Their toolset, or stencils are purposly quasi-poorly hand drawn graphics that have a major lack of attention to detail.  As the owners of Balsamiq.com put it, “it encourages critisism” … “so that people don’t get attached to ‘that pretty color gradient'”. The secod thing I liked after playing around with the app a bit was the way they decided to implement the editing process of these draft like stencils. Most implemetations of design toold have properties panels that allow you to change many aspects of a feature, but not only do those properties get complex but since you are given many properties you try to use them in various combinations and often times doing so has unwanted results i.e. certain border style doesnt work well with large boxes with italic text.

Edit Mode
Edit Mode

At balsamiq.com the stencils are all pre fab and standard, not much is expected of them other then being better then just a place holder. Content is, for the most part, the only thing you can change and they use a simple text edit box when that content needs to be changed. When you double click a stensil the data is presented in a markdow laguage. i.e. buttons that are hard to align and choose width and colors are nothing more then a comma delimited list in edit mode —  (button 1, two, and three). When you click of the text box the buttons are created for you.

They truly stuck to the motto of just use the bare essentials and KISS paradigms to set the expctations of the designers and reviews while making the process of creating dead simple. Which in the end created a great mockup tool, allowig you to focus on what you shoud be focusing on ayways — workflow and content placements.

Give it a try @ http://balsamiq.com/demos/mockups/Mockups.html

Tech Alert: FaceBook Ads

Facebook
Facebook

“Facebook occasionally pairs advertisements with relevant social actions from a user’s friends to create Facebook Ads. Facebook Ads make advertisements more interesting and more tailored to you and your friends. These respect all privacy rules. You may opt out of appearing in your friends’ Facebook Ads below.
Appearance in Facebook Ads”

To find the settings and change what FaceBook and advertisers can do follow the instructions below:

Click on SETTINGS up at the top where you see the log out link. Select PRIVACY. Then select NEWS FEEDS AND WALL. Next select the tab that reads FACE BOOK ADS. There is a drop down box, select NO ONE. Then SAVE your changes. (REPOST and let your friends know).

Give a hoot track your tweets

bit.ly
bit.ly

There are many apis that offer shortening of urls tinyurl.com, tinyurl.cc, bit.ly and many others which have all been useful over the years as services that take a URL like this:  http://www.seanshadmand.com/2009/07/18/give-a-hoot-track-your-tweets/ and convert it to a url like this: http://tinyurl.com/len47k. Once the tiny url is clicked a user is quickly redirected to the true url of the site.

HootSuite
HootSuite

Now, with the advent of the Facebook status and more recently Twitter tweets, fitting text based information into a very small space is ever more important and shortening URL’s has become big business and an interesting space to be in for startups these days. (check out some techcrunch articles here at http://bit.ly/jytKD and http://ow.ly/hWSV).

I have recently been turned on to yet another player in the field found at http://ow.ly. This url shortner is provided by a comapny called HootSuite and not only provides shortened urls but aggregates all of your twitter feeds in to one place and allows you to quickly convert all urls within a tweet into shortened ow.ly based urls. The cool thing is those shortened url’s also provide tracking analysis so you can see how many people clicked your link in a line graph inline with all of your posts. Pretty cool, if you twitter at all or can find it usefull to track a urls number of clicks beit through an email or web site give ow.ly or hootsuite a try.

HootSuite Stats
HootSuite Stats

Knol: a Unit of Knowladge

Knol
Knol

Knol (http://knol.google.com/) is a product from Google that allows users to post content about whatever they feel they have expertise in to th web. At first glance I wondered if this would cannabalise blogger or any other form of content publishing Google already has on the market. After diving deeper I realized that knol is between a blog and a wiki. In that it’s not just for posting information in a time line like a journal, although there are plugins to make blogging apps work less like a journal and more like a site, and it isn’t modertated bu some elite “truth finder” entity like a wiki.

