Frequently Asked Questions About Web App Consulting

I just replied to a great email from a prospective consulting client who asked some questions I think many prospective clients could benefit from reading my replies to. They are posted below as an FAQ of sorts. Readers here in general are more than welcome to provide feedback in comments, any discussion of these strategies is great.

Otherwise, here are some details about how a typical consulting engagement has been going for me lately. For more details on my consulting services, see this link. If you’re interested in working together, I’m not in a position to take on any new large engagements but am always happy to schedule small engagements of the sort discussed below. I’m doing 2 to 4 one hour consulting sessions per month right now and they rock! Those hour sessions are described early in this post.

If I hire you as a consultant, will that prevent you from writing about our company on Read Write Web?

No, though it will greatly increase the likelihood that another writer would need to cover your company instead of me. If, and it is unlikely, I did write about you on RWW then I would be very open about disclosing our financial relationship and would probably be especially critical of your shortcomings so as to compensate for any perception of bias. 🙂

Will you consider working or advising in exchange for equity?
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Using Social Media in Real Time for Crowdsourced Research

How useful can social media be for work? This afternoon I had a wonderful time writing a post over at ReadWriteWeb called Toward a Value-Added User Data Economy with the help of probably 15 people around the world, in real time. I started up a live video broadcast on UStream over EVDO from a cafe in downtown Portland, started writing the post on a publicly available wiki and then Twittered both URLs inviting people to join me. Over the next two hours a got all kinds of help, feedback and semi-related conversation to help round out what I think became a very good post. At one point I sent out a message over Twitter requesting that anyone with a background in the philosophy of economics call me to discuss a question I had. Two qualified and helpful new friends called me on the phone and are quoted in the post. Here’s the last 10 minutes of putting the post live.
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Dreaming of the Perfect Friend Adder, MyBlogLog Came Close Today

Super-cookie service MyBlogLog just emailed users to let us know about a new “friend finder” the site is offering. The feature is remarkable because it makes it really easy to add your friends from around the web – without asking you for any passwords! With just a few clicks your friends on services from Flickr to FriendFeed can become your friends on MyBlogLog. I wish everyone did that. Here’s a few bullet points on the implementation that could be helpful for other application developers to consider.

  • This doesn’t just work with early adopters. Most services have you “add friends” by asking for your email password because that’s where most of the online world has most of its friends. It’s creepy though and a bad practice to do that. MyBlogLog can grab the “Friend of a Friend” (FOAF) data from your public profiles at services like Flickr, Facebook and MySpace – hardly a tiny set of bleeding edge users. Your application could consider doing the same. Think also about using the new GMail contacts API.
  • There’s still no “add all” link. In what I assume was a silly oversight, there’s no link to “add all” when you pull up your friends from these networks. You have to add them one at a time. It would be nice to be able to select all and then deselect a few. That’s no small thing, it would make a big difference in growing the service and I assume they will fix that soon. As it is, the list of 20 friends at a time gets mixed up a bit like FriendFeed recommendations. Implementation of both are clunky though and could scale much better by presenting more options at once and displaying more information about users you are prompted to add as friends.
  • Service discovery could be faster. MyBlogLog is “discovering friends” via the public profile pages you filled out in your MBL profile. That process presents you with a long list of services from around the web and asks you to fill in the part of profile URLs where your username goes. Everyone should check out how Lijit discovers new accounts from other sites. It asks you “what is your most common username” and then searches to see where it can find an account with that username. You then confirm or deny each one and can enter exceptions to your standard username on any particular service. It’s really smooth and smart. I wish MyBlogLog and everyone else did it that way.

Almost every service on the web wants to connect users with their friends elsewhere, for aggregate activity feed displays or “viral introductions.” There are some best practices emerging for doing that, though. Companies looking to implement such features should take a look at oAuth and at Niall Kennedy’s recent post on user authentication best practices. If you want to see something cool about MyBlogLog, I’d also recommend checking out the BlogJuice bookmarklet. You’ll like it, I promise.

Talking Iterasi: Save Web Pages Perfectly for Later Reference

One of my consulting clients is a company called Iterasi, providers of a browser plug-in that lets users “notarize” a perfect replica of any web page’s current state. That includes forms and AJAX states. It’s a pretty potent tool and one that I’m really excited to use for my own research…once there’s a Mac version available! (Coming soon, they say.) The company is doing a great job of using social media, including a prolific blog that I designed for them and now a series of short videos produced by my former co-worker at SplashCast, Alex Williams. You can read about our very successful use of social media for marketing at our previous place of work in this post.

I’ve been hesitant to write about Iterasi here just because I generally don’t write about consulting clients (though I did in my last post too, so maybe things are changing). Alex did a short video interview with me that went up yesterday, though, and I realized after watching it that I should make sure any readers using Windows know about it right away. It’s really useful! I want to use it and will officially give them a hard time for not having the Mac version done yet, as I told them many bloggers would. Seriously, I’m anxious for its imminent completion.

Below is that video we did together about one way I want to use Iterasi. Here’s a page of links to press they got for their launch, which I advised on. At the end of this post is a screencast demonstration of the product’s functionality, which was produced by Rick Turoczy of Return Corp (and the fantastic local blog SiliconFlorist!). I tried to produce a screencast but had issues. Hire me for overall strategy and RSS work and you’ll be very happy – don’t hire me to produce screencasts!

Read on to watch the videos.
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How to Build an RSS and Blog News Site for Your Project

I’m excited to unveil my latest consulting project, a fairly extensive RSS-based microsite put together with Sun Microsystems for next week’s JavaOne conference. It’s called BlogCentral. Turns out today is international RSS Awareness Day! This might have been a better fit for Enterprise RSS Awareness Day last week, but that’s ok.

I don’t often blog about particular consulting projects because most of the work I do is with pre-launch companies or for internal use only, but consulting is what I spend one to two thirds of my day doing after I finish blogging at ReadWriteWeb.

The Project

After building out a collection of RSS feeds that attendees could use to track the DEMO conference in January, I was approached by Sun about helping build a blog coverage microsite to track discussion of their giant JavaOne conference that starts next week.

This is an example of one end of the RSS spectrum, most use cases are far simpler – so don’t be scared!

JavaOne is a huge conference where scores of attendees will be blogging about a wide variety of Sun products and announcements. I worked with Sun to create a page called BlogCentral (hopefully to be moved to by conference time!) that aggregates all the latest and the most popular blog posts about the conference and 15 particular Sun projects and products. It’s like a news dashboard for anyone interested in seeing what’s being written about at JavaOne.

How We Did It

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