Our first web app: Movie Collector Connect

connectI know, it has been awfully quiet here since the SIC. I had my hands full with the most important product launch in Collectorz.com history: Movie Collector Connect.

connect-covers

Movie Collector Connect is our first web application and the first product in our new Collectorz.com Connect range of online cataloging services. We have been doing “offline” applications for Windows and Mac OS X for years, so this is a completely different project for us.
Here’s a quick overview of our reasons for creating web-apps and of some web-app-specific issues that we now have to deal with.

What is Movie Collector Connect?

But first, some bullets from our marketing blurb, so that you know what Movie Collector Connect is all about:

  • Movie Collector Connect is an online movie cataloging and sharing service.
  • Manage your collection from any computer, using just your web browser.
  • No need to download, install or upgrade software on your computer.
  • Your data is securely stored on Collectorz.com servers and backed up daily.
  • Use the mobile version to access your movie list from any online mobile device.
  • Share your collection with friends by emailing them your public web link.
  • Synchronize your collection between Connect and your Windows or Mac software.
  • Subscription based: Subscription fee includes all future updates.

We are promoting Connect as a fully stand-alone catalog service (an alternative to the Windows and Mac editions), and as a publishing/sharing add-on for existing users of the offline applications. In the next couple of months, we will be launching Connect editions for books, CDs, comics en video games.

Wanna see it in action? You can browse our public demo collection here.

Why web-based applications?

There are a number of reasons why we started doing web applications, some technical in nature, some strategic/financial:

  • Platform Independence: Developing for multiple platforms is a nightmare and pretty costly. With a web-app you can provide a solution for all platforms with one code-base. That is, if you can fix all browser-specific issues 🙂
  • Instant Mobile Solution: With a little extra effort, you can create a mobile web-app, optimized for smaller screens and slower connections. Easier and cheaper than creating device specific mobile apps.
  • Easier Customer Support: Less system-specific problems, direct access to user’s app, settings and data. Plus, every user is always running the latest version.
  • Easier Maintenance: Fixing bugs and implementing enhancements can be done “live”, no builds or releases necessary.
  • Low Threshold: More and more users are afraid to download and install software on their computer, for fear of spyware and viruses. A web-app is more accessible and less intimidating.
  • Better Follow-up for Trial users: Doing online trial accounts gives you an email address for everyone who signs up. Great for following-up with autoresponder sequences.
  • Strong Lock-in Effect: When an account (trial or full) expires, users can’t access their data anymore, which causes a strong lock-in effect. Even if you provide full data exporting features like we do.
  • Software Market is moving online: Current developments (Google OS, netbooks, smartphones etc…) show that the market is moving more and more in the direction of web-apps. Time to go with the flow.
  • Community Building: With a web-app, users are always on your website while using the software, which opens up new possibilities for community building, user generated content, etc…
  • Recurring Revenue: And last but not least: a subscription based web service generates recurring revenue. Whereas with a regular offline application, you would have to create and sell upgrades and add-ons to earn more from your existing customers.
    At Collectorz.com we started out just selling software, but since we started maintaining our own online central media databases, we really have been providing a service, while still asking our customers for a one-time fee. In a situation like that, a subscription based licensing model makes more sense.

Specific Issues related to web applications

Of course, creating web-apps is technically different from creating Windows or Mac software. You have to deal with different hardware, new programming languages, browser-specific issues, etc…
But apart from the technical stuff, there’s a couple of other issues than suddenly come into play:

  • Data Protection: User data resides on your server, so you’d better make sure it is safe, it doesn’t get lost or corrupted. Regular backups are a must.
  • Security and Privacy: If you store personal data, especially if it is traceable to a specific person, then privacy and security become very important. Also, make sure you have a good EULA and Privacy Policy that cover both.
  • Server Performance and Up-Time: All users run their software on your servers, so these servers have to be up and fast, even in peak hours. If your server is down, no one can use their software.
    At Collectorz.com, we were already dealing with this, because our offline apps rely on our servers for media data anyway. But performance has become an issue, with hundreds or thousand of users querying our database at the same time.
  • Recurring Payments: With a subscription based licensing model, it makes sense to start using recurring payments. Especially if you allow people to pay per month. This does limit the possible payment methods to credit cards and PayPal though.
  • Subscription Pricing: Choosing a price for your product is always hard, but deciding on a monthly fee for an online service is even harder. For low monthly fees, the transaction costs can become ridiculous. And in some audiences there’s still a strong resistance to paying for online services, though this is changing fast.
  • Forced Updates: As mentioned above, for customer support it is an advantage that every user is running the latest version of the software. But your users may not agree. For offline apps, they always have the choice not to upgrade, e.g. if they don’t like the changes you made. They don’t have that freedom with a web application. Remember when Netflix announced they were going to remove the Profile feature?
    So when updating a web-app, one has to be extra careful not to remove features that some users may love, or make user interface changes that other people may hate.

Anyway, it’s a very exciting new project. I will keep you posted on our online adventures here and on Twitter.
Also, I will be speaking about our experiences with web applications at the European Software Conference, this November in Berlin.

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