domenica 18 ottobre 2009

Weekly update (I'm starting a tradition here)

Hello guys,

This one is the first post of a series. I think it's great idea to write here what we're doing on a weekly base.


a little flashback: Tweaking the GUI
In the last 3 weeks we've been mostly focusing on tweaking the GUI based on the feedback we got from our early users and friends. Among the things that mostly bothered people were the lack of a "normal" menu bar. Many people asked to have more integration with windows explorer, my brother (the guy from mentioned a list of things to be fixed in the current GUI and Tim from the joelsonsoftware forum suggested us to reskin the windows. All of this has been progressing very well without any majour surprise, and surprisingly even the explorer integration went smooth (thanks to the use of ez shell extensions which saved us months of work...).

Graphically speaking, we got from here to here.

(still flashback) The desktop mode - stage 1
Maurizio has been secretly planning to develop a "desktop mode" for Tabbles, then a few weeks back he told me about his naughty desire but added that this would take months of development as he need to hook up with some hideous Windows libraries using the C language (to which he is strongly allergic). Then, one day, he googled the right thing ("pin applicaton to desktop") and found the 4 lines of code that did the trick... the feature was implemented in literally 30 mins and this opened a whole new world in front of our eyes.
What could this mean? Well, it would mean give the user a desktop where one could zoom and a pan, as you do in google maps. Not bad at all!
Implementing this stuff can be considered a success story.

(Happened this week) The desktop mode - stage 2
This one is a little bit less of a success story :-)
Last Tuesday Maurizio told "look I think we should make the first floor detachable, and run in a window... I can make it happen in a couple of hours"... of course I said "great, go ahead!", but a couple of hours later he called me back and said "actually this will take a bit longer...". It took him indeed until Friday :-)
Well calling an insuccess would be a bit overdone, given the value added to the app.

(also happened this week) The desktop mode - stage 3
As Tabbles will probably be installed in desktop mode by default (the user can switch it's behavour in real time), we also needed to to draw the files that the user has on his real desktop. This is nearly done and it took a couple of days of work and will probably need one more.
This is what we have today:

So, we wished we could release another beta before the weekend but we couldn't make it...expect something early next week. Maybe it'll be a bit broken, but we're sure you'll be impressed :-)

Sales and Marketing

a little bit of a flashback again: rethinking the sales and marketing strategy
We started off the whole project thinking on focusing on a corporate app, therefore we shaped our site and our communication in order to look like "what we thought would be appealing to a company". Things were actually not going too bad for a startup, but when we learned about the balsamiq success and we read this post, we realised we could be trying a totally different path...not only that: while we were reading this post we already started a lively dialog with our first users on our forum (we love you guys, I hope you know that by now!) so basically we did already jumped in this "friendly small company" trend even if our website would still give the feeling of us looking like a greedy impersonal corporation.
Therefore we planned to rework our website a bit in order to show what we are instead of trying to hide it.

The last couple of weeks: some GUI stuff and some maintainance
We usually work like this: Maurizio writes the code and grosses the GUI, I try and make the GUI look prettier, do the icons, the user manual, the default databases and take care of the translation. There has been a lot of this stuff done in the last weeks, and precisely:
  • Icons tuned up and re-exported (before they were all vectorial XAML, now they're all png), in 2 different color flavours.
  • Minimalistic default databases, in EN, DE, IT, NL, RU (now, that's a boring task!)
  • Arrange the translations using the fabulous Zeta Resource Editor tool, on this post

The last couple of weeks again: Mantis, Wiki, vs phpbb3

- vs phpbb3:
On top of this, I've been having a look at and Maurizio made me notice how cool it's rating feature is. Well, getsatisfaction has a clean and nice design but it's true power is in the fact that finding meaning information is made so much easy since users have the chance to vote the stuff they find useful.
Because of this mechanism, an average Joe (or a casual user looking for some support but not willing to invest not more than 3 mins on it) will probably find what he needs within seconds, leave the site with a pleasing feeling and come back soon.
With phpbb information is way more scattered. The point is that phpbb is meant as a generic forum software, one you could use to setup a board on butterfly collecting, on politics or on is very different.
On the other hand, the upside of phpbb is that it allows things like a poll, uploading a file, creating a poll and even some integration with some other online softwares (such as the populare mediawiki).

Looking for a nice way to allow users to rate posts (and other users?) I've been browsing the phpbb mod repository reading a quite a chunk of the phpbb mod development forum, looking for a "rating mod" (a mod is a sort of plugin for phpbb). I found a few WIP, a few abandoned but nothing I could just install and play the same time, many people are hungry for such a plugin, I can see why.

I installed Mantis a couple of weeks ago (here), it's now up and running and it works pretty well given what we need right now. The fact that it's not integrated with phpbb annoys me (and our users!) so extremely much!!!
Obviously here too there is quite a lot of people crying for a solution, and quite a few projects, but nothing easy enough for me to install... the best thing I found was this and I honestly got scared after reading the first half of the howto :-\
(if anyone out there is brave enough to try that, we'd be more than happy of lending him a couple of licenses in long as he doesn't get our website melted :-D )

- Mediawiki
This is the the platform powering wikipedia, it's huge, powerful, open source, free and it should integrate pretty well with phpbb (here). Mantis also integrates pretty well with Mediawiki (here) installing Mediawiki could allow us to (at least) have a shared user database (so that user don't have to create different accounts each time) but maybe also to have dual login! Yeah!
Of course there is a but: we're currently using an inexpensive (read cheap) shared hosting, with 1 mysql database, and I'm pretty sure that this db won't resist long if we install Mediawiki on it...
Any opinion on this would be highly appreciated!

Real marketing stuff: re-segmenting?
I started saying that we initially targeted businesses (small and medium, but still businesses). A refining of the marketing material was needed as even on the joelsonsoftware post we got criticized for not having a clear target.
Well, two things happened since then:
  • we decided to go "Freemium" earlier than expected: we'll soon launch a featured limited version with no expiry date, free for personal use.
  • the desktop mode fell from the sky as an unexpected (at least for me) gift.
What is gonna happen to "Tabbles | your personal document management system"? Probably it's soon gonna move to the attic, and be replaced by something like:

  • Tabbles | smarter folders
  • Tabbles | beyond folders and tags
Or probably something that names the new desktop mode like:
  • Tabbles | deeper desktop and smarter tags
On top of this, I've been thinking a bit about 4 bullet-points which would quickly give the read an idea of what Tabbles does. Those are 4 candidates:

  • Zoomable desktop: gives your desktop a third dimension
  • Unique file organization system based on tag-bubbles
  • Virtual file system: all your disks look as one
  • Ultra-easy project sharing system (we still need a feature to be developed for this, but a low development-cost one)
Ok, we put the zoomable desktop line on top, the fact has quite a meaning for us. Who are we trying to appeal? Who are we competing too? However I look at this, only one name comes to my mind: Bumptop. This topic is indeed not clear at all. We're not sure if we want to push on appealing home users and early users, and create a community (Winamp style) or we should stick to the path we decided initially and try and hit big contracts with big companies?

But the second line, Unique file organization system based on tag-bubbles, is indeed the most controversial one. While a zoomable desktop is a not-too-hard to describe concept, the core features of Tabbles are everything but easy to tell about. Let me just tell that we went to 8 variation of that line, but none of them made us 100% happy. Any comment on this is extremely welcome!

Uh, I wrote a lot!
Next week I'll keep it shorter, I promise :-)


1 commento:

  1. hmm...I thought tabbles is more a mind-link-system


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