Ryan Carson – 14 Things I Wish I Had Known

Ryan Carson is the Future of Web Applications conference organizer and he spoke about what he wish he had known before starting his online ventures, Hey Amigo, Drop Send, and Think Vitamin. Ryan started his session by saying, “We built three web applications, the first one we don’t talk about.” Here are the 14 things Ryan wished he had known before he started his applications. Hopefully they will help you, if you didn’t already now them. Before I begin I should not that his advice sounds more appropriate from small teams, not multinational conglomerates.

1. Ryan recommends working with people in the same time zone. Ryan said that if you don’t work with someone in your time zone you will spend time on the phone when you should be sleeping. Ryan lives in the UK so this might be good advice for him. For people that live in the continental United States or Canada working with people anywhere from Eastern to Pacific Time zone should be fine.

2. Use one user database. Ryan mentions this because his outfit developed several online services, each with its own user database.

3. The third piece of advice sounds like the second, Ryan recommends you use one e-commerce system. In general, when using third party software or services find the right partner and stick with them. Using, learning, and integrating multiple e-commerce systems is not the right use of your time.

4. Ryan disagreed with Kevin Rose on having developers also hack together the UI. Ryan’s background is as a web designer so obviously he would recommend hiring a pro front end XHTML/CSS developer.

5. As a web application developer you obsess with features and functionality. Ryan thinks that you should obsess about your website’s copy. Since web applications don’t come in a nice shrink wrap or with anything physical that can give users a sense of satisfaction, your content, design, and text should give them that warm, fresh, and trust worthy feeling. People skim at 60 mph, design your site for that and catch your users attention.

6. Work with top-notch hardware partners. When working with partners have a list of support resources before you need it. Echoing Cal Henderson, Ryan suggests to plan for maintenance. When it comes to hardware don’t be special, work with off the shelve components for which there is a lot of development and support resources.

7. Not really a technology related advice but Ryan suggested that it is always a good idea to not cut corners. As we all know, trying to save ten or fifteen minutes with a hack can eventually cost days of man-hours.

8. Again echoing Cal Henderson of Flickr, Ryan suggest that once you go live with a web application you measure performance, activity, and usage. Ryan recommends you measure what feature uses are using, which features they are not. If you don’t know why users aren’t active, you can’t fix it.

9. According to Ryan, when building a web application, you are not done when you launch. If you are contracting out the work to offsite/offshore developers be clear to clarify with them what happens are the launch. Make sure you understand how much a new feature or update is going to cost you once you launch.

10. Even before the web application is code complete you need to work out the details such as FAQ and help sections, spell check, testing the e-commerce system, etc.

11. The eleventh point made by Ryan was a few quick tips. Ryan recommends that you make easily available logos, screenshots, and contact details for the press. Use a monthly CSV file for invoices. Add an About Us page so that user can get a hold of you (they want to know that real people are involved, put phone number, contact, photo, build trust). Make contact easy.

12. Add a ton of stuff to your FAQ/Support.

13. Be nice to nasty customers. Ryan said that you could disarm and convert angry user to paying customer by just “I’m sorry…”

14. For the last piece of advice he wished he had known before building a web application, Ryan quoted other speakers… Ryan said that the first, and maybe even the second, version are always throwaways. Marketing and promotion can be a full time job; if you build it you need to promote it before they will come. User’s can be trusted; you don’t have to validate an email to have users start using your system.

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