Sunday, May 16, 2010

Waltag... The challenges so far!

Over a period of almost a year, David and I have iterated through a couple of specifications for a social web platform we are actively trying to make a reality; Waltag. The whole idea streams from the concept of making your school life more interesting. Also, to keep memory of all those nitty-gritty which would linger after school but one just can't place a grasp of it. We hoped to achieve this by letting users log what happens in their rooms! So how have we fared?

When the idea first emerged, we wanted to know what was happening in students' rooms, simple. They would tell their story via several means; words, images or videos. Oh! They would also be able to share links. Then there was the idea of a group chat feature. With great excitement, we created a development blog, got a business adviser, and did a couple of other things. It was fun; we would get it ready in three months. Then reality set in.


Of course, all projects have their challenges, Waltag wasn't any different. Connecting the dots now, the challenges were inadequate skill set, inconclusive decisions and lack of funds. Before I saw these, I thought, "both of us are currently computer science students and Waltag is a software project, this should be easy considering that a few months earlier, I lead a team of student programmers to win the local Imagine Cup". I was wrong. When I realized the shortage in skills, we tried to make up with getting people to handle different aspects of the development. To date, we have iterated over ten people in our search for the skill set we need. We have settled with two of them and are yet to decide on a final person. Abubakar whom I competed with at the local Imagine Cup challenge would handle the mark-ups. To kill the issue of funds, Samuel, a former schoolmate of both David and I who had experienced 'work', was picked. We had Ayo on graphics but he needs a lot of inspiration to share the Waltag dream unlike Anthony, my younger brother. Even though (when I last assessed him) he was not as good as Ayo, Anthony shared the Waltag dream. We are currently considering the option of having Anthony handle the graphics, though he does not know that yet.

The real challenges.

Putting aside the challenges which arise directly from the project (which is quite easy to deal with), the biggest challenge was personal differences and school (and activities associated with it). David is a very religious person, and when we conceived Waltag, he was a member of the executive council of a foremost students' fellowship LVCU. Also, unlike me, he likes to get very involved in a lot of things. I am extremely less religious and less involving too. This sharp contrast in personalities brought a lot of conflict in decisions which had to do with implementation date, whom to hire, share allocation and many things that concerns personal interests. This is made worse by my inherent desire to control, to be in charge, to dictate strategies. When I decided that school was an inhibition to our successfully releasing Waltag on the scheduled date (I haven't changed my opinion on that though), I decided to defer school (which I wasn't enjoying after all) and crazy as I was, I wanted to pull David into my personal decision. lol. With persuasions from a lot of concerned fellows (but most especially because of my mom's long face whenever she remembers that I'm deferring school), I decided to take less courses each semester of my final year and extend school by one more session. Yet school is still as energy sapping as ever. The plan is to release Waltag within the period of my stay in school and watch the acceptance level while still a student before I start administering from outside.

Ideas, Inspirations and all the I's.

So far, a couple of ideas that we developed during the iteration of Waltag has been implemented in mainstream social network sites. For instance, twitter now asks ‘What's happening?’, Waltag’s initial handle for being different from everyone else (as opposed to "What are you doing?" which was twitter's question when Waltag first went into implementation phase). Google buzz was also launched which adds direct status pop-up and live status feeds, Waltag's original idea. One of the things we have realized during the course of this project is that, whatever you are thinking of now is probably being considered by another industry giant, the faster you act the more original you are. We also learnt that the route between ideas, design and implementation, testing and marketing is a very long one (especially when you are in a third world country like Nigeria). Yet we are not deterred. We have either dropped ideas which are conflicting or modified them to be better (or, at least what we think is better). We have also stolen stuffs (even as little as inspirations) from ambitious projects by university students, the latest being the Diaspora project. I look forward to users accessing Waltag as a custom seed from a Diaspora XMPP server soon (of which I was planning on implementing an XMPP server specifically for Waltag). Waltag has all those concepts in it's stitches, all the concepts Diaspora stands for.

So far, so good...

The Waltag project is growing, we just got our domain up and we are working on putting-up a waiting page there. We have fixed a date for the first alpha release. We are coding. We are organising. We are designing. We are raising funds.

The Waltag team currently comprise of:

Celestine Ezeokoye (that's me). Codes and Strategy

David Ademilua. People and Operations

Abubakar Ango. Web and Servers

Samuel Iso. Funds and Business

...and on the queue we have:

Anthony Ezeokoye. Logos and Graphics (I hope we clear his hire soon and he accepts our offer!)

Personally, I would love to say thank you to everyone who in one way or the other (even as little as asking 'how far?') has contributed to reminding us that we have a task at hand. The entire Waltag team is grateful. We know that Nigeria (and Africa) is capable of creating quality software systems and exporting them for the world to enjoy. We believe Waltag would be a major step in that direction. We know it would.