Chris Jesshope, who runs Massey University's NZEdSoft unit, says the audience for the organisation's AudioGraph product is "fairly specialised": it comprises teachers, lecturers and trainers using the Web. AudioGraph generates multimedia presentations, so selling the product via the Web would seem entirely logical.
An evaluation download lets the user see what the product can do, though it is not possible to generate a working Web site without the "unlocking" key which comes when payment is received. A player through which an individual - eg a student who has authored the site in class - can view created sites is free.
The product is priced on a per-seat basis for an annual fee, though the pricing structure was under review when Computerworld spoke to NZEdSoft. Jesshope says visitors have downloaded several thousand copies to date, of which, about 10% have turned into sales.
NZEdSoft, which is a commercial unit within Massey, is run by Jesshope, a professor in computer science, and five part-time staff - though there is one full-time programmer doing support. Jesshope late last year said he was hoping to "spin" the unit out to the commercial sector and attract venture capital. He would also like the several thousand downloads to be translated into a "much larger" figure and says this is only possible through partnerships. Demonstrations of the product have already been made in the US.
Development was begun about five years ago by Jesshope, when he was at another university. Eighteen months after he arrived at Massey - in late 1996 - they had a beta, and a workable product in June of last year. He estimates the cost of dedicated development - two person-years - at about $180,000.
The NZEdSoft site, which runs on a secure Web server using Linux and Apache software, initially had some hiccups running security and frames together, though this has since been remedied. Support is offered via email, online manuals and listserv.
Jesshope says competitive products are "rather more expensive" than AudioGraph and aimed at the higher end of the market, and he sees considerable possibility in selling to teachers. The fact that the product is sold online keeps manufacturing and distribution costs to a minimum.
The product has not had much promotion and he admits there was some commercial naivet‚ in the team. One of the staff has been since taken marketing courses and Jesshope himself has improved his commercial understanding. "I am enjoying learning a bit about business."