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Thursday
Sep052013

Eye for an eye is alive and well.

So here's something I just have to get off my chest.

As a country, we're being sold another war, ostensibly on the backs of humanitarian impulses to save lives. Then, just a day or so ago, a horrible person inflicted on himself a pretty horrible death here in Cleveland shortly after being found guilty of performing some pretty horrible acts.

Happy Jewish new year everyone!

The most resounding comment I've been reading from people on social media is essentially:

"You know, I'm glad he's dead, but boy I wish he could have suffered more." 

Now look, I'm a dad so I'm not saying I don't understand the sentiment. This guy kidnapped and raped 3 young girls and was an overall piece of human filth. But what the fuck is wrong with you people that you desire MORE pain in the world. And yes, most of you I'm talking about are celebrating a new year and probably asking to be inscribed in the book of life next week. I'm sure your god is really proud of you for wishing this guy could have been hurt juuuuust a bit more before taking the coward's way out (how many points is that worth in 'book of life' terms anyway?).

So WTF does this have to do with Syria? Well I say fuck Syria. We have enough damn problems over here, and too little money to handle them - stop throwing missiles that cost $1.4 million a pop at people somewhere else. We did that already this decade and it turned out way worse for just about everyone involved. I like Obama in general. I voted for him twice but if we let him take us into another war right now he's no better than Bush and Bush (along with essentially everything he did and stood for) is hands down, no bullshit, republicans go fuck yourself the worst thing to happen to American in 100 years.

The Jewish position (at least as I learned and understood it growing up) is that it's imperative for the strong to stand up for the weak in times like this, and I'm sure everyone understands why (hint, it happened in the 40s). But to do so, you need to actually BE strong, I would contend both physically (militarily) and ethically (read: morally or spiritually if that's your bent). Sure, we have the bombs and that's fine. But when we're actively wishing pain on ANYONE, convicted shithead notwithstanding, I would argue that we're not in any position to be exercising the strength we have.

Time for a nationwide time out America. Until we can stop hurting, raping and killing each other and ourselves (and/or cheering for that same death, but only with a heaping helping of suffereing), we are on time out from killing other people.

Tuesday
Jun182013

Mortality in the age of Facebook

I wasn't really sure where to vent about this but I'm gonna do it here. We begin with an image.

Now unless you are a family member or close friend of mine, you probably don't know why this image is so distastful so I'll explain it.

Candy Crush Saga is the "hot shit" social monetization addiction right now. Lots of people are playing it and one of it's key features is being linked to your Facebook account so that you can help your friends out and in return ask for help. Once you've done this, it takes it upon itself to make these requests on your behalf sometimes and that is what is happening here. I know this because unless the universe works very differently than I'm prepared to believe, Cori couldn't have asked me for another life.

I know this because she passed away more than 6 months ago.

When I saw this, there was a definite twinge of memory, as well as a certain ironic humor (ah yes Candy Crush, I would if I could). But it got me pondering the typical "life, the universe and everything" of it all. There was a definite happiness seeing Cori's smile again, from a time when she was clearly happier than she was over the last year or so. Chalk that up to positivity. But it also reminded me that who we are in the digital world is spread across so many systems and databases that it's almost impossible for there to be a difinitive break in the reality of a person's life. Some system somewhere is probably still billing Cori for some service she signed up for in life. Another several (or more likely several hundred) are probably still trying to sell her something: "We've noticed you haven't visited Amazon.com lately! Why not treat yourself to this revitalizing hand cream that will make you feel ALIVE!"

The strangest part is that I wouldn't even know who to contact about something like this. "Dear Candy Crush, please stop sending me messages from dead people?" With so many automated systems constantly working and aggragating, I'm not even sure that there ever can be a way to definitively declare someone as "no longer among the living" so I guess it's just tilting at windmills.

But whatever the answer is, I guess I'll just have to live with the mixture of happy and sad that greets me everytime this message pops up. I'm still not sure if I shold check it off or not.

Monday
Apr292013

A note on time and attention

One of the hardest things about being a small business owner is getting over the whole "whatever I'm doing right now isn't as important as the other 10 things I should also be doing right now" impulse. I have lots of individual taks to perform. Quotes to write up, emails to send, books to balance, proposals to revise, deals to wheel, etc. Whenever I start doing one of these tasks, the other 27 of them start to crawl into my mindbrain and try to convince me to work on them instead.

For the parents in the audience, it's very comparable to having multiple kids. Every one of these tasks holds a singular place in my mind. Every one of them is 100% convinced it's either the most important thing in the world, or the only thing in the world. And every one of them is THE LOUDEST voice in my head... until of course, I switch what I'm working on, and then it becomes content and quiet and all the others take over and the process repeats.

Getting a handle on this process is probably the most important lesson one can learn if you expect to be successful as "the head honcho".

I'll let you know if I ever do so.

Friday
Apr122013

Tales of an Also-Ran Part 3

I wrote Part 1 of this series almost a year ago. Then, as now, I was talking about our app Couplett. I'm returning to it now because the concept of the dual-camera app is making news and I'm a little bitter. You know the saying "a day latge and a dollar short"? Well apparently, we were a day early and... something short? Or possibly long. I'm not exactly sure.