About 6 months a go a friend asked mine asked me for some direction when trying to figure out a way to put up what he knew about his local citities night life, as he found many people came to him for suhc data, but he didn’t want it to neessacarily be a blog. A blog in his eyes was to date based and abstract. He wanted a different interaction model that allowed users to dive into specific ascpets of information about going out in his city. Not knowing of Knol at the time I told him the simplest thing to do would be to start writing a blog and if there is traction but some extra time into manipluate the front end to cater more to his needs through stylings and graphics or plugins. So based on that interaction with him then I can see exactly how Know could have an audience to cater to.  I offered this tool to him recently and he seemed pretty excited about it. I awat his response on how much better it is then the blog and I’ll be sure to let y’all know what he finds as soon as I get the info myself 🙂

Augmented reality: Nearest Subway


iPhone App
iPhone App

Latest coool app that takes augmented reality and makes it practicle for the everyday user using GPS and the New York City Subway.

Augmented reality uses your screen to superimpose CGI or digital media as an overlay to a real life realtime backdrop. The first big example of comercial use I know was by GE  who did thier own version of augemnted rality for thier website. On the site GE asked its users to print a pattern out and hold it up to the camera on thier computer. The site would recognize the pattern and place digital graphics, of a wind mill for instance, on top of that pattern but using the computers camera. They also added an audio feature so that when you blew on the microphone the windmills would start turning. Here are some other exampes of augmeted reality on youtube.

Now the latest augmented reality product is out on iPhone and allows users to not only see the nearest NY metro stops to them but it  overlays a marker in realtime over the video functionailty of the camera so that you can see the marer over the landscape in fornt of you. With teh camer faced town arrows are placed on the ground, through the camera, showing you the direction you need to walk to get to the metro of your choice. Check out more iformation and a video on crunch gear showing off how it works here and learn more about the comapny that produced it called AcrossAir here.

Google Voice: A look around

Google Voice
Google Voice

Finnaly got the invite tonight from Google Voice, Googles completly free phone forwarding and voice mail service. Google voice is the new version of what was fromerly known as grand central. The servcie lets you choose a phone number and all calls made to that number are forwarded to a number of your choice, be it cell phone, home phone or work. There are a good deal of options and setting that come with this service and overall it seems to be a pretty cool evolution in phone messaging. Phone VM transcription services and magaement systems have been around for years but as usual Google has made this service free now so other small businesses will be hard pressed to beat that bottom line.

GV Phone App
GV Phone App

One great feature is the transcription service for all voice mails. When a user calls and leaves a voicemail message Google takes the voice stream and converts it to text. You can then read the voice mail via email, text message, through the Google Voice portal or through the downloaded phone application for Android or Blackberry. The transcription works well pretty well most of the time, although it’s not perfect just yet. Phone numbers were deciphered 100% accuratly, so far at least, and you can always play the voice mail along with the text if you have any problems with the transcription. Also, on the phone app the text is higlighted as the voicemail is read to you.  If you want multiple numbers going to and from a single number check out vumber.com for multinumber. Note: There is one place that Google Voice charges, international calls.

Phone App VM Inbox
Phone App VM Inbox

As far as anyother charges that one could inccur from the phone network, I called T-Mobile and the representative said that many companies in the VM business have worked payments sytems with phone carriers out to make sure although you aren’t chareged for these services you dont abuse the carriers lines either. Of course rates will vary between plans and carriers so make sure you check your plan for details but in my plan I get 500 forwarding minutes during peak time. If  thise minutes get used up then forwarding gets counted against my regular minutes, once again only during peak hours.  All in all it would take alot of long messsages to go over those limits so I am happy with both sides of the system so far. I will see at the end of this month if what I was told ends up what i see on my bill..

Also, Daniel tunred me on to some cool settings for GSM phones. You can force your carrier to use a third party VM service so all your calls either through Google Voice or through your own personal exsisting number uses the Google Voice VM service. You can find out how to set that up here (http://go.danielodio.com/voice). Bassically dial *004*1[yourVMservicenumber]# (i.e. *004*15551234#) and all future VM calls will be sent to the VM service phone number provided.

