|BrainBlog is the Brains4All weblog. Established 2004 in The Netherlands. Brains have been working in IT since 1983, working on the internet since 1993, and using their own agile development process for design and application development since 2003. We talk about about design and usability, the industry of software and web development, web applications and simplicity, beautiful and spectacular things.|
April 29, 2006 |
Sunday April 30th from 8am GMT to 10am GMT our systems will be down for maintenance and hardware upgrades. You will not be able to access any Brains4All websites and applications during this period. We appologize for the inconvenience.
14Dayz beta testing ends in 3 dayz.
April 28, 2006 |
Today marks the final release of 14Dayz before beta testing ends. We’d like to get your final thoughts on the product over the weekend. 14Dayz launches on May 1st, next Monday.
We would like to extend our gratitude to all our beta testers for helping us out during the past 6 weeks. It has been a thrilling experience for us; your input has greatly improved the quality and value of 14Dayz. Thank you.
To show our thanks we offer every beta tester the opportunity to subscribe to a single paid plan of their choice for a reduced fee of 50% off list price for life*, all you have to do is sign up for a paid account before May 1st.
This does not mean development on 14Dayz will stop. I think we have shown that it is possible to be responsive to our customers wants and needs in a rapid fashion. By keeping in close contact with you and using short feedback cycles we were able to deliver a huge amount of valuable features that are simple and easy to use, and that don’t get in your way if you don’t need them. And we’ve done that in less then 6 weeks time.
We still have a substantial wish list from beta testers and we have some needs ourselves. You can expect the product to continue to evolve. We will be adding more value to its service for you. Keep writing with your suggestions for improvements, we love your feedback.
Features in this release:
The value proposition of all plans has been significantly improved by more than doubling the amount of clients/projects. The free plan now even has 4 projects in stead of just a single project. This means that the free plan is now much more valuable for personal use. The other plans offer much more clients/projects than initially.
• It is now possible to deactivate or delete projects on the free plan.
A special mention must go to our Designer Serge, who has continued the redesign of the 14Dayz home page with only one hand. His other was injured in a breathtaking accident involving his stairs at home. We’ve tried to send him home but he just wouldn’t go. ;) Respect.
If you would like to work with us on product development, web application design or usability send an email to email@example.com
Now would also be the time to help us get a successful launch of the service next Monday. So please write those reviews, post those blog entries, signal your favourite editor and tell all your friends; 14Dayz is going live on Monday! Be sure to send us any buzz or post a comment here in BrainBlog. We love to hear what you think. Please link or bookmark http://www.14dayz.com and not the beta site as that will disappear next Monday. Thanks for your continued support!
7 Dayz left...
April 24, 2006 |
The New Web part 4
April 21, 2006 |
In an internet population of over one billion users there is only a small portion involved in its evolutionary centre. Of this centre, not all are progressive forces. Over fifty percent of them are leeches. Leeches are parasites, living of the blood of other organic beings.
Leeches don’t care whose blood they suck. Leeches are the ones arguing when they encountered the first human beings walking on two feet: “Look, this is silly; you have to wade through this water on all fours. Everyone else is doing it and has been doing it for years. Because you wade in this water with only two limbs, I and my relatives have a reduced chance of fifty percent of ending up on one of them. Get back in here and even those chances.” Are leeches threatened? Not in a bit. There will be other four legged animals wading into the pool. And while humans have only two limbs in the water, the leeches still suck their blood none the less when they get the chance.
Leeches have their own way to deal with inevitable change and make sure they eat their evolutionary food too. Another small group is rubbing up the evolutionaries hoping to find some breadcrumbs of the benefits and advantages. They observe other’s success and will follow were they go, to live of the leftovers or to die hungry, in vain pursuit. Trust me, evolution is not a pretty sight.
Only a small portion of people is driving the internet evolution. And they are not unified, or even aware of each other. They, by the very nature of the web are distributed as well. Distributed geographically, which is less of a handicap than it used to be. But they are also distributed by interests, language, process and culture.
To find them you must search for small clusters of shared vision, small clusters of loosely collaborating individuals with strong and converging new ideas that work. Look for small group with differentiating opinions, addressing similar or related problems.
