Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Technology, not magic

I'm in into software now. I never set out to end up in this business. But here I am - about to launch a mobile research platform. For those of you who have successfully launched websites and apps, I salute you. Because the rest of us have no idea what it's like to be sitting in front of an inbox watching email after email appear. Some are simple questions. Others challenge your own understanding of what your platform can and can't do to the the very limits.:

"What do you mean you have to ask the developers? Didn't you specify the functionality yourself?" Well, in all honesty I didn't. And that's another story for another post - or perhaps over a drink?

Also, as Ray Poynter once said during a Webex conference, 'It's not magic, it's technology. And technology can break!' Fortunately our app, tested to destruction and improved almost on a weekly basis, does not break down any more. But we still get reports of issues around 'it's crashing when I try send an entry' (try logging on correctly); 'video is taking an age to send' (It was 80Mb over a 3G network so I suggested she wait until she could get WiFi - then it worked instantly); (I can't see your invite to the project' (your fault for giving us the wrong email to send it to)... and so on.

One of the biggest and most bizarre issues we come across is around logging in to the site and the app. And here is how it's done:

Go to our website.
Download an app for your device and
Sign up on website
Launch the app
Sign in using same details as used on the website

And you are logged on. Which means you can send entries, accept projects, etc.

That simple.

But do you know how many people stumbled at this first hurdle?

The number of people who simply forgot which email address or password they used yet were adamant they were using the correct ones was awe inspiring. Luckily we could check the database and quickly establish they were using the wrong email address.

Another frequent issue was downloading the app. We discovered very quickly that having an iPhone did not mean you had an iTunes account. And if you did, it did not mean you had ever downloaded an app. This is critical during recruitment.

A few weeks ago one of my colleagues suggested there must be an easier way of signing up. But what could be easier than an email address and password? In the end there was an easier way. And we got to it by suggesting to our developers there must be an easier way. Without hesitation they said there was. And it was released last week. It was buggy at first but the last of the bugs was patched last night. And here is how it works:

You receive an email with a QR code on it
You scan the code
You are instantly signed up and logged in

That simple.

The lesson here is that when working with developers, 'logical way' does not equal 'easiest way'. There is a difference.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Chelo Kabab in Olympia

Come and say 'Hi!' to me at the Insight Show in Olympia, London this Wednesday and Thursday. The secret code is 'Chelo kabab' and the first person to say it to me will be taken to lunch to an Iranian restaurant across the road. And don't worry, I won't be trying to sell you an app.

See you!

Oh and vegetarians are most welcome.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The FREE plan and what the doctor said

We have been thinking hard about the various plans our EthOS platform will offer and how much to charge. And up until 2 weeks ago we had three simple price plans: student (for anyone who is not being paid to do a project), flexible (for small companies) and enterprise (effectively unlimited). We even thought about how cool it would be to offer summary films for each project completed on the site - for free!

So three weeks ago a friend and I are driving back from France (did you know I lecture Industrial designers at Valencienne University in Northern France? - nor did I) and talking about the site.

"You should offer a free plan to consumers making their own films."


"To drive flexible and enterprise users."

So we thought it through. What if we did allow ordinary people to upload films they have made for our site. Here is an edited version of our discussion:

We could send push notifications of tasks to be declined or accepted

A notification might say: 'This month is BREAKFAST month!' and people will upload breakfast clips, conversations and brand specific stuff.

Why would anyone do such a thing?

So we thought some more.

We could let people attach a value to their clips. Flexible and enterprise people would be able to buy the clips and add them to them EthOS archives - ask the subjects questions and use the in research projects.

Then it wouldn't be free would it?

People - flexible and enterprise could still view for free. But as soon as they use it, i.e. drag it into a workspace, they will be charged.

We could have films of the day or week to drive interest.

Heck we could make our own films.

Heck we could stimulate video responses to films.

Heck and more heck we could charge 30% commission (like Apple) for every entry sold

We could ask people to scan QR codes on products which will launch tasks and give vouchers

What about the legal and privacy stuff?

Mmmmm. It would need to be by market. Or we do it under UK jurisdiction.

Tomorrow I see our lawyer in the UK about this and other matters.

Last Friday I shared the 'free plan' idea with our fulltime GP; finance director; brother in law.

He thought about it for a minute before asking me this question:

"Would the EthOS system be able to film for up to, say, 10 minutes?"

"Yes! Why?"

He went on to explain how many patients, especially older patients, often forgot instructions for prescriptions, or needed to understand something he had said, again. Wouldn't it be great to be able to film the consultations and send them to patient accounts so they could replay them at will? A record of everything said and not said?

By now I have goose pimple that have reached the palms of my hands.

"But patient privacy would be a huge issue and I don't think doctors will want to be on record in case they get sued for anything they said..."

This felt like a bucket of ice cold water being poured on my fire.

"But let me chat to a few colleagues and get back to you."

So I am left hanging. I will keep you posted but as always, comments, suggestions and opinions most welcome.


Friday, June 17, 2011

EthOS launches very soon indeed

If only you could see me right now.

I'm sitting at the dining table in my house and trying to figure out:

Terms & conditions and privacy drafts from lawyer
a conditions of sale draft - again from lawyer
how the 'Free' version of our service will work
scalability of the site and running costs which will have a direct impact on
our fair use policy
PR for the site - I need a journalist to write a review...
where I am going get some great quotes from people who have used the site - such as "this platform is a game changer!" B Obama, White House

And so on and so forth.

Come what may, we launch on the 7th of July. We go from Beta to Alpha. We forfeit the right to say, "Oh but we are still in beta!" to people when something messes up. Fortunately this hasn't happened in a long time but never say never.

The most stressful thing about the launch? Money. I need money for the lawyer, the PR people, ramping up the various services which make the site what it is (e.g. encoding and cloud servers) and I need money to pay salaries of people we are employing. Here is who:

Managing director - we have one but will introduce him in time.
Finance director - my brother in law who is a full time family GP but wants to help for free. Bless him.
App developers - we will buy shares in their business very soon
Digital director - we have one already

We intentionally haven't gone down the funding route, so we are entirely self funded. Unless you include my father in law who, despite not 'getting' what we do, has pumped cash into various bits of what makes the business turn.

So no funding, launch costs that we are scraping together, employees we can't yet pay and a site that will start running on all pistons in three weeks. And I, sat at the dining table in my underwear wasting time writing this post.

If only you could see me right now.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

50 philosophy ideas you really need to know!

Want to think 'outside the box'? (OK I hate this cliché too) Then get this great book that I'm stuck into right now. It will seriously pull and stretch your mind in every direction. Things you didn't even know you didn't know. Concepts would never have believed we worth contemplating - only for their significance is revealed to you.

I wish be honest though and reveal that, so far, I have only really understood 2 of the 50 ideas. And have kinda understood a further 15. Not a good score. But it's such a great read that I am determined to not let go until I can explain each idea, in simple terms, to my 7 year old twins.

So, why pay for something like this when I can send it to you for FREE!

Here's the catch. You must know by now that we have a mobile research platform called EthOS. But did you know that we are launching it on the 7th of July? Well, soft launching it. July and summer break is not a great time of year for launching any service. So we will have a full launch in mid September.

Back to the catch. We are trying to come up with a strap line for the App which is called EthOS (Ethnographic Observation System). The best strap line idea - even if we don't use it - will win a free copy of this book.

And let me close by suggesting that you sign up with EthOS and give it a whirl before we go live and start charging.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!


NewMR Ethnography event

Me speaking at the NewMR ethnography event a couple of weeks ago. Some great talks. Not so sure that starting my talk by apologising about our wonderful research app was a good idea though!