Wednesday, June 29, 2005
As we design our upcoming document presentation software, I've been searching the web to see how others are doing document call out.
One example that I found is on a website for a company called Animators at Law. This article shows two pages of a policy document each containing a highlighted paragraph. Then the text from the highlighted areas is typed in a big stop sign with an arrow directing your eye to the original context. This is a pretty snazzy looking call-out was custom produced by Animators at Law for the U.S. Department of Justice.
The article is sub-titled "Persuading Under the Guise of Informing Using Trial Exhibits." My personal take on trial exhibits is that they should clearly present the data and the data should persuade rather than trying to persuade with snazzy graphics. But, I suppose different people will have different opinions on that. What is interesting from a design perspective is that the call-out in this chart is not just an enlargement of the original document. It has a new typesetting, in a new font, and is shown in a shape that is supposed to persuade the audience.
As opposed to designing trial exhibits for you, the company InData make a software product called TrialDirector which provides some support for real time document callout. If you are running Windows, you can go to their website and register for access to the demo of TrialDirector. I think InData is on the right track with this product. The callouts look pretty good. However, the software isn't very intuitive to use. Try the demo and let me know what your opinion is. Is it easy to open a document, choose a page, and display a callout? What if you want to remove the callout and choose a new one? It took me a while to figure out how to do these simple procedures and I still get unexpected behavior sometimes.
As we develop our Bee Docs' Callout software for the Macintosh, I think we can do better. First, I agree with the TrialDirector method of displaying a callout without too much "dressing" and we certainly want users to be able to select the callout in real-time. However, I think that we can make it much easier to find and open documents. Just by leveraging some of the Mac OS X Tiger features like spotlight, and smart folders we can make it easy to find relevant documents. Also, I think we can increase the production value of the callouts without decorating the data. For example, we are looking into 3D technologies to zoom in on the selected area of the document while the full document is zooming out. We are working on some screenshot mock-ups for our design of Bee Docs' Callout and will post them to the blog in the next week or so. Please stay tuned.
If you have any document callout charts that you would like to share or if you have comments on existing call-out technologies, please share your thoughts with us using our blog comment feature. Thanks!
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Last Thursday, I announced that we are working on a version of our timeline software for Windows. It has been about 5 years since I switched my development efforts to Mac software and since then, I haven't done any serious software development on a Windows application so it is definitely time for me to brush up my skills. That means it's time to get a new book!
I have been writing code since about the 5th grade. Back then I was finding BASIC code in our "Family Computing" magazine and entering it into our TRS-80 Model III. I didn't really know what I was doing until I took all the 100 level programming courses at the University of Washington. I was a music major, so I took these classes as electives. The university classes were really great for learning the fundamentals of software development and understanding how a computer thinks. However, they really didn't go very far in teaching the real world of computer programming. For that, I learned from books!
Right now, I'm reading through Windows Forms Programming in C#. The last time I wrote Windows applications, the choices were pretty much Visual Basic (which always seemed to me to be an overgrown hobby environment rather than a real scalable, professional platform) and C++ with MFC which seemed like such a mess that I jumped ship and started writing Cocoa programs for the Mac instead. Things have changed a bit in the last few years at Microsoft so it is like starting over again. I'm getting up to speed on Windows Forms, C#, and .NET. I have heard from several sources that this book by Chris Sells is the one to get, so I'm going through it now. I will be sure to keep you posted on my progress.
At the same time, I have got another programmer coming on board to help out with our upcoming document callout software. He has experience programming but is new to the Mac platform. For him, I recommended one of my favorite programming books ever: Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X by Aaron Hillegass. This book is a great example of a tutorial format book. Written for people who understand the theory of programming but are new to the Cocoa technology. I have to warn you that this book (and the technology it describes) is so cool that it may cause you to quit your job programming for Windows and become a Mac programming vagabond. Don't say that I didn't warn you.
Finally, I can't give talk about software books without giving props to the book to which I owe my career, Learning Perl. While I was still in school I was doing some data entry / HTML work for the Costco web site. I need came up for some programming work in Perl and I said that I could do it even though I didn't have any experience writing software besides my programming classes and the little games I made growing up. This book saved my life on that project and starting me on the path towards being a professional developer. The $35 that I spent on the book seemed like a lot at the time, but turned out to be the best financial investment I have ever made.
Saturday, June 25, 2005
Today I posted an interview with Michael Bywater who is a Cambridge teacher, author, and critic. Michael is the author of the acclaimed book Lost Worlds: What Have We Lost, & Where Did It Go?
In our interview he discusses Tragedy, technology, and using timeline software to teach literature at one of the world's greatest universities.
Friday, June 24, 2005
I thought you might like to see a picture of my home office:
One of the best parts of starting my own company is being able to control my work environment. To think outside of the box, it is really helpful to be outside of the box.
Being surrounded by my fish tank and large windows looking out on our secret garden with lots of natural light is so much better than being in cube under fluorescent lights!
