Notes

News, links, research, and product announcements from XOXCO in Austin, TX.

  1. Posts tagged weeknote

  2. Week 207

    Today is the last day of a big R&D project we’ve been working on since mid-March. As we wrap things up with a final round of QA, I’m busy committing all the documentation we’ve created to the project’s git repository. But after today, we’re transitioning into a holding pattern while our client takes ownership of the product and readies it for production. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to say what it actually is!

    This Friday also marks the successful completion of week 2 at XOXCO for our new designer, Bushra. She has been churning out beautiful design work since she arrived: helping to define a visual identity for PROJECT SHARKY, creating an animated introduction video for SendTab, and encouraging all of us code nerds to think harder about the things we leave in and more importantly leave out of our apps. Bushra’s skill set extends far beyond traditional web design techniques, encompassing 3D modeling, motion graphics, and video editing. I cannot really explain how excited I am to have her push us forward into new and uncharted territory.

    With the design taking shape, Sharky is heading towards what I hope to be an early August public beta. Damien is putting the polish on the low level features while I split my time between front end details and server API implementation. The only major blocker we have for this project is to come up with a real name and URL for it!

    We decided at the beginning of this week that the R&D project that Adam’s been working on is ready to go from prototype to production. He and I have built at least four complete versions of this product using various tools and techniques (including both Ember and Backbone) and we’re now pretty confident that we can do the things we want to do and provide the level of beautiful experience and glossy interface that our clients have been asking for. Now, knowing what is and isn’t possible, we’re working on what we be the real version 1 of this platform that will hopefully see its way into a variety of products in the next year.

    As for me, I’ve been experimenting with some ideas I have about creating a generic RESTful JSON API server that can easily and quickly be set up on a service like Heroku to provide a public access point for application data that would otherwise require a bespoke server application. In scenarios where the server does not need to do anything beyond store, retrieve and preset relatively simple data, why build a custom API when a flexible generic solution will do the job? I’m building this out in Node, with a Javascript client SDK that uses JSONP calls to send and retrieve data. I will probably make a sample application or two in the next few days to explore the possibilities.

    Quasi-related: I found Unhosted.org and the RemoteStorage project while researching existing options for this type of service. This is a great idea - remove the data storage component from the web apps, and allow the users to literally take their data with them, storing it wherever they like instead of being required to use the app’s infrastructure. As all software moves into the cloud, we’ll need more options like this!

    Last but not least, there’s been some movement towards getting a new version of Pixel Pix released. Our iPhone pixel art app has already been downloaded 18,000 times, so we’re pretty excited about rolling out new features to this established user base. Amongst other things, the next version will include a few new and very colorful filters, as well as the ability to share Pixel Pix images to in new ways. And maybe we’ll be able to convince Bushra to make a new set of stickers as well!

    And that’s that for week 207 of XOXCO, Inc.

    posted 1 year ago on Jul 6, 2012 | Permalink | 5 notes

  3. Week 203

    This week, everyone at the company has been eyeball-deep in Ember, a Javascript framework that provides a MVC structure for application development. It is a tantalizing piece of software, as it provides things like automagically updating templates that are bound to the underlying data, and a beautifully clean and easy to understand syntax for creating layouts that are completely separate from the code and data.

    However, we’ve also got some concerns about the raw performance of Ember, especially on low-powered mobile devices. Our tests so far are inconclusive, but not particularly inspiring. Adding Ember’s 160k of Javascript seems to slow things down, and due to the black box nature of Ember’s internals, there is very little we can do to optimize. Also, Ember is a product in flux - just today, new documentation was posted to the Ember site which demonstrates a completely new and different method for architecting Ember-powered applications as compared to the documentation that existed yesterday. The new documentation no longer matches the existing API docs, and makes us nervous as hell. What is the right way to use Ember? Does the team behind Ember even know?

    As with any framework, there are tradeoffs, and we expected some complications to come along with the magical benefits Ember offers. Coding Ember applications is easier than building everything from scratch using jQuery, but performance and low-level optimization suffers. Overall, we’re going to be extremely cautious for now, and we’ll continue to explore alternatives like Backbone.js, which may offer a lot of the same benefits with less overhead and mystery.

    The whole team has been working together on our current big client project. Half the time is spent building a Drupal-powered content management and community moderation tool that exposes a RESTful JSON API to the outside world. The other half of our time is spent building an HTML5 client application that ingests information from the API and creates a dynamically generated interface to the features and content. We’re really excited about using Drupal in this way, as it provides the best and most flexible content management tools we’ve seen. And exposing all of the Drupal data via a JSON API means we do not have to spend time building a custom Drupal theme — all of the customer facing screens are built in the HTML5 client. This allows us to separately develop and scale these two components separately, and means that it will be substantially easier to build new clients that talk to the same server APIs. And most importantly, it means that nobody at XOXCO will ever have to spend time mucking about with PHP template files!

    This project runs through mid-July, and then we’ll be spending some time as a team to finish up Damien’s creation, code named “Sharky.” We’ve also got an exciting R&D project ongoing that we hope to debut in coming weeks. More on that soon.

    In the meantime, I’ve been interviewing candidates for our design position, as well as for our summer internship. I’m very pleased with every single person I’ve interviewed, and I’m sure this will prove to be a very difficult choice to make. Through this process, I’ve honed my description of how we work at XOXCO and what we hope to achieve as a company, and it is very gratifying to hear from candidates that it sounds like a fun, creative place to work. I am still interviewing candidates, so if you are a designer in Austin looking for a crazy new place to spend your days, get in touch!

    That’s it for week #203 of XOXCO, Inc.

    posted 1 year ago on Jun 8, 2012 | Permalink | 1 note

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