Monday 15 March 2010

Read all about it - we are exiting the recession

My primary source of news nowadays is Google Reader which I have configured to pull news stories from all the sources I feel publish content relevant to me and The Hatchery. Last week I noticed a change that made me think - can we use the news to quickly predict economic fluctuations?

Well of Course You Say

The aforementioned statement may sound silly and obvious but the simplicity of the indicator I am referring to struck me as slightly different. On Saturday morning I opened Google Reader to find 486 unread news articles. Wow. On average, the number of unread articles I receive every morning is somewhere between 200 and 280, but on Saturday (and ever since), that number has more than doubled.

After reading (or at least scanning) them all over the past 3 days, I can say that I am struck by the amount of positivity in many of the articles and blog posts. The underlying sentiment is not as dreary and filled with doom and gloom outlooks and predictions. Can we deduce that we might be seeing a turning point? Could the most simplistic economic indicator be the number of news articles published across a random selection of sources?

The Indicator

In the past it was pretty difficult to determine the quantity of news published by multiple sources. One might have noticed a slightly thinner newspaper or fewer ads in print, but generally the comparisons we could draw were limited to a single source and their historical track record. Google Reader throws that limitation out of the window and I for one am excited by the insight I feel it provides.

The economic indicator I believe I may have stumbled upon needs context - like all other useful indicators. For example, approximately 60% of my news comes from Silicon Valley or the USA and another 10% from South Africa. So a rise in the number of articles or improvement in general sentiment may be just that - general; and may only be relevant to the region(s) in which the majority of one's news articles are published.

What do you think? Until the economies of the world have recovered and an approximate turning point identified, can this potentially be used as a simple indicator?

Monday 8 March 2010

Offshore Development - Where are the landmines?

Choosing an offshore design and / or development company over a specialist agency based in the UK can potentially save thousands of pounds; but unless you have the expertise to manage the remote team and the technical know-how to perform adequate QA on the delivered product you may be setting yourself up for failure and wasted expense.

Benefits of Offshoring

  1. Price. Hiring developers in India, China or South Africa can be significantly cheaper. On average we have found offshore development to cost 30% less than hiring staff in London to do the job, but some of that saving is offset by the cost of a suitable project manager with technical know-how to ensure the offshoring process saves, rather than costs, money.
  2. A full team instead of just one resource. Most offshore companies now offer customers pricing based on time spread across multiple resources. You might get a part time project manager, full time developer, part time designer and test specialist in a package that is attractively priced. This is great. In fact, it is vitally important, but the benefit is negated if you use a specialist web design / development agency in London as their team will provide the same benefit - and often with more experienced, value adding resources that have a good understanding of your target market.

Disadvantages of Offshoring

  1. Timezone Differences A 5 hour (or so) time difference with India might not seem like a problem but adding up the delays in communication across an entire project development lifecycle can easily double the expected time required to deliver a completed product. You will be required to sign off on deliverables on a regular basis and any delays in that sign off will directly impact on the delivery date. Make sure you can afford slippages in your product or site launch or plan according to the likelihood that timezone differences will cause slippages.
  2. Language Difficulties Adequately communicating requirements and managing a project from start to finish with native, English-speaking developers and designers is a challenge at the best of times. Doing this with limited-English speaking teams can be a nightmare.
  3. Consistency Many offshore companies rotate resources between projects and one can quite easily receive a project that only just hangs together in both design and code consistency. While your website or product may appear to do the job, it is vital that you look under the hood and make sure the delivered project is reasonably constructed and easy to maintain. Our experience is that often this is not the case.
  4. International Experience Many designers and developers in the commonly used offshore countries have little or no international work experience. We regularly undertake projects that are fundamentally unfit for purpose but only because the designer or developer didn't understand the market in which the product or website was to be used. A good example of this comes in the form of e-commerce websites. The rules and requirements governing e-commerce (and in particular, payment processing) in the UK can be quite different to other countries, and often those requirements are overlooked and therefore render an offshore project useless - especially if maintaining or changing the code provided by the offshore company is a mess.
  5. Lack of Professionalism There is also a definite difference in professionalism between in-country and offshore providers. Ensure that you match the right resource with your requirements and don't just accept the offshore provider's recommendations. It really will help to have a specialist project manager consult locally to help you navigate the technical jargon that is thrown your way.

I have highlighted a few of the obvious benefits of offshoring your next design / development project and mentioned a few of the mines you need to avoid if you decide to do so.

If price is your only consideration then dealing with the risks associated with offshoring won't worry you too much. If quality, maintainability and time are your most important considerations then our suggestion is that you manage the risk of offshoring by contracting an experienced, local, technical consultant with experience of the process and project requirements to get the job done properly.

If offshoring isn't for you then contact us ( for an all-inclusive package that is affordable, unique and professional.

Monday 1 March 2010

The Confusion Virus

As a child I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. As an adult, I still don't, and I believe this confusion virus is spreading like wildfire. The media (all types), big business, Universities (perhaps even schools) and now social media breathe the virus into all of us...and I wonder if anyone is working on a cure? Is this a virus without a cure? Is it a virus that does more good than harm?

We read about headline success stories, the 'one in a million' person that achieves something incredible, and we can almost taste it for ourselves. Should we do what they did?...we can do that...we should do that! We are constantly comparing and moulding ourselves to a benchmark that doesn't exist - at least not outside our own minds and the media frenzy.

On observation, in business it seems that the new form of entrepreneurship is not about setting up a physical store or offering an on-site service, but rather doing something on the Internet and something for ourselves...and our benchmark for success is presented by the media in headlines, by Universities in case studies and in social media by word of mouth. We believe we don't have to sell because the internet is so big it sells itself; we believe it is easier working from home than commuting to work every morning; we believe that raising $10 million for our business is just a matter of time; we believe all the millionaires in the headlines achieved their success with little or no help; we believe it is all too easy. We are confused by the signals of mass media and the reality of life.

Last night, Canada beat the USA in the ice hockey final at the Olympics 3-2 in overtime. Their victory was stunning and deserved but the headlines only reflect the glory, not the blood, sweat and tears that have got the team to that point in history. The headlines make us focus on Crosby and propel him disproportionately ahead of all the other players, as if he was the only person on the team. The problem with the virus I am writing about is that it blurs our vision and doesn't allow us to appreciate the full picture.

I have seldom been one to compete with anyone else for status, money, and possessions (a rare character trait my Dad has blessed me with) but I would be lying if I said that it isn't a struggle to avoid doing so. In my life, the confusion virus presents as a different strain. I haven't been led to believe that I deserve or need what others have, but I have been buoyed into believing that anything is possible and why should I not do the best I possibly can to achieve wealth and material riches? Without this belief I know that progress in the world is unachievable; but with it, I wonder how many people are struggling to provide? many marriages are crumbling under the pressures of debt?...and how many heart attacks and strokes are induced by the realities of failure?

Are we on a collision course with reality or can we concentrate our energies sufficient enough to realise that life and all it's rewards demand dedication, single-mindedness, and all the other strong character traits?...and what of the softer traits - selflessness, sincerity, humility, love, care, compassion? Has the virus crushed those already or might they be our only hope for a cure?

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