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Democamp – Round-Up

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?


  1. Martine Martine 2007-04-06

    Hugh, your links to opensourcecinema both have a typo in them.

    Thanks for the round-up on Democamp!

  2. Hugh Hugh 2007-04-06

    martine, thanks … i made the updates.

  3. Josh Nursing Josh Nursing 2007-04-06

    Super wrap-up, Hugh. It’s valuable also that you are sharing your learning experience along the way in your projects. Thanks for the links.

    As for the Montreal developers, I gather they are in stealth mode, waiting for the right moment to pounce on the scene to wow us unsuspecting audience.

  4. Hugh Hugh 2007-04-06

    i know they’re in stealth. I know of at least 5 cool projects we’re waiting to see results from… (one is mine) … but would be nice to have more to show off now.

  5. […] 7. Bosko Milekic was happy 8. Hugh McGuire of Collectik 9. Hugh has put up a more extensive write-up on his new site. 10. Alistair Croll has a write-up 11. Roberto Rocha from the Gazette has a Report […]

  6. Brett Brett 2007-04-07

    Hugh – it was really great getting your honest thoughts on what to do, and what not to do, in starting a new service. I’m also finding some difficulty with a) my core function and b) getting users to stick.

    Since democamp, there has actually been a real fllourish of users on the site. But they seem to be treating it like a more focused youtube – ie, uploading all their fun videos. I have no problem with this right now – I think it builds community – but pushing it to the core function of them remixing my stuff is going to take some UI work. So thanks for your thoughts on that!

    Did you find that with already a lot of users, it was hard to turn the ship? ie, if you don’t nail it when the buzz first starts building, you’re in trouble? I just decided to release, because if not I would be tweaking it in a sandbox forever….


  7. Hugh Hugh 2007-04-07

    hey brett, our “a lot” of users is not really the case. we have many people signed up, but just a small few of active users. I think turning the ship is essential … but it’s not so much turning as setting off in a specific direction, rather than goign around in cricles.

    I think in the case of opensource cinema, maybe you need to focus more on the mixing and less on the uploading of stuff? so the real focus is:

    -help me remix this movie… I think if you could get an online solution (as we discussed) it could really be helpful.

  8. Brett Brett 2007-04-07

    yeah – its hard to say which application will have the most impact. The submission of material is easy for people to do, and in reality, one of the most useful for me. But the remixing I think offers the closest we can get, technologically, to a “wiki film”.

    I’m also interested in the document that will be created from this process, however. The comments, the submissions, the rants, the arguments – this stuff can’t be created by simply making a video mashup.

    I’m going to do another round of tweaking the “create” part to see if people get it more.

    As far as the technology, i’m hesitant to go for an online editor until I can whitelabel it -until I can get it within the framework of the site, rather than sending people to another service. We’ll see….there are a lot of products emerging.

  9. Hugh Hugh 2007-04-07

    yeah, it’s gotta be a white label. i wonder if one of these sites/companies would do that for you for free, in exchange for a associate producer credit. or something.

  10. Becky Becky 2007-08-22

    Hi there.

    I’m sorry to contact you here, but I’ve been trying to get technical help re: Collectik (only a few of my podcasts from my Collectik playlist are showing up in iTunes) and the emails over the past few weeks are bouncing, with this message: “Technical details of temporary failure:
    TEMP_FAILURE: Could not initiate SMTP conversation with any hosts:
    [ (1): Connection refused]”

    Is there some other way to reach someone?

    Again, I am sorry to contact you here, but I couldn’t figure out another way.

  11. Hugh Hugh 2007-08-22

    hi becky – I sent an email to your address at gmail (is that right), otherwise, feel free to contact me at: hughmcguire AT gmail DOT com…

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