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88 Miles in the Business Review Weekly’s top 100 Australian Web 2.0 Applications

Business Review Weekly released it’s list of top 100 Australian web 2.0 lists today and 88 Miles came in at number 58!

There are some pretty cool apps on the list, including big players like Atlassian and of course our good friends Saasu.com, Scouta and Norg Media.

Rounding up the Perth list we have The broth, Minit, Buzka, Gooruze.

Congratulations to everyone who made the list!

An online version of the list can be seen here.

And the results are in…

On Saturday I posted that 88 Miles was profiled on the Startups Carnival run by VS Consulting. Well, the results are out now, and 88 Miles came a extremely respectable 4th from 28 entries!

A big congratulations to Richard at Scouta for taking out the first prize and to GoodBarry and Suburb View for rounding out the top three.

Also hats off to OurWishingWell, who shared fourth place with 88 Miles.

88 Miles in the startup carnival

VS Consulting Group has been running an online startups carnival over the past two-weeks, profiling 28 up and coming Australian startups.

Today, 88 Miles is profiled.

It is well worth checking out some of the other entrants, including fellow West Australian Scouta.

A big thanks to Vishal for putting on such an “event” — it really goes to show that the SaaS-o-sphere is alive and well over here in Australia!

88 Miles now supports OAuth

Now that the OAuth standard has been finalised and the Rails plugin (as well as libraries for a number of other languages) has stablised, I thought it time to become an early adopter and add it to 88 Miles.

OAuth works like this:

  1. A developer create a third-party application (a consumer). They login to the the provider website and add their application. The website will then given them a secret key and three URLs: one to get a request token, one to get an access token and one that users can use to authorize an application.
  2. When another user decides to use the third-party application, they first need to authorize it’s use. So the application will request a Request Token by posting some data to the request token URL.
  3. Once this returns, the application should redirect, or at least point to the authorization URL. On this page, the user is asked whether they really want to give access to the third party application.
  4. If the user says yes, the provider will redirect the user back to the consumer website, or at least notify the user that the consumer has authorization (It’s a bit hard to redirect to a desktop application for example).
  5. Once the consumer is notified that it has been given access, it will then swap it’s Request Token for an Access Token.
  6. Now the consumer can freely access resources from the provider by using this Access Token.

Obviously, if a given instance of an application has a valid Access Token, it can skip steps 1-5, and just continue using the Access Token.

Although the Rails plugin is aimed at people using acts_as_authenticated, a little bit of hacking and code diving meant it was relatively easy to shoe-horn it into my custom login system. Because I wanted 88 Miles to drop-back to basic authentication if OAuth wasn’t available, I needed to work out what authentication system each request required. This can be done by:




request_proxy = OAuth::RequestProxy.proxy(request)

if(request_proxy.signature_method != nil)

  # It's an OAuth request

  if oauthenticate

    # They get access

  else

    # Denied!

  end

end



Nice and easy. I did go through and spruce up some of the authentications screens, but if you aren’t that anal, the boilerplate code from the plugin would suffice.

New version of 88 Miles goes live!

For the past couple of months, I’ve been slaving away prepping the next version of 88 Miles, my simple time tracking application and now, I can happily announce it is alive! There are heaps of new features, and bug fixes, including a migration to Rails 2, a migration to a new server as well some dabbling in the wonderful world of Rails plugins. Some of the features are below:

Saasu.com integration

Many people have been asking for invoicing from 88 Miles, but since it is really outside of where I’d like to see 88 Miles go (The strap line is Simple time tracking for a reason) so Saasu | The web finance engine to the rescue! I wrote the the Rails plugin that talks to Saasu.com, and I’ll be releasing it shortly after making a few cleanups (There are some parts of the API I’m not using in 88 Miles that are still a little rough around the edges). The plugin will allow users to sync companies and contacts as will as create invoices straight from their timesheets. I’m pretty excited by this feature.

OpenID support

88 Miles is now OpenID aware, so you can use your third-party OpenID to login to 88 Miles. Just between you and me, OAuth will be coming soon (as soon as the rails plugin and ruby library settle).

New REST endpoints

There has been quite a bit of work on the REST API — it should now be much more consistent (i.e the data that the server sends and the data that the server expects is the same). I’ve also removed the /api in the endpoint URL, as it was becoming a nightmare to maintain.

New Server

Finally, the biggest change is our new server! We have moved over to a Joyent accelerator, which are specifically tuned to the Ruby on Rails platform. This means everything will be quicker. The old Media Temple server, whilst great didn’t really allow for much customisation, and with the Christmas special of two years for the price of one, it was kind of hard to pass up.

It’s been a fun ride – this project is always a great learning experience for me – and it helps that there are others out there that like it. Go and try it out if you haven’t before (or even if you have) :)

Hot or Not

Call it lazy blogging, but the beginning of a new year is a perfect opportunity to write a list post. I’m not going to call the list below predictions for 2008 as there is absolutely no scientific basis for any of this, so I’m calling it Hot or Not – stuff that I think/want to be hot in 2008 and stuff that I would love to see head to the big TCP/IP stack in the sky.

OAuth: Hot. Anything that brings some sort of order to the big bad world of web APIs is a good thing. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is a specification that describes a method for token-based access to third party applications. So now there is really no excuse for that confounding social network to ask for your usernames and passwords to all of your other confounding social networking sites, just so it can spam have access to all of your friends.

Confounding Social Network sites: Not. OK. That is enough. I am over been bamboozed at the sight of another social network that has no direction, meaning or business model. The concept behind a social network is cool – we used to call them forums, remember – but it is now officially out of control. To the “entrepreneurs” behind them – stop trying to kill Facebook, they have more money than you and careless less about their users than you ever could (Exception: Spock – You are still Satan’s spawn).

Software as a Service: Hot. It’s kinda like Web2.0 but this time with meaning. Bring back computing to what it was meant for – helping humans to do what they do. The web is the perfect delivery method for a lot of the desktop software we use everyday. Google has already shown us what can be done with apps like GMail and Google Docs and there is a myriad of web applications that have made the leap (If I can build one, anyone can). Pay for what you use, don’t worry about license fees any more, don’t worry about what happens when you hard drive crashes, or about deploying to all 500 machines in your organisation.

Advertising as a Business Mode: Not. The darling child of Web2.0/New Media/Social Networks. Unless your site is already doing the traffic of Google/YouTube/Facebook or your are a porn site, go and erase the “we will pay for our hosting via advertising” line from you business plan. Seconds thoughts, if you are Facebook, you should probably do the same (Nice work on beacon – at what point did that actually seem like a good idea?). Advertising only works if there is eyeballs a LOT of eyeballs on pages and if your target audience is the type that clicks on ads. And since every man and his dog has released a social network this week, you aren’t a unique snowflake. Get a real business plan first.

Mashups: Hot. Yeah, I know – these have been around since the first beta of Web 2.0 but it has never really extended much beyond adding a Google Map to your site. I think 2008 and will see some really cool productivity apps built leveraging the webservices of other web sites. I think that it may even spill over in to the corporate world – I’d love to see company intranets using webservices to customise workflows.

Getting VC funding then hoping to sell to <insert large company name here>: Not. Now, I have no problem with the concept of funding, or the hopes and dreams of having a large company with a bank balanace bigger than your phone number (including country and area code) throw you some bones, per se. Where I do draw the line, however is pitching with a business plan that can’t really pay back a return to the investor unless the business get bought out. Mind you, the investors really should know better – or maybe they are just much smarter than I am, who knows. Regardless, when this whole thing collapses in on it’s self, I’ll be dancing like it is on sale for $19.99…

Mobile: Hot. This is the next frontier for the web. Everyone has a mobile (some people two or three) and they are generally on their person at all times. Extend the SaaS idea to these small devices and you really will be able to get your stuff done when it suits. Again, this isn’t new, but there have been some advancements in technology and some new players who understand the web much better (that’s Google if you were wondering). I think 2008 is the year that see the mobile platform as a first-class netizen rather than something that the work experience kid gets to work on.

Using user data with out permission: Not: You would have by now seen my (MANY) rants about Spock and Facebook. Those playing in the dirty, back alleyways of social networking really need to take a long hard look at themselves. It’s my data, and I’d prefer it if you didn’t sell my browsing habits to the highest bigger. And don’t even think about scraping my data from other sites without my permission – they asked nicely, you didn’t.

Company-as-a-Service: Hot. Haven’t heard of this? That’s because I just made it up. We have seen Software-as-a-Service, Hardware-as-a-Service (eg Amazon EC2), so why not have have companies that can shrink, grow and churn as required? There are so many freelancers and consultants out there, as well as a huge number of micro businesses. If they all grouped together, they would be able to work on sites ranging from the very-very big to the very-very small. Many places kind of do this already (this is why contracting was invented) but I can see this working in a more peer-to-peer sort of way – you aren’t contracting for someone, you are contracting with someone (there is a remarkable difference).

New years lists: Not.

Leave a comment – Is this Hot or Not ;)

Freelancing 101 – Seven tips for managing your accounts

I’ve been freelancing under the moniker of MadPilot Productions on and off for nigh-on 7 years now and I’m the first to admit that making the books balance wasn’t always at the fore front of my mind. I’m a web developer – I need to develop! Unfortunately, running your own business means at some point you will have to deal with accounts and invoicing and the tax department. After all those years of battling my way through and making (expensive) mistakes, I have compiled a number of simple hints and tips that can help take the pain out of the financial side of things.

First my disclaimer: I’m not an accountant (ha!) and this might not be the most optimal way of doing things – but it does make it easier and is working for me. This is Australian specific, although I’m sure the general ideas will translate to other countries.

Register as a proper business

In Australia this is a really important step because you won’t be able to deal with Goods and Services Tax (GST) if your aren’t a registered business. You can register as a sole trader, which means you don’t need a company behind you. This is the easiest way, and usually isn’t going to cause to many headaches. I’m not going to cover the other types of business you can create (such as partnerships etc) as that can start getting complex, and you should really be taking advice from an accountant and/or a lawyer.

Once you have registered as a business you can apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN) and register for GST. Getting an ABN is optional, but I’d recommend doing it – it doesn’t cost you anything and if you don’t have one, other companies that you deal with are entitled to keep 46.5% of your invoices. So just get one.

Although you don’t need to register for GST if you are going to be making less than a threshold (it is currently $75,000) I would still do it. If you are small and you are good with you accounts it doesn’t take that much work, and it means you get to claim the GST back on any business related expenses!

All of this is explained in full at http://www.business.gov.au it also have links to the necessary forms to get you on your way.

Get a separate bank account

I personally find this the easiest way to manage expenses for your business. Having a separate statement at the end of the month is much easier than trying to sift through one HUGE single statement. It also means you can partition business money and personal money. If you ever get paid by cheque, you will need one as more often than not the cheque will be made out to you business name, not you personally – you can’t cash it if the names don’t match. Basic business accounts are usually pretty cheap and they are well worth it. Most banks will allow you to link your personal and business accounts via their online interface so transferring money between the two is easy.

When you are starting out, getting a business credit card can be nigh on impossible, but in this age of the web having one makes life MUCH easier. The solution is get a personal one (you are the only person using it if you a freelancer anyway) and pay any business expenses back from your business account. Many banks also have Visa or Mastercard debit accounts so if you don’t trust yourself with credit, this is another option. Unfortunately, these cards are generally only available to individuals not businesses, so you will still need another business account.

Get an accounting package

This is something that most new freelancers don’t think about, because they aren’t free and it seems like an expense that is hard to justify. Hopefully this will justify it: The accounting packages will help you see hidden expenses that you have forgotten about, such as TAX! When you work for someone else, they take care of the tax you need to pay. Unfortunately, since you are now your own employer, you are responsible for paying it. How much do you need to pay? No idea – that is what the accounting package is for.

There are many options – in Australia, MYOB and Quicken are the most popular choices, but have interfaces that suck. Thankfully there are some other options, such as the online system: NetAccounts which is what I use. These have a myriad of options so can take a little work to get used to but it is worth it, especially at Business Activity Statement (BAS) time – you click a button and it tells you how to fill it in – well worth the couple of hundred bucks you need to lay down to get it.

Get an accountant

You wouldn’t trust an accountant to do their own website, why should you do your own tax? They know the tax system better than you, so let them deal with it – if you follow my previous piece of advice and get an accounting package it should be a walk in the park for them. It’ll probably set you back a couple of hundred, but it could cost you a lot more if you did it wrong.

Get income insurance

If you get injured and can’t work, you are pretty well screwed. This is where income insurance can be really helpful. If you are in low-risk industry such as IT, it can be pretty cheap (mine is about $13 a week) and if you get injured they will pay out 75% of your income until you are fit enough to go back to work. Have a chat with an insurance broker – they can point you in the right direction.

Track your time

This is especially important if you change by the hour. It is all too easy to lose track of time and go over budget on a project. If you track your time well, you can warn a client if they are about to hit their budget limit BEFORE it happens and it also allows you to go back through your records when you are quoting in new jobs. If the job you did two months ago took 10 hours and is similar to the new job request you just got, you have a pretty accurate estimate.

Many people use spreadsheets for this, which I hated – so I wrote 88 Miles which is a simple time tracking system specifically for freelancers and small businesses. There I’ve plugged it!

Treat yourself as an employee

Ok, this sounds weird, but hear me out. A good general rule of thumb is that 2/3 of the money you bring in is going to go straight back out as expenses and tax (sucks huh?) so if you work that out as your wage you are less likely to find yourself short when all the bills come around. At the end of each week (or fortnight or month – what ever is easiest based on your cash flow), transfer 1/3 of what you brought in to your personal account. This is your money, and you can do with it what you like. Paying rent and buying food is always good and hopefully you have some left over to have a bit of fun.

DON’T TAKE ANY MORE OUT OF YOUR BUSINESS ACCOUNT! The business account if for the business – I can’t stress this enough.

If you have regular enough income, you can even setup the payroll facility of your accounting package to allocate you your pay each pay period. The benefit of this is it will take into account tax and superannuation. If this is the case, you can work on paying yourself 2/3 – the extra 1/3 will most probably end up going to the tax department, so you won’t see it anyway.

Example:

You are charging $50 an hour. Let’s say you can manage 5 hours of billable work a day and that you want to take holidays at some point (the standard is to treat one year as 260 days) you will be bringing in $65,000 a year. 1/3 of that is about $21,000 a year. The tax on $65,000 is roughly $15,000 so our estimate is close. So you will have $400 per week in your pocket for living and about $400 a week for running your business.

The great thing about this method is that you should have money left over, which means you should be able to go on a little spending spree at the end of the financial year, but more importantly if you get sick or want to take holidays, or god forbid the work dries up for a period, you still have some money in the bank to cover your expenses (for a while).

Hopefully this can help you freelancers out there run a successful business. The industry is pumping at the moment, so there isn’t a better time to go out on your own – just make sure you are smart about it.

WAWA finalists announced – Yours truly gets a gong

button1x2-white-3.gifThe WA Web Awards finalists for 2007 have just been announced and both 88 Miles and Bloggy Hell made the grade! 88 Miles is nominated for the “Best online application” category and Bloggy Hell is nominated for “Best personal or blog site”. The quality of the sites this year was awesome, so it is a great privilege to included in the group of finalists.

Go and check out the list for all of the finalists.

Australia’s top 60 Web 2.0 applications

Ross Dawson, who is holding a Web 2.0 conference next month has compiled a list of the top 60 Australian web 2.0 companies, and us developers over in here in the west haven’t done to badly!

In at number 5 is Minti, the parenting social network. Number 6 is Scouta – the Podcast suggestionsnetwork started by Richard Giles. 23 is Bronwen Clune’s PerthNorg (where I’m starting a work at shortly). Number 29 is the social bookmarking tool, Buzka and number 43 is little ol’ 88 Miles!

It cool to see that there ARE 60 Australian Web 2.0 companies, I feel a Oz based revolution starting soon – I’m going to make an effort to see what some of the others do over the coming weeks.

When too much web is never enough…

What a week in web (well for me anyway). Kay, Miles and myself were invited to a Tuesday morning breakfast put on by the Perth Conference Bureau. The reason? The PCB gives out grants to help start; and to help bid for conferences which is of great interest to us as AWIA committee members. Anyway – the exciting part: There was a $2000 door prize, which can be used by the winner to attend any conference in Australia. Guess who won? That right! Me! So it looks like Web Directions 07 is now on the cards! So thank you Rebecca for inviting us! There will be no doubt much shenanigans to be had.

Tonight was the inaugural Dinner 2.0 , graciously organised by Bronwen of PerthNorg fame. Some how my little ol’ time tracker got enough attention to garner me an invite. It was the who’s who of the Perth Web 2.0 fraternity: Scouta, Buzka and Minti all had representatives come along. It is great to see Perth startups who are getting recognition from the industry, it really gives me hope that our remote little city hasn’t, for once completely missed the boat on something cool.

Good times had by all! Bronwen was taking happy snaps so I’m sure they will appear on Flickr soon enough.

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