#ThrowbackThursday: The iCOS: iComicsOnSale #Apple Dashboard Widget. The secret origin of @comixology
In lieu of recent events, I thought it would be cool to show where comiXology all began – the iCOS Dashboard widget, the app that launched a million digital comics downloads.
Before comiXology, I had worked at Marvel Comics circa 2000. I was hired to head up their dotComics program, Marvel’s first attempt at digital comics. While I was there I converted their static html website into a dynamic PHP/mySQL website reducing the time it took to upload the monthly solicits from a week with two dedicated resources, to two days and requiring only a single person.
I should point out that Marvel.com was the first site I had programmed in PHP – let’s just say, I’ve gotten much better since then.
It was a huge step for comics, because at the time all the major comic book publishers hadn’t really embraced technology. This was about to change. My seemingly minor tweaks started an arms race as all the publishers tried to keep up with each other.
After Marvel, I was looking for another way to merge my two loves, technology and comics. I took what I had learned and applied it to the website of Jim Krueger.
At this time, around 2005-2006, keeping track of which comics were coming out on a weekly basis wasn’t as easy as it is today. Sites would post the monthly solicits, but that information wasn’t updated and lay stagnant. What this meant was, I would go to the store and inevitably forget something because I didn’t know what was coming out that week.
Diamond Comics, the primary distributor of print comics, did release a public list or comics shipping that week, but it was a simple tab-delimited text file and not exactly user friendly.
However, since it was tab-delimited it meant that it was easy to parse and easy to convert into something more user friendly.
The original iCOS widget simply loaded the list, parsed it, and then presented the data in a way that was easy to search and browse. The first version was very crude, just the title of the item, the publisher, and the price.
Reception of the iCOS widget was pretty good; a lot of people really enjoyed it, including James Sime at Isotope Comics. But there was one individual who felt it didn’t go far enough.
I was browsing a message board, soaking in all the great comments, when one unimpressed individual pointed out that there weren’t any images. At first I was annoyed: here I had created this wonderful new thing that made the lives of comic book fans easier, and this guy wasn’t impressed. I was all ready to fire off a nasty response when I realized something…he was right. iCOS was just the beginning. It was a good start, but it didn’t go far enough. So I channeled that anger into the next version of the iCOS widget. Not only would I include images, but descriptions as well. Essentially, I made it better.
A section of Apple’s site put out an open call to developers to submit their widgets. It was then that I made my first Apple contact, and the iCOS widget was featured as a Staff Favorite. Both would prove useful later on as comiXology entered the App Space.
While things were great on the Dashboard side, the PC side wasn’t as good. Creating Konfabulator widgets, the PC alternative, was an archaic process best described as torture. Instead I created a PC Application based on Flash and Macromedia Director. That worked great, but made PC users weary as they thought it was Malware.
So the logical solution was to create a website. A website wouldn’t be constrained by the operating system of the user and the data could be used by the iCOS widget. In a sense, everyone would be happy.
With the website built, all that remained was to find a name that was less clunky then iComicsOnSale.com. So after a rousing round of brainstorming that went into the wee hours with the other founders, the name came to me: comiXology.
Fast forward eight years and millions of downloads later, comiXology is the biggest platform for digital comics and soon to be an Amazon.com subsidiary.
Not bad considering all I wanted to do was know when my comics were coming out.