Well, not entirely. But we built this web app that makes it easy to identify interactions between drugs and supplements you are taking. It's pretty cool. This is one of many small companies with good ideas we've worked with over the past few years.
Yesterday, someone asked me why we enjoy working with small companies and startups like this. “They have no money” he said. “Big brands have cash - why don't you work with them?”
Of course, we do work with big brands. They are nice. Sometimes. The problem is that they seldom dare to innovate. You bring them ideas. They have meetings. You bring them more ideas. More meetings. Eventually, they decide that they want to water-down the best idea - making it a shitty one. Not very innovative. Just playing it safe.
If you work in interactive, web, or mobile and you want to do something cool and innovative - you have to work with startups. The only way to get better is to break old models apart, innovate, and lead. Who does that better than startups?
On Monday, we launched Bidzilla - a new entertainment auction site from a Florida start-up. We always knew it was going to be a challenge. Of course, that's partly why we did it, but we really got our hands dirty on this one.
Auction sites are tricky to architect and build. Here's why:
1. “BETA” is not available
You can't do a “BETA” and make excuses as you fix bugs and errors. Why? People don't like to pay for BETA products. You can Alpha and BETA all you want with small-time applications such as Twitter - but this is about money.
2. Good experience = conversions
Your user experience and interaction design has to be really good. Unless it looks and works really well, people won’t trust you and they won’t be excited about getting into it. If you look at a lot of the penny auction sites out there, you'll see what I mean. For instance, look at Bidblink. That looks a bit cheap to me. You’ll notice the same problem here Edubli. The design does not breed confidence. That's a big problem for conversions. Keep in mind, people will look at five sites at a time. You want to stand out as the most trusted brand. You can't let design get in the way.
3. Web auctions are mission critical business systems
If your content management system fails, you just republish. Had a misfire in your video player? Just fix it and people forgive you. People are a bit more sensitive about their money. Once that credit card is in, you have to deliver.
4. Your system must scale
Auctions are real time and every second counts. Data processing is high volume. The system needs to be efficient and it must scale. Your profit is probably going to be on volume, so you'll want to serve a lot of users. What happens if you get hundreds of users entering any one auction at one time? You have to be prepared or you go out of business.
We’re excited to have built Bidzilla. It was a real test for the Fabric development team. Thanks to everyone who made it happen!
We're a big fan of using the latest APIs and pushing browser-based technologies to their limits. A recent project required complex Google Maps implementation, so the new version 3 API was the obvious choice. It's many times faster than the previous version, has location services, and works well on mobile devices (like the iPhone). The project's mapping functionality proved to be a success; however, it wasn't without a few technical challenges along the way.
One of the problems with adopting new API's is that the eco-system of code that interacts and extends it is often very immature as well. Code examples can also be a little sparse, though fortunately Google's documentation was excellent in this regard. The difficulty is when you need something that's not included in the box. Our map has markers, a lot of markers, thousands of them in fact, and to stop the browser impaling itself on a spike we needed marker clustering.
Clustering is where you replace several individual markers with a single marker group icon that indicates to the user that there is X number of markers in this location. The more you zoom out, the greater the number of markers grouped into each cluster. The clustering solutions for Google Maps version 2 were numerous, but for version 3 there was just a handful. The most suitable library was barely 3 weeks old, certainly immature, but as a port of a stable release of the same library for the v2 API it was a viable option.
Another problem we faced was that the styling provided by the library was limited. It expected the marker to be centered on the location, rather than above the location as the design needed. Method overrides and a good understanding of cross-browser rendering bugs allowed us to extend the library to meet our – and our client's – needs.
So, Fabric recently finished work on a new web application, PolicyMap.com, and I can't stop playing with it. It's not even a game; it maps geographic data in a layered, easy-to-use map interface. Our main focus was on UX/UI for both the application itself as well as the wrapper site the application resides on.
Just enter an address and start researching the demographics - income, school test scores, crime data, etc, etc. Anyone who owns a home, is thinking of buying a home, knows someone who owns a home, knows someone who is thinking of buying a home, or you've just plain been inside a home… you'll probably immediately see the value of this application.
I don't know why I can't stop. It started with looking up all the statistics of my own neighborhood. I clicked on almost every possible data layer. How much money are my neighbors making? How much money should I be making to stay juuuuuust above average? Should I worry about my car getting jacked? What if someone decides I should have kids? Will they grow up intellectually stunted because my particular school system values snack foods over music education? I've probably spent over an hour just researching my particular block. And believe me, I know exactly - precisely - which statistics to spit at you to make my neighborhood seem like the place you should be living.
