Monthly Archives: December 2009

Clipstart 1.2.4

Clipstart 1.2.4 is done! It’s a minor bug fix update but includes dozens of small improvements (and some not so small, if you’re measuring not with new UI but in number of lines of code changed). I’m very happy with this release and excited to move on to some other new features in the works for 1.3 and beyond. “Download and more info”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/clipstart/.

And because I don’t have anything else of substance related to Clipstart to talk about yet, I’ll leave you with “this Buzz Andersen quote”:http://log.scifihifi.com/post/159881723/the-twitter-app-to-use-on-android-im-told-is about quality:

“Shipping quality is a longer, tougher road than just shipping whatever to be first to market, and its benefits tend to be realized more slowly, but if you want users to love your software as a brand, and not merely use it as a commodity, it’s the only way.”

I’m not there yet, but yeah, well said.

Indie payment processing

This story about “PayPal screwing over a Mac indie business”:http://blog.apparentsoft.com/business/124/is-paypal-good-for-your-microisv-business-a-short-paypal-horror-story/ should be a real concern to anyone relying on PayPal. These kind of things come up from time to time, often with frozen accounts because too much money was suddenly flowing into or out of an account, but I’ve always stuck with PayPal because they have low rates and I haven’t run into any problems. There’s nothing fancy about the way I sell “my products”:http://www.riverfold.com/, but it works, and I hate to change things that aren’t broken.

As a user, I’ve gone from avoiding PayPal to preferring it. I’m less likely to use a credit card with online shops that I’ve never heard of before (although more because of the hassle of entering all my information than for any security concerns). It’s also convenient for me to have small expenses like hosting and software purchases all in one place under my PayPal account.

But it’s time to get serious about this, so I’ve decided to use “FastSpring”:http://www.fastspring.com/ as a backup. I like FastSpring’s admin interface, testing mode, templates, and focus on customer support. I’m impressed with the “Atebits custom store”:https://sites.fastspring.com/atebits/instant/tweetie-mac hosted on FastSpring, and the “reasons Justin Williams chose for switching”:http://carpeaqua.com/2009/11/09/why-i-chose-fastspring/. The fees are a little high for everyday use (8.9% vs. PayPal’s 3.9%), but it’s perfect as a secondary payment processor, waiting for me to flip the switch if anything goes wrong with my PayPal account.

Healthcare fallback plan

In the software world, the best strategy is to ship early and often. Get something out there that solves a real problem, then fill in the missing pieces and continue to improve it. Iterate. In politics, though, we often only have one chance in years or decades to get it right.

The healthcare bill passed the Senate and is on its way to becoming real, even if it’s a shadow of what it could have been. We should be thankful that we got anything — the changes do matter — but at the same time I can’t help thinking it was a missed opportunity.

Who’s to blame? I wish Democrats had fought harder; I wish they’d framed the debate correctly from the start. I still like George Lakoff’s focus on calling the public option the “American Plan”:http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/8/20/769743/-The-PolicySpeak-Disaster-for-Health-Care, but I also like “John Neffinger’s point”:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-neffinger/how-we-lost-healthcare_b_392275.html that maybe the real mistake was in not starting with a single-payer plan so that the public option would look like a moderate compromise. It feels like many Democrats were resigned to failure early on.

In an “unrelated tweet a few weeks ago”:http://twitter.com/boltcity/status/6672228351, from comic artist Kazu Kibuishi: “If you have a fallback, you will fall back.” My failures reflect that too. To shoot for greatness you have to put everything you’ve got into your first effort.

I keep coming back to something Hillary Clinton said in a debate with Obama early in the Democratic primaries of 2008. It struck me as so true at the time that I wrote it down:

“If you do not have a plan that starts out attempting to achieve universal healthcare, you will be nibbled to death.”

And that’s what happened.

iPhone giveaway wrap-up

I was reminded by “Nick Bonatsakis on Twitter”:http://twitter.com/nickbonas that I never wrote about how giving away the iPhone worked out. The short answer is: pretty well! The longer answer follows.

I’ve conducted 3 giveaways for Riverfold Software now:

  • Nintendo Wii, back when they were in short supply. You could enter by sending a message to “@wii”:http://twitter.com/wii or by entering your email address and sharing the link with a friend.

  • iPhone 3GS, plus year of Vimeo Plus and Flickr Pro. That’s what I’ll talk about below.

  • New Super Mario Bros Wii game. Probably the simplest giveaway, all I asked is that you give me your email address and optionally sign up for my newsletter.

In all cases I had two goals: do something fun for potential customers, and give the press an excuse to write about my products. By that metric all the giveaways were successful.

I noticed when originally giving away the Wii that most of the entries were Windows users — people who couldn’t even use my application! So for the iPhone giveaway I made a change: you could only enter by downloading the app and choosing a special menu item, which loaded a simple webview with the entry form. Pretty straightforward, and no complaints. The total number of entries was lower, but they were targeted to existing or potential customers.

In additional to sending news about the giveaway to a few contacts who I hoped would pick up the story, I also wrote a formal press release for it, which “went out through prMac”:http://prmac.com/release-id-6861.htm. This is so inexpensive that it’s hard to find fault with it, but I think the main outcome was getting contacted for advertising on sites that I had never heard of before.

Another thing to remember is to set up a “system to track referrers”:http://www.manton.org/2008/09/tracking_sales_referrers.html through to sales, so that you can judge the effectiveness of these giveaway-style marketing efforts. I could tell right away that it paid for itself, but it wasn’t a significant bump in overall weekly stats. I do believe it helps long-term though.

