What do I do?

Today’s post is inspired by a challenge from IttyBiz. The author, Naomi Dunford, reflected on how many readers aren’t aware – through no fault of their own – of what we blog writers actually do for a living. So, the challenge was to answer five questions to introduce ourselves (again) to our readers:

What’s your game? What do you do?

By day, I’m a web developer working for a major government contractor. By night, I’m a freelance web designer, artist, and writer.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?

I love web design. It’s the perfect melding of programming, art, and writing.

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?

Most of my clients are game companies. I’ve done artwork or websites for a fair few people as individual commissions too. Usually, the people interested in my services are those looking for a friendly face and an understanding of the game industry that just isn’t there for the majority of web design companies.

What’s your marketing USP? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?

I don’t know what a USP is, but I’ll say this – I’m the guy who knows what I’m doing, and I know what my clients are doing too. At the end of the day, I’m a gamer as well as a designer!

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?

Right now, Mana Trance Creative – the name I do business as a freelancer under – is pretty low on my list of priorities. I take a new client once every three months or so, much reduced from when I was just out of college (and unemployed). However, over the next year I’ll be slowly building up MTC. My goal is to be self-employed at roughly the same standard of living I have now by December of 2009.

So, if any of you reading this needs a website (or art) or knows someone who does, shoot me an email!

What the client wants isn’t always what they need

Guest Post by Monica O’Brien of Twenty Set

I’ve recently noticed a trend in software development that is along the lines of “If we build it they will come.” This is a problem in any type of product development, but it seems to happen more often in software development because there are fewer entry barriers to start a technology-based company.

The problem with “building things” is there are no limits to technology in terms of virtual products. If you can dream it, you can find a way to make it virtual. Which means there are a lot of people trying to make money off of products or enhancements that are missing one thing: a customer need.

What technology companies need most when developing a new product or enhancing an existing product is marketing research. Unfortunately, research is thought to be costly to be hired out, so many companies do an ad hoc version of marketing research which comes down to implementation managers asking customers what they want and reporting back to the company.

This methodology is inherently flawed, however. The first rule of marketing research is you don’t ask your customers what they want.

‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me “A faster horse.”‘ ~ Henry Ford

Customers are good at identifying solutions, not needs. In this example the user needs to get to places faster and comes up with a solution based on previous experience.

But where’s the innovation in something a customer has already experienced? Most customers don’t understand technology the way a software developer would, and the solutions a customer presents cannot be new or different because they are solutions someone else has already created. A company that uses solutions to determine what to build next will become an aggregator rather than an innovator; and while aggregators can be useful, they are certainly not original, cutting-edge, or exciting.

Aggregation leads to other problems, namely complicated or unnecessary functionality. Which is why most software becomes too expensive, too slow, or too buggy.

Some advice for companies developing software – if you want to be an industry leader, learn how to extracts needs vs. solutions. There is an entire science built around how to do this, and in my experience people without formal training in marketing research are absolutely horrible at understanding the voice of their customer. So maybe hire someone instead – the cost incurred will return tenfold in profits.

Earth Day 2008

Today is Earth Day.

To celebrate, today I’m going to post a short list of some great links in the spirit of the holiday that are relevant to the Millennial. My favorite is the solar-powered iPod, but check them all out!

Reegle – A renewable energy search engine that tries to bill itself as Web 2.0. Technologically speaking, it’s not particularly advanced – no social media, the web design itself is a little off in places, and it appears to be trying to model itself after Google but doesn’t come close. However, as a resource for renewable energy information and news related to that topic, it does a good job. There IS a blog, too, and though it clearly needs an editor, the content is in the right place and well-informed.

EcoWorld – This site has a wealth of content. Don’t let the ugly design put you off – everything is fairly well organized, and there’s a few fun things in there, like this biofuel land calculator. I’m no scientist though, so take this – as with all things – with a grain of salt.

Solar-powered iPod charger – With this and an iPod Touch or iPhone, you can take your mobile computing into the bush and not worry about powering the thing. Also, because it’s solar power, it’s greener than the alternative.

GreenTechnoLog – One of the better green tech blogs I’ve found. Multiple good articles with great information!

Dumb Little Man has an excellent post on reducing your carbon footprint. I can’t recommend this blog enough, and it turns out he had a perfect post for this topic!

GreatGreenGadgets has a blog post about…well, a whole lot of green gadgets, tricks, and websites. Lots. Check it out!

Moving to mobile: how to work from any computer

Lately, working on multiple computers has started to take its toll on my time and productivity. I regularly use my work computer, my laptop, and my home computer, and occasionally use university computers and conference room computers. That’s five different machines on a fairly frequent basis. It’s hard to keep track of everything – especially if I need a file that’s on machine X, or a password that’s in the Firefox password manager on machine Y.

So, to fix that, I’m going full mobile. I’m moving everything that can be securely moved (i.e., nothing proprietary from work) into the cloud. Here’s a few of the things I’m doing to accomplish this:

  • KeePass – I’m moving all my passwords and login names into the freely-available KeePass password manager. It’s portable and very secure, as well as able to generate some really nice passwords for you – and all you need to know is one password to unlock the database. No more having to remember dozens of different passwords and logins.

  • Google Docs – Documents that I don’t use often I’m archiving to DVD. Everything else, which isn’t much, I’m moving into Google Docs – both for ease of access and for the unique collaborative quality of document editing in the cloud.

  • Google Reader – Though I love the Flock browser’s social media functions, I’m moving to just using Google Reader for all my feeds. That way I can keep up without having to worry about logging on the right machine, and feeds that aren’t allowed at work – like the Wizards of the Coast feed – I just keep in a separate, closed folder that doesn’t trip the firewall.

  • Google Notebook – No need to keep track of all my favorites/bookmarks separately. Notebook does this for me. It even integrates with Firefox with a nifty toolbar.

  • Portable Apps – For those times when I really need a specific application, I’ll just load up Portable Apps on my flash drive. GAIM, OpenOffice, 7zip, Notepad++, it’s all there and all portable.

The only applications which I can’t transport easily are Photoshop and Star Wars Galaxies, but seeing as Adobe just released a web-based version of Photoshop that’s freely available, the former’s not going to be a problem. And I really don’t need to be playing Galaxies at work, so that’s not an issue either, heh.

I’m taking my first steps toward being fully mobile. If you have any suggestions for additional ways to do this, let us know in the comments!

Choice in the workplace? What will they think of next?

It seems that lately more companies are veering towards non-uniformity in system design. Employees are allowed to use any computer they want, as long as certain key criteria (e.g., ability to get onto the company intranet) are met. Google has taken this approach, and I imagine it’d be a good thing for Gen Y to universally follow Google’s lead.

With the creep towards distributed computing once again, we could even have “mobile dumb terminals” without too much effort or complication.

So, with all that in mind, let’s hear what you think about this. Should companies allow their employees to use whatever computer they want?