But, wait! What if you're already living in a great neighborhood?! I started looking up my friends neighborhoods. Dammit! Their block has less old people living on it! I've memorized the exact set of data precisely calibrated to send every close friend I have into a wracking fit of sobbing. It's awesome.
Also, my girlfriend makes me look up the neighborhoods I really, really should be living in…
Creative agencies such as advertising and design firms must deliver high-quality sites and apps on aggressive schedules for big brand clients. Unfortunately, agency teams often have limited technical expertise and few engineering resources. Agencies are driven by creative. They have amazing creative, art, and design teams. However, they seldom have deep technology experience and they often lack depth in software development. Driven primarily by creative marketing people, agencies seldom have creative technologists on staff and they struggle with technical documentation, process, and software development discipline.
This is why Fabric are the preferred development partner for agencies when they need to deliver social sites and apps for major brands. We add layers of expertise, skills, and proven execution ability to agencies in need. We've done it for Carmichael Lynch, David & Goliath, and even for interactive agencies such as Rocket XL.
We help agencies with technical expertise, writing functional specifications and UX documentation. We offer integrated development teams and our battle-tested process to deliver large scale social sites, complex API integrations and data aggregation solutions. Custom CMS builds or complete transition or integration of CMS solutions such as Silverstripe, Wordpress, and OneSite.
But most of all, the main reasons agencies hire Fabric is to make sure that important projects are delivered with top quality, on-time, and on-budget. Agencies smile. Clients are happy. That's what you want, right?
Ah yes, the timed honored tradition of training rats to press a button a get some cheese. Er… wrong metaphor. Ah… the time honored tradition of tying a carrot to a stick and making that dead horse walk an extra click to get some meaningless play gold that has no utility in real life other than to provide bored office workers with something to do other than actual work…
I might have messed up that analogy too. Whatevs.
Social game applications - Facebook gaming apps and mobile gaming apps in particular - use this tactic to such an extreme degree I'm not sure the game concepts come first or the actual clicky button-y thingies.
We want them to click a button that gives them shiny coins!
Yes, but what kind of button?
A red button.
Awesome. But… why are they clicking the button?
Oh. Well, shit. Um, because they're at an airport. And, and… they run the airport! They decide what airlines are coming and what chains to have in the food court and how to run security.
OMFG! That's genius! We'll make them click a red button so they can get coins and upgrade their airport. But not enough coins to get the really good stuff. They need to buy special Frequent Flyer Coins to get the good stuff.
Yeah. It'll be sweet.
So, sarcasm aside, it obviously works. Farmville has 89 million users on Facebook and Foursquare is rounding the corner on a million smart phone users. What would be interesting is to see the real drop off points. How many of those users installed the apps and never came back but never uninstalled? How many played obsessively for a week or two or even a month and suddenly dropped it altogether? There's something missing in the formula. How do you engage a user - obsessively - for extended periods of time past even one or two months?
Because these apps are “free” and easy to obtain the user investment in the beginning is low. You need to hook them fast and the most readily available form or digital crack is fast levelling, easy badges and lots and lots of coins. You'll eventually loose your users but maybe you've made enough to build the next game. And the next and the next. It's a slash and burn strategy that is quite frankly as boring as it is addictive. Which is kind of like watching paint dry - eventually you get so bored you hit this zen like place in your head you don't even know where you are anymore. Experience The Nothingness of Click.
Funny enough, the ads for most of these games say things like 'Hey our game is different. We've got a real story. It's not just click farming!' They lie. Straight up. There's just not enough content in these games to keep your interested. There's just not enough variety in the button clicks to keep you going forever.
What's the solution? Well, I don't really know. Sorry for the anti-climax. But I think it's in the social part of the equation. Monopoly had an awesome Google Maps integrated game last year that was very popular. If they had better anticipated that popularity we might still be playing it right now. The idea of augmented reality and geo-location apps is still pretty exciting. Social play that ties in real life experience with game-like elements isn't a new concept but it's one still begging to be perfected.
Written by Ryan Nash
There seems to me to be a two kinds of mobile social users: the Mobile Gamer and the Mobile Braggart.
