Focus in 2013 (part 0): Status & Context

First of all, Happy Holidays to you all.

In the coming days, I will publish my “plans”, or more precisely “effort focus”, for the Art Of Sequence projects for the coming year. As several months passed since last update (the release of AOS Web Player demo) I first need to put you up to date about what happened in the projects since then and also what problems we need to fix to go forward. Then the following articles will focus on different work fronts we need to focus on, with some ideas that will be attempted.

AOSWP_0_1_demo_doc_4

My (Future) Company

I’ll make a brief description of my current context as it is an important information to understand the following articles.

Since mid-July 2012 I have been working full-time both on AOS (which resulted in AOSWP 0.1 release) and a video game (which I restarted using previous code I wrote through years). In the same time I’ve been doing the necessary steps in building a company sometime in the next year, for me to live from my projects. I am currently paid by French government help (a percentage of my last salary from France) so on the money side it’s not perfect but at least I can focus most of the time on these projects, when I’m not doing other urgent works like moving to a new place again.

I’ll need my projects to make me live. The game I am making is designed to be commercially viable,  which don’t mean it will be but just that I’m focusing on making it sell-able at least enough to make me live from it. However, none of the current AOS projects is sell-able or even meant to be. They are half base code on which you could build commercial software on, half proof-of-concept. This unfortunately means that since November I need to focus more on my game development to quickly reach the point I can start sell it, impacting seriously the technical work on AOS projects. As some could have noticed, I didn’t do any code improvements since the AOSWP 0.1 release for this reason.

Actually, I did work on technical stuffs for AOS (in September and October) but it was more research code, which failed (but provided me good data) so I didn’t publish the code. So far, AOS projects didn’t move forward at least on the technical side.

Fortunately, I did work on some other aspects of the projects which might help the global projects more, as I’ll explain in the following paragraphs. The main point I’m trying to make is that I want AOS to be part of the projects of my future company, while still being open source, which means I will have to setup some solutions to be able to spend more time on it or have more resources (people helping on the open source side, companies helping, money to buy tools or hardware) to accelerate the development that is clearly too slow but cannot get faster today. I have some plans, but let me continue explaining what happened since last time, to get the full context.

Siggraph-Asia Communication Failure

The AOSWP demo release was a proof that it was possible to read an AOSL file and interpret it efficiently in something like a browser. This was a total success, even if the current web player don’t implement all features of AOSL 1.0.

This milestone being a success, there was a deadline associated to it which was motivated by the submission of pannel at Siggraph Asia explaining a bit what AOSL was about. This submission was a failure. There was actually two things that failed.

The first failure was that the submission wasn’t accepted which meant I don’t (yet) have an opportunity to explain what is AOSL myself to people that might be interested in it. Having good documentation (current one isn’t good enough, but I’ll get back to that) is a good thing but having someone answering your questions interactively is far more helpful for everybody. With help of some people in academic and commercial circles interested in AOS technologies, I will have other opportunities to communicate on this but it’s still an opportunity lost.

The second and actually more important failure is that the reviewers of the documented asked questions that made obvious that nobody understand the point of AOSL or even any AOS projects. Over the months I have come to believe that the whole communication around AOS projects, purpose and essence is just a big failure. This wouldn’t be a problem if there was a dedicated team (I mean more than one person) working on the project to fix this and make everything happen. It is actually the main thing that prevent the project from being understood by people who could be interested enough to help on the technical side of the development of the projects.

Communication have to be fixed. After having analysed what exactly was misunderstood, I spent some days working on designing some solutions to fix this. I’ll explain in details what strategies I’ll use in the next article, including on technical communication, so stay tune.

Promising Meetings

Around October and November, in Skype and in real life, I got contacted and had meeting with several people interested in AOS and in particular in AOSL which is the central core of the ideas behind all the projects. After some live clarifications on the purpose of these projects and where they are meant to go on the long term, we agreed that there was really something useful going on and that the main problem with the project is that it is going slowly by lack of resources.

Recently I got notified that several companies in France (digital) book edition circles have been made aware of AOS projects and seem to be interested in them. I don’t know yet what will happen but there are chances I will be able to have some important meetings with people that are in positions to help the project in significant manners, for both commercial and simplification reasons.

The communication fixes I’m planning will in part involve preparing presentations for different meetings and events. More on that in the next article.

Slow Development

As my focus shifted more on my commercial game project, the lack of contributions to the project made the technical development of all AOS stalled. I initially thought that the AOS Web Player demo would have piqued interest in Javascript enthousiasts, or even Flash enthousiasts maybe to write an ActionScript based player that would have easily read an AOSL file. It didn’t happen, unfortunately.

Part of the problem is communication of the concept itself, as pointed before, as few people understand the huge problem I’m trying to solve. Another part of the problem is the lack of good technical explanation of some important technical aspects of the projects. One example is that AOSL still don’t have yet a human-readable specification or complete tutorial, to help developers implement players or converters. AOSL isn’t very complex but it’s still not straightforward exactly how to interpret it without reading the comments in the XSD specification (which helps doing half of the parsing work, so it is still helpful).

The bigger problem is AOS Designer, the edition tool, which still isn’t usable today as it’s development have been paused while I was focusing on AOSWP. I actually worked a bit on it in last months but not in a very significant manner. One problem with this tool is that UI designers and other programmers are having a hard time helping without a first usable version showing them what is the core usage of it. I was asked to write use cases to fix this, but even writing blog posts burn (necessary) hours of developments that I should spend, with others in an ideal world, on coding the damn tools. UI designers need pointers to understand how then can help with AOSD and programmers need more specification.
Another problem with this tool is that it’s still technically the most demanding project. It require quite a lot of work, much of it would have been done quickly if it didn’t need to be cross-platform and very responsive. Some of the tools I use to develop it also had problems that will be fixed soon, so it made me loose a lot of hours figuring this out, but at least now it is clear what I need to fix to make AOSD development go forward.

As a reminder, if you think you might help with the project, or think you know some people that might help, please be my guest. All technical data, including all the sources of the projects, are available at http://dev.artofsequence.org and you can ask for pointers if necessary in the development mailing list.

Resume Work

Now that alll this is stated, I can start explaining how I will spend the time I can spend on AOS in the coming months of the next year. Stay tuned!