November 2, 2011

The App Store review process and queue theory

The last weeks I have had the mixed pleasure of pushing 19 apps through the App Store approval process for a client. Some updated to improve iOS5 compatibility and some brand new. It might be bizarre that this gave me associations to queue theory, but it did and I will explain why.

I won't claim that I remember much details from the queue theory I had at NTNU exactly a decade ago, in the context of building scalable web apps, but I remember this: If you have a mixture of a few large jobs and a lot of small jobs, you can improve the throughput a lot by introducing two queues[1] - one for the small jobs and one for the large. That way the small jobs can flow through quickly, while the big beasts naturally take some more time, but that is hardly unexpected.

An extension of this principle is exactly what Apple should do. I find it slightly ridiculous that an unchanged app (apart from the fact that it does no longer crash on startup with the combination of iPad1 and iOS5!) can take a week to review, going from version 1.1 to 1.2... So, Apple: Get that high pri queue for small jobs (i.e. minor bugfixes etc.) going and the perceived throughput from the job's (app submitter's) point of view will increase greatly! In practical terms, get dedicated teams (or time) to review updates of existing apps and make them flow through the review process on a less than two day average, compared to taking maybe the bulk part of a week today.

[1] - Or a variant thereof with allocating slices, as in a time sharing system like in modern computers - which de-facto will make small jobs flow through quickly if each job gets an equal amount of time "each round" and the big is not served again before every small job gets its share.

October 6, 2011

Adobe acquiring PhoneGap - for better or worse...

I just wanted to write a really short note on the news two days ago that Adobe is acquiring Nitobi, the makers of PhoneGap.

I have been using and talking PhoneGap for about a year and a half now, building a rather powerful authoring tool that uses PhoneGap with some native extensions to build apps for iOS and Android.

Anyway, I am thrilled with the prospect of one of the industry giants, with excellent track record on the tool side, supporting PhoneGap. I also feel this gives a certain approval of PhoneGap as a serious tool. On a related note, I have had clients that I held presentations for about cross platform mobile development in 2010 come back the last months and say "we were wrong, there is actually a use for PhoneGap". Since it is hard to plot a graph safely from a random subjective data point or two, having Adobe "stamp the whole chart right there" - saying there is room for this technology for sure, was really a energy boost for me.

On the other hand, I am slightly skeptical based on Adobe's (lacking) track record on mobile devices. As I have noted before, I feel that the really great mobile platform from Adobe has been only months away since I tested an early Flash Lite edition in 2002. I am also not sure if I view the split with the ASF taking care of the OSS version as a good one. Does this mean there will be a split of versions and functionality also in the core product and APIs? For me, that would be a huge disappointment (while I find it perfectly fine that the PhoneGap Build service will be developed as a closed proprietary Adobe product and of course that tools like Dreamweaver and Photoshop gets export wizards and whatnot!). And damn, PhoneGap is a better name than Callback. :-)

In any case it is exciting times for mobile apps development in the space, literally, between HTML5 and native apps.

And on a day like this I cannot end without (even though I am not generally a fan of throwing around either "R.I.P." or "awesome" all the time): R.I.P. Steve Jobs, AWESOME innovation legacy you leave behind - and you changed a generation's view of product development and importance of design in innovation.

September 19, 2011

WeVideo Champagne Supernova

Yeah, we[1] have launched WeVideo! The US team even won a prize for their presentation at Demo 2011. Congratulations! I must I admit I am sometimes that boring realistic and analytical engineer - how refreshing then to have someone else to bluntly say "we will revolutionize social video editing".

We have been thinking hard around pricing, technical architecture and countless details before the launch. I might write something on that later. But now, a more practical test. People often say "eat your own dogfood" or, as I will insist on phrasing it in this case, "drink your own champagne". Anyway - use your own tools if you believe others should.

I've gone ahead and done just that. I just drove from New Orleans to NYC for my August holiday and now I created a short summary of the trip. I am a total amateur, like most of our users will be, so you will maybe not be that impressed by the resulting video itself. But I was, honestly, impressed by the tool when using it for real, not just testing some boundrary case for technical reasons.

For this 3 minute movie, it was uploaded videos and photos from 2 cameras (one mid-range SLR, the Nikon D90 and one Nikon point and shoot from 2007) and 2 iPhones, put it together in a timeline and slotted in some mp3s[2] - then uploaded a screenshot of a google map and added some transitions and texts in the tool to end up with this video:

What struck me was that after getting the raw material into the tool, the rest was really easy. Imagine how disruptive this can possibly be as bandwidth continues to grow exponentially...

