What I’m working on

Preceden is coming along well. After several different pricing and freemium model variations, I settled on a $19 premium account which lets you surpass the 5-event limit for a free account. That seems to have worked pretty well and the site is bringing it a few hundred dollars a month with little work on my part.

For the last six weeks I’ve been working on a new web app called Lean Designs. It started off as a tool for making decision trees, evolved into a web-based diagramming tool, and is now slated to become a pixel-perfect mockup tool.  It’s similar to Balsamiq, except it’s completely web-based and high fidelity, meaning it doesn’t looked sketched. The editor is built on top of HTML5’s canvas element, which makes it incredibly powerful in terms of what it can render. My short term goal is to build a tool that can quickly create website mockups that are indistinguishable from the actual sites. It’s not there yet, but it’s close.

(Lean Designs, unfortunately, is a temporary name and will not be what the final product is called. I found out this weekend that the name LEANdesign is trademarked by a company that produces related software with the same name. New name is TBD.)

Also of note is that for the past two months I’ve been using a site called AccountableTo, which is currently in private beta. The site, which is being built by a Philadelphia based web developer named Mike Nicholaides, helps you stay focused by encouraging you to write a daily log of what you’ve done that day, which other members of your group can comment on (Mike and Chris Conley in my case). AccountableTo asks two simple questions: What did you do today? and What’s the next step?. It’s that second question which is the most valuable because it forces you to think about what you’re going and what you need to do to get there. I’ve found it incredibly useful in helping me stay productive day after day.

Here’s one of my updates from three weeks ago:

What did you do today?

Background work:
* Arbitrary HTML color input
* Drop down color palette (thanks Yahoo)
* Select from previously used colors
* Set background color to none
* Ability to change the canvas background color

What’s the next step?

Need to spend a few hours cleaning up the code, which has gotten a bit unwieldy.

Also, I’m considering focusing on creating high-fidelity website mockups (ie, forget about diagramming). It’s tricky because on one hand, adding the diagramming tools would not be very hard, but, it’s easier to market as a “high fidelity mockup tool” than as a “web based diagramming tool that can also do mockups”–thoughts? A natural step once I had this in place would be for it to generate quality HTML/CSS from the mockups (but that would probably be a few months down the road).

That second part — algorithmically exporting to HTML — is going to be fun, though it’s something a lot of developers want and will pay for if done well. Think of it as a web-based Dreamweaver that doesn’t suck. Imagine rendering all the PSD 2 HTML sites obsolete. That’s the long term goal.

I’m also preparing to move to Boston in a few weeks, so my progress of late has been slower than normal. I’m going to wait until I get settled there to launch the mockup tool, so it’ll probably be sometime around October.

Slowly by surely…