Recently during the launch of PoodLL 3, I got a chance to interview Justin Hunt who is popularly known as the PoodLL guy where I asked him a lot of questions over PoodLL, Moodle and his future vision in his already fully packed schedule.
Justin Hunt, a very generous and humble guy provides ample support with his detailed answers and thoughts about the future of Moodle, PoodLL, Moodle Plugins etc. So, here we go with our first community interview with Justin Hunt:
Jaswinder: Hi Justin, Can you please tell us something about yourself and your background?
Justin: Hi Jaswinder. Sure, I live in Japan with my wife and 3 children, though I am originally from New Zealand. Mostof my working life has been here in Japan. I am 47 now, though I used to be much younger. I spent a number of years teaching as well as working as a software developer.
Jaswinder: How did you met with Moodle and started developing for it? What made you start PoodLL?
Justin: I was teaching English in a high school and we had a big fancy language lab. But it was useless because all students could do was record audio and play it back. They could not even login. As a teacher I could not provide context to activities, save and reuse them, give feedback etc. So I decided to make a simple audio recording assignment in Moodle. It was my first experience with PHP and with Moodle. The name PoodLL came much later.
Jaswinder: How did you manage your time with so many things at hand? And How do you keep yourself organized?
Justin: This is and has been very tough. I try to maintain a strict morning routine. I get up at 5AM and run. Then I spend 15 minutes setting daily priorities and scheduling tasks for the day. I try to set periods of the day when I do not check email. And I often work in locations like coffee shops where I find I am more productive. Google calendar helps too. I could do better though I feel.
Jaswinder: Tell us something about PoodLL 3 and the idea behind it? What are the new features and innovations in PoodLL 3?
Justin: Originally I thought PoodLL would be an online language lab. But that wasn’t how people used it and it went in quite a different direction. It had also been around since Moodle 1.9 days. So it needed a tidy up, to remove features nobody used and to refocus on what people needed from it.
I ran some surveys and talked to a lot of PoodLL users. Most clearly people wanted recording and playback features, and they wanted them to “just work.” There was also the need to move away from Adobe Flash, to support mobile better and to be properly “accessible” for screen readers.
Personally I want to make sure that a non techie teacher can download it, follow some instructions and audio and video will just record and playback, and the teacher will never see the complexity behind it all.
Jaswinder: How do you think that Moodle community will accept the new business model of PoodLL?
Justin: This caused me a lot of anxiety. I knew breaking with “free” was risky and I did not want to betray the teachers and admins who had supported PoodLL for so long. But if people did not think it worth paying for, then it simply was not worth the time the new development would need.
I sounded out whether Moodle.org was planning or willing to set up a plugins marketplace. And it was clear that it would be a difficult thing for them to do.
As it turns out almost everyone who responded about the new business model was supportive, though many at the same time said effectively “but if it’s not free, we can’t use it.”
The way we have set it up means that the PoodLL software is still open source and only the registration key needs to be purchased. So we can still distribute the software via GitHub and Moodle.org. This way installing and upgrading PoodLL is no different to any other plugin. I think it’s a good model and I anticipate other plugins will follow this pattern. I hope eventually PoodLL style commercial plugins will have a little badge on the plugins page marking them as such.
I do not think that Moodlers need feel threatened that all the free plugins will go away. There might be a bit of that. But really I hope that we get a greater variety of plugins, better maintained and documented plugins, and people porting their commercial plugins from other platforms to Moodle.
Jaswinder: What are the revenue targets for this year and next 5 years?
Justin: I’d rather not talk in money terms. But since I introduced compulsory (free) registration to PoodLL last year, we have had in the region of 1500 registrations. If we could get 25% of that number to purchase over 12 months that would be a good result.
Jaswinder: What software and Development environment you use while developing for Moodle?
Justin: I develop on different machines depending on where I am. I have an Xubuntu + Netbeans machine which I use for serious coding assignments. I use Mac + PHPStorm storm sometimes. But most often I simply use a text editor (textwrangler on mac, notepad++ on PC) and filezilla ftp client.
Jaswinder: What is the next big thing you would like to see in Moodle?
Justin: Moodle is a fantastic piece of work and a poster child for open source projects. I am big fan, obviously. But it doesn’t look very fantastic. That sounds trivial but really I think it prevents Moodle’s adoption in places. I would like it to be easier to make Moodle look awesome.
Jaswinder: What can be done by Moodle community to improve the financial flow of the Moodle plugin developers (Premium Model, or Freemium Model which would be best approach)?
Justin: I think that plugin developers need to be bold and to start charging for their plugins. Professional users are actually happy to pay for plugins. Because they can get proper support, and reassurance that the plugin will be maintained and won’t suddenly slip into an abandoned state. They also have some influence over the development direction of the plugin.
Jaswinder: Where do you see Moodle in the next 5 years in terms of market growth?
Justin: There are many alternatives to Moodle to these days but online education is also expanding. So I would anticipate expansion in corporate and tertiary/K12 but at the same time some loss of overall market share to the chase pack.
Jaswinder: What are your future plans with PoodLL?
Justin: The most immediate plans include a design overhaul, removal of the last vestiges of Adobe Flash dependency, and the new PoodLL iOS app. I want to make a big push towards making all PoodLL recorders and players screen reader and keyboard accessible. Then will come cloud storage for recorded and uploaded media files. Also expect a range of custom video and audio players designed specifically for education use, e.g once-only-audio players, read and repeat hybrid player recorders, interactive transcript video players.
I have already started working with other developers on parts of PoodLL. I would like to continue to do that, to improve the code quality, and the pace of development.
Jaswinder: How you are going to take forward your other plugins like Generico?
Justin: I do not have any immediate plan to commercialize other plugins, mainly because there are no more me’s to do the work. But there are many plugins that I have not released due to worries about my ability to support and maintain them. And then there are the plugins that were released onto Moodle.org, but are not currently maintained well ( I am thinking about the Youtube plugins). Once PoodLL development stabilizes, I may return to consider this. Generico and VideoEasy functionality has already been rolled into PoodLL 3. They will both be maintained in parallel.
Jaswinder: What are the other plugins under development?
Justin: There are some language learning plugins under contract development, but I cannot comment much on those just yet.
Jaswinder: What is your personal 5 year vision from today?
Justin: I would like to see PoodLL fully self-funded and that it had started a healthy commercial market for Moodle plugins. I would hope that PoodLL is available on other platforms than Moodle. I would like to be spending more time teaching and using PoodLL. I would also like to have no more beer belly.
Many Thanks Justin Hunt for giving us your invaluable time and best of luck for grand success of PoodLL from my side.
Do you agree with Justin’s opinion about urging developers to charge for their plugins? How you liked the interview with Justin? Do share your creative thoughts in the comments section below.