The launch seems to have gone well technically so far and it has gotten nice reviews. Of course the sign-up rate (4 digit number of sign-ups in the first few days) is not quite up where we had dreamed. On the other hand if it keeps groving at a steady rate we will have the whole world as users by Christmas. :-)

Now go on to and invite some friends to edit video collaboratively - good luck! And drop me or the WeVideo team a note if you have a suggestion or find a bug - we are now in what we have defined as a public beta version and need all input we can get to get this right.

[1] - Full disclosure: I am a member of the board at Inspera, that holds a majority ownership position in Creaza AS and (directly and indirectly through Creaza AS) controls 52% of WeVideo Inc. I have also played a relatively modest role in the more practical matters of making everything you don't see (clusters of web servers, rendering farms and the like) work and scale, as a consultant.

[2] - Forgiveness, not permission. Pretty-please. The album Fuzzy by Grant Lee Buffalo is one of my all time favorites. If you do not own it in at least two formats already, go ahead and buy it in the iTunes store (or your favorite equivalent) right away!

August 4, 2011

Make the desire to win bigger than the fear of losing

I was recently made aware of some research about penalties in football (soccer, for any US readers). How can this be relevant in project management? Maybe it is a stretch, but I think it can learn us a thing about motivation. Let's see.

I cannot find the original Norwegian source now, but the basic content was this: When the last penalty is taken in a football penalty shootout, the likelihood of scoring is almost twice[1] if your team will win if you score than if your team will lose if you miss[2].

Even though generalizations from non-related fields is risky and I am a fan of brutal honesty[3], I will take my chance on this one: This can learn us to make the desire to win bigger than the fear of losing. If your project team feels scoring that goal (be it completing their component, polishing that presentation, or something else) will win the game, it is better than if they fear their mistake will drag the entire project to a failure.

So making each team member feel that their contribution is essential, but creating an environment where everyone is sure someone else will pick up the ball (!) if he fails his current task, sounds like the winning formula. Maybe not rocket science (it is football science, after all!), but a good reminder?

Now go on and win your game.

[1] - Again I didn't manage to find the original numbers, but they were something like 40 % and 70 % likelihood of scoring. Will update this blogpost if someone pings me with a link to data or original article. The source is as credible as it gets in Norwegian mass media, at least (A-magasinet from Aftenposten) - and it seemed to reference valid research.

[2] - I.e. the statistics were for the tenth penalty, and equal score before the penalty will give the first situation and the team not having the shooter being one goal up would be the second.

[3] - For the record I am also a fan of a lot of praise. But being direct about the negative also gives credibility to the praise. Maybe a separate blog post on this later!

June 12, 2011

2011 - The Summer of, eh, Work?

A year ago I wrote about our preview of the online social video editing software Creaza. Even though the social video editing service for consumers is still in closed beta, we have had two fun milestones lately:
  • A two page article in Norway's largest business newspaper (DN), focusing on the big plans/hopes, the software itself and launch of the US company, Creaza Inc.
  • Creaza was one of three startups that won the judges attention at a Plug and Play Expo in Silicon Valley recently, as Techcrunch noted
This could mean that we need even more scaling capabilities (we currently have user numbers in the hundreds of thousands on the educational version, a different ball game than if we get millions of active users) sooner rather than later.

That, and for me personally two-three other projects in an intense phase for other customers, could easily mean extra work this summer. Anyway, I just booked plane tickets for doing a late August road trip from New Orleans to NYC and I am also going to visit the Sziget Festival in Budapest, so no complaining! But I think we are in for an interesting summer of work and fun before that...

Full disclosure: I am a member of the board at Inspera, that holds a majority ownership position in Creaza AS and (directly and indirectly through Creaza AS) controls 52% of Creaza Inc.

May 17, 2011

Small Scale Globalization as a Practical Reality

The last two years, I have been teaching e-business at a college. When covering internationalization, I am talking about global supply chains and big outsourcing providers. We are probably all getting used to designs, components and finished products travelling across continents (to be fair very often produced in China based on a design from the US), before ending up in your lap(top). I had not really thought that much about how this links to my more down to earth business and software development projects.

