Thursday, 30 July 2009

TJAM Daytime Event

You probably have a fair idea of what is happening at TJAM's evening developer's event.

However I've sorely underplayed the importance of the daytime event which will host grocery customers, plus 'creatives': people who can visualise a future idea, concept or even fully formed application in their minds.

It's the output from the daytime event - plus excellent insight from some recent ethnographic research we commissioned about customer grocery home shopping behaviour - that will feed into the evening. So if you've only heard about TJAM Evening until now, don't worry - you'll miss nothing. We won't have people coming to both events. In any case there is a maximum of about 70 people for the daytime event, all carefully vetted to ensure they match the customer mix who use our website.
EMC Consulting's Paul Dawson is working with our marketing team and a great creative innovation agency called Happen to make the daytime ... well... happen. Paul describes the TJAM daytime in this blog entry so have a read and see the source 'energy' that will create the materials that evening developers will absorb from 7pm.

I'll be there in the daytime helping to present, and spend time practising my live coding demo ready for the evening. Trying to write compilable C#/Java and make it work first time as 150 of my peer-group watch? Yes that's pressure. Think I'll stay off the provided free beer until 9pm.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Tesco API Forum now open

The Tesco API Forum is now up and running, designed for developers who are using - or thinking of using - the Tesco API for development work.

If you're wanting to get help and support for using the Tesco API, this is the best place to go. I'll be logged into the forum on a regular basis so I can answer questions (and dodge the brickbats as necessary).

Everyone is welcome although you'll need to register to access the service. Don't forget to read those terms and conditions for using the forum before you register. Don't worry, I try to make them interesting. The main point to digest is to keep the conversations about the Tesco API, programming and design, and TJAM; not about the wider subject of Tesco in general.

I will publish a regular digest of topics and conversations (positive and negative) from the forum in this blog so if you are not a developer you can still pick up a sense of the 'journey' we are taking with the API from here.

The forum software is SMF with a MySQL 5 back-end database, and uses a skin design called 'Anecdota' by Crip.

The forum web address is:

See you there.

The Fourth Screen

Regular readers will know of my quest to bring Tesco grocery home shopping to every screen the customer owns (if they want us there) and our mission to engage a developer community to write applications for their favourite devices.

What has intrigued me over the last year is the adoption by many customers of what we geeks are calling the fourth screen.

Before I go any further I better count up the other three screens:

  1. The first screen has been around since the late 1930s - it is of course the television set, evolved from a flickering display of the John Logie Baird mechanical device through to the high definition multi-input flat-screen of today - and soon a 3D immersive experience.
  2. The second screen belongs to the computer, which came about in the 1970s when someone thought it might be a good idea to save printer paper by displaying the output on a TV instead. This screen is now your view of the connected world revealed through your desktop or laptop, and is probably your work tool too.
  3. The third screen is the mobile phone, which has evolved from the dot matrix display on devices (literally) the size of bricks, into the iPhone’s internet-connected immersive touch-sensitive presentation.

So to the fourth screen: Specialist internet-connected devices such as photo frames that display digital images from your memory card or Flickr account through to the Chumby and O2 Joggler. They’re new on the market and tend to do a few specialist tasks really well.

Fourth screen devices intrigue me mostly because they tend to be installed at a single, static location in the home. They are small yet offer a point of focus. I own a Joggler and have placed it in the hallway where it spends most of the time displaying photos and occasionally sounding background music when I play audio around the house from a UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) server. It also offers me live traffic info - very useful just before leaving the house.

I’m also fascinated by the Wayve device - these are designed as instant media messaging focal points, where two or more Wayves can be joined up as a group using the internet as the backbone, and anything written on one Wayve can be sent to one - or all - the others, adding a ‘connected family’ feel. Importantly I see such a device as being located in the kitchen - for many the family ‘hub’.

Ah yes, the kitchen: As these fourth screen devices become common, I can see a great place for grocery ordering if the experience was right.

Getting the experience right is important - it’s probably too easy to take a potentially great device and develop a horridly labourious grocery shopping application. A good application for the fourth screen will be one that ‘lives the value’ of such a device: quick, easy, simple touch, ‘little and often’ usage, operating almost while walking by it rather than sitting down for a session in front of it.

I’ll certainly be encouraging ‘fourth screen thinking’ at TJAM and beyond.

