If I’m honest I can’t really tell you where the inspiration for Lobaco came from. Sure the idea itself is pretty simple (what’s going on there?) but I can’t really tell you what place or event first inspired me. The pursuit of the idea itself is much easier as it basically comes down to my inner dialog that constantly shouts put up or shut up at the back of my head and I felt hypocritical telling people to aggressively pursue their goals if I myself didn’t do the same thing. The 3 redesigns and one renaming Lobaco have much more solid roots having all stemmed from taking a break from developing and then taking a fresh look at the work I was doing.
Most of the inspiration came from a conscious desire to improve the product. In an effort to duplicate what I currently perceived as success many of the changes came from me taking ideas from places like Twitter and Foursquare and wrangling them into my product. Some of these ideas worked quite well like the UI redesign that took some serious cues from Twitter (large post box in the middle of the screen, 3 column layout) and others like the achievement service which mirrored Foursquare’s badge system (only has one unlockable, First Post!) proved to be a whole lot of effort for not a whole lot of gain. If you’re one of the brave souls testing the iPhone client (you can sign up here) you’ll notice that the latter feature is completely absent, for that exact reason.
Unconsciously however I believe I was thinking that Lobaco would end up being the platform upon which location based communication would be done. Sure many of the design decisions I made like making the API RESTful and JSON based were to increase cross-platform compatibility but ultimately I knew that the real power was being a platform, and even blogged to that effect. Whilst I don’t believe Lobaco suffered unduly because of this I hadn’t really considered the influence that outside forces were having on me subconsciously until 4chan creator Christopher “moot” Poole said this:
One of the biggest startup cliches is that every other startup wants to become a platform for other startups to build on. But to Christopher Poole, the founder of Canvas and 4Chan, that is the wrong approach. “People get caught up in trends—game mechanics, building a platform,” he tells Chris Dixon in the Founder Stories video above. Instead of trying to copy what works for others, founders should “focus on building what you love, focus on the product and building the community.”
He doesn’t understand “this obsession with building platforms. Focus on building something worth scaling. You don’t even have something worthy of an API yet. Focus on users and have them fall in love with your thing.” Amen.
Indeed many of the ideas I had emulated in Lobaco were done because I saw other successful companies doing them and figured that they would work for me as well. In reality I would have been much better served by focusing on the core product, refining the idea to the point where its utility was obvious to anyone. Since the idea was hinged on the idea of localized information I probably should have done things backwards, getting the core handset product right before attempting to bring it onto the web. That would have forced me to cut all of the fat out of the application, lest I create a cluttered and useless handset experience.
No matter how hard you try to fight it you will always be influenced by your experiences and for an information junkie like myself this meant that the service I was building emulated those which I considered most successful. My latest endeavor (which shall remain a secret, for now) is already showing signs of this kind of influence but I’m at least taking the lessons learned from Lobaco and applying them aggressively. I’m hoping this current project will be the fast track to self-sustainability that I’ve been hungering after for almost 2 years now and hopefully the time spent in the trenches for Lobaco will pay dividends in bringing this project to fruition.
I remember when sensing motion was one of those things that you just couldn’t do without a lot of work and a decent amount of hardware. I dabbled in it a while ago managing to make a program that could control Winamp by waving your hands about in a certain area¹. However since Nintendo decided to foray into this world with the Wii console it seems everyone has been busy falling over themselves to somehow integrate motion detection technology into their console. Sony quickly slapped the sixaxis controller together but it seemed like Microsoft was keen to take a back seat on this one. That was until they announced Project Natal doing away with controllers completely, akin to the Playstation Eye range of products but much more advanced. Sony also announced another attempt at the motion control market recently, however the details on it are a little sparse.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love new approaches to existing problems (inputdev being a very interesting field in itself) however I’ve found the novelty value in these kinds of things wears off pretty quickly. We had a Wii in my sharehouse the day it came out and I can tell you for the next couple weeks we were hooked on the thing. Everything from Wii sports through to creating many Mii characters (if you ever see DiscoStalin running around on your Wii, that was one of my creations) was met with hours upon hours of game play. But then we got tired of it and I really haven’t played the Wii seriously since. Maybe I’ve just grown out of the niche that Nintendo is marketing to but I can’t help but feel that these types of games have a market that, whilst large, is transitive and will move on once the novelty of motion controlled gaming wears off.
There is however a happy little niche for these kinds of control mechanisms and thats firmly within the casual gaming market. If you’re a gamer and you try to get your non-gamer pals in on something you’ll often find yourself explaining the control system for about 5 to 10 minutes before you can get on and play. The motion based systems are a step towards removing that gap, although if the Wii is any indication the intuitive movement for an action might not be the one the console recognises, leaving you flailing madly to get it to work. The sport games do quite well in this regard, since they mimic the real thing.
For the current generation of loyal gamers who started off with the keyboard and mouse and slowly worked their way through the various controller options that the console makers threw at us I think the majority will prefer your stock standard method of interfacing. If we want to get up and jump around we’ll go and do that but for the most part when we play our games we’re either hunched over the computer or lazing on the couch with a controller, and that’s part of the appeal. There are some notable exceptions to this rule, like Light Sabers on the Wii, but overall I think the handheld controller is here to stay for a long time, just like the computer mouse.
¹Since I’m sure some people would love to see this thing in action I’ve uploaded the source and a compiled version of it here. The way it works is you start up the WebCam.exe first (located in the WebCam\Bin\Debug folder) and then hit the Generate Process List button. This will then populate the left most dropdown box with a list of all the windows it can target. Select the window that corresponds to Winamp (should be either Winamp or the name of the song currently playing). This will then populate the rightmost dropdown with a number, don’t change it as it won’t work otherwise.
Once you’ve done that hit the start button, now if everything’s working out (seems to work on Windows7 fine) you’ll get a picture from your webcam. You might want to move it back a bit from you so your hands don’t take up too much of the picture (the top of the picture is split into 5 parts). Once you’re ready to give it a go hit the Motion Detetion mode button, and you’ll notice a whole lot of funny boxes tracking your every move, neato isn’t it?
Now you see the boxes at the top of the application? Those are the keys that correspond to the 5 sections of the top of the image your webcame sees. These have been autoprogrammed for the Winamp default, but you can change them if you’re using say a different MP3 player or you want to control something else. Anyway, start waving your hand at the top of the screen. You’ll notice a bar filling up (probably several since it takes a little practice to use), once that reaches the top it will then send the key for that area to the program you choose. Voila you’ve controlled Winamp by flailing around in front of a webcam, amazing!
Just to give you an idea of what it looks like here’s me using it:
Told you I’d give you something interesting today.