The Future of MinHub
We’ve been pretty silent since January 8th (the last time we updated MinHub Youth), and we’ve got some explaining to do.
My name is Kurt Libby, I work as the Equipping Pastor at Oroville Nazarene Church in northern California. I’m a real person. I wanted to create software that worked like magic to help people do ministry by reducing the headache of tracking administrative stuff. It has been a crazy ride thus far, incredibly encouraging and incredibly frustrating. But I am excited about the future of MinHub.
If you don’t really care about the explanation and just want the bottom line, you can read the TL;DR version by clicking here.
Before we get into the future, it will help if you know a bit of the past.
Reagan was my student in my youth group that went on to study computer science in college. In January of 2014, we started work on the app that would one day become MinHub Youth. We launched it at the end of August 2014 as he was entering his last year of college. Throughout the year we learned a lot, but mostly that sync for free is hard (just FYI, if sync is free for an app, there is a lot of capital investment behind it paying for that).
In December of 2015, Reagan and I had a serious discussion about interrupting our roadmap to deal with sync in a different way.
Every feature we have tried to release has been delayed to try to fix syncing or make it more reliable.
iCloud syncing was difficult.
Dropbox hasn’t been much better.
While sync works for many youth pastors, others experience constant problems. But trying to fix those problems has been similar to fixing someone’s car while all they can do is explain the problems over email.
We finally decided that the best course of action would be to provide a more robust syncing backend that we could control and troubleshoot. This came as a serious pivot because it would require us to charge our users for syncing, something we never wanted to do.
Continuing to try to blindly fix problems that were happening outside of our control is too big of a problem. We have learned a ton about the reason why modern software works the way that it does.
This new understanding of how it works and how much it costs showed us that the only clear path to creating a suite of great apps that work like magic on multiple operating systems for all life-stage ministries meant that we would have to move away from the free syncing model we had tried to make work.
The short version of this new understanding: generally, if apps are syncing, there is a cost involved — bandwidth, storage, maintenance, developers, etc. If the users aren’t paying for it, then there is probably a large investor or group of investors that are looking for a return on their investment as the app soars to millions and hundreds of millions of users. Because MinHub is not an app that will be popular for the general public, interest from investors to provide for syncing, especially at a small scale, is not attractive at all. For instance, we currently have .001% of the active users that Instagram has, but I digress.
Since syncing has been the biggest frustration, we knew we had to get this right and not work on any other features until it was reliable.
In late December 2015, we decided to start building a syncing backend for MinHub Youth on a service called Parse. We started working on the new sync framework as well as learning Parse for about 5 weeks of work (approximately 200 hours). On January 28th, 2016, out of nowhere, Facebook (the parent company for Parse) decided to shut it down. We had a ton of confidence in it because of all the companies that had built apps on top of it.
Honestly, we were pretty lost on how to proceed. Putting in 200 hours of work on something and stopping dead in your tracks is disorienting.
We had a ton of questions now in selecting the right backend service to build our service on because if one of the most robust and popular backend services could just shut down without notice, how are we to choose wisely for the longevity of our app?
Over the next couple of months, we contacted potential developers to help us build a backend the right way the first time and choose one that promises more longevity than Parse did.
Two major shifts added to the complexity of this shift for us.
In January, my 5 year old son Jace was taken to the doctor, the ER, and the PICU at a regional hospital as we discovered that he has type I diabetes. Our life at home has been completely turned upside down since January. We are just now, 5 months later, beginning to get a handle on the ups/downs and crazy swings and complications.
Reagan decided to move on to another development opportunity with another company in January, which would leave him working as a manager for a contracted developer in the evening and on weekends. This worked for some of the spring, but after awhile, he felt God calling him fully into other work and has since left Magic Makrs to pursue that call.
This has left me, Kurt, working with contracted developers as a manager to work on our roadmap.
The hidden blessing from this shift has been the ability to contract with multiple developers at the same time and rework our roadmap to accommodate more developers.
So what about this new syncing service?
As we searched for a new backend, we had some pretty specific criteria:
- Rock solid security
- Longevity and future focused
- Relatively inexpensive for a small business
We found that backend in Microsoft Azure, and we found a new developer to help build it out. We worked toward creating a sync backend that wouldn’t fail, would be fully encrypted for security purposes, wouldn’t break the bank for us or our users, and would be accessible in case we need to fix sync problems down the road.
One syncing account will be set up per ministry and work for everyone that needs to connect to that database. There will be a 30 day trial for you to experience the reliability for yourself.
We are in the final stages of testing that syncing service right now, putting it through a barrage of tests, including syncing all of the complexities that comes with up to 5000 students in a youth group. (I think that will be sufficient for most of our users, ha!)
This will be ready later in June.
I will update our email subscribers on how to sign up for a sync account as soon as it is ready.
I have also reworked our roadmap. The first step was contracting with a developer that starts work on porting our app to Android. He starts this month with a ship date of August 2016.
I want to be completely honest with you as I work on this, and I appreciate your feedback.
I sincerely apologize for the silence these last few months and for making the shift away from free syncing. It was never something that we had planned on doing, but I hope that this post has helped you understand.
You can reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or feedback.
Please continue to send support issues to email@example.com because those will continue to be cataloged and dealt with separately.