You can choose compassion

Last night (2006.07.25), I finally got my act together enough to attend another BarCamp (or TorCamp or DemoCamp), after having been to only one of them before and after having judged a DesignSlam (DemoBarTorDesignSlamCamp). A mere 45-minute ride on two streetcars delivered me somewhere in the kill zone of the venue, No Regrets at Mowat and Liberty in deepest Village Liberté.

By show of hands, one-third of attendees at this were first-timers. I saw fewer than ten wymmynz out of maybe 60 total. There was, as ever, a 15-minute time limit (unequivocally imposed by a buzzing clock) and a no-PowerPoint-or-anything-remotely-resembling-it rule. (“If you’re working in PHP6 and you want to write your own presentation language, go for it.” Apparently this was almost exactly what happened one time before, where a guy hacked vi to run his presentation, complete with graphics.) The last guy up, whom I’m not even going to name, used a Web page and gave a presentation, not a demo, totally busting the no-PowerPoint-manqués rule. (Someone loudly muttered “Shhh!” as I yelled that to him after his time was up. Let’s not appease the cheaters, people.)

I took notes on the four actual demos.

Wild Apricot

Before the whole thing started, I spotted the biggest guy in the room, hiding in plain sight in a demure combination of green T-shirt with orange nylon sweatpants and matching sneakers (and conspicuous basket). He got up to the microphone first and I was like, “What’s the brakeman from the Russian bobsleigh team doing giving a demo?” (“Yeah, pretty much,” he told me later.)

Dmitry Buterin (Дмитрий Бутерин) presented on behalf of Wild Apricot, whose logo uses Suburban by VanderLans. Their software lets small groups automate registration for events. I’ve done this myself and I know it’s a total pain in the arse. Their software was used to set up registrations for DemoCamp8, but I couldn’t get it to load.

They have beta releases every few weeks, and one coming up in September. Event registration is usually separate from a Web site, event database, and member/attendee lists. So for small clubs, you don’t have a life and usually you burn out pretty fast.

They had no time to build the functionality of charging fees when people sign up, so it only handles free registrations (though that will change in September). Is “pure .Net.” (Surely a strange word at the end of a sentence.) “So don’t beat me up.” Artifacts and rendering errors onscreen: “So it’s very rarely that people use it on a Mac,” he said, as his demonstratrix ran the demo on Firefox on a PowerBook (her maiden voyage thus). “But it’s very important for us to make it work on Mac and PC.”

“So we brought a little bit of Soviet flavour,” whatever that is. Has a drop-down calendar that, like the whole application, will be murder for anyone using a keyboard or screen reader, though of course those issues are consistently ignored in Web 2.0 applications. That makes them just like Web 1.0 and Web 3.0 applications.

Only one search field, without even a Go button. (OK, but what about an entry like “Edward Jones”?) That was an internal technical challenge. Works well for several hundred members, but for several thousand, they have to do a lot of logic back and forth. One of their existing sites has 8,000 users.

  1. Q. from Bryce: They met the Windows Live “team” about “integration.” Have you thought about that?

  2. A. Yes, but that’s kind of far down the road. They’ll have widgets, external APIs.

  3. Q. Can groups charge members registration fees?

    A. That’s exactly the idea. Other systems use complicated languages and cost $10,000 to $100,000. Our most expensive account is $200/month; most will be $50/month. [Note that he didn’t quite answer the question, which he had covered in his demo anyway.]

  4. Q. Printing – of badges, etc.?

    A. Not yet. You can export data.

JobLoft

Chris Nguyen and Lee Liu presented JobLoft (which does not work without the www. subdomain), a job site for the retail, food-service, and hospitality industries. They’re two of the four founders (presumably Sunny Mokha and Andy Lai are the other two) and they’re all former RyeHigh students, which, unaccountably, prompted a cheer.

They demoed using Camino on a PowerBook. Site is two months old. Liu saw a hot chick handing out her résumé to every store with a help-wanted sign in the Eaton Centre and figured there had to be a better way (to recruit hot chicks?).

You can look up your postal code with Google Maps, which maps are updated live. “Narrow by” fields are shown as preset links in the side navigation instead of a complex advanced-search page. Every job listing says how far away from you it is. They’ve got ≈30 companies signed up.

“Obviously, being a Web 2.0 company, we have Web 2.0 features”: SMS, RSS, E-mail notification. Their City pulldown menu looks much too long and auto-activates. They can give you a snippet of JavaScript to add to your page to show a little corner of search results. (Are they aware of how much trouble that causes for nice tidy valid-HTML pages?) Snippets are updated daily.

Fresh Five jobs at bottom of page, updated continuously to boost their Google juice, as it’s called.

Liu had worked (interned?) at Google. They also own PeopleLoft.com, a name some of their clients had suggested.