14Dayz Business Release 21/4
Brains4All is again proud to deliver an on-time release of 14Dayz.
Today you will again find a few happy surprises in the time sheet that we feel you will like. Check out the new date navigation for your team. We hope you can provide feedback on how you like it and how it is working for you.
Features delivered in this release:
We are very happy with these features and are confident that you will also find these features as valuable as we do. We feel this release makes the work of your business simpler. You have better insight into your projects cost/revenue structure and actual effort against estimates or contracts. You have a more flexible terminology that will simply match your 14Dayz time tracking solution to your business. This means it will be easier for your team to transition or adopt a professional time tracking solution like 14Dayz.
All in all a release that makes for a lot more value for you. Why not sign up for an account today?
The New Web part 3
April 20, 2006 |
-- continued from The New Web part 2
The current state of the web is not chaotic, it is evolutionary in essence, though it may seem chaotic from several perspectives. It is not static. It is, and will remain a highly dynamic environment. Because of the sheer amount of people on-line it is not knowable; because you can never be sure someone will not invent a $100 pc that will allow people to share each other’s wifi connections ad hoc, creating a whole new set of possibilities. ;)
So the web is a complex place, just as the world and its social, cultural, biological and political entities upon it are. Its interactions are knotted, intertwined and heavily distributed without a single center of control or regulation. It behaves in an unpredictable way and often acts hypocritical and unpredictable. The key to define the web or even the new web is to research it.
This research, by its very essence of its subject, needs to be iterative. The results, and more importantly its goals, need to be fine tuned and re-adjusted every time and again. The nature of the subject is changing in mid-research. It is not a static entity. The web is changing as you research it.
So in researching the web it is important to set goals, and track goals. Track their validity; is this still what we need? In web projects this could relate to; do we still need to address the problem we are addressing, or have we learned that we have exposed other more pressing problems, or that the problem has gone away by itself?
If the goals are constantly shifting, you better adjust your aim as well. A lot of research might go into what the actual goal, or problem actually is.
When you are tracking your goal, you must also find a way to measure your effectiveness, your progress if you will, towards pertaining it. Simple tools that allow you to monitor: Are we getting nearer to our goal? What was the situation were we left off? Did we make any progress? How are we doing? What do we need to do next?
Organizations that are implementing these research-like development methods as a production philosophy on the web are now slowly surfacing on the web as successful. Organizations that are finding the ability to interface with the web, that care to listen to its voices, its feelings and its opinions are in the evolutionary stage of higher chances to survive then those who don’t.
That does not mean the adaptables have conquered the world. No. It is a long time before that. But agile companies are emerging from within the web, software development and production and they can become successful very quickly. In addition, the research subject itself is also helping to distribute its findings and important data. Artifacts are being distributed around the world at light speed. The very essence the internet was used for. Research papers can be common knowledge in a week or two or less.
A lot of the intermediate results are there for you to examine and a lot of the resulting conclusions can be drawn pretty quickly. Successful behavior can be copied, or mimicked, and in a knowable system, this can lead to success too.
But in a complex system like the internet, which is also intertwined with modern society, you have to verify goals. Are they still the same, or have they shifted? Is what we copied working for us, for our clients? Is this behavior bringing us closer to our goals? Are we solving the problem that really matters?
How do you know which ones to copy anyway? How do you recognize the centers of evolution at work? The evolutionary successes of tomorrow are not the large numbers of today. If you hang with the masses, you have a pretty good chance of surviving today. But the epicenters of evolution are not marked by high signals. They are small, relatively insulated pockets of change giving off weak signals. How can we locate and identify those pockets?
-- to be continued
The New Web part 2
April 19, 2006 |
-- continued from The New Web part 1
So yes, the web is changing, and changing in an almost natural way. What is happening with Web 2.0 is that with the combination of heightened pressure on our society’s productivity, and the response of agility production and development process there of, with the upcoming of social networks, and with the rising mental state of humanity to constantly reflect upon itself there can be a trend deciphered.
Finally entrepreneurs on the web were looking back on that first gold rush of the late nineties. Who survived? Why did they survive and not the other one, which had the better chances? Questions are being asked like: What do people really need? How can we help them solve their real problem? These are not just manifestations that are unique to the web. They are forces present in economic movements as well.
