Thunderbirds Are Go!

January 20, 2009 in The Journey of a Facebook Application

A friend of mine will often text me on a lazy weekend evening to say “In front of the TV? Go the Channel 4!”. I would change the channel to find he’s directed me to a classic episode of “Police Cops 19” or “When fat celebrities fall down – Exposed!”. And about 5 minutes later a second text will arrive “Ha ha ha ha, did you see that fat celebrity fall down!?”

At long last I can finally reply to him and say “We’re all watching it and talking about it on Facebook, join us!”

That’s right, the real-time-social-micro-forum-live-blog-application is now live!

It’s called Small Talk. It’s still in alpha/beta/omega or whatever term you use that means “don’t give out to me too much if it’s still a bit rough ’round the edges”.

If you’re on Facebook please try it out, I’d love to hear your feedback. I’ll be on it today discussing Barack’s Inauguration (especially when Twitter falls down!) so join in if you’d like to watch it with me, or even if you can’t get to watch it and want some live updates!

A Package from Pakistan

January 20, 2009 in The Journey of a Facebook Application

An hour or two after posting the job (for developing my Facebook application) on Elance the bids started coming in. I got 7 proposals, all from the “India/Southern Asia” region. It was easy enough to spot the serious proposals, with good feedback, strong ratings and a good earnings history. It also quickly became apparent that my asking price of under $500 was probably too low if I wanted to get someone who knew what they were doing.

After a day or two of careful review and discussion via email I went with a group of developers called Pure, who are based in Pakistan. We agreed on $800 (€560 when I paid) for two weeks work to build the application. It was a slightly higher price than the average bid, but I was impressed with some of the other applications in their portfolio and felt that it was worth the extra few bob (€100).

The two weeks flew by. Doing it over Christmas worked out really well, they started on the 23rd December so I was off work and had spare time to dedicate to the project.

The time & language difference was no problem, but the cultural differences did have some hilarious results. Here’s some screenshots of the sample discussions they made to test the application: (click to enlarge)

I dont think they like Indians

I don't think they like Indians

Ahhh Love

Ahhh Love

Such harmfulness

Such harmfulness

And when I made the mistake of asking a friend to try it out he just took the piss, but I don’t think they got the sarcasm:

I was in constant communication with them, testing and giving feedback to them every day. They finished the project and sent me over the source code late last week and I have been busy putting it up on my own server (hosted with Blacknight thanks to their twitter giveaway!)

I’ve been fine tuning it over the weekend and it should be ready to go later this evening. I’ll post the link and would love if you could try it out and give me some feedback.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

January 15, 2009 in The Journey of a Facebook Application

This is part of a series of posts on the Journey of a Facebook Application

When last we left our intrepid entrepreneur (me!) he had in his inventory:

So as we resume our tale he is about to embark on the outsourcing leg of his journey, to find someone who is skilled in the very many ways that he is not….

Elance is an online workplace where businesses connect with qualified professionals to get work done

I’ve never used elance before (or any outsourcing service for that matter), but I found the whole process very simple and straight forward.

I signed up for a free account. I did a few searches for facebook applications, read some of the jobs that people had posted, saw what kind of information they provided up front and tried to get a feel for the going rate etc.

In hindsight, I should have paused there, taken a good long think and spent a day or two working through and writing down my requirements in detail. But I had the excitement levels and attention span of a young puppy, so I decided to post a job  straight away. This was probably my biggest mistake so far. In work I’m used to brainstorming with the tech guys, bouncing some ideas off them and getting feedback and suggestions from them. With the outsourcing proccess this doesn’t happen, especially when your developer doesn’t speak English as their first language.

The Job

For those of you interested (and because I want to make this process as open as possible so that it’s useful for people who might venture down this path in the future) here is what I posted on elance:


What I need

I need a Facebook application that lets users discuss events/topics in a twitter like feed. These “discussions” will be a page listing a thread of the 15 most recent posts. Each post can only contain 160 characters. The posts will be listed with the most recent post first. They will paginate after 15 posts. Each discussion can have up to 3 category tags which a user can add. Each discussion thread will also have a n event time – e.g. The discussion about “The Candidates Debate” could have an event time of 22/12/2008 at 8pm.


