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Alan Lewis





Updated: 2011-01-06T14:08:49-08:00

 



eBay for iPhone - Why It Almost Didn't Happen

2011-01-07T11:02:19-08:00

eBay announced today that the sales through eBay mobile for 2010 hit 2 billion dollars, which translates to more than 200 million in revenue for the company. The majority of mobile activity comes from the eBay iPhone app, while the...eBay announced today that the sales through eBay mobile for 2010 hit 2 billion dollars, which translates to more than 200 million in revenue for the company. The majority of mobile activity comes from the eBay iPhone app, while the rest comes from the mobile website and apps on other platforms. eBay Mobile now represents one of the few bright spots for the company, but what is most amazing is that it almost didn't happen.  eBay has had mobile apps and a mobile web version for years. As little as 3 years ago, all mobile app development involved testing applications on dozens of different phones and negotiating distribution deals with carriers. The eBay mobile app strategy back then was to partner with Bonfire Media -- they had already written an app and eBay helped get them additional distribution deals and then took a percentage of the revenue (users had to actually pay for the app). As for the mobile website, it was a WAP site, which is the same as saying that it sucked. Of course these hurdles were too much for most users, and the amount of purchases flowing through either the website or the apps were not enough for eBay to publicly disclose any numbers. This all changed with the iPhone App Store. I was working in the "Disruptive Innovation" group at eBay, and when the App Store was announced that spring, I immediately applied for a developer license and was lucky enough to be in the first group of developers given access. As far as I could tell, no one else in the company had access yet, and I spent about 36 hours straight developing an eBay iPhone app prototype for an innovation content we were holding later that week. The app was just a prototype, but it did work - you could search all of eBay and browse your My eBay items, and because it used standard iOS components it looked great despite being thrown together in a very short time. The app impressed the judges and attendees when it was demoed at the innovation event - the iPhone SDK was so new that any custom app, let alone one that did something even modestly useful, was impressive. (One judge, Michael Arrington of Techcrunch, was so impessed that he actually approached me afterwards and proposed that we create a social networking app. We had set up a meeting, which he then cancelled after he saw a demo of Loopt, which had already built the app he wanted to build.) I kept working improving the prototype in my spare time, and met with the eBay Mobile team to discuss how we could get a real version of the app built. The team had previously decided to not invest in building out an iPhone app, and to instead focus on improving the mobile version of the website. Luckily, one of the product managers on the team, Ken Sun, did take the opportunity seriously and he took responbility for getting a contact at Apple and finding others who could work on the project - all in our "spare time", of course. There was exactly 1 person in the whole of eBay who seemed to have any development experience with Objective C, Rick Hoiberg, and he was overjoyed to get a chance to work on coding the backend. But it was clear that we would need help especially with the frontend, and our contact at Apple got us in touch with Critical Path - the same company who has continued to develop the majority of the eBay iPhone app ever since then, and which was just acquired by eBay.  With a small team of eBay employees and an outside development firm lined up, we had just weeks to create the application to get it done in time for the App Store launch. We were able to pull together an attractive, workable demo in time to get it demoed on stage at WWDC when the App Store was announced. (You can watch Ken and me demoing the app on stage). The importance of this event can not, I think, be overstated. Every company that built apps that appeared in the keynote worked extr[...]



New Mad Men Recipe Blog

2010-08-09T13:56:58-07:00

(Shameless plug) I've been helping out my girlfriend put together a blog for Mad Men inspired recipes. She is a professional chef and the recipes are awesome, so check it out!

(Shameless plug)

I've been helping out my girlfriend put together a blog for Mad Men inspired recipes. She is a professional chef and the recipes are awesome, so check it out!




Auctiva Marketplace Platform Launches

2010-02-01T06:31:11-08:00

I'm happy to announce that the Auctiva Marketplace Platform (AMP) is now live. AMP is the first developer platform that is build with the express purpose of allowing people to create online marketplaces. We also put out a press release...

