Thursday, January 17, 2008

The curtain comes off: Syndicated Client Starter Kit (aka News Reader SDK) ships!

Long time blog readers (hi Susanne) may be wondering if our blog has completely devolved into a stream of baby photos and parental musings. The short answer is that it’s a difficult tide to swim against. Fortunately, the baby photos we took this week looked a lot like the photos we took last week so I’ve been given license to write a post on a work related topic:

The Syndicated Client Experience Starter Kit has shipped!

Those of you who are reading the blog out of a sense of familial obligation can stop reading now. Otherwise, brace yourselves, for I’ve employed one of my favorite formats, the FAQ:

What is the Syndicated Client Experience (SCE) Starter Kit?

Simply put, it’s a way to quickly build really sexy apps in WPF. You provide the content (photos, videos, text, etc) via a feed and you get a fantastic user experience for free. With a little bit of styling, you’ll have a highly customized app that will convey your brand with unprecedented fidelity.

What can you tell me about the genesis of the project?
The SCE Starter Kit begins with the New York Times’ Times Reader. I joined WPF a few weeks before Times Reader went public. Bill Gates had given his blessing to the product and there was a lot of enthusiasm for this new way of consuming news content.

The easiest response to the ensuing interest from publishers and developers would have been to write a white paper detailing the Times Reader development experience. However, most publishers have neither the development resources nor the risk appetite to build one of these applications from the ground up. Thus, we envisioned a starter kit which would perform all the heavy lifting right out of the box.

What’s with the name?
msdnreaderSexy, eh? Honestly, I wasn’t there during the final name meeting (full disclosure: I now work for MSNBC, a Microsoft/NBC joint venture). I was present during other naming sessions though. Oddly enough, a lot of the good names ended up having acronyms that were inappropriate for general consumption.

For much of the life of the starter kit, it was known as the “News Reader Starter Kit” or just “NewsReader”. As the project progressed, it became clear that the name NewsReader implied too narrow a scope. I think “Syndicated Content” does a somewhat better job at conveying the broad potential uses of the product at the risk of being completely incomprehensible to the average person.

What was your involvement?
I joined the WPF team as a Program Manager (PM). To this day, I still have a hard time articulating what a PM does. In an (over)simplified view of the world, developers write code, testers test code, and PM’s do everything else required to get the product out the door. For the starter kit, this meant coalescing disparate ideas to create a coherent vision, writing specs, creating schedules, helping out early adopters, pulling office pranks (it boosts morale, I swear) , writing docs, writing sketchy code that breaks the project upon check in, and much, much more.

What were some of the highlights of the project?
The conference room: Early in our involvement with the Seattle PI Reader app, we had a meeting in the downtown office of the Seattle PI with the publisher, Roger Oglesby, and the managing editor, David McCumber. These days, I recall little of the meeting but I do remember that view of the Puget Sound as a storm rolled in was ridiculous.

The little sign: Chris Han and I went on a road show in the Midwest to talk to potential early adopters. In the lobby of one company was a black sign with pressed on letters that said:

Chris Han
Bryan Wheeler

The people: This project was pulled off by a small, close knit team. The starter kit devs were rock stars. Their designs were brilliant and their code is pure art (if you find it to be otherwise, I take responsibility for imposing the constraints that forced their hands). In addition, I loved working with early adopters all over the world (UK, South Africa, Australia, France, Italy, Japan, Korea, etc).
Any lowlights?
Working with long distance partners doesn’t always mesh well with the Redmond culture (we never schedule meetings before 10AM). I recall a 5AM conference call with some UK based developers at Conchango (fantastic devs, by the way). Fortunately, their British accents lulled my wife back to sleep after I decided to drag the speakerphone upstairs.
Tell me more!
I've far exceeded my blog quota for the week. In the meantime, you can look at what others have to say:

More to come...

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