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Entrepreneur, executive, and investor; octo-dad; former Googler, now VP Product at Segment.com

Posts from the engage08 Category

eBay released their AIR application last night. It’s a cool, flashy way to interact with eBay. If you’ve been to an Adobe event in the past year, you’ve seen this demo.

We didn’t go to the desktop to do off-line, we did it because browsers were not built for applications, and AIR is a platform that *is* built for applications. It’s amazing that we’ve been able to build complex applications in the content platform that is the Web.

In a Web environment, there are constraints to what users expect in terms of the user interface (e.g., bookmarkability). With the AIR app, we could start over and invent our own conventions. (He presented this as an advantage.)

They have all kinds of usability enhancements for the eBay Desktop application that dramatically improve the website’s usability. They had tons of examples. Plus, eye candy!

They also have desktop widgets for tracking key auctions.

Nick.com is talking about their platform for off-line gaming. They wanted to bridge the off-line piece with their website, so they created a dealio where you have to find puzzle pieces on the website and drag-and-drop them into the AIR application. Once you find all the pieces, you get a 2 minute video and then a link to a full-length video.

They’re also showing something called neopets. It’s a Populous clone that lets you build colonies of “pets”. He’s going into great detail on how the game works. It’s got a lot of hooks that make players want to go back to the website, like the ability to craft your own breeds of pets.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with Adobe, they were great to work with, gave us tons of access”, blah blah. 🙂

This was created with two full-time developers, along with supporting folks.

BusinessObjects/SAP is on. They’re talking about their desire to create more engaging products. Once again they repeat the theme that the move to the Web cost theme in terms of their user experience and with Flex/AIR they can recapture some of that.

They’ve got a new application–Polestar–that helps casual users generate reports. The first feature they demonstrate is a simple Google Search style interface to the system. Enter “sweaters” and it finds the data you want.

When you choose a search result, you’re given a very intuitive way to query the data. Having used BusinessObjects and hated it in the past, this is very interesting stuff. The UI actually looks… usable.

The UI is built dynamically based on the data in the system. They’re spending a lot of time on specific use cases for the UI. One of the cooler things about the charting system is that the charts transition in meaningful ways. When you transition chart types or change chart scopes, you can see the data move to the appropriate part of the screen.

They also have widgets. Everyone has widgets. Goodness. They have a widget “factory” that can be used to generate new widgets on demand. Neat.

We are very interested in social networking and our products, especially to learn about the types of people in the company and bring them the right data.

Yahoo! is up talking. They’re talking about their increased use of Flash (including a new AS3 Maps API). They’re here to show two AIR apps they’ve written.

They’re showing a widget–what they call a “sidebar” application–written in AS2 wrapped as an AS3/AIR application. The widget has four different areas all pulling data. Wrapping the AS2 app took very little effort, so all of their old AS2 code can be ported to AIR very easily.

They feel putting this stuff on the desktop as a “sidebar” will drive a lot of traffic to their web property; people can interact with the widget to get more detail on stock information, more info on a news story, and so forth.

Now they’re showing a Music Blog Remixers. The developer is talking about how much he loves the Flex tools and is a Java/PHP convert.

Apparently, music blogs are the new distribution channel for music on the web, especially indie music. Their app helps you navigate the music blogosphere and remix them; take the best parts of music blogs and combine them into a custom playlist. You can then export the playlist and post it on your blog.

Now available on next.yahoo.com.

Now we’re seeing Yahoo! Live, which lets you view live video feeds. It’s currently a Flex 2 app but they have plans to upgrade it to Flex 3 / AIR. They let you embed the live video feed all over the place. They want to use AIR so the video feed stays live even if you close the browser and so they can do alerts in the native OS.

We’ve been very happy with how rapidly we can build solutions with Flex and AIR. We built Live in 6 months with 4 full-time people. Software development moves slower the more developers you add to the project, so it’s important for us to choose technologies that let us build software rapidly with small teams.