I'm happy to announce that the (image) Auctiva Marketplace Platform (AMP) is now live. AMP is the first developer platform that is build with the express purpose of allowing people to create online marketplaces. We also put out a press release this morning to make it all official.

If you happen to be a developer, I'd love to get your feedback on the platform. Sign up and try out the APIs. What is missing? What features would you want to see? What kind of online marketplace would you want to build?

This project is what I've been working on since joining Auctiva last May, and I'm really proud of what the team in San Jose and Chico has accomplished. I haven't blogged at all since joining Auctiva (since joining Ning actually) but for any readers who might find this entry I'm happy to answer any questions you have about the platform on this post (leave a comment) or on the AMP Google group




Alan Lewis Has Joined Auctiva

2009-06-15T14:55:03-07:00

I am happy to report that I have recently joined Auctiva as their Platform Manager. Auctiva has been in the business of providing software and services for eBay sellers for a decade, and I'll be leading their new effort to...

I am happy to report that I have recently joined Auctiva as their Platform Manager. Auctiva has been in the business of providing software and services for eBay sellers for a decade, and I'll be leading their new effort to build a platform that powers new services for sellers off-eBay.

Why join Auctiva? Here are just a few of the many reasons:

  • I have known many of the people who work here for many years, and I really respect what they have accomplished in building the company to where it is.
  • Auctiva has a vision for online commerce that I can get behind. If I ever get back on the blogging horse in a serious way I will have much more to say about this vision, but in brief, Auctiva is building a powerful platform that will enable many new, uniques way to connect buyers and sellers.
  • The people who work here are humble, and are willing to admit mistakes and reverse course quickly. Auctiva was recently forced by eBay policy changes to start charging for some services that were previously free. The original pricing that we came up with was a mistake -- too complicated, and too costly for many sellers. So we changed it, and every indication from our users is that this time we have got it right. Of course you hope to get things right the first time as often as you can, but any company will make mistakes, and what one of the things that makes a company great is how it acts to recognize and fix those mistakes.
  • Auctiva has a very flat organizational structure. At Auctiva I am reporting directly to CEO Jeff Schlicht (and most other people in the company are also no more than 2 or 3 levels removed). This contrasts with a previous employer where the CEO was (no exaggeration) my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss.

Although my new role is focused on Auctiva's off-eBay projects, I will be working on some eBay projects as well. I will be attending eBay's developer conference this week (which is literally being held down the street from Auctiva's new San Jose office) and I look forward to catching up with my eBay developer community colleagues who I have met over the years. I'll be sporting my new bright blue Auctiva shirt, so give me a holler if  you see me.




Mozilla Weave -- Towards a User-Centric Internet

2009-02-24T12:14:08-08:00

I recently got an invite to the Mozilla Weave alpha, and after playing around with it for a while I can say that this product has a chance to be a very big disruptive force on the Internet. The features...I recently got an invite to the Mozilla Weave alpha, and after playing around with it for a while I can say that this product has a chance to be a very big disruptive force on the Internet. The features provided by Weave are modest right now. It offers bookmark, history, and tab syncing, and of these features only bookmark syncing seemed to be working correctly. Other features set to be released in future versions, such as cookie, password, and, most exciting of all, extension syncing, have the potential to make Weave much more useful. So why am I so excited about Weave, especially considering that production-quality extensions like Foxmarks already offer the same features as the current version of Weave? I'm excited because Weave has the potential to shift the balance of power away from the large Internet services and back to the user. Like many users, I gave up using browser bookmarks many years ago because I was using more than one computer on a regular basis. I started using del.icio.us, and then switched to Google Bookmarks. While I gained some useful features by using these services, I was at the same time handing my data over to a third party, relying on their good will and the strength of their security systems to keep my data private. Weave is different -- because user data is encrypted, when the data is uploaded to a Weave server, the data can still only be accessed by the user who first encrypted it. So even if Mozilla wanted to access the data (or if there were a security breach and someone stole it), user data remains safe. More importantly, even if the data were to be subpoenaed, it would remain unreadable by a third party. Of course this puts the onus of security on the client, but since Weave is open source, you don't simply have to trust the creator's word that the client-side encryption is secure. You don't just have to be a security spook to be excited about Weave, though. I'm very interested in the possibilities for third-party applications that could be built using Weave. The hard part of building a web application is scaling it. What if you could build a web app that used Weave to store and sync all the user data instead of building out your own backend servers to do the same thing? Right now the best alternative out there to building your own backend infrastructure is to use services like Amazon S3. But again, this centralizes too much data with very few service providers. Building apps that leverage Weave would keep user data close to the user, where it belongs. There are significant challenges that face Weave if it is to be a success. The project creators have spent much of the last year building a scalable infrastructure, and the alpha users are eagerly awaiting completion of the basic feature set that was promised when the project was first announced. The emphasis on security necessarily impacts the user experience. Not only will users have to get used to "signing in" to their browser, but they will also have to understand what is the difference between a "password" (authenticate the user with Mozilla) and a "pass phrase" (encrypt/decrypt user data). With enough testing and design iterations, Weave could be made acceptable to mainstream users, but it will take time and effort to do so. [...]



