The Story Behind TypePad and MT4's iPhone Apps

iMT Screenshot
Today we (Six Apart) announced support for specially crafted versions of TypePad and Movable Type for iPhone users. It will be easy for commentators and critics to get wrapped up in the design and features of these applications, and rightly so I suppose. But for me, the more interesting story to be told will be in how they were made.

You see, no one ever sat down and scheduled for Walt to build the TypePad iPhone application, or for Brad to adapt it for Movable Type. Yet both were the result of several weeks of work made possible through an initiative started by Ben Trott: Hackathon Wednesdays.

We at Six Apart have always been a fan of "Hackathons" ever since they were popularized in the Valley several years ago by Joe Krauss, of the then unacquired Jot Spot. But as a Product Manager, I was always a little disappointed by them. Why? Because while developer morale is improved by allowing engineers to innovate freely, there is only so much you can accomplish in a day. And rarely, rarely do the small apps that developers build ever reach the light of day because rarely do developers have enough time to put the polish on their creations or work with others to help launch them.

This is why I have so much respect for Google's famous "20% time," a program that allows every engineer to work on "whatever they are passionate about" for 20% of any given work week. This program has produced some of Google's biggest money makers: including Google AdSense for Content. What makes a success like that possible is the fact that developers are given so much time to work on and perfect an idea they have. They have the opportunity to build support in the company for the idea and to ultimately launch it.

And like AdSense for Content, the proof is in the pudding. If it wasn't for the fact that Walt could devote five weekly Hackathon Wednesdays, the iPhone App he built would have been a great proof of concept produced in one day but then would likely have stopped there.

It takes incredible courage for a company to devote so much of its engineers' time to unscheduled, unprioritized, unmanaged work. But what I think Six Apart's "20% time" policy has shown is that such programs are not just for companies like Google with virtually unlimited resources, they can work any where. All it takes is a little faith in the talent you have hired and a corporate philosophy that truly values innovation above all else. Jot Spot got that right, and Google got that right. And I think Six Apart is getting it right as well.

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