Marc Benioff is talking about Salesforce.com. I’ll skip transcription of why Salesforce is so great, blah blah blah.

“We used to get releases every four years at Oracle; we’ve had 25 major releases in 8 years at Salesforce.”

After a long presentation on why Salesforce.com is so great, the SVP of Platform has taken the stage to talk about technology stuff.

We’re now looking at a custom application called “Cinema Management” written by Dolby to manage aspects of theatre management. Dolby wanted to do something custom for the UI, so they built a custom UI on top of Salesforce’s APIs.

So far, the new application seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with Flash. The graphs they’re showing are generated by Google’s Chart API. Ah, wait, they use an embedded Flash movie player.

Ah… now they’ve launched an off-line version of the custom Dolby application that works off-line with AIR. It uses SQLite to store all data off-line. Once you connect back on-line, it automatically synchronizes with the server (there’s no sync UI, it just magically happens).

Wow, that’s pretty cool.

We’re now doing a Q&A with Kevin Lynch and Marc Benioff.

Q: Do businesses care about the quality of UX in enterprise internal apps?

A: Consumers are growing to expect rich experiences, so they are demanding it of CIOs. The question is not if they should care, it’s about how quickly they can do it. We want to enable rapid creation of applications with compelling user interfaces.

Q: Do you see any metrics about how to measure the improvement of productivity [associated with high-quality UIs]?

A: Adoption. CIOs have been dealing with lack of adoption, so we give you tools to monitor usage to determine if users are actually adopting the application. We check to see what people are actually using. Users can also rate the applications.

Three guys from AOL. “We’re making a big bet on AIR; why? Two reasons (three if we had more time):

– Make it easy to upload data to share it
– Recapture some of the UI richness that was lost when the Web gained prominence

They’re now showing off Xdrive, which provides 5 GB of on-line storage. They have a new AIR interface for it that was launched today. It’s a file browser a la Windows Explorer or OS X Finder for browsing the files on your Xdrive.

You can see your local filesystem from within the AIR application, and you can drag-and-drop to upload and download, or you can simply drag files from the actual desktop into the AIR application. You can even drag-and-drop folders.

They also have the ability to share documents in the Xdrive and control fine-grained sharing permissions.

“We just stayed up late finished this last night… Thanks to Adobe for all their support.”

Now we’re looking at the “Top 100 Videos” application. They want to create a new distribution channel for the content so they can grow their audience.

Unlike the UI for Xdrive, the UI for Top 100 Videos is very polished and aesthetic.

They use SQLlite to store your favorites videos persistently, etc. They also have a full screen view and a few different widget views.

Available right now from music.aol.com.

Q: What’s the biz model?
A: “For Xdrive you can buy more storage.” Upgrading the free storage is the model. (Spaced out during the Top 100 Videos monetization answer.)

Adobe’s been a fantastic partner for us at every level.

NASDAQ has taken the stage. They’re talking about how one of the biggest complaints traders have is trades at prices they didn’t expect or variations on unexpected outcomes from a trade.

They’re demoing an AIR application that introduces a concept called Market Replay. It lets you rewind the entire market and review what happened. They built it over a six month period. It uses flat text files that they upload daily to Amazon S3; the data is very cheap to store and they can store unlimited amounts of it.

You select a symbol and a time period, and you can download a “small” flat file that contains the requested data for a limited time period. You can then replay the market and see the trading books and watch time progress along the graph.

“Imagine being able to watch sports with instant reply; this gives you instant reply for the market.”

You can zoom down to the hundreds of quote updates that occur every minute (or even the multiple updates that occur every millisecond).

Because S3 is so cheap, we can keep all the data basically forever; competing products usually retire products after 30 days.

You can’t track individual trades with this tool, but your broker should provide you with a price that matches the prices in this tool.

You can get this–it’s available now at data.nasdaq.com. Right now, the data is one day old, but real-time is coming.