If you're in the tech industry, as I am, you're one of these two whether you like it or not. It's merely a matter of personal preference. You can “think different” with all your iPhone buddies, look important on your BlackBerry or even hang with the new disciples of Android and still fall into one of these two categories, although I have my opinion which users fall pretty hard into the Braggart definition.
The Mobile Gamer
A gamer is an imaginitive individual at heart with strong escapist tendencies who loves to assume alternative personnas and waste valuable time acquiring vast hordes of e-stuff (read: treasure, coins, $, dead dragons, etc). I fall squarely into this category. The Mobile Gamer is interested in the actual game mechanics, the gameplay challenges, the refining of strategies and the satisfaction of winning.
The Mobile Braggart
A Mobile Braggart wants everyone, everwhere to know exactly what they are doing, where they are doing it and who they're doing it with. It can be as simple as getting breakfast on a Sunday morning with friends after a “crazy” Saturday night hopping from hotspot to hotspot. Checkin. Tweet about how awesome this event is. Checkin somewhere else. Tweet about how awesome the late-night food is. Checkin. Post a picture of your totally amazing Sunday brunch with friends. It really is that amazing.
Written by Ryan Nash (mobile gamer and escapist artiste)
Ugh. Ok, so I tried giving this topic a few weeks to sink and see if I could calm down about it but, no, I'm still not happy. Usually I'm all about new technology, online services, gizmos, gadgets and digital products that make my already considerably cushy life just that much cushier. Particularly, little things like Amazon remembering who I am everytime I come back, recommending books and holding all my credit cards on file, or Google's slightly big-brothery-I-know-exactly-where-you-are-and-no-don't-bother-clearing-your-cache-'cause-we've got-your-click-pathing-profiled-already tweaks to Google Maps, search ads and every other product they've built. Seriously, who doesn't want their map to zoom to your current location on load? Maybe I've just become used to that level of creepiness.
But Facebook, man. Holy crap. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love technology. I loves me some technology, but this is getting a bit much. I seriously, absolutely, positively do not want to show up on some site for the first time and see my entire friends list laid out in front of me with message and product suggestions tailored specifically to my own unique brand of stupid Facebook comments. There's stuff all over my profile that I wouldn't want showing up when visiting another site in any circumstance - voluntary or not.
Now some people might say I'm splitting hairs. Amazon, among others, tailors their product offering directly to you based on your usage patterns - searches, favorites, purchases, etc - but that's a sort of walled garden of hyper-specific marketing. I have to sign in to access this data, at least once when setting up my account and possibly every time I return, to get all these targetted offerings. Facebook, on the other hand, is proposing to just sign you up. Seriously. You've never been there but you're signed up the second you land on the page.
“…we’ve also explained the possibility of working with some partner websites that we pre-approve to offer a more personalized experience at the moment you visit the site.”
Is this the end of the world? Well, no. But it certainly feels like an invasion of privacy and a betrayal of trust. [More on trust in a minute.] I'll give you an example that I don't find to be far-fetched at all. Let's say I go to Sports Illustrated for the first time because I've just got to get a Swimsuit Calendar for my wall. Why? Maybe I'm lonely. Maybe it's none of your business. Oh, snap. That's just it! It is none of your business. But my good buddy decides to go to Sports Illustrated too. Maybe he's there for the same calendar or maybe he's there to read an “article”. Haha. Anyway, he might see a great, big picture of my face saying, 'Hey Buddy, your friend Ryan just bought a steamy Swimsuit Calendar.' Probably because he's lonely… That sucks. You see where I'm going with it though.
Is Facebook going to protect users from situations like that? Will they stop it at merely signing you in to a site you've never been before and restricting the “general information” from spreading out in concentric circles of shame and irritation? I doubt it. Facebook has betrayed our trust before. Beacon anyone? New opt-in-only privacy settings? Facebook will of course give users the usual convoluted privacy settings but make no mistake, you'll be opted in until you find the stupid setting to turn it off. I hope…
I realize the web - and mobile for that matter - are travelling in this direction at break-neck speed but I feel like the old man in the corner going, “Back in my day, the web was anonymous! You could go anywhere and do anything without fear of persecution - or at least embarrassment. It was private dammit!” I'm just tired of having my personal information sold and traded about without my permission. And, NO, telling me you're going to opt me in ahead of time doesn't count. Couldn't Facebook start us opted-out and convince (read: bribe) us to turn it on?
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