Andy - we’ve only met twice but I thought I’d use your outting of your super secret stealth project to spew on about next generation tools and platforms – since that’s where you’re positioning Eightly. I didn’t try and ‘pry’ out of you what you were up to – when we met – cause I knew that you’d come up with something coolio – and you haven’t let me down.
Turns out Robert’s on-going evangelizing and cheer leading was well invested!
Since the advent of on-line tools + web services + rivers of content + community I’ve been fascinated and focused on tools that ARE a platform, that come with built-in content, offer the ability of end-users to share what they create, form into communities and become developers. Most importantly I’ve been hoping that these tools would enable people to MAKE MONEY – and earn an income (even just partial) via building on-line “things” – and generating cash because of these things – regardless of business model or intention.
I really believe that these kind of hybrid tools/platforms will enable ‘normal’ people to make a living – and that’s why I’m writing you this open letter.
WordPress, Joomla and Drupal kind of started the game off right, and Tumblr comes pretty close with their community and content discovery, but nowadays these tools can be considered “out of date”, as new kinds of target devices and contexts evolve in our ‘on-line’ world. So imagine my surprise when I find out that these very features and principles are what you’re building with Eightly!
Author-once and playback everywhere is what we originally developed with Director back in the late 80′s. Providing a simple, powerful way for normal people to author interactive multimedia is what MacroMind was all about – to the point where 85% of all CD-ROMs produced from ’89-’96 – were created not with Hypercard – but with Director.
So here you are with Eightly – and I gotta say I like what I see!
I want to use this window of time between your tease and launch – to ask a few questions and pray to the Lord of Technology – that you do the right thing. I’m doing this because I still dream of an open web, that can inter-connect apps, services, interactive content and mainstream platforms created and maintained by DIFFERENT VENDORS – into a distributed mesh – which is what my book was about “How to build the Open Mesh.” (pdf-lo-res, pdf-hi-res)
I guess the real question is: “Will Eightly be a closed, proprietary ‘platform’ like Twitter and Facebook or will you embrace and help drive the Open Web?”
Since I’m a toolsmith these issues really matter to me. Nothing pisses me off more then seeing platforms NOT do the right thing.
There have been many moments over the past 7-8 years where some new platform with fresh ideas is launched and “open identity, open standards” geeks like myself fall down on our knees, light prayer candles in hope that this NEW platform supports end-user’s rights and data and the principles of the Open Web.
This way a developer theme and template market can flourish and LOTS of different kinds of apps, games and services can be produced.
Each new generation platform has to make the choices between supporting the open standards and legacy formats – versus – forging new ground, supporting the latest/sexiest new functionality and establishing your OWN I.P. I get that.
This leads to new platforms coming up with all sorts of creative ‘gotchas’ and “oh-did-we-forget-to-tell-to?’ caveats that makes SURE that they can lock-in their users, provide unfair advantage over their own ecosystem or provide their investors with healthy returns (or at least an x3 acqui-hire.)
Its quite a game that’s evolved over the last decade and at the end of the day – the very existence of the Open Web is being threatened by the loss of URLs, app-based mentality or closed platforms.
Most small and floundering startups WISH they could even get to the point where these ‘closed and proprietary’ platforms limitations matter – as the likelihood of a ‘Dropbox’ add-on or Facebok app succeeding – are slim to none. So they take whatever they can get and then (inevitably) go-down-hard when the mother platform (for sure) changes the rules and terms of their relationship to their platform developers.
I sure hope you know that that’s what it’s like when evaluating new platforms to support – nowadays. We all WANT you to do the right thing and I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt – for now.
What we’re talking about here is an idealistic platform that offers a level playing field where small and independent developers can prosper and flourish. Its the holey grail that we dangle in front of these folks’ noses, but it’s rarely delivered upon. Remember when Facebook funds formed almost overnight? Ever tried to stand out in a crowd of 500,000 apps?
But this open letter is not only about developers as we know them today – but a new generation of creators, news people, researchers, designers and educators – all of who do NOT have the programming chops to “author” state-of-the-art apps, games and services – which is what Eightly is focused on.