The eBay Article You Must Read

2008-10-16T08:17:07-07:00

With all the press last week about eBay's big layoffs you may have missed the best article on eBay I have ever seen written in the mainstream press. Instead of regurgitating the layoff press release, the article digs into the...With all the press last week about eBay's big layoffs you may have missed the best article on eBay I have ever seen written in the mainstream press. Instead of regurgitating the layoff press release, the article digs into the cultural issues that are at the root of eBay's malaise. The author, Victoria Barret, pinpoints the consultant mindset that permeates the company as being at fault for much of the current problems, and I heartily concur. I was one of the senior managers on the "eBay 3.0" team that the article mentions, and through that process I got to see first hand how dysfunctional eBay had become. When the team presented our ideas to the executives, John Donahoe said that it was his "best day at eBay so far." After the presentations, the marketing group, which had championed eBay 3.0 to begin with, based the entire 2007 advertising campaign around the ideas put forth. But some within the product group never really bought into it and it was those individuals who, I suspect, ensured that the budget allocated for eBay 3.0 product changes never materialized. The eBay 3.0 team handed executives a roadmap, one they said was great, but they chose to continue on the same meandering, directionless path as before. Products still were built by consultants after pouring over reams of data, but data can't tell you what is going to happen -- that takes insight, intuition, and courage. The Forbes article also includes a great quote from a "former strategist," who says: "eBay is run by smart people who don't use eBay and spend hours debating the data about how other people use eBay." I can attest for the truth of this statement, and I think it is absolutely damning. When walking the halls at headquarters, you used to see cubicles decked out with stuff bought on eBay. Not anymore. Indeed, one of the most elaborate such decorations, a 4 foot long eBay logo made out of Legos, is currently being auctioned off on the site by an employee who was laid off last week. Where has the eBay spirit gone? The biggest single cause is that eBay has, over the last few years, increasingly relied on outsourced developers (who rotate into San Jose on shifts) and H1B employees. These are good people, but because of the temporary nature of their work at eBay there is less reason to become emotionally involved in the company. There is also no effort to instill eBay culture into the employee base (including contractors and outsourced workers). For too many at eBay, working there is just a job. One of the ideas that I had voiced many times was to add each employee's eBay user ID in the company web directory. When eBay bought Skype, it added everyone's Skype ID to the directory, making the omission of eBay IDs all the more striking. This small change would give those who don't use the site nowhere to hide (and come to think of it, eBay IDs should probably be added to public announcement board posts too). "Oh, Bob, I see you haven't sold anything for six months... are you sure that the changes you are suggesting to the SYI page are a good idea?" Working at eBay without using the site is like being a chef who won't eat what they cook. I agree with much of eBay's current strategy. The investments in trust and safety are long overdue, and growing the fixed price inventory available through eBay makes sense. But the eBay website user experience is still terrible. There is no product visionary in a leadership position at the company - no person who has the knowledge and the ability to look at the day to day process and say "this sucks!" and then follow through to fix it. There is no one person who can manage the user experience in its entirety and say "no!" to dribbling out changes week after week. A st[...]