The fact is, to me at least, doing business globally has become more practical and accessible to small firms. The Internet has changed how we work and collaborate and I will provide some facts about the work on a service we are launching in full scale soon, as a practical sample:

- I have been using an Indian firm, PixelCrayons, to implement the web page design - with excellent value for money and professional project management exceeding my expectations

- My partner in Romania, Exswap, has been doing excellent work as usual and collaboration from day-to-day is done a lot through Skype (acquired yesterday[1] by a not unknown software giant from Redmond) and other online tools

- My excellent hosting provider is based in Germany

- The core issue tracking and development hub, at heart is Jira, is delivered by Aussie company Atlassian (at first via their brilliant start-up scheme which gives you the software for free and the little you pay goes to charity), we use open source tools developed using what a more buzzword-compliant post would call crowdsourcing, and we build our product on top of many of Google's tools and services that live in the cloud

- I both learn from and contribute to groups/email lists that are truly global in nature

- When we actually want to meet in person, the competition in the airline industry has made the prices reach a level where it is not a total showstopper, even for small firms. To me, this "democratization of air travel" is a part of the same picture.

- And, a bit on side, maybe -- even on this very low traffic blog I have received comments from all over the world (US midwest, California and eastern Europe) on email

All of this might be small things that we take a bit for granted from day to day, but added together it is in fact changing radically how we recruit, manage, purchase and work - in the broadest sense of the word work.

To a certain degree the vision about a rich toolset in the cloud, using a best of breed strategy, is already a reality. It makes trial and failure less expensive for new entrepreneurs, and I believe it fuels the speed of innovation. Exciting[2] times.

[1] - As you can see, the final version of this post had a little time hanging around as well, since "yesterday" is "last week" when clicking "Publish" - but trust me, it is nothing compared to the time from rough bullets and the idea to the (semi-)finished post. :)

[2] - Caught up with the latest editions of Economist on the plane down to follow up with my partner and it seems the times, at least in and near Silicon Valley, is so exciting that even the more established analysts see it as a bubble (bubble warnings from the blogosphere have been here for a few years, from when Groupon was just a random small company)...

February 23, 2011

Pricing strategy: What is your next-to-nothing threshold?

A while ago (a long while, in fact - this post has been in draft state for forever), when travelling, my harddisk broke down. I had thought until then that my ad-hoc backup regime was sufficient. Not quite so. It was a combination of three things (in addition to the, too dated, ad-hoc backups) that more or less saved me: Subversion, web based email and Dropbox. My Dropbox account was a free one, but as you can imagine - I have now upgraded to a paid plan to have more space (I am really a fan of the service, by the way!).

But this post was not intended to be about backups, rather about pricing. The hours (and potential data) lost in the above transformed me from a enthusiastic evaluator[1] to a paying user of Dropbox. Their price point of 10 dollars per month was just above my next-to-nothing threshold before, but after this near (data) death experience, 10 bucks suddenly seemed like nothing.

Micro payment (when I say micro, I mean micro - think 1-10 cents for a one time access to some content) was for a while a sort of holy grail for many in the online business. I think the hope for this type of payment patterns might be waining, but a new "next-to-nothing" paradigm has certainly emerged in app stores, such as Apple's or the Android Market for mobile devices.

Also subscription based services of various sorts seem to manage to convert at least a small portion of its registered users into actual customers (in my world he is not a customer until he pays for the service!). Other examples of small payments include donations (Wikileaks, anyone?) through PayPal and others. Personally I have donated to a couple of open source projects, for instance the pdf generation program I use for all my invoicing etc. in my firm. I do not have hard facts, but I think these schemes are on the rise as well - and payments are often quite small, so I will include them in the next-to-nothing bag of pricing schemes.

Some, grumpy theorists in particular, may claim that the next-to-nothing threshold is just a special case of perceived value vs. price. That could be, but it is still an interesting one. I also think that in general, the next-to-nothing-limit can be very close to nothing for personal use, but often a bit higher for a service aimed at professional users. This is a particular challenge for the pricing structure for the launch of an exciting B2C service I am a bit involved with this spring - probably another post on that later.

One last thing: The power of really paying nothing should not be underestimated. Even if your next-to-nothing offering looks very compelling on its own, that could change very rapidly as soon as someone (such as Google, as a not quite randomly selected example) offers the same service for free...

[1] - If you haven't tried it, please do - it is purely great to have access to what you know is the latest version of the file both on iPad, phones, PCs and Macs -- as well as from a web based interface.