Saturday, January 10, 2015

Why I switched to free hosting

I have been a customer of Hostgator for years and are very happy with their service. The performance is good and the support, although only email based for my plan, was responsive and helpful.

However recently I realised that spending $15 a month wasn't worth it. I am really just hosting fairly static sites, so I don't really need PHP or Wordpress. When I do want to play around with code I prefer Ruby on Rails anyway and I can get free hosting with Heroku.

The question then is what free hosting to choose?

I was initially impressed that Github offer free static hosting and my thoughts were to make my site static HTML, and generate it on my laptop. This would be nice because I would not need to worry about getting hacked (a perennial problem on self hosted Wordpress sites) and also I can go for decades without having to remember to update Wordpress. And also performance - you cant beat static!

The only problem is finding a tool that I would enjoy using to create the site. I searched and searched. I saw Jekyll is very popular. It is a command line tool running on Ruby. Very cool, flexible, extensible etc. But it is Ruby so in all honest that means booting into Linux just to update a blog which is annoying (as I mainly use Windows). And then doing plain text editing and then compiling the site each time. Just seems like it will go from cool-geek to a tedious burden too quickly.

So I switched to Blogger.

Yes I know it is the tool that all the noobs use. I have regressed ... but to something more convenient. Blogger ticks my boxes though which is the main thing. It is fast and responsive to load pages, I have full control over the HTML when I need but I hardly need to fiddle with it. I can host my own domain. I don't need to worry too much about security like on Wordpress. And of course it is free (as in beer).

Saving over $200AUD a year though is good. That's a very fine pair of shoes every year I can now justify.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Baby Piano App Update With Pretty Graphs

Here is an update on how the Baby Piano app is doing.

I haven't done any work on it the last few weeks, no coding or promotion. A few weeks ago I signed up to Pinterest to do a bit of light promotion there, but nothing since then.

Keyword ranking has improved (see next graph), I believe due to getting some ratings and general 'passage of time'. This is a good sign although not much use until I get into something like the top 5 or 10 because no one will be looking at the 50th result for an app.

Interestingly the ratings were bad, but the Google Algorithm probably says any ratings are better than none. I am not sure why I am getting ratings of '2' as no feedback has been left. Despite using which is supposed to encourage people to leave feedback. They are not.

Despite this, the  keyword ranking trend is positive, and this continued trend could get me into the top 5, perhaps with a bit more promotion. Once I am in the top 5 downloads and ad revenue should accelerate dramatically. I hope!

Total downloads and current installs are on this graph:

And here is the revenue so far from ad clicks.

It is a tiny amount of money obviously, but getting to even 10000 downloads which is small in the app world would make the money a bit more interesting - because if I get enough apps created that can get 10000 downloads it is possible to produce enough money to recycle back into development and promotion and have a nice positive-reinforcing cycle.

The downside to making money this way is the reliance on Google for not only the money (from ads) but the platform and the promotion of the app. Google have many ways to pull the plug on me once I get a good revenue coming.

However for now this is an experiment so I am not too concerned and can cross that bridge later. One way is to get the app converted to iPhone, another is to improve and build a community around the app so that people discover it outside of the app stores and I am less reliant on keywords and backlinks.

Monday, August 11, 2014

City 2 Surf

I was never into running or any kind of exercise or sport as a kid, choosing "Snooker" as an option in physical education was my idea of being smart. However now I am grown up I realised that I need to exercise more just to be able to keep up with the pace of work life, family life. So I enrolled in City 2 Surf and completed my first running race of any kind.

If you live in Sydney you have heard of it. For those who haven't it is an awesome run, with 80,000 people starting in the city and making their way at various speeds to Bondi Beach along 14km of road. Lots of music and high-fives on the way. And some heart-breaking hills just to mess everyone up!

I trained for 10 weeks of which I was sick for 2 but luckily feeling good for the day! I did good time (by my standards) that I am proud of, and it is something I will try to beat next year.