Blogging from my phone

2008-07-11T17:28:38-07:00

I've been trying out iPhone apps for the last day and a half now, including the typepad app that I'm using to write this post. The quality of the apps is quite good. Now that I'm no longer under NDA...

I've been trying out iPhone apps for the last day and a half now, including the typepad app that I'm using to write this post. The quality of the apps is quite good. Now that I'm no longer under NDA I can actually give my unfettered opinion about the SDK (high level thoughts: it is good but with a very steep learning curve). Maybe I'll post more often since I can now do it from my phone...




eBay iPhone App Shown at WWDC

2008-06-10T22:27:11-07:00

The past few months I've been on a crazy project to create an eBay application for the iPhone, and until yesterday, I wasn't allowed to talk about it. I got the unique opportunity to demo onstage at an Apple event,...

The past few months I've been on a crazy project to create an eBay application for the iPhone, and until yesterday, I wasn't allowed to talk about it. I got the unique opportunity to demo onstage at an Apple event, and I ran the demo while Ken from the eBay mobile team did the presentation. I'm still not allowed to say much about the application, but I wanted to post some initial thoughts on it while I'm still coming down from the post-keynote high.

This is the first eBay mobile application that I actually use, and I am pretty picky. The platform that it is built on has much to do with why the application is so good, and why we were able to build it so quickly. Many people I spoke to at the show were very excited to get to use the application, and the fact that it will be FREE should make it very attractive to any current or potential eBay user.

I am pretty impressed with the iPhone SDK (again, not allowed to say much about it). Before creating the prototype, I had no experience with Objective C or Cocoa, and I was able to hack something together very quickly.

Note that I am still product manager for eBay Desktop. To get the iPhone project done the team of developers and designers worked in their "spare time" to get it done, and now that the demo is done I'll be going back to work on the next release of eBay Desktop.

Finally, here are some links with additional info on the app:




eBay Desktop 1.0 is out. Whew.

2008-02-24T21:31:09-08:00

I just pushed the 1.0 version of eBay Desktop live. You really should go get it. It is free, and it is the coolest thing since, well, ebay.com. And as if that weren't enough, I've started a new blog (because,...

I just pushed the 1.0 version of eBay Desktop live. You really should go get it. It is free, and it is the coolest thing since, well, ebay.com. And as if that weren't enough, I've started a new blog (because, you know, I'm so good at keeping my own blog up to date) over at http://desktop.ebay.com/blog. Subscribe to that in order to keep up to date with eBay Desktop related stuff. I promise to keep it to a minimum here from now on. Maybe.

I have been working on this along with my peeps at Effective UI since July of 2006, making this by far the longest project I've ever worked on.

FYI - I find my IT setup right now quite ridiculous. I'm in a hotel in San Francisco for the night so that I don't have to commute up at rush hour to get to the Adobe Engage event where I'm speaking. In order to push the files live to the server I'm connected over VPN to the eBay network, then I have to remote desktop into a server that is physically located within the eBay network and then from that server I connect to the file server in order to push the release live. All to send some 1s and 0s around.

-Alan




Adobe - Go All In on Open Source!

2007-12-13T19:31:34-08:00

Earlier this week I was on a panel at the Adobe Sales Conference, an internal event attended by 1,000+ Adobe sales and marketing people. The panel was to discuss "marketing to developers", and the discussion was, I heard after its...

Earlier this week I was on a panel at the Adobe Sales Conference, an internal event attended by 1,000+ Adobe sales and marketing people. The panel was to discuss "marketing to developers", and the discussion was, I heard after its conclusion, helpful to those who attended.

During the panel I was asked by the moderator, "what advice do you have for Adobe?" My reply was that Adobe should stop sitting on the fence regarding open source. I followed up my answer with an acknowledgement that I didn't think that those in the audience were necessarily the ones who had the ability to make that decision, but that they could perhaps influence those within Adobe who do have that responsibility.