Thursday, June 23, 2005
I was reviewing some of the download statistics for our Macintosh timeline software this morning and I noticed that we passed a few major milestones. First, our stats on MacUpdate show that we passed 3,000 downloads this week. Our stats on Version Tracker say that we are about to pass 5,000 downloads and these numbers don't include downloads that came through the Bee Documents site or other 3rd party sites such as Apple's download page.
The sales of licenses for Timeline have not been huge but have been steady. In our second month we will sell almost as many licenses as last month when we launched the product and were on the front page of several Mac related news sites.
Because I am encouraged by the sales we are getting on the Mac platform, we have also begun the development of a Windows version of Bee Docs' Timeline. After looking at the existing timeline software on the Windows platform, I think we have an opportunity to be very competitive. It will be interesting to see how the sales compare between the platforms. It will also be interesting to compare my experiences developing for both platforms side-by-side. Depending on our other projects, we should be able to get the first Windows version of Bee Docs' Timeline out by the end of the year.
The products that we currently have under development include:
- Bee Docs' Call Out - Document Presentation Software
- Bee Docs' Timeline for Windows
- A custom case management system for a law firm
- We are also working on some minor improvements to our existing products.
As you can see, I am keeping busy! In fact, I am going to bring on a second developer to work on Bee Docs' Call Out. I'll introduce him on the blog as soon as we get the contracts signed.
Today's Tune: A New Man by Lemi Baruh
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
I've been having fun over the past few weeks checking out some of the technology and small business podcasts that are out there. For those of you who haven't heard of podcasting, you will! It is basically subscription radio where your favorite audio content can be automatically downloaded to your computer or portable music player for listening at your leasure.
I have decided to give podcasting a go myself, and will create an audio version of this blog for a little while and see how it is received. A lot of the podcasts out there are improvised radio shows or interviews, but I am simply going to read my blog each day with some background music.
Why? Because some people may prefer to listen to the blog while there are in their car or on the Stairmaster rather than reading it at there desk. It's that simple, I just want to make it easy for you to get my content. If you have podcast software, simply point it at our RSS feed and everything should work. If you don't have podcast software, you can just click on the title of the blog if you want to hear the audio version.
I will try to go back and record podcasts for all my previous blog entries as well as keeping up to date with the new ones. Please send me feedback on whether or not the audio blog is a useful addition for you.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Last week, I announced plans to build document callout software designed for the Mac. Today, I'd like to give an overview of the design goals of the project.
The software I envision is pretty basic conceptually. There are only two steps from the users perspective:
- Open a page from a document
- Select a region of the page to emphasize.
Then the software should display the selected region in such a way that it is easy to read at a distance, and such that the original context of the callout is obvious.
Once of the things that I like about this project is that the concept is so simple that we can really focus on the details. For example, what is the very best way to open a document and select a page? What is the very best way to select a region of a document? What is the very best way to display a callout? I will discuss these issues in the blog as we ponder them.
There are two important goals of this project which will drive all our design decisions:
- Ease of Use: The software needs to be so easy to use that a person can use it in real-time during a presentation or court case without training. Users will also be able to prepare presentations in advance.
- Nice Looking: This is presentation software after all! Any graphics or effects should enhance the clarity of the presentation and should look beautiful without becoming a distraction to the presentation. I hope for something so beautiful that the results can be used in a documentary, but so clear and professional that it can be used to question a witness at trial.
Monday, June 20, 2005
This morning I met with Eric Jensen of Jensen Media. They have developed a great software application, called Visync, for synchronizing text with video for display during trials. We are both interested in promoting the Mac as a platform for legal work and Eric was interested in brainstorming how our forthcoming document call-out software might integrate with his video syncing system. There is certainly some great potential for presenting multimedia evidence in a clear and professional way on a Mac, and the new products that companies like Jensen Media and Bee Documents are working on will make it even easier to present data in a courtroom setting.
It seems like the Pacific Northwest is full of specialty software shops building cool products for the Mac. Companies like Delicious Monster, Ranchero Software, Omni Group, Panic, Jensen Media, and Bee Documents. Of course, there are few big companies around here to, but you have to love the entrepreneurial spirit that the Mac platform seems to encourage. I'd love to get out and meet all of you guys eventually so drop me a line if you are reading my blog and doing cool Mac stuff in the Pacific Northwest.
Friday, June 17, 2005
In addition to our software products, we are also currently at work on a custom enterprise software system I call "Case Tracker". Case Tracker is a web based tool for managing Intellectual Property cases. It tracks contact information, event reminders, case workflows, and status information while managing the relationships between all of those types of data. The idea was to help our client, a boutique IP law firm, keep track of hundreds of cases in a very simple and intuitive way while giving their customers a quick and inexpensive way to see the real-time status of their various matters.
This custom case tracking software is coming together nicely, and I hope that I can post more details to the blog as it is completed. Although other case management tools exist, it is sometimes better to build a custom system that fits the client needs like a glove rather than trying to fit their work style into a generic system.
Monday, June 13, 2005
In his blog today, Steve Borsch points out a very interesting study done by the Boston Consulting Group on innovation and process of turning innovation into cash. It is an interesting read.