Current software developers face a hopelessly confusing world of a wide range of end-users, a complicated set of delivery and device platform, accelerators, incubators and all sorts of acqui-hire deals dangled out in front of them – which ends up sending our best-&-brightest into the bowels of Facebook, Google, Apple, Salesforce, Amazon, etc.
I’m really hoping that Eightly can help solve many (if not all of these issues) by providing (what looks like to me) an incredible visual-based programming environment with a powerful rich range of themes (templates) that would enable not just ‘channels’ of dynamic content, but also…………..
It looks like Eightly could be yet another new kid on the developer platform block and I want to try and help – by providing these insights and suggestions. Since I was there the FIRST time “authoring” environments came into their own, I thought that maybe my insights might be helpful.
You said that Eightly can create and publish channels on any topic, so I assume that means these ‘things’ can be Presentations, Web sites, Opinion pieces, News or any other kinds of ‘creative expression.’ I also assume that small businesses and independents can create resumes and portfolio ‘galleries’, catalogs, brochures and marketing ‘pages.’ And – of course – educators can create ANY kind of Educational Curriculum with Eightly!
That’s all fantastic – and just the notion of these ‘thingies’ working across all manners of devices and platforms – as I’m sure you’re aware of – has been the holey grail for developers – for a long time now. So pulling that off – while giving FourSquare, Tumblr, Etsy and WordPress a run for its money – is just AWESOME!
The trick is to find the balance between powerful and easy to use. GoDaddy, 1and1 and even Google Sites don’t get there. And I hate to say it but WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are just too dam hard to customize and deploy. So I applaud your goal of enabling normal people to transcend device family moats and create single-source channels – for “the rest-of-us!”
That’s why Alan Kay noticed VideoWorks, ComicWorks (and Maze Wars+) back in the day (speaking of the Mac’s 30th) – and I can see that the “easy to use” elixir has been getting passed around at Eightly. Its also not surprising that some of your team helped create Hypercard – as that free-tool was also the darling of the “easy to use” set – back in the day.
But I also don’t have to tell you that a template and theme based tool often (if not ALL the time) gets bogged down into regurgitating the same dam designs and kinds of sites – until it’s hopelessly relegated to ‘Danica Patrick’ TV commercial hype. The trick is finding the balance between powerful and simple, customized and generic.
Since you positioned Eightly as a ‘platform’ I hope that means that you fully intend to offer Open APIs, support what open standards are relevant and make sure to NOT compete with your developers (unlike certain Twitty companies we have encountered recently.) These technical features would (of course) would be transparent to end-authors and simply “just work” the way folks expect them to work.
Being a platform vendor is almost a prerequisite for big plays nowadays, so this is where I come to the specific concerns suggestions, requests and prayers I have for Eightly:
2. Speaking of interactivity - can I assume that gestures like upload, share, comment and conversations – will be standard features? That having context and geo (both outside and inside) baked into the system will enable you to provide all sorts of dynamic, social based apps and services themes and templates. But what about navigation? Is everything hard wired to traditional ‘web-site’ and app paths? Will developers be able to truly create their own site and app structures?
3. Speaking of open platform and working with others – can I take one of these Eightly thingies – and say – embed it into my blog or web site? I just never understood why Quora never offered that really basic feature? Or can I take Eightly cutesy cards and authored experiences – and tie those into MY app or website? So that Eightly becomes my end-user authoring tool?
4. Can I assume that to achieve your performance and cross-platform functionality, that your ‘internal representation’ is proprietary and closed? Just how much do developers get access to? Source-code? Besides outputting as HTML5, can developers place entire authored experiences inside their Joomla, Drupal or WordPress sites? There have been plenty of mistakes you can learn from, when it comes to be only half-way open, or pseudo open – so will you draw a line in the sand and say “THIS” is ours and here’s what the rest of you can have access to?
5. Gamification - Hero’s journey – points – leaderboards….. so much to do, such little time.
6. Visual programming – iconic wiring kits – agent-based authoring. YES – keep going!
8. Bundled content. Do you leave it ALL to your users or do you propagate certain channels with “stuff” – bringing themes to a new level? Lots of money to be made being the best friend to Hollywood.