I was glad to see the announcement that Adobe is open sourcing part of LifeCycle as BlazeDS and even more importantly is publishing the specification for the Flash binary data format, AMF. These are important steps, and along with the recent moves to open source Flex and standardize the PDF format, they show an increased acceptance of open source within Adobe.

But it's not enough. To gain the trust of the open source community, Adobe needs to open source the Flash Player and publish specifications for the SWF format. Only then will it have a chance of winning over this key constituency as the battle against Microsoft heats up. Sun waited much too long to open source Java (with a real open source license, that is). If it had done so in 2001 instead of 2006 it may blunted the rise of PHP as the web environment of choice.

So, Adobe, buddy, good work. You're almost there.

Note: These opinions are mine and not necessarily those of my employer.




Interview on eBay Desktop

2007-11-19T12:38:11-08:00

I did an interview with a website usability blog last week. It is pretty lengthy, and I go into depth on a number of topics. If you are interested in learning more about how eBay Desktop was created, you may...

I did an interview with a website usability blog last week. It is pretty lengthy, and I go into depth on a number of topics. If you are interested in learning more about how eBay Desktop was created, you may find it interesting: http://www.usablemarkets.com/?p=152




OpenSocial - It's Just a Widget Container

2007-11-08T19:05:47-08:00

I had a big, grand post planned out - I was going to dig into both the strategy and technical issues behind OpenSocial. Unlike those who proclaimed "Checkmate" based off of nothing but the PR hype, I was going to...

I had a big, grand post planned out - I was going to dig into both the strategy and technical issues behind OpenSocial. Unlike those who proclaimed "Checkmate" based off of nothing but the PR hype, I was going to astound the blogging world with my insights and biting criticism. I even had a clever Saturday Night Live inspired title picked out: "OpenSocial is Neither Open Nor Social: Discuss"

Then I found that Dare Obasanjo and Tim O'Reilly had already done it for me.

Basically, there are two problems that I'll summarize here:

  • OpenSocial doesn't give most developers what they want, which is the ability to mash up data from multiple social networks in order to create something greater than the sum of its parts.
  • The APIs exposed are woefully inadequate. So you get access to a friend list, and the friend object contains a name, updated date, link to profile, and link to picture. Umm... Thanks? Anything beyond that needs to be specified as a custom extension to the schema. This is going to make it really hard on developers to create applications that work in more than one OpenSocial container. Translation: a MySpace app isn't going to work out of the box in LinkedIn, unless it only loosely integrated into the social network.

With these limitations, most OpenSocial apps are destined to be nothing more than glorified widgets - widgets that have the ability to spam your friends. Is that what we all want?

Note: these opinions are my own, and not necessarily those of my employer.




eBay Desktop Public Beta Now Available

2007-10-01T08:47:17-07:00

The project formerly known as "San Dimas" is now available in public beta: eBay Desktop launches in public beta today. Anyone can download eBay Desktop for free. eBay Desktop is, well, eBay on your desktop. You can use eBay Desktop...

The project formerly known as "San Dimas" is now available in public beta: eBay Desktop launches in public beta today. Anyone can download eBay Desktop for free.

eBay Desktop is, well, eBay on your desktop. You can use eBay Desktop instead of the website to search, browse, bid, watch items, read and write messages -- most everything that you use the eBay website for to buy stuff. eBay Desktop also goes beyond the web experience through features like desktop alerts (for when items are ending or when you get outbid) and favorite search feeds, which let you spot when items are listed that match one of your searches.

(image)

We've made a number of improvements since the private beta (besides changing the name, of course). The number one piece of feedback from users was "make it more about me." We took this to heart and have completely revamped the home screen to put more information about your eBay activity up front. We've made significant performance and memory-usage improvements, and more will be coming soon. The alerts feature now works even when the application window is closed -- eBay Desktop will optionally keep running in the background so that you can get notified when you are outbid.

Remember when it used to be possible to browse on eBay? Well we wanted to leverage the power of the desktop to make browsing on eBay workable again. On the home screen you can drill-down into the categories, all without refreshing.

