Wednesday, May 5

eCommerce Apps in Rails

We have been working for the last couple months with a few customers that are building eCommerce sites and it has been an eye opening experience. Not just from the usability perspective (aka - how do we make this site as good an experience as Amazon) but also in looking at the technology that is available. eCommerce today is more about the user experience than it was in the past. There are important distinctions that you need to make to engage the customer in eCommerce today: (to name a few)

How do you give users goods that are well targeted?

Lets face it. If it is not something that I am interested in buying (or that I want to buy for a friend) I do not want to see it.

Can you make it social?

I am not only interested in what my friends buy, but what my friends might want to buy.

How do you get them to come back?

Spam is painful, but if well targeted and useful (and maybe even fun) I want to see it.

With so many options to choose from in terms of providers, you really have to nail the experience. Perhaps this is common across all applications in todays world. Look at Kayak - they just made searching for travel easier and have dominated. Maybe it is because there are so many applications out there that have such bad user experiences. It is encouraging to see applications gaining some usability standards, particularly in the area of eCommerce. And with Rails, it just makes it so much easier to build it quickly and efficiently.

It never ceases to surprise me how much you can do with Rails and a little help from the open source community. We have been using Spree eCommerce and have found that it is a great place to start. Of course there are a lot of core technologies that need to be added to it that we are developing to help these sites gain an enhanced user experience - but that is pretty typical.

Looking forward to cranking out more projects with Spree and the future of Rails eCommerce apps.

Saturday, November 21

Social Shopping with eBay

A few weeks ago CrankApps helped eBay launch a very cool new social shopping application. The application name is "Gift-it" and it helps you find really good gifts for people that you know. The application is a great step forward for social search and social shopping, and provides a unique user experience. With over 90,000 monthly users in the first 2 weeks it seems to be getting great traction.

It works something like this:

First, you pick a friend.

We used Facebook to make it really easy. For example, I chose my friend Manu. After selecting a friend, the application will automatically search through their profile for what they might like based on information stored in their profile.

From the example, I see that Manu likes Football, Soccer, Technology, and a list of other things. At that point I can select from a list of interests that might be suitable matches.

Then, as any good search engine does, it provides me a list of results from eBay to find the best possible match. I think Manu will like the football tickets.

Now, granted, this is only in the earliest phase of social search, but it is clear that the possibilities for shopping are very large. I think that they are really on to something.

See for yourself.

Friday, May 8

CrankApps In The News

CrankApps was in the news yesterday. A friend (James Colgan, CEO of Xuropa) called me in the afternoon and asked if I wanted to go to a job fair where people were there to work for free. It sounded like a good deal, and happened to be at a great bar (District) that a friend of mine owns, so I went down to check it out. It was a mob scene. People standing in line to talk to me. 

As I told the press (but they decided to edit out) I think that it is companies like ours in hot spaces that might be able to help fill in some of the gaps of joblessness in the marketplace. Yes, we are hiring (sales, marketing, systems administators, development). Who knows, we might even pay people. 

A Cloudy Seattle

Ahh Seattle. Despite the familiar gray patchwork sky, the city in which I grew up in, seems, different. The vibe is different. The city landscape is different. Heck, even the Seahawks managed 5 consecutive winning seasons. As I listened to each training session at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Strategic Partner training, I pondered this difference.

I left Mercer Island at 18, attended Santa Clara University, started a company, and joined the fun in Silicon Valley. "The Valley", we call it, is without a doubt the epicenter of much of the world's remarkable technology. Ask anyone and you'll conclude that this is an open and shut case. However, ask those same people about's business model, "technology company" rarely comes up. Ask someone outside of Seattle where Amazon calls home, the Emerald city is not the popular response.

And then it hit me. While I've been at the epicenter, has been, somewhat quietly, building a technology empire. My Sea-town, home (sic) of the Shawn Kemp Sonics, biggest fan base of The Boz, has an innovative spirit unseen since the early Microsoft days. There's a buzz in Seattle.

But I digress...