Below are some screen shots of the dash board and settings provided by the Google Voice service.

Dashboard inbox diplsay VM messags and their transcriptions. You can send SMS messages and call from your dashboard as well. If you use gmail all your contacts come along with the dashboard so who is calling is not just a phone number but a name and picture could be associated with each entry.

Home Screen
Home Screen

This cool feature below lets you create VM greetings that change depending on who is calling you. Have a professional greeting for unkown and work contact and a fun one for friends.

Settings 2
Group Specific Setting

Send transcriptions to email or via SMS, screen callers or keep calls from ringing your phoen and going straighth to VM with do not disturb option.

Settings 1
General Settings

Google also has a widget that lets you put a contact me area on yor page so people can call yo without having to know your direct number.

Settings 3
Call me widget

Neo Consumerism

iPhone 3.0
iPhone 3.0

The day of charging directly for goods may be back! People are scrambling to figure out ways to make the new mobile phenomenon lucrative and with apple ingeniously associating a credit card and account for each individual along with their iPhone to handle all transactions apple has masterminded the perfect segway to this new consumerism cost structure. With all your credit info on file apple makes it easy fora business to accept a users purchases with no overhead. A business can focus on thier ocntent and thier app and apple takes care of sales a distributions allowing companies to sell apps for only  a few bucks and hopefully make up for it all in the amount of churn these simple apps produce.  Sort of the same way charging 99cent for a song instead of 15$ for an album in a store apple now has people spending hundreds or even thousands a year on music, the same can go with the new micro payment model for segments of applications and content introduced withe the latest iPhone sdk 3.0.

Now with micro-payemnts that concept of the neo consumer is refining itself yet again. Imagine getting high quality content where more in depth info only costs an additional 10cents. Yeah you’re paying for content when it may have been free but less ads, greater focus and the ability to pick and choose you whats important to you on an adhoc level is way ore costefective and simple the buying a whole newspaper form a stand for over a buck and throiwng half of it away since you only want the sports section.  10 cent is a sneeze for most people and you dont have to open your wallet or input your credit information.  Maybe this is what PayPal envisioned for their future in their earlier more mobile days.

Imagine breaking up cost points by actions where an in depth graph can be download and send to your coworkers for 50 cents, extra weapons in games to help defeat your opponents and extra dollar or ecards that costs only pennies on the dollar. Your finances for all purchases are funneled through a single source and sent as a weekly or monthly statement. Pick and choose what content work best for you and pay almost nothing for the thing you specifically want. This could be an interesting revolution in the online charge model.

Still no calendar API in 3.0/3.1

iPhone Calendar
iPhone Calendar

Seems silly at this point but iPhone SDK is still without an API to push events to a persons calendar on the phone. Really? I mean what could happen that apple is against. You can get a users location based on GPS, which would seem more invasive then allowing a user to click a button to add it to their calendar. Is Kim jung il running apple while Jobs is out sick? — Maybe they are the same person; — I mean I have never seen them in the same place at the same time! Weird.

Anyways, please add this API soon. Thanks.

Quantify my language

oDesk Search Results
oDesk Search Results

The cost to scale a web application has changed considerably and therefor the way most people decide to plan out thier development strategies has changed as well. Not every web site is an enterprise solution and getting many sites or versions of sites out to the public quickly has become the greatest focus on a fledging comapanys mind.  Because scaling is so cheap and servers are so easy to set up with clouds I often hear, ‘lets deploy first and see what people think and if it gets big we will just through some servers at the problem, and improve the code as we grow.’  For the most part I agree, in the case that a complex problem arises an RPC call to some seperate more efficient code base, server or algorithm can be used.