Anyway, on March 14th Samsung announced the Galaxy 4 with something called "Couplett mode" (I'm kidding, they call it dual shot). So it seems we weren't completely off in thinking this idea had legs. Being a hardware company, samsung has designed the hardware in such a way that you can actually have both cameras active at the same time (the hardware in the iPhone/iPad can't do this unfortunatley). They've also built the dual shot functionality right into the included camera app (it even does dual video as well).

In a rare stroke of luck, Samsung made this announcement the exact same day that we relaunched Couplett in Fremium and Premium versions. Thanks to some eagle-eyed Facebook friends, I was notified of this new Galaxy phone and feature within minutes. The next morning, I waited with much anticipation to see what effect (if any) this would have on our sales. We also lucked out that the two Couplett versions were the 1st and 2nd results in a search for "dual camera" (samsung's choice of words) in both iPhone and iPad categories.

See that crazy spike? Well there you have it. Couplett seemed to be suffering from the fact that for a long time, people didn't know they wanted it. The concept being thrust into the public eye, they were now searching for it and finding it and we were reaping some benefit. I am left to assume this is when Apple also decided that dual cameras are a kinda neat idea.

How (not) to get featured on the App Store

I have to assume something like the following converstaion took place at Apple the next day:

Jeff: "Hey Bob, you see this Galaxy Phone? It takes pictures from both cameras at once."

Bob: "What? Really? Do we have any apps that do that?"

Jeff: "Lemme see." (searches for some term other than 'dual camera')

Jeff: "Yeah, there's only one. It's called DBLCAM. It's not great but it definitely takes two pictures at once. Let's feature them."

Bob: "That's enough due diligence for me, make it happen!"

They then reached out to the makers of DBLCAM to request artwork for the ZOMG ENORMOUS BANNER! that would grace the top of the photo and video page for at least a week. (I'm told this is what happens when you are going to be featured. I wouldn't actually know personally.)

I know they didn't seach for 'dual camera' because DBLCAM doesn't even come up in that list. The alternative is that someone on the review team remembered the app as it was only just released on March 1st (more than a year after Couplett).

So granting the benefit of the doubt to the feature team, let's imagine a scenario where they actually looked at both Couplett and DBLCAM as well as the handful of other apps that have sprung up in the last year (Doubleshot Photo, DuoCam, 2side Cam and Double Camera come to mind). Why would DBLCAM pop out of the pack to become the "Apple Blessed" double camera app?

We obsessed over every detail with Couplett. How can our app compliment the built-in camera app? What would the typical iPhone user expect? Couplett takes several pages from Apple's own apps like iMovie and iPhoto's slideshows with it's concepts of "themes". With just a tap take your two photos, then pinch-to-zoom the inner photo to resize it if you want, one more tap to slap a theme on it (or just stick with the default) and then save or share. After one or two versions and some feedback and iteration, we landed on what we thought was the best mix of steps and creative freedom.

At it's best, when we're not spending money to advertise, the free version of Couplett drives between 100 and 150 downloads a day with a 1-2% attach rate of purchased theme packs. Total revenue of maybe $5 a day average. Interest in the concept thanks to Samsung increased that by 200% for a couple days before it settled back down to it's previous levels (some of the bump also comes from being in the "What's New" section of the App Store whenever you release a new binary).

On the flip side, DBLCAM is in version 1.0.1 (an updated logo screen!) and performs the same function, with less control, fewer features and WAY less design. "So less is more in this case, maybe take a lesson from that," you say. Sorry, I don't buy it. By "less design" I mean stuff like using standard controls incorrectly and actions resulting in confusing results. A table view having options that open text messages, pop share sheets or kick out to other apps as well as the expected result, presenting a more specific drill down list, is sloppy.

The one thing DBLCAM seems to have going for it over Couplett is that the photos it makes are square and therefore easily Insta-sharable. And sure, I don't discount that this is a big one. Instagram is huge. But the takeaway here is being new and hipster is a better choice than being careful and Apple-like in your execution.

What's most frustrating about it is that the "Featured" area should showcase examples of good app design. Sure, show what's popular, but I've actively counseled clients not to go one way or another based on the fact that "Apple won't even consider featuring an app that does X". Apparently, I've been wrong about that. 

I used to say "It's not the idea, it's the execution," in response to people saying "you have to be first". Well in this case, they were not first, and they didn't even nail the execution. So I guess my biggest question just becomes -

Now what?

Monday
Apr082013

Business Irony

"You absolutely must have a business plan. Make one, and if it's not on that plan, don't do it." - everyone.

"So I've got this plan, but I keep getting asked to do stuff not on it." - me.

"Turning away business is never a good idea. Don't be so slavish to the plan, anything you can do to make money is fair game." - everyone.

"I'm almost entirely out of money." - me.

"Well what did you expect? You didn't stick to the plan!" - derp.