Raw Notes from Coding For Pleasure at SXSWi 2010

Building Apps in Your Spare Time
#codingforpleasure
  • Gina Trapani
    • write stuff mainly to procastinate writing
    • Firefox scripts to improve gmail (better gmail 2 0.9.8.1)
    • ThinkTank - ask your friends
  • Matt Haughey
    • Side projects
      • Wrote fuelly: social miles per gallon.
      • MetaFilter (1999), written when blogs were still new
  • Adam Pash
    • MixTape: playlists shared with friends
    • Belvedere 
    • Texter: shorthand for your computer. Like textexpander for the mac.
  • Why should I develop an app in my spare time?
    • Just built a tool for ourselves (and 25,000 other users).
    • Just wanted something as clean as possible. Not an overbearing UI like slashdot.
    • Fill a need... Gmail
    • Want an archive of tweets.
    • Very important to scratch your own itch
    • Ego motivation... opportunity to get users right away, get feedback
    • You can build anything... that is really exciting.
      • Pash: I am not a programmer by trade, and I am not a great programmer, but I can still make anything.
      • Trapani: it’s amazing what you can do now between APIs and the languages available
    • Don’t expect to make money. Metafilter was a success, but it took 6 years before they made money. There can be a huge slog. If your motivation is only money, you’ll shutter the project. If you build an app you use every day, then at least you can still use it every day.
    • “The internet is so ready to give you an answer to any problem” -- Pash
    • You can work on stuff that will further your career
    • If you don’t have an idea you are excited about, then you aren’t going to make it happen.
  • All the beloved things... twitter, flickr... they didn’t start as a plan to make a lot of money.
  • How can I do it?
    • You have to dedicate time.
    • If you are really excited about it, you can find the time.
    • The first thing to go for most people is the television. Two hours of veg time at the end of the day is the easiest thing to go.
    • It can be a relaxing time... just enjoy it, watch TV, plan to put a year into it.
    • Use frameworks... don’t reinvent the wheel. Rapidly prototype. Google what you need to do, and copy and paste code. Use libraries and plugins that exist, there are plugins for everything.
    • Collaboration is a big deal
      • it’s so much more fun to work with someone
      • it’s so helpful to bounce ideas off something
    • You really don’t need to be a coder or to hire someone to start. You can go from zero to competent in just about any language about six months. 
    • Dan Bricklan, inventor of the spreadsheet (will: about a billion years ago), was like “iphone development, this sounds interesting“, and went out and bought an MacBook, an iPhone development book, and wrote an app, and put it in the store for $3
    • Did you ever pay anyone?
      • Yeah, I don’t really have the skills or competency anymore in design, so I hire some designers. Same for CSS... I don’t have the skills any more to make this work in dozens of browsers. I sent to it to some kids in (the middle of nowhere), and paid them $100.
      • I’ve never hired anyone because I’m cheap, but I barter with people. “I’ll build something for you if you design something for me.”
    • Open source
      • Trapani: everything I’ve done is open source. At lifehacker, we have this big community of people doing open source. Why not use those resources?
        • There is nothing more awesome than waking up to check your email and finding a code contribution.
      • But you can’t rely on that. It’s a big commitment for someone to get the code, work on it, and submit a change.
  • Pitching your idea to the company... to sponsor them
    • You’ve got to make the case for why to do
    • Google’s 20% time is a good example to cite
    • Or it may be synergistic: e.g. for lifehacker it raises their credibility for their employees to be doing open source
  • Questions...
    • Talk about ownership when you are working at a company
      • Check your company’s policy before hand. Some have weird policies like even what you do on your own time is owned by the company.
      • If you can convince your company to open source it, then it isn’t an issue at all.
    • I am a developer, and I like to build super-visualize things, but I am not a designer. How can i find someone to work with?
      • There are some sites to help. But that is kind of a crapshoot.
      • you network a lot. 
      • Go to an ignite in Portland. 
      • Look up the portfolio of designers you meet.
      • Don’t go to rubycon to find a designer.
      • Go to social events or design events.
    • Talk about programming where you might not want to open source the code. Talk about some successful examples of that.
      • I had security issues - a giant login system with crappy code. I wanted to keep that code secret.
      • One motivation to make your code good is to open source it.
      • But if you can’t do open source... then you have to hire programmers, or find one fan of your work to work with. and still keep it closed.
    • What about liability...worried about being sued.
      • I made a music sharing site that uses mp3s shared on servers around the country. So I made an LLC, and now MixTape belongs to that LLC. 
      • Having a terms of service can help. Lawyers can help you do terms of service and LLC for less than $1k. 
      • Or copy and paste from Google or someone else. Something is better than nothing.
    • Tradeoff with APIs... you are at the mercy of the service. You get a lot, but then the service could go away.
    • How do you get users? I’m the sole user of like a half a dozen apps.
      • It’s not easy. Integrate them into whatever you do. For fuelly, we made badges people could put on their blogs. Talk about it on twitter.
      • Talking to developers about things you made. No one want talks to a PR person. We want to talk to developers.
    • As a designer, I want to learn programming. Where should I go?
      • Google is great. 
    • I’m not hearing why the stuff you make is as awesome as it is. What are the decisions you can make, what are the freedoms you have, that you don’t have to make money off it
      • You are the user. You are the designer. You can make the application what you want it to be. It can be very satisfying.  
    • At what point do you reach break even on the server costs?
      • I’m spending $100/month for the server, and using AdSense will cover the costs. 
      • You can do “donate a dollar” via paypal, but that is sporadic.
      • It’s weird to do a project where covering the hosting cost is considered a success.
      • Amazon referrals, ads, are a passive way to do it.
    • Share a couple of websites that would be good resources
      • prototype
      • jquery
      • open languages have great documentation... documentation plus comments is amazing.
      • free git book online
      • stackoverflow
      • peepcode
      • just google your programming question
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