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Introducing the new Open Lab’s blog

Topen lab new bloghis is the blog of Open Lab, a software house filled up with graphic designers. Or maybe its a design factory invaded by developers.
Anyway, in this blog you will find pointers and descriptions of our current development and design activity; we produce a set of software products, web services and sites briefly presented here. This blog is also a good place where one can understand the kind of company we are.

We used to have a “developers blog” at this address, , but we now moved the blog where you re reading it now, as the main one under our web site. Opening of this new blog marks an evolution of our software house, which I will briefly document below.

Since its founding in January 2001 Open Lab has been  a “classical” European software house, which mostly provide companies some form of “custom development”; they don’t do product development, which is still mainly done in the USA. In our company we always experimented with new technologies and their interaction with usability, which is typical of startups and product producers. But we only seeded our researches in a development platform common to our solutions, called jBlooming, mainly used for a content management system (Webwork), in a family of applications for human language modeling (Smallcodes), and in a product sold through the web, Teamwork, and also in a broad spectrum of custom solutions. The jBlooming development platform is quite “practically oriented”, which in the Java world is quite uncommon: its xml-free, custom-tags free, relies on compile-time validation also for the user interface, etc. .  It is in use also in a few other software houses.

more than icons

From the start the Open Lab designers have been cultivating also their more “traditional” design activity, with remarkable examples.

We’ve always tried to be a “quality” software house. Not only in terms of code released, but also in the quality of working conditions, the amount of research resources allocated to people, trying the latest techniques, participating to international events, and so on. Another peculiarity of Open Lab is that its women are 50% of the people working here, which at least for an European software house is quite unusual (maybe not only in Europe – see http://www.women2.org).

Jolt AwardA first “sign” that we were not exactly a standard software house has been winning a production Jolt award in 2007 for project management software; in fact we have been the first ever Italian software house to win any kind of Jolt award.

Deepening the knowledge of web applications marketing and the rich literature concerning new web application design, we made in 2008 what we hoped was a considerable evolution of our main product, Teamwork, releasing version 4 in January 2009 .

Teamwork 4Our hopes have been confirmed by the comparatively extraordinary reaction of the market, with a 400% increase of sales with respect to version 3.  This is also due to the progressive absorption of the new marketing techniques for web applications startups. This has finally convinced us of the necessity of taking more decisively the path of new product development, developing a sort of “serial-startup” spirit.

mb components
The jQuery “mb components” playground.

A notable event of 2009 has been the release from Matteo Bicocchi of mb.components, a suite of jQuery components which is been widely used by jQuery developers, and is constantly listed in the top suites of jQuery components. We realized how this set of skills should be put in use also in innovative applications of software as a service. Even when we were confined to custom development, we had fortunately taken the path of “embracing the web”, using a development platform purely made of server side calls plus html and JavaScript (this combination is such a success that it is invading what seem unlikely fields).

So we are now transforming in the company under three aspects:

  1. We transformed product development making it more compatible with usability and interaction standards
  2. We are creating new web applications as online services
  3. We are organizing different kinds of development in distinct departments

2 new SaasIn order to complete the evolution of Open Lab to a “web product factory”, you cannot be based on a single product. We did a long series  of brainstorming sessions, involving the entire company, finally coming with to two new product ideas, actually online services, which we are already producing, that use both the Java platform and the new components suites. Several criteria for product ideas selection can be found in the Web Startup Success Guide, which I’m reading now: we are not only compliant to what there suggested, we’ve actually been much stricter. The two selected are services that give a simple solution to two recurring problems of web applications, so that developers and designers can focus on their main goals. The fact that the solutions are simple and it takes just a “paste the widget” to make them operative does not mean that they are simple to build, so we are working hard on them.

At the same time we are evolving Teamwork 4, and we have created a specific company sector for language solutions and custom development.

All our activity is no longer mostly documented by web sites, but by blogs and Twitter streams (even ridiculous ones); so this is one reason why we are creating this “centralized blog” which will collect news of the diverse products.

Resources

It is hard to give references for the wide spectrum of topics dealt during our evolution. Just some pointers to the very best readings (and hearings) for new web startups  and companies that  want to take the “serial startup” line; we actually read much more than this, so the best advice is to read, search, explore, read again, and form your own idea.