The final part I took pride in was shipping quickly. Growing up we all had the wind knocked out of our sails by the “allow 6-8 weeks for delivery” fine print on cereal box prizes or other mail-in gimmicks. If nothing else, I made an effort to ship the next day if possible, and I paid for express shipping.

Giving away stuff is fun. Until I get sued for not following some obscure rule on contests because I didn’t hire a lawyer, I’ll plan for more giveaways in 2010.

Clipstart duplicates

Clipstart 1.0 tried to be smart about not importing videos that were already in your library, but it stopped short of actually giving you much control over whether to import duplicates or ignore them. I also felt like the window showing duplicates could be improved to provide more information about each file. At a glance you should be able to tell if Clipstart is doing the right thing.

So I put a lot of effort into this for the soon-to-be-released Clipstart 1.2.4, and the result is this window:

Duplicates dialog

It generates a few frames of the timeline for each video (both old and new file side by side), which turns out to be an excellent way to confirm that they are indeed the same file, and also shows the original filename even after Clipstart (or the user) has renamed it. Now I can scan through the window in about 2 seconds and I’m done. Contrast with iPhoto which prompts after each video is imported, instead of at the end of the batch, and if you blindly trust it by checking “Apply to all duplicates” then you have no feedback on whether you made the right choice.

The new duplicates window works with both volume-based cameras like the Flip and SD cards, as well as USB devices such as the iPhone 3GS and iPod Nano. I hope to ship version 1.2.4 soon, and there’s a “beta in the forums”:http://www.riverfold.com/forums/topic.php?id=49.

Update: As pointed out by a customer, Ignore and Keep are actually pretty confusing verbs here. I’ve changed it to “Skip Duplicates” and “Import Duplicates” for the final release.

The Princess and the Frog

Walt’s nephew “Roy Disney died this week”:http://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/12/16/roy.disney.obit/index.html. In 2003 I blogged about “Roy leaving the company”:http://www.manton.org/2003/12/roy_leaves.html. I said:

“It’s a shame that Roy is the one to leave. It’s clear that Disney (the company) has lost its way, and Eisner has no vision for what the company could be.”

Luckily for us, since that time a lot has changed, and the animation division does have leadership in John Lasseter. One of the most visible changes just opened in theaters last weekend: The Princess and the Frog. I’ve seen every theatrical release out of Disney feature animation since I could afford the few bucks to go to a theater, so I wasn’t likely to miss this return of 2d animation.

My daughters and I really loved this movie, not just because of my love for hand-drawn animation, but for a story that works and characters that are rooted in something real — singing Cajun fireflies and voodoo magic aside, of course. There are some really touching scenes here. “Sandro Cleuzo says”:http://inspectorcleuzo.blogspot.com/2009/12/milt-kahl-day-12.html the animation was rushed, but I think they did a heck of a job.

The credits are almost as if nothing has changed — Eric Goldberg, Andreas Deja, Mark Henn, Nik Ranieri. “The reality is slightly different”:http://www.dreamonsillydreamer.com/, but there’s a mix of new animators among the familiar names. A lot is riding on the success of this film, and it managed a respectable $25 million over the weekend.

Great job, Disney. I’m glad Roy got to see the beginning of the next 2d comeback.

Decentralization and no-SQL

I’ve been meaning to link to this since it was posted earlier in the year. “Jens Alfke hopes”:http://mooseyard.com/Jens/2009/02/what-will-web-30-be/ for a decentralized future Web 3.0:

“Centralization creates concentrations of power, and that’s dangerous. The people who run the servers have total control over your (and everyone’s) data. They can snoop at it (however private it’s supposed to be), they can sell it to advertisers, they can accidentally lose it, they can accidentally expose it to hackers.”

I agree. Even for the best-loved centralized companies, like Twitter and Flickr, I want a copy of my data. If the first set of desktop tools to interface with web services were all about sharing and publishing, the next software generation will need to also effortlessly download and backup that data. Even usually careful programmers “sometimes get it wrong”:http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=990323.

Jens goes on to talk about CouchDB, including a link to “this intro book”:http://books.couchdb.org/relax/. Looks good. Couch and “other no-SQL database systems”:http://nosql-database.org/ like Mongo are interesting technologies that I’d probably come up with an excuse to use if MySQL wasn’t such a workhorse already. Related, for the Ruby fans in the audience: “Phil Burrows on logging with Mongo”:http://blog.philburrows.com/articles/2009/09/28/rails-logging-with-mongodb/.

Worthless apps

I like “this article on Mobile Orchard about the relationship between price and ratings”:http://www.mobileorchard.com/app-store-heresies-higher-price-better-ratings-dont-discount-your-app-at-launch/:

“Customers with some skin in the game carry a psychological pressure to feel that they’ve been wise in their purchases; they’ll tend to over emphasize their positive feelings.”

This makes sense to me, and the other side of pricing that’s so important is the message you send. The perceived value of a product is connected to the published price. This is especially true in the App Store, where there’s no way to try the software before purchasing it. The price sets expectations.

So to take the Mobile Orchard analysis a little further: no one feels guilty judging a free app harshly with a 1-star rating because even the developer thinks the app is literally worthless.

Sure, there are good reasons to have a free app. To complement another paid service or desktop app, as a demo for a game or full version, or to “make $125,000/month in ad revenue”:http://fingergaming.com/2009/12/02/paper-toss-developer-earns-125000-in-monthly-ad-revenue/. In fact half the ideas I had for iPhone apps would have been free. But I don’t think any of that changes the truth of what Mobile Orchard said, that free stuff isn’t respected as much as something the customer is personally invested in.