My favorite new feature is search feeds. eBay has offered favorite searches for a long time, but unless you enjoy getting emails containing your favorite searches, they have been of limited use. Now in eBay Desktop you can access your existing favorite searches or create new ones, and view those lists of items as "feeds" just like you would in an RSS reader. In this view you can see if an item is new, and you can delete items that you aren't interested in.

Download eBay Desktop, and let me know what you think. Feel free to contact me directly (see link in the sidebar) and the application has a built in feature request and bug report widget.




5 Lessons Learned from Working with AIR

2007-07-16T14:34:52-07:00

This morning I presented a talk at the Adobe On Air Los Angeles tour stop. My presentation was called "Lessons Learned from Developing on AIR." Although Adobe AIR has only been publicly available in beta for a short time, Project...This morning I presented a talk at the Adobe On Air Los Angeles tour stop. My presentation was called "Lessons Learned from Developing on AIR." Although Adobe AIR has only been publicly available in beta for a short time, Project San Dimas, which is built on AIR, of course, has been in development for over a year, and both San Dimas and AIR have come a long way. Here is a summary of the talk: Overview San Dimas started out as a prototype, intended to show off eBay's web services and Adobe's client technology. Since web services are difficult to demonstrate visually, we often like to show applications that use our web services, to show some of the possibilities. At the same time as we were exploring this demo opportunity with Adobe, they told us about an exciting new client platform they were developing called "Apollo." Given that the plan was to show the first demos of Apollo at Adobe MAX '06, we jumped at the opportunity to develop "something cool" on Apollo, although we didn't know at the time what we would end up building. We didn't have much time, and we hastily assembled a team from eBay and EffectiveUI (a development and design company highly recommended to us by Adobe) to work on the project. The initial team size was very small - just 3 people, and even now we have kept the team very small, expanding so far only to 7. We presented the first prototype at MAX, which was very well received. Since the team has been continually developing and designing the prototype into a full eBay desktop application, with features including search, bidding, My eBay, history, and alerts; and with a design fully customized to take advantage of the artistic freedom made possible by AIR. Here are 5 lessons I've learned in the process of working with AIR: Lesson 1: Start with a good foundation While San Dimas has a radically different UI from the eBay website, it is not something that has been built totally from scratch. eBay's web services platform has been in development since 1999, and San Dimas uses those web services exclusively to connect to eBay's backend systems. We've had to make zero changes to our web services thusfar to support San Dimas. If we had, it would have put the project schedule at serious risk (and believe me, there was enough risk already as it was). If you are starting out developing an AIR application, I recommend that you consider an SOA or web services architecture - this will ensure you don't tie yourself too closely to one type of client, whether that be browser-based, desktop, or something else. Lesson 2: Design takes a long time We spent 3 months developing the prototype that was shown at MAX, and of that time, 6 weeks was spent on design, before we started coding. AIR offers lots of freedom, and because of this you may find yourself having a hard time deciding on a design for your application. You could apply existing web design paradigms, but this may not lead to an optimal user experience. Lesson 3: Betas are really useful San Dimas has been in beta for just over a month, and in that short time we've had thousands of users sign up for the beta, and hundreds give us feedback on feature requests or bugs. Launching "beta" web sites or applications to generate early buzz is in vogue, but I've learned already through our beta that they are well worth the time and effort, assuming that you intend on actually listening to your beta users, and are prepared to change your plans if what they are telling y[...]



Speaking at OnAIR in Seattle

2007-07-06T15:55:54-07:00

I'll be at the OnAIR tour stop in Seattle on Tuesday, July 10th, speaking about San Dimas. If you are a developer/programmer/web technology enthusiast type person, you may want to attend the event. Why? Its free, you'll learn lots of...

I'll be at the OnAIR tour stop in Seattle on Tuesday, July 10th, speaking about San Dimas. If you are a developer/programmer/web technology enthusiast type person, you may want to attend the event. Why? Its free, you'll learn lots of great stuff about AIR, there will be food and video games.

If you want to attend, be sure to register on the site (required, even though the event is free).