N.B. Although I have mentioned specific products as examples of 'fourth screen' devices, this is for illustration only and should not be considered an endorsement of any such product either by myself or Tesco. However, if I mention any actual product I believe that it is fair to provide a link to that product's website.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Tesco API TJAM Event Now Full

Just a quick message to say that the T-JAM developers event on the 5th August is now full and registration has closed.

A big thank you to all the developers who registered to come along. You will all have received your confirmation (or apology for not being selected) email by now.

Do have a play with the community technical preview of the API if you haven't tried it yet. The developer access page is

Thursday, 16 July 2009

A Bit More Evil: Tesco API news goes down well with bloggers and twitterers

I'm delighted that taking the Tesco API to the 'next stage' and make it more public has gone down well with the media, bloggers and Twitterers alike, just as we announced the T-JAM event.

It was sheer coincidence in timing with our T-JAM announcement that ProgrammableWeb had spotted the community technical preview edition of the API, documented it on their site, and announced is part of their 'new APIs' news.

The next thing we know is that The Guardian had spotted it and their journalist Charles Arthur wrote a blog post called 'Tesco offers an API for its shopping. Now start thinking what to use it for'.

The news was swiftly picked up by The Mirror and Retail Week, then New Media Age (NMA) gave me a call to ask for more info for their article. Indeed Will Cooper, one of NMA's journalists, had witnessed the Tesco@Home application being demonstrated at Microsoft PDC2008 conference and has been following our journey to offer better ways of online grocery shopping.

Lots of blogs have picked up the news, and authors have felt positive about the outcome. Of course I am am bound to have as my favourite the posting titled "History in the making: Tesco offers an API for it’s online shopping". Goodness, I can now join fellow colleague and IT Director Jon Higgins who was once described as a "legend in his own lunchtime" in a Computer Weekly article tracing the origins of

There are numerous positive Twitter posts but in the name of balance a couple of wonderfully negative ones too. amongst my favourites:
Oh well you can't please everyone....

The T-JAM event delegate count has just gone over the 2/3rds-full mark, so if you haven't registered yet don't leave it too long. Places are limited because health & safety rules prevent us shoe-horning too many people into the auditorium.

Right, I'm off to be nasty, dirty and a bit more evil. Yes it's greasy fry-up day in the canteen....!

Monday, 13 July 2009 T-JAM Innovation Day - Registration Open!

I'm delighted to inform you that registration has opened for all IT developers who would like to join us at our first T-JAM Innovation Day.

This event is where we invite you to come along to get some insight on what customers are asking for in terms of great new applications and better ways of online grocery shopping - and you can earn affiliate fees for each new customer and each order you place through the application(s) you develop using our API.

The developers' T-JAM event is on 5th August 2009 between 7pm and 9pm at Cardinal Place, Victoria, London (100m from Victoria Rail Interchange Station).

For complete details of this free event, and to register, go to:

See you there!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009 Grocery API - Important Developer News

Tonight I have written to our 150-strong community of developers who have registered to use the Grocery API. These developers can use this interface to write amazing grocery applications for customers.

Since the email I sent is in the public domain now, I reproduce it here for your information.

The developer access portal for the current version of the Grocery API (Community Technical Preview) is and the new API portal will be running on the high performance servers of the site by end of July 2009.


Dear API Developer

The Grocery API has been 'on air' since just before Christmas 2008 and your feedback has been outstanding. So over the next few weeks you will start to see a major upgrade to the API taking place which will:

1) Take on-board your feedback,
2) Offer new functionality and interfaces,
3) Release some constraints imposed by the current set of terms and conditions, and
4) Starting now - completely release the 'count' limits imposed on the current service.

The API is currently being re-developed to take on the functionality of our new forthcoming 'Martini' grocery platform which offers a powerful step-change in what we can bring to the customers in a great new grocery application.

The current API will continue to function but the new service will run alongside it. As 'Martini' rolls out then the old API will start being closed down - probably around Sept 2009. I'll give precise dates of when this happen as soon as I have them.

In your feedback:

You wanted: To use the API for applications you wish to release to customers.
We will: Release conditions stopping you from doing this currently. A new set of terms will be published which you will need to agree to before you start to use the new API. You'll be pleasantly surprised about what we will be letting you do! Price comparison? Selling your apps? Getting your users to rely on your apps? Yes yes yes do whatever you like. All we won't let you do is portray Tesco in a bad way politically, nor store private info without customers permission, nor sell insight on to competitors from customers using your applications, nor use Tesco branded images other than those that will be provided to you, nor attempt any form of denial of service. Apart from that you can do what you like using our API.