The hierarchy will be Main Page -> Category Tags -> Discussion Threads -> Posts


The style will be very simple. It should look very similar to the facebook look and feel. There should be a CSS file that controls the style of the applications. I have attached a rough outline of what the discussion thread page could look like, but would be interested to hear your feedback if you have design experience

Facebook integration

The application should use the Facebook users’ name as the default name (to appear with each post). Their avatar will by default be their profile picture. Users will have the ability to invite a friend to a discussion thread. When a user creates a new discussion this should create a feed entry. “{*actor*} has created a new discussion entitled….” I can create the feed templates if necessary.

User Experience

From the main page the user will see the following:

* My Discussions – with a history of their recent discussions (10 per page)

* Create a new discussion – The fields will be “Discussion Name” “Discussion time” “Category Tags” (up to 3 possible, but 1 necessary) and “Event Time”

* Upcoming events. This will have the next 5 discussions with the soonest event time

* Recent posts – The 5 discussion with the most recent posts

* Search – search for discussions by their category tags

* Browse by category – a link to all discussion threads ordered by category tags

* Browse by date – a link to all discussion threads ordered by “event date” – with the soonest showing at the top.

The discussion page will be something similar to the screenshot. There will also need to be a space in the sidebar for an advertisement.


This needs to be easily extended to other social networks in future. Although I don’t need specific things built to enable that, I would like this project to be built with that in mind – i.e. the database should not contain any Facebook only parts.


I also attached the following mock-screenshot. It reveals a lot about where I got my inspiration from (and also the fact that I have awesome MS Paint skillz)

A hideous mashup
A hideous mashup

A Real-Time-Micro-Social-Forum Application

January 2, 2009 in The Journey of a Facebook Application

This is part of a series of posts on the Journey of a Facebook Application.

I think that title bears repeating, I’m almost proud of it – A Real-Time-Micro-Social-Forum Application. That – expressed in the most buzzword filled description I could think of – is the application I’m going to build!

My Inspiration
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not overly creative. If this does slightly lack in originality (although I don’t think it does!) then I hope I’ll make up for it in hard work, tenacity…. yadda yadda so on and so forth. I’m not sure where the idea came from, but I know there have been a few services that have inspired my thinking on how I should go about implementing it:

1. Twitter – I like twitter. It’s the inspiration for the micro element. It’s great for connections, for sharing good links for discovering new things. One thing I’ve found it doesn’t do well is group chats. For every time I see an event being live tweeted, I see countless people complain about reams of commentary in their feed about an event that they’re not at, or a match that they’re not watching, or a TV show they’re not interested in etc.

2. Live Blogging – The answer to that twitter problem seems to be live blogging. But for the life of me, I just don’t get it! Admittedly, that’s probably just me. What I gather so far is that it’s one person posting updates of an event, with time stamps etc. If that’s the case, then I can definitely see it’s uses, e.g. I love reading the engadget or wired live updates from each Macworld event. But they’re a one way flow of information, usually from a journalist/blogger in an event. I can’t see how they work in a social/group discussion way. Again, maybe it’s just me missing a trick here.

3. Discussion Forums – Speaking of discussing Macworld, I found the best place to do this (live) last year was on That was my inspiration for the forum element of the application.

Put your hands together…
So with all this in mind I thought it would be really handy to have a place to chat about an event as it was happening, with twitter-esque sized comments. Twitter is great for what it does, but it’s centred around people and connections. This application will be centred around events.

If I’m being ambitious, which I guess I am, I would hope this application could be to discussion forums what twitter is to blogging. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still use forums for debates, discussions, analysis etc., but I think this application could be great for quick discussion and live commentary on events as they happen. A thread on a forum takes too long to trawl through when you want the conversation to be quick and free flowing (and half the conversation is taken up by witty and image filled signatures!)

