Sun 14 Feb 2010
I tend to ignore blogging trends, in fact I wouldn’t really go as far as to call myself a blogger, but this “Week Notes” trend could help me to work better and more efficiently so I thought I’d give it a go. The week numbers run from the time at which the company was incorporated and MKE Computing Ltd, the limited company I set up to handle my freelancing work, was setup on the 30th July 2008, hence week 81.
This could actually be the worst time for me to start something regular considering I’m actually going on holiday at the end of this week, but what the heck, it’s some content for my blog if nothing else!
So this week has been pretty busy, largely as I’m trying to wind things down for my holiday. Monday and Thursday afternoon I was in the offices of Moneyextra.com where I regularly do a few days work. My work there is generally PHP though has ranged from Perl through VB.net through to an iPhone app in the past. At the moment I’m working on a PHP-based back-office system that they’re doing for Carphone Warehouse. It’s actually based on OSCommerce which I think was last developed in 1973 (honestly, it feels that way) so is really outdated and can be a pain to extend.
My main focus this week and next was actually supposed to be to get lots of work done on my “start up” website mapme.at. I’m giving a talk at the end of March at the Where 2.0 conference and I’m really hoping to have some interesting things to talk about. The main things I was supposed to be doing is developing two iPhone apps to work with the site. One is focused around putting data in, the other more focussed on pulling it out in a unique and fun way. I’ve been having issues decided how to handle authentication though. If I put an app on the app store it’s quite likely that most people who download it have never heard of the site and won’t have an account. I’d like to do something really simple to handle creating an app, potentially even doing it silently in the background. I already use OAuth for the API and it would be possible to handle a signup step as part of that but the OAuth process is quite jarring to many users (the app has to quit, Safari launches and then you have to be sure to reload the app when the signup/login and authorisation has finished). One option would be to use Facebook Connect and automatically create a user linked to their Facebook credentials, this could also be confusing to many users and would require me to integrate facebook connect into mapme.at in general. I think I’ve decided to just stick to the OAuth method for now and to look at improving it once I’ve got an app that I can demo.
As part of looking at authentication though I decided to improve my existing OpenID support. My initial implementation was done in such a way that you could attach the same OpenID credentials to multiple accounts. I guess I thought that might be a useful feature but I think most people found it annoying as it meant that to log in, you had to enter your OpenID and your username, as mapme.at wasn’t using the OpenID as a unique identifier. I’ve now fixed this which should hopefully make things simpler. I’m also intending to reduce the number of fields you need to enter to create an account, but again I think I’ll wait until I’ve got some iPhone apps I can demo.
Something else that I’ve been considering for mapme.at and decided to implement this week is “place based check-ins”. Currently on mapme.at you either map yourself at an arbitrary latitude and longitude, or you create a “favourite” location and map yourself there. There was a few “global” favourites which I had added myself but generally you had to create a favourite manually or use some sort of logging app or API to log your location arbitrarilly. The new functionality means that mapme.at will give users access to a big database of existing shared places. This database, and improved UI on the site, will make it much easier to say “I’m in the supermarket” rather than “I’m at 53.415812,-2.921977″. I decided that having that functionality in place would vastly improve one of the iPhone apps so I decided to start working on it. It’s coming along really well, there’s still work to do but I think I’ll have it out in just a few more days.
On Friday I met up with some old friends, and met some new ones, for lunch. I had a good time and it was good to catch up and find out what others are up to in Liverpool but it did cut into my dev time on the new functionality.
Next week I’m hoping to spend at least another two days working on mapme.at. I’ve got some functionality to finish off for another client on Monday but apart from that it should be mapme.at until I got on holiday to Australia at the end of the week!