  1. Q. Revenue model?

    A. Charge the employers.

  2. Q. Widget for employers?

    A. They have a paid feature that converts the site into a company’s own look and feel à la Monster’s or Workopolis’s.

  3. Q. Built in…?

    A. Liu: “A complete .Net solution. I actually come from a PHP background myself.”

  4. Q. Months in development?

    A. September 2005 to May 2006. Liu was still in school some of that time.

  5. Q. from me: French?

    A. Started developing a string table for localization. About 30% could be translated that way now; the rest is “hardcoded text.”

  6. Q. Monster or Workopolis could do exactly the same thing and eat you for breakfast.

    A. Yeah, but we specialize. We aren’t “oldschool HTML Web 1 technology.” If they do copy us, fine. In Months 6 and 8, more features are coming up, like community, social networking, which wouldn’t apply to the Monster demographic. Those sites’ résumé wizards are hugely complex; ours asks basic questions like “Have you worked before?,” “Are you allowed to work?,” “Do you have a driver’s licence?”

  7. Q. How do jobseekers find you?

    A. Google AdWords; word-of-mouth; “association” with Toronto District School Board; City of Toronto; youth organizations. It’s all little steps.

  8. Q. Can we apply?

    A. Sure, if you’re looking for retail/hospitality/food-service jobs. They aren’t hiring.

  9. Q. How are you funded?

    A. Family and a government loan. An HR recruitment company advises them.

  10. Q. Going to expand beyond those three sectors?

    A. Only to young, hip, and trendy sectors, like “admin.” Other companies spend thousands courting our demographic [which they just told us was their bailiwick, not the competition’s].

  11. Q. How will you know you’re a success?

    A. [Didn’t actually answer.]

FileMobile

A Flickr competitor that organizes and publishes all sorts of media files, not just pictures. Are they aware that “FileMobile” can be pronounced à la “Batmobile”?

Steve Hulford gave a demo, using Firefox on Windows, that used up nearly his entire 15 minutes. The homepage has a crawling ticker behind some graphics that is a serious no-no. The site also initially borks on my machine, claiming I don’t have Flash 8 installed. (Way to grow your user base!) Thankfully, they’re smart enough to let you in anyway.

250 MB storage for free in their current alpha release. The Media Studio is the heart of this Flash application. One problem they aim to solve (poorly explained by Hulford) is handling your correspondents’ attempts to send you masses of overlarge files.

He plugs in his Webcam and, after a little while, can immediately upload 20 seconds of live video to his account. Communicates with Blogger, Movable Type APIs, but he didn’t mention WordPress. Site makes five versions of a JPEG. (Do they all count against your 250 MB?) Can set up a blog, or recognize an existing blog, right in the application. Makes slideshows, produces RSS for every tag.

Uses SMIL and Flash together, which is gonna be interesting.

  1. Q. from me: Does it work on Macs?

    A. Yep.

    Q. Linux?

    A. Yep.

  2. Q. Business model?

    A. [Ran out of time before he could explain.]

Languify

The real reason I showed up: A claimed Web application for translating Web applications. John Green of Nuvvo started off. Is here to support Nicholas, the actual developer and a student of Greg Wilson’s. (No surname given, and he isn’t on the wiki page.) Wants to know how useful this is.

Started out as an internal project for Nuvvo, which got requests for UI translation. Some users wanted to do it themselves, so they invented a way to allow that. Nuvvo, an educational-software application, is available in “five or six” languages, with “half a dozen” coming up. (Pity the homepage doesn’t use alt texts. Better check the IMS and other accessibility specs if you want this thing to actually sell.) “What we’re doing now is productizing the whole thing” (sic).

Nicholas: To localize, you replace your English strings with keys, which you externalize into a database or flat files and then translate. The file formats are specific to different platforms, like .properties files in Enterprise Java, .resx in .Net, YML in Ruby, all of which will be supported. It’s hard to manage all those files, especially with multiple translators in different places. Has the term “translation management system” been used, he asks? (It’s an entire industry.)

[This is really a pre-alpha product whose developers do not comprehend the enormity of the problem. Just as developers never take localization (or accessibility) into account until it’s too late, this product itself doesn’t take localization into account. Why? Their own demo didn’t work: While Japanese text looked fine, simple, plain ol’ German used question marks instead of accented characters. Wait till they hit Arabic and Bengali.]

  1. Q. Share translations across projects?

    A. Not right now. Also wants to look at machine translation [there goes the business!].

  2. Q. Translators need to know the context around keys.

    A. Context should already be there, but some file formats make it impossible.

Much less mediocre

If they’ve had eight of these Camps and maybe three dozen demos, of which perhaps 40% are reasonably advanced and credible products, that means Toronto developers have 15 good products on the go. I hereby refute my own years-long complaints about Toronto mediocrity when it comes to Web applications. For Web standards and accessibility of “oldschool HTML Web 1 technology,” we still suck.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.07.26 13:52. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
http://blog.fawny.org/2006/07/26/democamp8/

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