Experience Panic

Brian Christiansen

May 2nd, 2007

Our Macintosh-using readers out there may have heard the buzz this past week about a new web development app from the team at Panic, Inc. Called Coda, it integrates a text editor, FTP, a CSS editor, a UNIX terminal and code documentation into one app—and if you like, one window—with integrated browser preview.

What’s interesting is that you could say there’s nothing new here. Panic’s new application uses an enormous amount of code that comes from other places:

The text editor is SubEthaEdit.
The FTP is essentially their product Transmit.
The web preview is Apple’s WebKit engine from the Safari web browser.
The code documentation (currently HTML, CSS and PHP) is from a series of published books from O’Reilly.

What’s great is that the Panic guys clearly did not intend to reinvent the wheel, but simply refashion it, while standing on the shoulders of giants. By taking great code that was already written, they could concentrate on the part of web development they thought was lacking: the experience.

Steven Frank, co-founder of Panic, wrote an introductory post about Coda on his weblog,

If you hand-code web sites like we do, you know the drill: You have your editor in one window, a browser or two open for previews, a shell for doing MySQL work, a book open on your desk (or perhaps php.net in yet another browser window), your favorite file transfer client (Transmit, of course!) and maybe even another program still, specifically for editing CSS.

It works. But, man, that is a lot of clutter and visual overload.

When we write Cocoa software, we don’t do it in ten different applications. We do it in Xcode, because it brings all the tools we need together in one place.

We saw a clear need, and we set out to fill it.

He adds later,

You can’t even see Coda’s best feature.

We asked our beta testers what they felt Coda’s best feature was, and the most popular answer was: the integration. The way it all fits together.

This shows small teams can accomplish great things by spending their cycles on innovating the experience, instead of reinventing the internals. They’ve tread similar paths before, addressing the experience in other areas considered boring, like FTP (Transmit) and even Usenet (Unison). Now they’ve launched a new product that approaches the experience of building and publishing web pages from a different angle and have created a serious amount of buzz.

Could an improved-experience-spin on an old problem be the key to success on your next project?

One Response to “Experience Panic”

  1. Andri Says:

    I have been playing around with Coda now for a few days but decided Iðm going to stick to my CSSEdit + TextMate setup. You should take a look at the inspector feature in CSSEdit 2.5, it is very simple yet boosts productivity by a significant amount.

    Also, the web preview in Coda looks similar to CSSEdit preview window.

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