An export button is probably coming too; we had to remove it because of uncertainty regarding the output format. We want to make the data as accessible as possible; it’s public data.

MFG.com: a marketplace for the manufacturing industry. It’s for anyone who’s designed a product and wants to get it manufactured. The CEO is on stage talking about it.

MFG.com

He’s talking about all the difficulties involved in bringing a manufactured product to market.

And, now he’s showing his product which manages the process of manufacturing product. It’s a Flex application that covers the whole enchilada, from a dashboard showing the status of items to a way to manage RFQs to address books, to do lists, etc.

MFG.com's Dashboard

It looks great. The Flex-specific features seem to be manually some nice eye-candy for transitions and use of the Flex Charting package.

Random screenshot

Q: “This is Flex; what’s the AIR application?”
A: “We’ve architected this to work with both Flex and AIR; this is important for countries that are bandwidth constrained.”

Q: “What is the development timeframe to get an application like this built?”
A: “It’s a very complex application; we’ve spent about a year building it. Five months of that was on the UI / User Experience portion; this is time before we started coding. About 18 people worked on it.”

Someone asked a question that’s made the MFG CEO talk about how the application has been very successful; the thing that caught my ear is how they added ratings to various suppliers in the manufacturing chain which he claims has revolutionized the market.

Q: “How do people react to this product?”
A: “They are absolutely astonished. Their choices have been SAP and other products that don’t really connect into the whole cycle. There are hundreds of thousands of companies that use this for free. We charge the suppliers a subscription fee – $5 – $10,000 a year. When people sign up, they instantly receive tons of targeted RFQs immediately. It’s revolutionized our business.”

Q: “How long before your competition erases your first-mover advantage with a sexy application?”
A: “We’ve been in the market for 8 years. It’s a really really hard thing to do. We don’t really have much competition. There were about 3,000 competitors, but once you aggregate the herd effective, our adoption has created a barrier that’s much more powerful than the technology.”

FedEx is on stage, talking about how they have been leaders in shipping, how they are better than competing shippers, blah blah blah.

The FedEx Guys

And now, they’re showing “FedEx Desktop”, an AIR application for tracking packages. So far, they’re demoing features that would work just fine in a web application, like:
– dragging a tracking number from OS X’s stickies app to a text field in the AIR app
– requesting that an email be sent to someone when the package arrives
– aliasing tracking numbers, like “T-Shirt” instead of 34928493020
– picking favorite tracking numbers from a large list
– filtering the list of tracking numbers to items in a particular state (e.g., “Clearance delays”)

There is one feature that takes advantage of AIR: desktop notifications, implemented as Windows XP-style taskbar pop-ups in the lower right-hand corner. Oh, and one other: making desktop widgets (again, floating window, not Dashboard).

The pop-up notification

The desktop widget

The app was developed in-house in 12 weeks. Overall, it seems more like an initiative to improve the customer experience that could have been a traditional webapp but instead used AIR, rather than an example of how AIR changes the game in any material way.

Sprout is a way to take content from any website and make it portable; it appears to be like Apple’s Dashboard creation stuff and made generic across platform.

Sprout Builder, compositing a Quicktime movie with web elements

You’ve got a Flex-based Sprout Builder app that appears to be a content manager; you snip content, store it in their builder, and then use it. Actually, as they demo more features, it’s more than that–it’s more like a way to take web content, componetize it, and create mash-ups renderered with Flash. The resulting mashed-up widget is called a “Sprout.”

You can built small widgets and full-size websites with Sprout.

A Facebook widget created with Sprout

But that’s not all! In addition, they have analytics built-in. They aren’t focused on distribution–they pawn that out to partners–but you can see reports on your content’s usage right in the builder environment.

As I watch them do the demo, Sprout seems like an intriguing combination of content scraper, content manager, website publisher, widget creator, and analytical engine–all rolled into one.