Archive for September, 2007

Focusing is difficult

Monday, September 10th, 2007

If you are starting out, focusing in a single product is a great idea. Actually, if you can focus in a single product all the time, it will be much better for your productivity. I’ve been overwhelmed just by the sheer amount of stuff I have to do, in almost completely unrelated areas, that I’ve been pretty much blocked from advancing significantly in the past week.

Over the weekend, I have finally formalized my roadmap for the next few weeks:

First, I have to finish the Codekana release process. I know, I know, it’s already been released for one month, there is a 1.1 version already out there, there are a lot of users, etc… but there are some things I haven’t done, and which I like to consider part of the release effort. One, notifying some people explicitly about it, and possibly contacting both dead-trees and online magazines. Apart from this, I’d like to write one or two articles with the potential to become popular on reddit and other social sites, which can bring certain awareness. One has to walk very carefully the fine line between promotion and interesting content to get there, but I think I can pull that off. And it will help a lot with growing traffic to the Codekana web site. There is one additional note here: since I want to publish this article in the Codekana web site for SEO purposes, and since the current web design would make it pretty hard to read it, I will have to revamp the web design before publishing it. All this is priority #1, as I’m doing Codekana a disservice until I provide some exposure.

Second, I want to address some outstanding issues with the ViEmus and prepare new builds. Continuously improving a product over a long period helps a lot with customer satisfaction and the success of the product. I have only done very minor things to the ViEmus in the past few months, and I want to do this before I embark in a major development burst again.

And finally, only in the third place, I will be working in new Codekana features, my Kodumi text editor project, and more ambitious marketing/exposure projects, which include setting up new blog(s) and writing several articles I have the theme for, and for which I just can’t find the time. But it just doesn’t make sense to engage in these activities until the current issues above are properly addressed.

There are two extra tweaks to this “grand plan” which are worth mentioning: first, I am kind of impatient, so I should just wrap my mind around the fact that each of these will easily take weeks. I tend to grow impatient seeing the list of pending things, and trying to finish the current one quickly. It just doesn’t help. And second: while I’m working on each of of the items, I should just erase the others from my mind. Important and interesting as the other things may be, they’re just a distraction until their moment arrives.

Oh well, I had to get that out of my chest. I’ve felt pretty stressed lately.

As a closing note, I’ve been trying to move this blog over to using Feedburner. There are a couple of reasons, the main one being that I’d like to get a more precise count of how many people are reading the blog and show it on the sidebar. Since I browse the http logs every once in a while, and since rss aggregators send the subscriber count in the referer string, I know there are about 200 people subscribing through these services, plus probably at least 100 more subscribing directly. Not bad for a blog I don’t update all that often, and which has often taken second place to actual product and development work. Anyway, I already set up the Feedburner feed, and I also installed a wordpress plug-in that should automatically redirect all subscribers over there, but it seems it’s only working partially. The feedburner subscriber count is showing only 120 readers now, and http logs show that many requests (notably those from bloglines and newsgator, which many people use) are getting a 304 code (“Not modified”), instead of a 307 (“Temporary Redirect”) which is what the Feedburner plugin uses. There are two potential reasons, one being that the transition won’t be complete until I post a new article (which I’m doing right now, so I should find out quickly), and the second being that I should really upgrade my wordpress installation, which is using and older version (I’ll probably do this in a couple of days). I’ll update this and let you know which one it was as soon as I find out, in case you ever have to do the same thing.

[UPDATE: A new post seemed to do the trick. The subscriber count is now added to the sidebar.]

Desperate to stand out

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

A friend of mine is a designer. She’s not specifically a graphic designer, but she has a great talent for graphic design too. I recently showed her my Codekana web page, as well as those of other products in the same or a similar space. You see, I was quite proud of the web page and its ‘bold’ look, although I knew it was a tad too aggressive. But she nailed it when she said what she thought: “it looks desperate to stand out”. Ouch! That kind of feedback can be hurtful at first, but it’s definitely the best kind of feedback you can get. She elaborated a bit on what things made her thought that, and they were all spot on, of course.

I’ve received some other “actionable” feedback about the web page. The awesome Andy Brice, author of the best-selling package for wedding seating plans and the mind behind the cunning write-ups and experiments over at SuccessfulSoftware, gently reminded me that I didn’t mention what languages Codekana worked with in the whole web site. What an oversight! Of course, I promptly fixed that. The supported languages are C/C++/C# in the current version, although I will be adding support for other languages in the future, and improving the support for the current ones. Andy also sent me some excellent suggestions on the product, which I plan to address Real Soon Now. And he also posted about Codekana on his blog, which is very helpful (thanks Andy!). It doesn’t look like I will be getting married any time soon, but I will definitely try out his software if I ever get to that point 🙂 Also, Andrey Butov, while busy releasing a new version of his Blackberry spam filter, found the time to have a look at the Codekana web site and let me know that the colors were just hurting his eyes. He couldn’t look at it for over 30 seconds.

I will redesign the web site around all this feedback, tone it down a bit, and try to give it a more relaxed and professional look while keeping a distinct look. But I’m happy I went a bit over the line: if you are learning something, you need to allow yourself to overshoot.

I now have at least a handful of different large areas of work, including marketing and improving all my products, web design, tweaks to the sales offerings, and what not. For each product, I have dozens if not hundreds of suggestions and requests that are waiting for some attention. My to-do lists are pretty daunting. So of course, now comes the moment of prioritizing tasks.

As a first priority, I decided to work in Codekana 1.1 during August, and I finally released it last week (see the list of changes in Codekana 1.1). A 1.0 is always a bit rough, and giving it some quality time is very important to get closer to “product/market fit” (as the amazing Marc Andreessen likes to put it – if you haven’t already, and you are into startups in any way, I suggest you read every single of his blog posts about startups and entrepreneurship). All in all, 1.1 is a more solid product, and I’m already looking forward to 1.2 with a few more improvements.

In any case, I expected low sales in August, as I had in August ’06. But it turns out they have been very good – ViEmu has been equal or better than in previous months, and Codekana sales have been ok-ish for a first month. Now September is finally here, with everyone back at work and hopefully even better sales.

Although there are a couple of things I want to work on in the next few weeks, I have finally come to the conclusion that my next major product release will be kodumi 1.0, my always-work-in-progress text editor, and the final goal towards which I’ve been working for well over two years now. I have also decided that I don’t want to rush a 1.0 and release a text editor with nothing special over the many offerings out there – it just wouldn’t make sense. With advanced syntax highlighting courtesy of the Codekana engine (which will also be part of the editor), I now have almost all the core functionality needed for a standard modern text editor, but I have decided against taking that route. There are some parts of the core new tech I want to get up to speed, in order to release a product that Stands Out on its own without requiring aggressive colors and huge fonts on the web page.

The short term priorities include some work in new releases of the ViEmus, a bit of marketing work here and there, a bit of blogging, and some tweaks to the sales offerings. Of course, I will release new revisions of all my products while I work in kodumi 1.0, but the main focus in the mid- to long-term now is to get kodumi out of the door.

Wish me luck!