Honeycrisp: 2016-2023

Blog 11 Apr 2023 by Kim Fisher
the proverbial napkin
RIP Honeycrisp: a personal developer's note

End of an era

Just now I flipped the final switch on MERMAID Version 1; henceforth users will be redirected to Version 2. It's just an app, but we've put so much blood, sweat, and tears into it over the years that I can't help some emotional attachment. It was our Proof of Concept, then our Minimum Viable Product, then our Beta, and then our Version 1; it was also our baby. So I mourn a little.

But software, like anything interesting, must evolve; and sometimes evolution demands a makeover, not more steady progression -- punctuated equilibrium. So we rethought the Version 2 app from scratch from a user's perspective, preserving desirable traits, discarding undesirable or obsolete ones, and adding a few new features. Perhaps most important, though less apparent, we created a basis for continual incremental improvement for years to come. We're proud of the result, and hope you also find it faster, easier to use, more attractive, and more robust.

the proverbial napkin


By late 2016, in response to increasingly urgent requests for help managing coral reef survey data, Emily and I, together with partners at WWF and Sparkgeo, had explored various approaches that built on existing platforms or customized existing applications. And we'd made some initial attempts via "dating" potential development partners. Nothing really fit, the effort involved started to seem daunting, and the loss of control over user focus became intolerable.

Still, the prospect of "rolling our own" was intimidating: with a shoestring budget, did it make sense for a tiny part of a conservation nonprofit to embark upon building a completely bespoke app that was flexible and yet normalized; worked offline yet was always backed up; supported significant complexity and scientific innovation yet was as easy as Excel to use; and was free and open to all but captured international monitoring and evaluation standards?

Like a startup, there was significant risk of failure. But the value of startups is in failing fast, carrying over innovations from one phase to another, and rebirthing the next generation from the ashes of the last. So Dustin and Emily and I, amidst a whiteboarding session in Toronto in late 2016, found ourselves needing to "fish or cut bait" -- either just do something, and get the data flowing, or step back and attempt to influence various institutional and partner efforts into half-alignment.

one of the first mockups

Full speed ahead

Needless to say, we went for it, so fast we didn't even have a name initially -- and thus "Project Honeycrisp," named for the delicious apples Dustin had brought us from Okanagan, was born. Originally a placeholder, the Honeycrisp moniker has shown remarkable resilience, regularly surfacing in code comments, project management boards, and planning documents.

Today "Honeycrisp", and its public-facing "Version 1" incarnation, are officially retired. And we have grown -- in ambition, in quality of code and QA processes, and in number, with excellent new staff (most notably, the recent addition of Amkieltiela, MERMAID's new User Community Manager) and volunteer contributions to this all-open-source initiative.

But our go-for-it spirit, our agile approach, and our dedication to the ultimate goal of saving the world's coral reefs with better software remain. Honeycrisp may be gone, but Version 2 proudly carries its legacy forward.

See the visual changes from MERMAID Version 1 (upper figure) to MERMAID Version 2 (bottom figure).