The Use Case
I’m building this as a Facebook application (at first), for many reasons which I’ll explain in a late blog post, so the initial user experience will be something like this:

  1. I log into Facebook and go to this application
  2. I’m going to watch Barack Obama’s inauguration that night, but no one’s free to come over and watch it with me.
  3. So I set up a new event (micro-thread?), and call it “Barry’s Inauguration” and set the date – “19th Jan 2009”.
  4. I invite a few friends. Some more people browse to it (e.g. under the category “politics”) and maybe invite some of their friends.
  5. The event starts
  6. I say “So what do you think of this Rick Warren guy, a bit too bigoted for my liking”.
  7. People agree
  8. And the real-time-micro-social-forum is born!

So….. What do you think? Would you use it!?

A Fresh Start

January 2, 2009 in The Journey of a Facebook Application

This is part of a series of posts on the Journey of a Facebook Application.

There has been a fair bit of progress so far on this Facebook application that I decided to make (and blog about). It has been a month since my last blog post on the application (which is waaay too long) but there has been a few things going on that were just too boring to merit posting about!

A brief synopsis of the past few weeks:

  1. I tried to start building an application.
  2. I wanted it to be simple, so that I could build it myself, and so that I wouldn’t look like a fool trying to do something new or that I wasn’t capable of.
  3. I also wanted to do something basic so that I could talk about it openly here, but without the fear of someone stealing a “great idea” of mine.

The end result of all this was a boring idea, that no one would use, or bother reading or talking about (never mind trying to steal!). It also felt like I was building a Facebook Application so that I had something to blog about. That wasn’t what I wanted. What I want to do is work on an idea/ project/ plan/ application that I’m passionate about first and foremost.

So I scrapped all that.

I’ve now decided to go with an idea that I like. It’s something slightly too complicated for my very limited, self-taught, programming skills, so I’m going to try something I’ve never done before and outsource it (via elance).

I’m not sure if I’ve done enough research or put enough planning into this, but I’m going to dive in head first for fear of losing my motivation by overthinking it.

I didn’t intentionally time this post for today, but I guess it’s as good a day as any for a fresh start. I’ll consider this my kick-start to 2009 post too, and my predictions for the year ahead: that I’ll make a mess of this, but that it will be an interesting journey all the same!

Next post: I’ll try to explain – as best I can – the idea for the application, how it came about and how I hope to develop on it in the future

Some Background Info

November 29, 2008 in The Journey of a Facebook Application

This is part of a series of posts on the Journey of a Facebook Application

I’ll start with an apology! I thought I would have been able to post updates on this more frequently than I have, but I’ve just had a frantic week in work, so apologies to those of you who have been waiting on an update.

Also, welcome to all new subscribers – most of whom I’m presuming came from Damien’s Fluffy Link (thanks!)

Even though I haven’t had time to post about it, I did make some progress this week. I’ve picked an idea from the shortlist in my head and I’ve started thinking about how it might work. To pick the idea for this little experiment, I wanted to make an application that is:

  1. Simple – not necessarily the most original or innovative idea, but something that’s easy to explain and create
  2. Easy to understand (and blog about!)
  3. Social – i.e. something that makes good use of facebook, that helps friends connect or interact

Now that I have the idea in my head, I’m going to spend this evening and tomorrow registering the application name, looking at similar applications that exist and a few other small pieces of preperation.

More updates to follow!

The Journey of a Facebook Application

November 20, 2008 in The Journey of a Facebook Application

I’ve decided to make a Facebook Application. I’ve also decided that it might be fun to document the journey of a Facebook Application, from the idea popping into my head right the way through to launch and beyond!

I’ll blog about it every step of the way, so anyone who wants to read along should hopefully get a good insight into what a facebook application is, what’s involved in making one, what to expect if you decide to make one yourself, how I go about marketing it, how it spreads virally and a whole host of other questions that I have and hope to answer!

This won’t be the first Facebook application that I’ve made. I made one last year, mostly to test my abilities, (check it out here if you’re on facebook) so I’ll be employing some of the learnings I have from that in this project.

Right so, now I’m off to the drawing board. I have a few ideas floating around in my skull but I have to pick one. I’ll post again with a rough outline of the plan when I think it through.

Don’t forget to subscribe to follow along and get each post in your ibox or RSS reader… and wish me luck!