Still, by its very nature the internet as a communications medium is catalyzing the uptake of these ideas. Bright new ideas may spread throughout the on-line society quickly, and are now often leading instead of following conventional media. Conventional media are dreading the deflation of their assets.
Still, bright new ideas, or bright old ideas for that matter, however high their uptake, must at one time present their proof of effect. Even these ideas and the progression and uptake have become evolutionary in nature. Either they will take hold, and society will embrace them or adapt to accommodate them, or they will eventually dissipate without so much as even a whisper.
When we start looking back on the history of the web, what do we find? How do we know that it is right, and that it will stay right? The answer is with simple, almost academic research.
--continued in The New Web Part 3
April 18, 2006 |
One of our beta testers, Donna, pointed out to me “I know 2 young men who started their own design company here in the U.S. They call it "Dutch Money" because they admire the beauty and artistry of Dutch currency.”
Since the infernal coming of the Euro, which is quite bland, this famous money (5 10 25 50 100 250 1000) is no longer in circulation. If you are interested in Design, check out this competition. A Dutch newspaper is trying to find the best Dutch Designs of all time. One of Ootje Oxenaar’s Designs for Dutch money is amongst the top 25 nominees. My personal favorite is “Red and Blue” chair, by Gerrit Rietveld. Amazingly it sits as good as it looks.
Rietveld is an inspiration for Brains4All. Do one thing and do it right! That is why I love this Design. It is simple.
--sorry for the Dutch newspaper link, it has some nice photo's though.
The New Web part 1
April 17, 2006 |
A little while ago, though it seems like ages now, just after we’ve been hit by the TechCrunch effect I was called on the phone by a reporter from a Dutch E-Commerce magazine. When he asked how I felt about all the hype around Web 2.0 I answered naively; “There is no web 2.0. Sure, because of the social aspects inherent now in the web, like blogging and community sites like MySpace, some web services are able to become a success quickly, even before they show any working software. Still you cannot be all hype and live. In the end, you’ve got to have a great service too. Okay, so now we have a good review by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. I’ve talked to him. He just really likes our product.”
Now, I’ve had some time for reflection on this issue. I’ve been listening to others, reading blogs, and someone here finally bought a copy of “Getting Real” and printed it up for me. (Okay I’m old-fashioned about my books. Books are paper to me.) Perhaps now it is time for a less brash, more founded opinion.
Don’t forget, the web was only build over the past 15 years or so. It just exploded into existence. The sky was the limit. Its growth was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. The possibilities were endless. And everyone jumped on the band wagon. Because it was new, no-one knew what would work and what wouldn’t. Some things did work, and some things didn’t. Some things worked for a while, and then were replaced by some other things, that were just doing things better or different or at least more successful. Then those things were replaced by other things as well.
If you examine the history of the web, it is an evolutionary growth. The web sprouts a diversity of ideas, websites, concepts, business models, content and communities. The diversity spreads and then the laws of evolution take over. The ones best able to sustain themselves flourish. The ones which are able to adapt flourish too. The rest die out. There is a simple Darwinian process at work.
Some die out because of lack of funds or lack of energy. Others die out because they get bought up, taken over or die in legal disputes. This is just the Mother Nature of today’s Human society. Social and economic forces are at work, and disasters strike, just like meteors.
Brains4All is an adaptive entity too. We started off thinking we would do one on one client work. Now we are transformed to deliver products mainly. We started out thinking we would be a regional shop, providing to businesses close to us and clients that we had known for years. Now we have clients in over 86 countries world wide, and add to that each and every day.
-- continued in The New Web part 2
April 16, 2006 |
Companies have words. Teams have words. People have words.
Always one word;
MacDonald’s -> Tasty
is the Brains4All word.
We have learned the hard way what others have known for decades:
"Keep it simple stupid."
Accepting lower quality is not simple.
Simple is hard to do.
Simple is more than the sum of the parts.
Simple is talking (and listening) to each other.
Simple is looking back to see what went right.
Simple is software that works.
Simple is craftsmanship.
Simple is powerful.
Simple is what makes Brains4All products unique. While there may be complex technology at the core of the product, the end result is always the simplest thing that could possibly work for you.