9. You mentioned conversations – calendar data – pictures – so I assume you support constructs such as “events”, “venues”, publishing destinations and shared social data. Hopefully this notion of ‘constructs’ can be extended by developers…..
10. Cards are coolio – Content cards, Quote cards, Help cards and Services cards – and even Structure cards. Does this notion handle dynamic stuff well? What if something is constantly changing? Is that the right paradigm for the real-time web? You’ve also developed unique constructs like “Play that Card”, or Rivers and Start Pages. So maybe a mainstream media metaphor – like a ‘Newsroom’ or ‘Studio’ might be apropos? How does search and discovery fit in? Spy Glass? Private Investigator? Researcher? Personal Asst?
More wishful requests…. which I’d be only too happy to wait 2-3 years for……
Visual tools modules….. like Mural.ly, Prezi, Balsamiq, Mindmaps or ever just good old fashioned outliners…. (Fargo.io)
Structure editing…. more than just simple linear sequences….. access to large libraries, directories or underlying software infrastructure. Maybe even the notion of a knowledge base or wiki – baked into themes and templates and available – to all.
End-user Personal profile accounts…… end-user’s history, likes, channels, friends, groups and media galleries and files – ASSUME end-user input, archives, galleries, UGC and friending…….
Underlying social network fabric…….. that connects to existing social media networks, while building up a ‘meta-network’ of all Eightly developers and end-users. eg. Ning done right….
Navigation……. more than just simple linear paths….
You’re only as good as your themes or templates. Encourage others to create themes – which then can get used by others. Offer a Marketplace – much like Second Life Islands or Mobile Apps or Games – pre-built “experiences” is what it’s all about. Different aesthetics, cultural norms or target demographics or markets will thrive…..
Don’t be afraid to compete with Etsy or Blurb, Foursquare or Yelp. Encourage and help your developers to create their OWN directories and marketplaces. Go Meta!
OK so all of the suggestions I put to you above can be implemented within the next year or two, but since I’m along-term visionary kind of guy – here are some more long-term issues and features – that I assume you’re also interested in hearing about.
I like Eightly’s simple paradigms, obvious constructs – intuitive authoring process – but it will run out of options and produce the same looking things, UNLESS….
A) an Agent based paradigm is integrated into the mix.
B) Persistent underlying features like Knowledge bases, Social Network, Communication, Media galleries, Groups, Activity streams – are all “commodity” features – which need to work with existing legacy services and tools. The BEST platforms of the future will offer seamless integration with the ‘outside’ world – creating a mesh for end-users to live in a distributed environment. I call this “digital lifestyle aggregation.”
C) White labeled, target industry, partner versions are created for: religious, affinity, sponsored, demographic or International cultures – which means bundling the RIGHT kind of content, partnering with the APPROPRIATE partners and sponsors.
D) Next-gen tools – which are a hybrid of platform, content aggregator, community and portal – can all use structure editors to enable their end-users to properly control their environment – matched to their ability level and context. I left Silicon Valley a going away present when I left in 2009. Its called a “Persona Editor” – check out the Google Tech Talk I did on it.
E) Tools of the future should adapt to the end-user, rather than have the end-users adapt to the single user experience dreamed up by the product’s designers. I call that “adaptive user interfaces.” Don Norman and I debated about this – at PopTech in 2001. Still waiting…..
Whether it’s an Open Smart Home, 3D Gaming engines or automotive OSes – platforms that offer functionality to developers via Open APIs – are all the rage. But they’re all closed in some way, shape or form. Finding the RIGHT platform to build on – that is truly open and comes with no “gotchas” – is the challenge of our age.
Hopefully Eightly can be that platform.
Publishing means having a home – a persistent URL and storage location – that is controlled and owned by the developer. The kind of customer/developers you’re appealing to – have probably ALREADY been tricked, manipulated, ripped off and treated like – well you know – Facebook and Twitter developers. So they’ll (we’re) pretty wary of the “next big thing” – especially when it comes from insiders and is VC funded.
So please be careful – ’cause in a land where no platform truly “goes away” - I’m sure you realize that…..
Hopefully I’ll see yah soon…..
Tuesday, January 7th, 2014 | Time: