2011 was a great year for me.
SleepBot now has over 500,000 downloads and is one of the top rated apps in the Android Market. Jane and I, the SleepBot Team, has just released the web platform to our registered beta testers and friends and families. (https://beta.mysleepbot.com, though to use the App with it you will have to use a special version that supports Sync, and we are not releasing this to the public because we need to monitor the traffic requirements for scale and fix bugs)
It has been a great learning experience building this site. The site is built on Codeigniter PHP framework. It's a great framework: lightweight, powerful, and yet simple. It allowed us to focus on building the real features. However, as the code base gets large, refactor code becomes painful, since PHP is interpreted. Maybe we will switch to Facebook's HipPop, but at this point, we just want to focus on getting a usable product out. There were a lot design decisions to make, and a lot of them were focused on how to do as much as possible on the client side (since we are bootstrapping the costs).
60% of the time ended up building the front-end (JQuery based, though I tend to do things from scratch). This is also something I learned from working at Squarespace(awesome company!).
-Your html body should bewith as little in between the tags as possible. -Your back end's job is to spit out a usable JSON so the front-end can parse it into HTML. -So yes, your back-end is mostly a router for the pages and an API server. -Use Ajax to prevent reloading the whole page as much as possible. -CSS is parsed using less.js. -Most environment variables are cached in Apache's process memory.
And this is not possible if it was not pre-2011. Browser supports are much better these days, and clients are usually powerful enough to render the contents without noticeable lags.
The user experience is great on the site, every post, every error message, and every page is carefully designed to maximize UX.
What took 30% of the time was making Sync working between the central server and various devices. There were so many cases to consider, and many different places for code injections. It is the most important part of the site.
For SleepBot, we Android's push notification to either request the client to sync immediately (such as when there's a state change that needs to be reflected) or update when the user opens the app next time. It works beautifully on the few devices that we have tested (2.2 and above). I'm not sure if we are going to ever support non-Google Android devices or just use Urbanairship (It's Helium reports works, but we might just build our own and make it open source...I don't believe this is not something developers should pay for).
One thing that I don't like the most in the process is also be the sysadmin of the project. Setting up servers took too much time from development time.
I did end up teach Jane CSS in the process though. Jane did all the graphic and styling for the site and she did a great job. :) Teaching her about Bash/SSH/Git/basic networking principles....and how she has to git add * and eventually understood it made me very proud of us as a Team!
Oh. and I started on a new project for fun: Web as a Shell (https://github.com/wzsddtc2/Web-as-a-Shell), this is the first project that I have as public repository on GitHub. :) ---In short, it will allow you to execute commands such as : facebook post "Happy New Year" in command line. And the best thing is...it lives inside your browser and requires no server to run. The app is fully built on HTML5, will support basic file IO and have user permission model. Oh, and any one will be able to add any new "Handler" to handle any new commands with a line of code! Detail in my next post. :)