Democamp – Round-Up

by Hugh

I presented collectik last week at Montreal’s second Democamp. It was much bigger than I thought i would be – and there were more suity-looking folk than I expected. I guess there were about 100 people in the crowd to watch 5 of us present our projects. I showed off Collectik, and the other presentations were KakiLoc, iotum, BumpTop, and OpenSourceCinema. I’ll talk about Collectik first, then the others, finally some thoughts about Democamp Montreal.

(PS Josh, at Yashlabs, has the best overview of the even, including some vids; simon has a great bunch of pics)

collectikI was really happy with the response to Collectik. In some ways it’s been such a frustrating project – I know we have built a good and useful tool that no one else has built. But due to some rookie mistakes, one of the main ones being trying to fix user interface problems by throwing more features into the mix, the site has been too dense for most people to get into. We have pretty healthy traffic, but we have very minimal stickiness. We have a handful of pretty passionate users – but for the most part we’ve not yet convinced people why this is useful to them. And yet I am still convinced it can be. It is for me, and for others.

I went over these ideas in my presentation – in part trying to share some advice to developers out there, the main thing is: figure out what you DO and do that well. Then look at other features. I think it took us eight months or so to really figure out the real core of what we do. We’re there now, and need to rebuild the site to reflect that.

But if you do not know your core function, and if you are not certain your core function is useful, then you probably don’t have a product.

So to distill the most important stuff:
1. figure out your core function
2. build your design & UI around your core function – make it obvious and easy
3. if you have design & UI problems (see #s 1 &2 above), you cannot fix by adding new features

Another problem for us, I think, is the word “podcast.” I really find the jargonny nature of that word turns people off: “I don’t have an ipod;” “I don’t have time for podcasts,” etc. And yet when you tell a science nerd that New Scientist and Nature magazine both have podcasts, well, they get all excited. Had some nice post-event conversations about that.

In any case, I got tons of great feedback on Collectik, and that was so refreshing. So many people said: great that looks like a really useful tool. So it’s reenergized me on the project, which is nice because we’ve had some long delays on some other good news we’re waiting on.

Even better, I had a great talk with Alistair about a really intriguing idea about how to generate revenues out of collectik while doing some important good too. That one really excited me. I’ve obviously thought about Collectik – but I’ve thought about the other side of this top-secret proposition too. It never even occurred to me to put the two together. So that is extremely exciting; I’ll keep mulling whether there’s actually a business in there.

Here are quick thoughts on the other presentations.

KakiLoc
I’ve seen these guys before, and they’ve got a great mobile phone/web technology to let groups of people know each other’s location. It looks like great tech, and works like a charm. It’s complex though, and is it a compelling enough function? My gut is that they will need to find some really specific applications for it. I don’t even own a mobile phone, so I’m not the market! End-game, though, must be to sell to mobile service providers.

iotum
Another mobile device technology, iotum (if I got it right) lets you define your availability based on relationships to other people. Having a job interview, and your tennis partner calls? It won’t disturb you. Out with your friend John for a coffee, and the love of your life calls? You’ll hear it. The service works well, and the usefulness is clear. The one question is, again, is it compelling enough? Probably yes, and I guess the end-game here is to sell to mobile service providers.

BumpTop
Super slick graphic desktop environment. See the vid here. Lots of fun … tho I don’t want to add all that chaos to my desktop. You definitely get the sense that there’s some great applications in there, though I am not convinced the desktop is the best place. God knows I’ve been wrong before.

OpenSourceCinema
Brett’s film project, a documentary on creative commons and copyright. Opensourcecinema is the place where you can help him remix the movie. Patrick did the design. Sylvain, Josh, and I helped out with the site during Beercamp #1.

After the event, Austin threw a little shindig at his carrraaaaazy bachelor pad. Beautiful loft in the industrial zone of St-Henri (out by MacAuslan). Had a couple of good chats there, mostly (as usual, with me, with people I know already).

Now some thoughts on DemoCamp:
1. very English. would be nice to see some more French there.
2. god, I wish this movement was around back in the summer when we were fist launching alpha/beta collectik
3. lets face it: iotum is from Ottawa; Bumptop is from Toronto. Where are all the montreal developers?