What's really exciting for us, and should be exciting for you, is how game-changing the services offered by AWS are today. Cloud Computing is here, and it's real, and (the retail company!?) is leading the charge.

Whether you venture into this world on your own, or you choose an experienced partner like Crankapps to help you get there, the end result is very promising. Huge cost savings, increased time to market, disaster recovery plans, you name it, it's attainable.

Thanks Seattle.

Thursday, April 16

Amazon Strategic Integrator Training

We're at an Amazon AWS SI training in good ole' Seattle.

Currently listening to Mike Culver, Technology Evangelist for Amazon AWS.

More to come....


Sunday, March 22

Breaking down 'The Cloud'

A few weeks ago I attended the 2009 SaaS summit in San Francisco and there seemed to be some confusion about the how the term "Cloud" should be used and what it means. The panelists and speakers presented and discussed how the word is used and the different meanings that it can have. I was not satisfied with any of the answers and decided I needed to write a post with about a single definition of the "Cloud".

The problems seems to stem from the fact that the term "cloud" has been used for so many things. There seem to be two main ways that people are using it today that cause confusion:

1) Computer Cloud - This could be any cloud computing service such as Amazon, GoGrid, AppEngine, etc. 


2) Cloud Application - In my opinion this is another way of saying Software As A Service, and includes, Google Docs, etc.

It gets a little confusing when people say "On the Cloud", or that they are going to move their application "to the cloud". Does that mean that they are going to move to a virtual cloud infrastructure or that they are going to provide a SaaS? 

This is how I break it down:

Cloud can be defined as any technology service that a user can plug into which provides something without the user's knowledge of the infrastructure that supports that service. 

Some examples - 

(1) a software application (i.e. SaaS): you can log into the application and use it but you have no idea what the code looks like or how the servers are configured. Some examples are Google Docs or

(2) a virtual server environment: you can get on the server and add code to it, but you have no idea what the server looks like or the bandwidth/power/rack environment around the server. Some examples are Amazon Web Services, GoGrid, or AppEngine

(3) any other service where you cannot see behind the curtain. 

Think about it. It is a cloud. Something that is not definable and is given the universal term that is completely amorphous and only visible from the outside. I am not exactly sure where the term Cloud came from (in the technology sense). Back in the days it was used as people were trying to describe the Internet and System administrators (and people attempting to draw the Internet) would invariably draw a bunch of servers and lightning bolts and then that big cloud in the middle. 

Some people do not like the term, but I don't mind it so much. My advice for anyone that wants to clearly communicate using this word, is to add something in front of it or after it to clearly define the service that you are referring to, such as 'computer' or 'application'. Whatever you do, get used to it - whether software or infrastructure, the Cloud is the future. 

Tuesday, March 3

How to Save $250,000 by Migrating to the Cloud

How much time and money do you spend on your infrastructure to keep your apps and other systems running? Do you have under-utilized servers? Do you have system administrators on staff that are only required in emergencies or when something needs changing? Moving your systems into the cloud can drastically reduce inefficiencies and the cost of running your infrastructure.

Zoopla, a UK based real estate site, saved £200,000 pounds (approx. $260,000 USD) in its first year of operations by using Amazon Web Services (AWS). Using AWS meant no data centers, no sys admins, no network equipment, etc.
“We learned that even with a decent-sized systems team that maintaining your own hardware platform is a time-sink and to do so within a tight budget can result in big constraints on responsiveness & flexibility,” Kain (co-founder) comments.
True, true.
“The cycle of procuring and installing servers or upgrades can be a distraction, especially when you’re busy trying to make the company grow,” says Kain. “It’s very difficult to anticipate hardware demand under those circumstances, and the cycle of negotiating discounts, ordering, waiting for delivery, installing/configuring software, scheduling data-centre time to install the physical hardware – it’s a drain on a growing start-up with tightly-controlled costs. And that’s just server growth – unanticipated hardware failures can have a terrible impact on productivity.”
If this sounds familiar, you need to talk to us. We will make you as happy and stress free as Zoopla, and then some. Remember, we stay up all night so you don't have to.