Simple applications that give you what you need and help you get the job done. Simple tools that help you get paid.
We are Brains4All, proud to be simple.
BuzzShout vs NeoBinaries
April 15, 2006 |
I'd like to say hi to James from BuzzShout and commend him on his excelent user service. BuzzShout is community based buzz for web 2.0 applications and web sites. There was a long and dire need for this kind of service and James has jumped in it with both feet. While there are still a few things to iron out, the design looks good. And it is a brilliant (edit: though not so unique) idea. I hope James is prepared to handle the load that this will generate.
So please head over to BuzzShout and while you are there, we'd appreciate it if you would leave a nice review about 14Dayz.
Then while I was writing this, another site that has almost exactly the same service was brought to my attention: Neo Binaries. To my pleasant surprise, 14Dayz is already listed (not by me) and is in the top 5 of viewed apps. Even though it doesn't have a review yet. We'd like it if you put in a good word there too... :)
April 14, 2006 |
Feedback on these designs...
April 13, 2006 |
We're working on improving date navigation. We'd like to get your
Click on the Designs to see a full screen mock up.
Brains4All is again proud to deliver an on-time release of 14Dayz.
Features delivered in this release:
So these are all features that makes things simpler for you. It means fewer clicks and easier access to your tracking data. You have fewer calculations to do yourself and you can have better insight into your projects cost/revenue structure. You can have a more flexible structure in your projects so you can simply match your time tracking to your business and not the other way around.
When you sign up for a new account you do not have to wonder where the time sheet is or how to enter a project, but you can start tracking time right away...
All in all a release that makes things simple.
By the way, most of us are taking a little well earned time off to share our easter holidays with our friends and family. That means we will still answer support email inside 24 hours if possible. Replies just may not be as prompt as you might have come to expect from us on working days.
We hope you like the new release. Happy Easter!
What people are saying...
April 12, 2006 |
What people are saying about 14Dayz...
Our beta tester crowd consists of the most amazing people. People from all over the world who are playing a pivotal role in the evolution of 14Dayz into the simple and useful application it has become. And we’re not stopping now or slowing down, no sir! We’re just picking up the pace. All the great feedback we’re getting from you motivates us even stronger. We will push just a little bit harder after every wonderful comment. To give you the simplest and most valuable service we possible can.
Here is a selection of the most praising feedback our beta testers have bestowed upon us;
“I’m really happy to see the improvements on this new release. Thank you very much [...] it’s awesome.”
“The site and application look terrific.”
“Its a cool serivce.”
“I think the design is very clean, and the use of AJAX-type interaction is very nice. They certainly did do the job well, and they represent timesheets nicely. I think people will like it”
“Thanks. Looks interesting and I like your philosophy.”
“I’m using 14dayz for almost 5 days and it’s awesome. I was looking for a simple solution like that a long time ago. Thank you very much”
“I am very impressed with your product! Here’s what I liked/loved about it:
- Dashboard: Wow. Very Clean. Very Simply.
Keep up the great work!!!”
“It does one thing, and well: time tracking.”
“This is super simple. My grandmum could use it.”
“I think your application is tremendous.”
“Keep up the great work. Your UI looks great.”
“Looks pretty nice so far.”
“The user interface of 14dayz.com just dropped me completely off my chair. What a marvelous piece of technology and simplicity!! My compliments.”
“I like it, it’s pretty cool!”
“Thanks [...] for a very handy tool!”
“Looks great guys… a day early and everything. Keep up the good work.”
“Attention Freelancers: Border-crossing time registration service…”
Thank you all for your kind words.
A special debt of gratitude should go out to these dedicated testers that have worked closely with the team to help improve 14Dayz. They are commended here because they have invested their time and often their professional insights and expertise to the benefit of every current and future user of the system: David, Raoul, Rodrigo, Rene, Steven, Stephen, Jon, Peter, Serge, Scott, Saul, Marco, Justin, Joel and Arthur. Thank you for your continued constructive criticism and positive feedback. You have gone way beyond the call of duty. You are wonderful persons! We feel privileged to work for you.
To all beta testers currently involved; Keep up the great work! We would welcome some feedback on the planning of next week’s iteration.
