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Business - Written by on Thursday, August 7, 2008 14:11 - 1 Comment

Collaborative Web Design: An Interview with the Creators of ProtoShare

Last week I spoke with Andrew Mottaz and Blake Johnson, the founders of Portland-based Site9, about their new software as a service offering: ProtoShare. ProtoShare allows web developers to collaboratively create interactive website prototypes, ensuring that everyone is on the same page during the development process. But more importantly, ProtoShare opens the process up to other stakeholder, such as the marketing team, allowing them to follow the project’s progress over time, and provide timely and effective feedback to developers. By improving communication and collaboration within the project team, and between them and their clients, ProtoShare has the potential to revolutionize the process of web design. Rather than write about it myself, I though I’d share the words of Andrew and Blake. With their permission, I have published an edited and abridged transcript of our conversation below.

WILL: To start off, why don’t you give us a bit of background about yourselves, your company, and both the process and motivation behind the development of ProtoShare?

ANDREW: Sure. We started Site9 back in 1998 as a web development company. We were always building tools to make ourselves more efficient, and we saw that a much bigger opportunity for us was to develop those tools into a platform we could sell. Our first product was Launch, which is an end–to-end web development solution. One of the aspects of Launch that customers really responded to was that it gave them the ability to create prototypes of websites: visual and interactive mock-ups that allowed the entire development team and their clients to have a common understanding of what the final product was going to be. And what we started to realize was that by taking that functionality, and enabling a greater level of collaboration within the development team and between developers and their clients—including those without technical experience—we could make something really powerful.

BLAKE: And with the advent of Web 2.0 technology and the whole architecture of collaboration and people working together online, we started thinking, “That’s how we enable collaboration.” You don’t just run your program on a server in someone’s company; you run it on the Internet where people anywhere in the world can participate in the project. You can have a team with people from all over the world working together.

WILL: What’s the advantage of a prototyping tool?

BLAKE: Everybody in web development should be prototyping. You want to move in an inverse pyramid, from abstract to concrete, working your way up. But a lot of people don’t prototype. And those that do, they often use things like Visio or Photoshop. So it’s flat. When you take that to a client—along with your big spec document—and say, “Here’s how it’s going to work. You’re going to go here. You’re going to here. You’re going to have this,” they all say, “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” And then, when the project is close to being done, they say, “I don’t like this.” And then you’ve got all this rework that could have been avoided if there had been more communication earlier on. So the advantage of a prototyping tool like ProtoShare is that it makes prototyping easier for developers, and provides the interactive and collaborative capabilities that get clients to engage with a prototype.

WILL: So how does ProtoShare enable collaborations?

ANDREW: ProtoShare enables two tiers of collaboration. First, it allows a bunch of developers to all work on the same project simultaneously. Instead of the typical development paradigm in which everybody has their own copy, and if you’re lucky you’ve got source control, ProtoShare allows everyone to work off of the same web-based copy, so it isn’t hard to keep track of changes. But in addition to that, ProtoShare enables collaboration by bringing all the stakeholders who aren’t developers and who don’t have technical experience into the process. One of problems we constantly ran into as web developers was engaging with clients. Before we got started on a site we’d give clients a long paper document with the layout and the parameters and all sorts of other things. But for clients, if it’s paper, they never get engaged. ProtoShare engages clients by giving them the ability to go online and see a live, interactive prototype that they can comment on and use to see the progress of the web development process over time.

WILL: How much access and control do you give to those non-developers?

ANDREW: We have two categories of users: builders and reviewers. Builders are generally members of the development team, and they can add things, edit things, move things around. Reviewers can be anybody from marketers to CEOs to project managers. The reviewers get to see and interact with the prototype in progress. They can create comments—we have these pins that they can drag over the page to indicate what they’re talking about. And the developers can control what the reviewers see. So if they’re not ready to reveal something, they can hide it. But for us it seemed to be a pretty natural breakpoint between the tools we give to developers and those we give to the high level people who don’t really care how the sausage gets made, they just want to see what’s going on.

BLAKE: We had an internal discussion about the division, and used our experience with Google Docs to guide us to a certain extent. There a lot of aspects of Google Docs we really like. But at the same time, it creates a kind of free-for-all. And when you have a project as complicated as web development, our feeling was that it should be a little more structured than that.

WILL: Do you have a successful case you would like to share?

BLAKE: One of our first customers was a company called Accero, which was designing their own software as a service offering. They had a few developers work on it, but then they also had about 50 different people giving their feedback—everyone from the CEO to the marketers, everyone who was involved in the project. It should be a nightmare to keep track of and incorporate feedback from 50 people. But ProtoShare gave them the tools to do it. They did in 72 hours what would normally have taken them a month, because they were able to collaborate online, make contributions easily, and have everybody on the same page.

WILL: Is there a way to move projects from ProtoShare to Launch?

BLAKE: There’s not right now, but I think our long-term plan is to have those two separate software branches merging. The issue with Launch is—it’s really powerful and we’re really proud of it and we feel like we did a lot of great things with it—but it’s pretty complicated to use. Really only developers can use it. Our idea with ProtoShare was to take this prototyping functionality—which was one of the features in Launch that customers really responded to—combine it with collaborative features and make it easy enough for anyone to use. And from there we’re going to see what other aspects of the Launch functionality we can ultimately add. In our minds, the great vision for the future is that when you finish prototyping, the site is already built.

WILL: Moving forward, what would you say is your biggest challenge?

BLAKE: I think the biggest issue for us is going to be being careful about choosing which features we want to add. We want to keep it lean and mean. We want to keep the feature set something that’s highly useful and flexible. Like I said, I’d like to get back to that paradigm where when you’re done with the prototype, you’re done building your website, I think that would be an ideal world.



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uk website design company
Mar 31, 2010 16:11

can we create in asp.net, can we re sell to our clients, who can have full control of the pages

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