My quads are sore, so I am going to have a week off, and then think about the next challenge. I sometimes read Andy Males' blog and I know he runs alot and seems to love it - so hopefully he'll be proud of me for taking this first step into running and training for it.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

It's in Google Play! Kind of...

Quick update on the Baby Piano Android app. I have uploaded it to Google Play, woohoo!

However I chose to put it as 'Alpha Test' as I want to still check it works and looks OK on 7 and 10 inch tablets and make sure it is solid enough for a full release.

If you want to try it now just join this Google Plus Community:

And then you can access the app via this link:

Update 2014-07-08, it is now live, here:

Happy Baby Piano

Thursday, June 19, 2014

ASO - App Store Optimisation

This week I have been studying this ASO course by Gabriel Machuret, which has meant less time for coding, but I did do a few improvements.

The course is very good and covers a lot of different angles on how to get an app ranking well in the App Store and Google Play searches. It also talks a lot about conversions, i.e. getting as many people as possible to take the action you want.

One example of this is downloads. To maximise downloads for a given number of people eyeballing your app in the store, the most important thing is the icon. It needs to look great. People will choose your app for it's icon the same way people choose a book for it's cover.

Other important things are screenshots, description and the name of the app. The course covers all these things..

I took some action and decided to create a second draft of my icon based on what I learned from the course. Compare them below. I tossed a coin to decide which order to put them in below, so try to guess which one is newer:

Both icons took about the same time to make in a free drawing package called Inkscape. What do you think is better (I urge you scroll down to the bottom of the page and make a comment).


I want to work a bit more on the icon and maybe see what a few adults and kids think. The icon is so important it is worth spending the extra effort. I think 4 hours on the icon would give more back for the time spent than 4 hours adding more features to the app itself.

I also made some small improvements to the app to make users like it more. I moved ads from the bottom to the top, so they don't accidentally get pressed (annoyed users = bad ratings = bad for ASO!). I also scaled the image correctly, used the full screen real estate available.

I am also trying to get the touch events code working better so you can swipe across to hear all the keys at once (fun!) and press two or three keys at once for a pleasing chord sound.

This ASO stuff is going to delay getting the app ready as it requires a lot of time, diligence and research. I think it is going to really pay off though in the goal of making this piano popular. Stay tuned and you will see how it turns out.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My First App Update

I have completed the app to a level where it is ready to submit, although there are improvements I could make to both the user experience and the quality of code.

Here is a video (very unfortunately without sound - I will update if I can record one with sound) of the app.

Notice I got the adverts in. Very important!

I now need to learn about the app store optimisation I mentioned in the previous post, in order to submit this with the best possible chance.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My First Mobile App

This weekend I decided I want to start creating mobile apps, for both fun and hopefully a bit of profit too. I spent a few hours while my daughter was asleep creating a basic "baby piano" app. A screenshot of how far the app has got is below:

Yes it is still early and as you can see I am experimenting with shapes. All the clip-art and the piano key tones I managed to find open-source which is very cool.

I made some decisions before starting:

I'm not using PhoneGap. PhoneGap is a tool that lets you design your app as HTML and then port to iPhone, Android etc. In a spike session I found that it is a pig to set up, at least on Windows. Weirdly I found the Android SDK friendlier to get started with, even though PhoneGap is supposed to make things easy.

Secondly I read that the apps you create with PhoneGap never quite feel as good as a native app, you don't have access to the latest features, and also (I imagine) it will be perform worse than a native app.

I am going to focus only on Android rather than Apple. Android better suits my current skill set, reducing my learning time. It also will cost me nothing in additional hardware. I'm keeping it lean!

Next steps:

This week I plan to finish the app. To finish I need to make the keys look better, support higher number of keys on higher resolutions and perhaps make this an option anyway for those with tiny fingers (the target end users are babies).

I would also like to test it on other phones, so far it has been tested only on a Nexus 5.

Some things cannot be finalized yet though. For instance the icon and app name. This is because I have to learn the spells and curses of ASO (App Store Optimization). This is to give my app a fighting chance of being discovered by lots of parents. I am considering this course by Gabriel Machuret to help me on my way.