(If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to hear about my product first.)
I’ve mentioned previously that my original inspiration for Bingo Card Creator was hearing a teacher ask for it after searching fruitlessly. I also searched. There are direct competitors to my product, but even the ones targetted at the education market fail to provide key features to my users (or I’d better pray they do).
I wish them the best of luck in their endeavors, incidentally: I’m setting out to do one thing very well and intend to do so, but my product won’t be right for everybody and I would be genuinely pleased if everyone continues to have whatever successes they are looking for. That being said, I’m playing at being a businessman at the moment so I’m going to offer my opinions on why there exists a niche which is being under-served, so my evaluation is necessarily going to sound critical.
The Top Search Result In Google For “Bingo Card Creator”: they’ve got a free version and a paid version.
Free version: A CGI script which generates 3×3 or 5×5 bingo cards. You must supply your own words. The output can be printed from your browser , but a coding error makes it look less than spectacular (your word list gets printed after your bingo cards, the selection to make a free space is not respected). No customizability.
It lacks a core feature for my target audience: printing multiple cards at a time. After you have entered your word list (which you can’t save), printing 25 copies (a classroom worth) requires *seventy five* (next page, print button, OK, repeat x 25) additional mouseclicks and 25 page loads. They can’t offer an entire lesson in 5 minutes like I can.
There is also no option to print multiple cards on a single page, which is important for saving your paper budget. Do you know how much money the average school spends on paper every year? I used to work for an office supply company. Our educational orders would boggle your mind. Teachers are big believers in “reduce, reuse, recycle” for a reason.)
Paid version: $29.99 a year. Creates “advanced” bingo cards, which is a feature bundled with a lot of much more broadly useful features: ability to print rubrics, worksheets, etc. I don’t have $30 in the budget to test out what the advanced cards look like, but I assume it involves saving cards and probably respecting the “free space” button. This is quite possibly an excellent resource for a teacher seeking a package of instructional aids which includes a passable bingo creator, but isn’t attractive just for bingo.
Most free web-based bingo generators suffer for the same flaws as the above so I won’t review any other ones.
The Best Solution I’ve Seen: You have to hunt for this one on the search engines, but if you assume my customer has infinite time to research they will eventually land at a site like this. 2 to 4 cards for a page, 5 pages at a time, the interface offers flexibility and respects user choices, and outputs to PDF for easy printing. You can choose font size which a) is important to teachers (little kids and old folks get big fonts, its just the way of the world) and b) lets the user, with a little effort, avoid edge cases like the one I was talking about yesterday.
For $10 you can upgrade to a premium version which is pretty hard to differentiate from free: it will let you make a call list but this is a luxury item, not a necessity, for a teacher (you can always just use another bingo card or pick items psuedo-randomly — remember, you will be using lists that you have taught every year for your entire career, its not like you’re going to forget that the letter “Y” exists or that “the” is a sight word).
There’s no ability to save word lists in either version and they only offer ~10 custom word lists, and you can’t make a list with a number of words not equal to 25 (thats, well, problematic — try doing “countries of Latin America” bingo some time).
Typical Software From Mainstream Educational Publisher: $35 ($45 on CD). Their site licensing is also more expensive for most schools than just buying multiple units from me, although I should probably include a site licensing option at some point to handle orders which come from the administration and not directly from a teacher. Free trial limits you to basic math facts (I think that might be a tad overfocused). Functionality similar to my program, with customizability for the header (Name Date Class etc). Although the linked publisher doesn’t, many publishers sell the software by the year.
Non-software solutions: You can just buy bingo sets from many educational publishers, and many teachers do (the fact that they do proves the existence of a market). The main value is from the cards themselves. You get one set of cards (which teachers frequently photocopy) restricted to a single subject or word list, are limited to what the publisher has in stock, and can expect to pay about $10 for every unique bingo game you run in a year.
My own trial version (no link yet): All uISVs with a free trial need to understand that they compete with themselves for their customers. I’m going to talk strategies for dealing with this most dangerous of all competitors in the next post.