You wanted: To access customer product favourites.
We will: give you full access to favourites and previous ordered products through the new API. Great if you fancy trying out some 'prediction' ideas.

You wanted: Extended product info (e.g. nutrition, fat content etc).
You will: Have access to all data we can provide through extended calls.

You wanted: To checkout customers so they don't have to checkout through our web site.
We will: Provide limited checkout facilities although this may not be on 'day 1' of the new API. The challenge we have is allowing third parties between us and customers when taking payment. Customers need to trust that your application won't take their card details and store them or act nefariously with this info. We'll be looking at the 'using stored card' facility on our web site going forward but we have to be careful and I hope you understand this. Thoughts on how to improve on this will be gratefully received. We operate within strict Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance and there is nothing we must do even slightly risk that compliance.

You wanted: A RESTful web service interface.
We will: Aim to provide this on or very soon after Day 1 although it is unlikely to be a 'pure' REST interface because of the need to login and authenticate customers, and offer different product ranges dependent on the Tesco branch from which we deliver to them. If you can accept the need for POST data and/or cookies then REST will be a nice simple way of accessing the API. RESTful purists beware you may feel a degree of dissatisfaction!

You wanted: A simpler and quicker way of accessing categories.
We will: Provide a cached category interface that's fast to download.

You wanted: Vastly speeded-up product searching when including ratings.
We will: Rewrite this ratings facility to be available in a different call to product search (using an array of product objects).

You wanted: Unlimited calling of the API, including full product counts on returned searches rather than any limit.
We will: Release these limits tonight (7 July 2009).

You wanted: To access our customers to get some ideas about what they would like from a Tesco grocery application.
We will: Be providing a Innovation Day called 'T-JAM' to be held in central London on the evening of 5th August 2009. Follow my blog which will soon provide a link for you to register if you fancy joining us.

You wanted: to help us help you make money from your application.
We will: Give you access to our affiliates scheme where customers using your application will make you money. After all, we want to incentivise developers to create best-of-breed applications!

So to summarise: A great new Grocery API is coming which will offer extended facilities and faster performance, enable you to obtain an affiliate income from the customers who use your application, and find out what customers are asking for at our T-JAM event coming soon.

Thanks for reading and I hope to meet you at T-Jam in London on 5th August.

Best regards
Nick Lansley
Head of R&D

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Anyone for a Martini?

It's always good to get excited about being on the verge of delivering a major new software platform. And the mood at Tesco HQ is decidedly upbeat.

The re-write of our grocery e-commerce platform, or "Project Martini" is about to be implemented in the live environment over the coming weeks.

We've been delivering groceries online since 1995 so we've built up a fair wealth of experience in this field. In 1999, I helped launch the "BOB" project - "Best Of Breed" - where we were given the budget to design a best-of-breed grocery service ready for launch in 2000 when Ltd was formed as a separate company under the Tesco PLC umbrella.

BOB had a wealth of great grocery functions and facilities both for the customer and our picking and delivery staff. There really was nothing like it.

The (not the right word) "issue" was that the good ideas kept flowing, so every 9 months a new version of BOB would launch. Sometimes very complex elements of functionality would have a sub-BOB-release of their own - so BOB 3.5 and BOB 6.5 would implemented shortly after their 'integer' versions.

All good stuff but by the time we reached 2007, BOB was creaking a lot from all the new ideas that had extended its abilities way beyond its original design.

Now, I am a friend of the theory of evolution and an enemy of the religious pseudo-science that is 'intelligent design' in the real world - but in our IT world, BOB's evolution from its original design was undermining its performance and an intelligent design was definitely the best way forward.

So between then and now, Project Martini's elegant and high performance blueprint has been developed using IT expertise from the middle floor of our Welwyn Garden City HQ to our IT centre in Bangalore.

The Martini platform is living today on our integration test servers and is about to migrate to the final operational test platform, whereupon a control group of us will be able to place orders and try out all the new functionality.

The "Tesco Community" of customers has been invited to apply to have their accounts switched from Bob to Martini to try out the new service, and if everything goes to plan we'll be moving more and more live customers to the new service throughout August.

Project Martini promises a lot - "Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere!" and I'll reveal more of just what that means and what it can do soon.

I must put on record the massive effort that has been given by everyone across the business to bring Martini to life. If you visit HQ you can sense in the air the buzz that we are "nearly there".