If you’d like to become part of this wonderful team of beta testers or if you’d like to be notified when 14Dayz is ready for public release; please leave your email over at http://www.14dayz.com
The Business Iterations
April 10, 2006 |
While in previous iterations we've worked mainly on the core of 14Dayz, improving simple-ness, usability and navigation. Now it is time to address business value. In the next releases we hope to provide simple features to help you solve complex business issues. Like always, we need your feedback to get it right.
Here are some of the stories we are scheduling to implement in the next releases. We have two 4 days iterations because of the Easter holidays here in Europe so we’re cramped as it is:
Need to have:
End of iteration, release on Thursday. [DONE]
To be scheduled:
10. Fix UTF8 export on excel losing formatting information.
End of iteration, release Friday April 21th.
19. Add team member to project. Only added members can log hours to that project.
Nice to have (unsorted):
22. Slight improvement to Scarab back-office CRM.
Need to have:
Now we wouldn’t be Brains4All if we weren’t agile. So this here above is the list we will be planning in Tuesdays session. Last session was good, lots of discussion going on and interesting insights to be found. All the user stories you see here are based on beta tester suggestions and feedback, except one or two of our own. This list isn’t exhaustive. And what’s more: You get a say in it!
You can help reschedule any story that we haven’t started on yet. Let us know which 3 stories are most important to you in the comments and what business value you feel they would provide to you and your team. Needless to say, we favor paying account holders’ feedback but we listen to any feedback we get. Thanks for sharing.
April 6, 2006 |
One day ahead of schedule and with even more features than promised, Brains4All is proud to present the latest release of 14Dayz, everybody’s favorite friendly online time tracker that is fun and easy to use.
All of the features in this release are based on user suggestions or beta tester feedback. Thank you so much for sharing!
We’ve got one very special feature we’d like to mention up front that we feel makes time tracking even more fun and simple to do. In today’s time sheet it is now possible to start a real-time tracker.
This timer helps you keep track of how much time you are really taking on a task. We’ve been using it over the past week and we have become addicted to it. Not once did I need to ask anyone to complete their sheets. Everybody just loves having the tracker on.
Also the fixes in this release allow you to make a plan or a daily schedule in the morning. Working through the day you only have to click to start or stop the appropriate timer for each task. Its the simplest thing!
Try it now in your own time sheet and please tell us how you like it.
Here is what else is new in this release:
• the fourteenDayz icon in the bottom now takes you back to the main menu.
Did you know beta testers are eligible for a 50% discount for life* on the plan they are holding when beta testing ends in less then one month? Check the beta website or your invitation for more details. Still want to help out with testing or get notified when 14dayz goes public? Please leave your email on the 14dayz landing page.
Engaging multiple clients
Here is something a development team could try to get more responsive clients in an environment where clients are not actually paying you but someone else is, and you still have to do what your clients tell you.
Interaction, collaboration and most importantly communication are vital to successful development of software, be it websites, web applications or any other project.
Now this works only if the commitment works both ways. Respect your clients and listen to them. Ask questions about what they need, why they need it and to what value your development would lead for your organization.
Here is a system that (temporary) employment agencies use;
Whenever you come in to look for a job they register all your personal data on an index card. This card goes into a drawer or filing cabinet. When someone whose card is already in the system comes in to find out if they’ve found a job for them yet, they find your card in the drawer, look at it and say; “No I’m sorry nothing yet. Try back next week.” They put your card back in the drawer at the front.
When someone comes in looking to hire someone for a job, they open the drawer and start walking the cards one by one and pick the first card from the front that matches the criteria of the position they’re looking for and that person gets the job offer first.
People coming in more often to check for jobs and whose cards are in the front most of the time are much more likely to get a job then people who are not.
Let’s for the sake of argument assume that it is the people who are committed to finding a job that come in more often and are also those who are the most dedicated workers.
You can adapt this towards your own situation like this:
When someone comes in to talk about a feature they want ask them; “Wow, that is interesting stuff, do you mind if I write some of this stuff down on this index card here?”
Write just enough on the card to help you remember what this persons story was about. Write what the system should do in a paragraph or two. Put the card is a drawer, filing cabinet, rolodex™ or just on a pile will do. Put it in the front or at the top. When the person leaves start working on it right away.
