I’m getting rather brassed off with hearing the word “Handango“. Not, you understand, because I have a problem with them or their business, though they are in fact rather difficult to do business with. Nor because of any aesthetic judgements and opinions I may have about their site. Not even because of their distinctly American Corporate brand of English… no, my problem is with the word as an answer to a question.
The question to which I refer is: “suppose we develop product X, how would we sell it?” In the world of mobile applications it’s a pretty important consideration when evaluating any idea; arguably more important than “what could we build” or “hey, look at what I coded up last night”. If you can’t sell it, you can’t make money from it, and you’re out of business. Unfortunately, “Handango” is not an answer to the question.
At the time of writing, Handango are proudly advertising 75,000 downloads. Let’s think about that a second; seventy five thousand different things that you might want for your device. They don’t break it down by platform unfortunately (and don’t get me started on the way they use “Symbian” as a platform – as if the average end user knew what that meant or whether they even have a Symbian phone). But let’s say that there are 10,000 applications in the Symbian section. A new application offered for sale there is, therefore, competing for attention with all those thousands of other products. There’s no way to get attention; it’s the same problem as was faced in the early days of the web – unless you promote your site, nobody knows that you’re there.
So putting your product on Handango is really just the very first step in a process of getting it to market. Where will it be advertised? Who will pay for the advertising? Who will write the copy for the adverts (and for the pages on Handango, come to that)? Too often the assumption seems to be that one puts the product on Handango and then starts leafing through the Rolls-Royce brochures whilst waiting for the cheques. In the immortal words of Helen Parr, “I don’t think so!”.
 Of course, if you’re talking open source, freeware or just-put-it-up-for-vanity-ware, this doesn’t (necessarily) apply. But you still want people to find it, right?
 Elastigirl, of course.
Now that was annoying. I see news of an excellent new feature in Google Mail; custom “From” addresses. Now, this is a good thing because it allows me to appear to my contacts via the same address they’ve been used to seeing but also because “googlemail.com” addresses seem to be helping my emails get marked as spam. Hmph. Anyway, off I go to set up a new address… and I find that there’s no way to do it. The “Accounts” tab that the Help so carefully explains doesn’t appear for me. I feel so rejected.
However, a few moment’s thought and Googling shows me the problem; I changed my language to “English (UK)”. Changing it to “English (US)” causes the magical new options to appear in full. Hoorah. Now my email has the right “From:” header… but also a different “Sender:” header, causing yet more spam detectors to scream with suspicion. Hey ho.
Anyway, there you have it; blogged so that others in the same situation might find the solution.
A couple of contacts have become involved with science.tv, a “broadband TV channel dedicated to science”. Maybe it’s just me, but everytime I type the word science I hear Magnus Pyke, as sampled in Thomas Dolby’s timeless classic “She Blinded Me With Science”.
Anyway, hand-waving wild-haired boffins apart, they’re soliciting Ideas for Science Programmes. A bit of a wide brief, really. I tend to find myself thinking about this like I do technology product development; don’t start from what can we make? but start from who would we make it for?, or even better, who can we sell it to?. Find the market need first, guys. And there is a market need; as I’ve noted before, the public perception of science and scientists is pretty skewed by people like Dan Brown (on whom may everlasting opprobrium and contempt fall) or even Michael “We’re In The Hands Of Engineers” Crichton. Where are the Bronowskis of today? David Attenborough is hanging up his optimistically white suits after his next series. There’s a need, oh yes.
 Timeless in the sense that the 80s classics are all, um, timeless. Which is to say, dated.
I’ve spent much of the last week or so in an office where the Internet is accessible only through the tightest of firewalls. There’s no complaint implied here; the value of some of the IP in the building might exceed the value of the entire company, so paranoia is amply justified, but it does mean that I can’t fetch my usual POP3 email. This gave me the perfect excuse to see how GMail is going.
I should really refer to it as GoogleMail since I’m in the UK where, amusingly enough, some other outfit has been using the name “GMail” for a while. I do enjoy it when Big American Corporations forget that the rest of the world exists when they’re looking at trademarks and patents. Any road up, whatever you call it, a couple of IMs later I had an invitation to sign up and a shiny new googlemail.com address. Many others have written with far more skill and judgement than I on the subject of how G[oogle]Mail does what it does, so I’ll refrain from cluttering up the RSS feeds with yet more. What struck me as worth commenting on was the contrast with other web mail interfaces… specifically Exchange’s.
For reasons of not-getting-around-to-it, I have only web access to an email account at the place I’m working (it’s my laptop, it’s not in their domain, etc, etc). This gives me the sort of web interface that takes one back to the heady, pre-Ajax days five years ago, when Hotmail was king. I mean: it’s awful. Pages refresh for any change, looking up any data whilst in the middle of writing an email involves an endless dance of Open Link In New Tab (this is all in Firefox, but IE doesn’t add anything). Google, in contrast, have really worked hard and come up with a web interface that’s arguably better than some PC-based mail clients.
I think it’s a question of attitude. Google have jumped headfirst into the whole Ajax & web thing (with the exception of Google Earth). Thus the web interface is a poor relation in the eyes of any company who see the world in terms of PC-based applications, whereas it’s the primary way of doing anything for Google.