Dividing up a site into 3 parts is key, re-inventing the wheel tasks, already built better then we can build it widget/api tasks, lets solve a new problem tasks. For example: login, and register has been developed 100 times over as well as setting up projects and DB connection settings. Getting a users feedback or publishing your content to all the social networks has been done beautifully by many companies that now give it away for almost nothing and are great to use, unless your new great idea has a core innocation in such technolgies. Then there are the problems out there that may be partially solved, but there is still quite a bit of technique and brain power needed to tackle your unique version of the problem to complete your companies mission, like improved search of billions of peices of data or 3 degree+ of sepration colculations. The mission is use what you can that already exists if its not your CORE business to own such IP (often times people think they have 5 core’s….they don’t) and use what you can to get that core going as quickly as possible. This isnt true for all web startup’s — but it is for most.

oDesk Feedbacks
oDesk Feedbacks

I will save more on that topic for a later post. Today I simply wanted to take the problem of getting started up a level or two and look at the first part of development for non developers.  I mean I personally know what I like to develop in, and it’s always good to ask someone with more experience then you what he/she thinks, but I all to often I find people that have inadvertenntly chosen the more expensive, more timley path and in the end they have a mess, a bill, and an almost incomplete site. They are then left with finding a batch of new developers who can jump right in and take over. I see this ALLOT and it breaks my heart. Is it jus a product of bad consulting? Is there a way to help get non developers a leg up and allow them to make good desicions quinatitatilbyl without a consultant telling them biasedly which way they can go to suit there own needs.

I know that oDesk, and other internet based freelance servcie is where allot of folks turn to so I went out and got some basic datapoint to start this conversation. Below are some charts I put togther using search scripts to get results sets from oDesk (whom I think should put out more repots on this matter to help out the public).  I simply tried to query things people may be wondering and get results sets for each lanuage respectivley. I was suprised to see how flat the results were.

oDesk Search Results:

# high rated   feedback (2+ FB & 4+ stars) total   feedbacks (4+ star) most hours (2+ FB & 4+ stars) $/hr of most hours (2+ FB & 4+ stars) avg top 10 hours avg $/hr of avg top 10 most hours avg cheapst top 5 avg most exensive top 5 highest reqested rate
Python

3

6

606

$33.00

146

$25.34

$24.67

$28.10

$83.00

Ruby

12

9

2300

$16.00

663.5

$27.50

$14.93

$95.51

$230.00

PHP

64

37

4045

$30.00

1923.7

$26.44

$9.33

$75.62

$166.00

Java

12

15

712

$27.78

530.3

$26.13

$8.45

$54.09

$166.00

.net

10

14

2490

$19.44

641.6

$26.85

$11.55

$40.80

$111.00

Below is a list of some languages and how many hits came up when the languages marked with an X where combined in the search. I guess what I was going for here is how many people know what combinations of languages. For example people who posted a knowlagdge of all languages was 7, and those that claim to provide services to both python and ruby were 35.

Java

Python

Ruby

.net

PHP

Search       Hits

x

1427

x

246

x

300

x

1757

x

2397

Expand to show all results +

oDesk Results
oDesk Results

I will admit I dont like .net and I am not a fan of PHP as much as I used to be and although I enjoyed building FamilyOven.com in Java iterating over quick changes on the fly got really annoying having to compile and recompile my code. The pside of course is its great stability and easy to debug format. It’s just that scripted code suits my needs more these days. I put things together to push out new sites and stabiiy in the first year isnt that hard to do with server costs the way they are these days.  Python and ruby have allot of abstraction but for the first year I probably wont care, second year I will just pull hard tasks out like I explained in the first part of this email.

The data I gathered made me seriously wonder for a moment, am I just falling into the hype or is python and ruby as smooth, efficient and easy to develop sites quickly as great as it seems? I didnt jump on the ruby, python band wagon quickly. I created a few sites on it before I formed an opnion for sure.  I guess whats more important to notice here is how the hell is a non-technology/development person able is to decide on a languge to go with after talking to vendors and seeing results like these. I mean these data points love .net and php as giving off the impression that they are affordable, and popular.  I feel however that those that I know that use Ruby and Python are more innovative, fast, and love what they do more so then the others, not to mention cheaper in that they get more done more quickly. (or so it seems that way as of late) I would love to get some advice on ways to mine for data that respond with data that can statistically prove my sentiment isn’t just an opinion, a sort of freakenomics style of analysis if possible. I dont want to try to manipulate data to prove my point I just want to see if there are any true data points out there that confirm what my gut tells me.