Click here to download the original report in pdf.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Congratulations to all the winners of the Apple Design Awards 2005. I've been checking out everyone's software and it is all pretty cool. One of the pillars of the Mac platform is all the small software shops coming up with really innovative products. It is one of my life goals to win an Apple Design Award so I better get back to work for next year!
Two of the winners (that I know about) have blogs that are worth checking out:
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
I'd like to announce that Bee Documents is taking on the challenge of creating the best looking and most elegant document presentation software on any platform, and the first such software for the Mac!
The software will be called Bee Docs' Call Out and will be designed and developed over the next 6-12 months. It will be created for Mac OS X and will take full advantage of the latest features available in Tiger.
Bee Docs' Call Out will be designed specifically for the needs of trial lawyers who show document and photo exhibits in their trials. This software will make it easy to create and project stunning document presentations that "call out" details from documents. For example, if a contract is being discussed by a witness, the lawyer may want to draw the jury's attention to a particular passage or word. Bee Docs' Call Out will make it easy to zoom into the passage in real time so that everyone can see it clearly.
We are going to try something completely new with this product. We will blog the entire process as it is being designed and developed! We hope to use this blog as a forum to get feedback on our design ideas and will also use the blog to announce beta versions as they are released. I encourage you to use the comment feature to provide feedback as user input will shape the software as it is being built.
Monday, June 06, 2005
Well, Steve Jobs announced today that Apple will be switching it's Macs over to Intel processors. There are not a lot of details at this point and I'm very curious what this will mean for Bee Documents. We will certainly remain committed to leveraging the latest and greatest technologies and will make sure that all our current products run on the new systems.
The questions of what this will do for Apple's market are even more interesting than the technical challenges of the conversion. Will this result in new products? Lower prices? Will it make it easier for people to comparison shop? Will the change bring new people to the platform? It should be a very interesting year for Apple watchers as we watch the answers to these questions unfold.
If any of you are Apple watchers like myself, I'm sure you are eagerly awaiting the Steve Jobs Keynote at the 2005 Worldwide Developers Conference that will begin in about an hour. The big rumor this time around is that Apple will switch to Intel processors.
I have had fun for about the past five years watching or following along with every Steve Jobs Keynote speech. However, now the stakes are a bit higher for me. I am no longer just a fan and a shareholder. I also generate a large portion of my income by creating technologies that run on the Mac platform. I have a large personal stake in Apple's future. If they double their market share or lose half their market share, it affects my bank account in a major way.
I believe in Apple though. They have really built an amazing operating system over the past few years and have shown they can leverage their creativity in new areas with the success of the iPod and iTunes music store.
What I want out of this year's WWDC is a strong commitment by Apple to increase their computer market share. If they talk about lowering CPU prices, increasing hardware performance, and marketing the platform, I'll be happy. If they spend all their time talking about iPod and cool developer technologies like Quartz Extreme, I'll be less excited. Don't get me wrong, I love all the cool stuff in Tiger, but what I really want for Christmas is a larger pool of potential customers for my mac products.
Saturday, June 04, 2005
I wrote earlier about how we track the success of our marketing efforts. I wanted to list some of the marketing techniques we have tried and give some comments.
- Phone Sales - Early on we hired a local phone sales company to ask lawyers some survey questions. This cost a few thousand dollars and we didn't get one person to talk to us. I won't be doing that again!
- Direct Mail - We had some Bee Docs postcards printed up. I can customize the content and I usually send the postcards our to targeted clients when we release a new product or in coordination with other marketing efforts.
- Print Ads - We've ran some print ads in the local bar association journal. Though these ads don't often turn into immediate sales, I believe that it helps people trust you when they have seen your name in their trade journal. It seems to be that local association newsletters are a better value than the big national publications.
- Web Advertising - The Google Adwords program has resulted in a handful of new customers. As far as "traditional marketing" goes, this has been the most productive media. It takes time to get everything tweaked so that these ads are effective though.
- Trade Shows - It is fun to set up a cool display and meet potential customers in the flesh. At this point, I have only done local association trade shows, but it would be fun to do a Mac World or something like that in the future. It certainly isn't a cheap way to advertise though.
The Mac sites and Law Technology News have been great about publishing my press releases. I always get a large number of hits when they mention me in their publications. Press Releases are definitely a priority every time we do something new.
I have been doing a cost comparison between the cost of traffic from web ads and the cost of developing free software that also generates web traffic. It turns out that I can sometimes whip out a program in a few days that will generate web traffic for months to come. It's a pretty good marketing technique that fits my expertise. You always want people to get warm fuzzies every time they hear your name, and giving away free stuff is always helpful to that end.
For Bee Docs' Timeline we tried something new. Instead of keeping everything secret until the product was ready to launch, I released a beta version about once a week and had people sign up on a mailing list to be informed of the releases and provide feedback. I was surprised at the amount of people who signed up and the great feedback that I received. This blog takes things one step further. Getting the user community involved in the creation of products has really been fun, has generated lots of traffic, and helps increase the number of times people mention Bee Documents in their blogs.
In the coming weeks, we will use the blog to announce a new product that is in development and will be posting updates and our design ideas so that folks like you can follow along and participate in the creative process. Stay tuned!