When someone comes in to inquire about their story, look it up and put it at the front. Drop what you are doing and start working on their story again. When they come in asking about multiple story cards, ask them to choose which they need first.
Repeat until you finish a story. Release the code. Remember to deliver working software only. Take the card out of the stack. Put it up on a whiteboard or other clearly visible space stating FINISHED WORK above it in large friendly letters. Go over to your client and thank them for the input and collaboration. Start working on the next card at the top of the stack. Repeat.
You can add your own variations: If you need some input or have questions about a story from you client make every effort to get in touch with them. Call them and ask them to come over, go talk to them, if all fails, send them an email.
While you are waiting for the reply, start working on the next story in the stack. If the reply comes or you get the input you need, start working on their story again. Adapt to match your own situation.
This is a simple way you can get communication and commitment going with your clients. Some of them will find out that to get things done they need to talk to you regularly. Always be friendly. Always behave service oriented. Remember clients are King. Well, clients who come in to talk to you anyway.
When clients come in agitated demanding why their story isn't finished yet, tell them humbly: "Sorry sir! I had no idea it had been that long. But don't you worry! I'll start working on it right-away!" Make sure you do.
When the time comes that there are almost always three or four clients in your office talking to you, you need another planning method. Explain to them you feel all of their work is important but that your resources are limited and they have to share your effort amongst them. Ask them if they find this reasonable.
Count the number of stories up on the board. Average that to find the amount of story cards per week you can finish. Gather all unfinished stories on a table and your clients around that. Ask them to help you find the set of stories you can finish within the next week and which all of you feel would supply the most value to the institution you work for.
That will end in a row the first couple of times. Go back to employment agency planning for a while if necessary.
Sooner or later clients will find out that they need to talk to each other as well as to you to get things done.
April 5, 2006 |
There was some talk over at Signal versus Noise about trashcan deliverables. I find their blog interesting and very recognisable.
We’ve been doing Fixed Everything contracts for a few years now and with astonishing success. Our proposals have become our number one unique selling point. Clients adore our proposals and we often find them inquiring how we do it. And Jason is right; Happy clients all around.
Amounts of documents for the customer to sign: 1 Contract
Be sure of one thing: Keep your promises. If you do, your earn trust. Still you can only earn trust if you trust yourself and abolish fear. Having dozens of documents to sign or trashcan deliverables is a clear sign of lack of trust, either in yourself or in your relation with the customer. Customers need to learn inside a project too. We’ve never finished a project with the exact same functionality that was in the contract. Still all our customers are references. So it can be done and we have been doing it long since we ever heard of 37signals or Getting Real. We’re just glad to see others doing it as well. We hope you do it too.
@Rachel: Drop that project. If no one is willing to invest time to be a decent customer there is no value in your project. The only way to provide value is to drop it. Instant value;
• Less loss of resources on something nobody wants or believes in
Japanese bank to embrace Mac
The Wall Street Journal reports that Japanese bank Aozora has announced it will make the unusual step to move from desktop PCs to Apple Mac. This concerns about 90 percent of a total of 2300 computers. About a third of the staff al ready owns an apple shaped logo. According to the head of technology, OS X was the business driver in this remarkable turnover. Apparently OS X would provide the necessary functionality and stability for their banking needs.
April 4, 2006 |
Today, I received a boot course in test driven development in Python. I had the chance to do some work on the categories filter in Task Coach together with the author. Task Coach is a simple open source stand alone to-do manager to manage personal tasks and to-do lists written in Python.
April 3, 2006 |
In the next release of 14dayz (that we will release probably next Friday) 100% of the improvements were based upon beta tester feedback and user suggestions for improvement:
* the fourteenDayz icon in the bottom now takes you back to the main menu.
So you can see, we’ve been too busy writing code last week to keep the blog up to date. :) Still it’s worth it. I’m sure you’ll agree. And we have a special surprise feature we hope to release next Friday as well, which we think will make time tracking even more fun and simple to do! So check back here regularly as we’ll keep you up to date here first. Look out next Friday for all these improvements. Thanks to all testers who provided us with these excellent suggestions.