Of course being that ruby and python are new compared to the other languages one could expect such unimpresive numbers and stats, I also think that being that they are so new to the common developer tool set it is impresive just how many people code on it already and how many plugins are available. One metric that could be usefull is expense to get started materials wise, free easy to use documentation, number of plugins, and time to start a basic project/site.

Python for instance is part of the Google standard languages, that speaks highly to me. It is supported by the Google App Engine and it has jython a frameowkr taht allows python to run in java runtime. That is mportant as well as java run time is more efficient then most things out there so you have flexability. Ruby has tons of plugins as well as python. and all scripting languages take almost no time to set up.  Also it is important to pointout that other then biz spark from MS getting a project developed is MS systems are not free to get started on from servers, to dev environments to documentation and support many MS product cost quite a bit which can get in the way of trial and error, innovation, speed to market, and keeping initial expenses down.

Please comment if you think I should account for a factor I missed or if youhave some data on your own.  If you have some crutial data points please list them and the source you were able to get it from. THe more straight data we get the more we can help people make better descisions rather then just using he told me so approach.

Here is some data about the job market in 2008. More data on jobs and how they relate to development would be helpful as well. i.e.  http://dotnetslackers.com/Community/blogs/xun/archive/2008/08/18/who-has-respect-in-web-development.aspx

Twitter, Iran and Coconuts

I have always know that twitter, facebook, etc had a great purpose when the became popular not only becuase of the fact taht anything used by millions has value but also becuase of the fact that time and distance between pople has always been the mission of man to shrink.

start with farms, townes, cities and communication was stories, books, printing press, phone, radio, tv, internet, facebook, twitter

we can do allot but one thing we cant do is travel and communicate instanlty phyiscally. the lose we get the mroe productive we are. yes you want prvace but we are community anumas and we started in loin clothes and and caves.

so as we branched out it was only a matter of time befor our natural born tednecies to connect reined supreme. Twitter whihc seeme dlike a useless amount of noice has again and again shown its worth when man needed to connect in the now with his fellow man on a public forum.

twitter is not rss you dont read people by people but by message. its a realtime conversation with everyone. its like comments section on a blog bu for your life and people you know….or its like a highschool cafeteria. information is linear and for the masses

so in war we buil dmage machines that cost millions in times of peace it seems rediculus and people compain but when war break out those that invested in defense well win out. Its the same with soicl networls. being tha we are creatues of comunication building out better ways to commuicate is always a smart idea even if there is no apperent value or even if millions follow but no oney is exchanged. take iran conflict a great example of the fact that a live converstaion ike ubiquitous commet board allowed a nation gagged to communicate with the outside world almost to the mandate of the giverment

ear to the ground. search for developer info but google didnt know yet. twitter was on because its the egnostc comment board

its also amazing how many subject are hot in the twitter feed that is on my mind. we ll know marketing works well but to see people chat about things im talking to my friends about without twitter knowing diectly is amazng. its telepathy for the masses, except better because you cant redy everything……matter fact maybe one day somone will figure out telepath and people will cry “where is my private space” which i think we would all at this time agree its invasive — ironically by then twitter type fodums will be passe, usefull and not thought of as an invasive technology anylonger, just like we have embrassed the internet as a whole, or the printing press.

Twittering Rescues MythBuster from Outrageous Phone Bill, http://www.maclife.com/article/news/twittering_rescues_mythbuster_outrageous_phone_bill

its better then spam email, you follow what you want to hear and its not up to the ditributer to get you data its up toyou to want to receive it forma  trusted channel

So getting content out ral time is huge just look at yammer who….

thing of projct where clienst are always in the loop as you want them to be and theycan search for tasks and chat, when theproject is done the twitter correlation ends