Fighting Death by Spam

By Bob Walsh

There’s a special place in hell for people who ignore spam getting into their life and I’m in it.

Let me explain. I’ve been working this summer on Project X and largely neglecting my microISV’s tech support/defect system: while bugs and inquiries have gotten processed, since I set up my VB6 app to email bugs in, there are two email addresses that have been getting spam stuffed.

The app I’ve been using for years for this is Fog Creek’s FogBugz, and normally it does a fantastic job of sending spam right to the trash. But it needs to be taught which messages are spam and which are not. It’s not enough to just respond/resolve real cases – you’re supposed to move them out Undecided as either Spam or Not Spam.

Oops. My bad. Very, very 15,000 spam messages in my database bad.

In preparation for what I hope will be a great 2008, I’m shamelessly taking advantage of Fog Creek by moving from the hosted FogBugz service I’ve been using for the last year to Fog Creek’s very own hosted service. Not only does Fog Creek have a free startup/microISV option if you have 1-2 users, they were kind enough to move my db over to their servers for free (thanks Jason!).

But that still leaves me with 15,000 spam to kill – and Fogbugz is not designed to make this kind of user error easy to correct. So it’s Click All to select the 200 cases that are actually spam emails, scan them quick to make sure I haven’t missed any real cases along the way, click again to move them to Spam which I should have done when this started to become a problem wait for the server, and repeat. And repeat….

Only about 8,500 to go.

How’s your day going?

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Fighting Death by Spam

Deciding what goes into your microISV product

by Jan Goyvaerts

Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Walsh at the European Software Conference. The evening after the conference, a bunch of us had dinner at a Mexican-Italian eatery near the Dom in Cologne.

During our conversation, Bob mentioned that EditPad Pro has been his favorite text editor for quite some time. He said that he got the impression that for the version 6 upgrade, I seemed to have focused on “ticking all the boxes” when comparing EditPad Pro with other popular text editors. Fact is, I hardly ever look at competing products.

My vision is that if I spend too much time looking at other products, I’ll just end up with copy-cat design for my own. It’s easier to design something new when starting with a blank slate than with starting with how things have been done before. At least it is for me. Just like it’s easier to learn a new habit than to unlearn a bad habit.

So how did I decide what to put in EditPad Pro 6 and what not? Easy: customer feedback. Many years ago, I spent an afternoon or two to hack together a simple bug and feature tracking database. It’s just four tables for products, versions, and issues in a master-detail relationship. The fourth table is the reason I rolled my own instead of using an off-the-shelf product. At the time, I couldn’t find anything that could keep a list of customers for each issue being tracked. So if Joe requests feature X, I email Joe a boilerplate “thank you for your feedback”, enter issue X into the database, and paste his email as a vote for issue X. That gives me a good idea of how many people care about X. That in turn allows me to estimate a cost/benefit ratio of implementing X.

It’s not a democratic system where issues with most votes get implemented. Reproducible bugs always get fixed, even if nobody complained, or “Just Great Software” wouldn’t be what it says on the box. Major new features or UI redesigns always get pushed ahead to the next major upgrade. While new features sell, product stability sells too. But when deciding what we have time for, and what needs to wait, customer feedback is a very useful metric.

Of course, Bob wasn’t completely off the mark. EditPad Pro 6 did add a lot of features that are, in some form, available in other text editors. Our customers have seen or even used those editors. “Product Z has X. When will EditPad have it?” is a very common request. But instead of just downloading product Z and plagiarizing the whole feature, I look at why the customer wants the feature. Most customers motivate their requests. Entering the relevant details into the feature tracking database helps to improve the feature’s design. E.g. when people were requesting built-in FTP for EditPad, it was obvious that the need was speed and convenience. The power of a stand-alone client wasn’t needed, because everybody already has one. Hence EditPad 6 got FTP as a sidebar that can stay connected to multiple servers for quick online editing. While that certainly ticks “FTP” on the feature matrix, such comparisons don’t show how happy people are with the feature’s implementation. E.g. had EditPad Pro 6 implemented FTP in a modal dialog, it would have been even less convenient than an external client. (Not that I ever considered such horrible design.)

The cherry on the cake is that collecting email addresses as votes gives you a very valuable means to contact your customers. When a new release fixes a bug or adds a feature that Joe emailed us about, Joe will get an automatic email saying the latest release implements X. Even though the message isn’t very polished (and it apologizes for being so), customers really appreciate this bit of attention.

My recommendation is to worry about making your customers happy rather than ticking all the boxes. Word-of-mouth is far more powerful than a doctored comparison from your marketing department hat.

Jan has been running his own microISV Just Great Software every since unsuspectingly releasing a hobby project called HelpScribble to the world in 1996. Shareware Beach is his personal hangout in the blogosphere.

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Deciding what goes into your microISV product

links for 2007-11-22

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Bob Walshlinks for 2007-11-22

A checklist for your microISV site.

Here’s a good starter list for making sure your microISV web site has the basics down in terms of ease of use: Scientific Web Design: 23 Actionable Lessons from Eye-Tracking Studies

Again, nothing startling in this list, but if your site is breaking any of these best-practices, you’d better have a good reason why.

Here’s the gist – see the post for why these are things you should be paying attention to.

1. Text attracts attention before graphics.
2. Initial eye movement focuses on the upper left corner of the page.
3. Users initially look at the top left and upper portion of the page before moving down and to the right.
4. Readers ignore banners.
5. Fancy formatting and fonts are ignored.
6. Show numbers as numerals.
7. Type size influences viewing behavior.
8. Users only look at a sub headline if it interests them.
9. People generally scan lower portions of the page.
10. Shorter paragraphs perform better than long ones.
11. One-column formats perform better in eye-fixation than multi-column formats.
12. Ads in the top and left portions of a page will receive the most eye fixation.
13. Ads placed next to the best content are seen more often.
14. Text ads were viewed mostly intently of all types tested.
15. Bigger images get more attention.
16. Clean, clear faces in images attract more eye fixation.
17. Headings draw the eye.
18. Users spend a lot of time looking at buttons and menus.
19. Lists hold reader attention longer.
20. Large blocks of text are avoided.
21. Formatting can draw attention.
22. White space is good.
23. Navigation tools work better when placed at the top of the page.


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A checklist for your microISV site.

links for 2007-11-13

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Bob Walshlinks for 2007-11-13

Personal branding – turning developers into entrepreneurs

by Dan Schawbel

Who said that developers can’t be entrepreneurs? Well in a web 2.0, they are given the chance and opportunity to be that CEO. In a web 1.0 world, developers were slaves to corporations enlisting their services to sell products to customers, become profitable and then update those same products for the next revision. In the new age, everyone is one the same planes, hierarchies will soon vanish and guess what, you are a CEO. As the CEO of a brand called you, you are empowered to make a difference, start your own company, on any topic, blog, and perhaps, change the world!

Personal branding is a term defined as “the process by which we differentiate ourselves by identifying and articulating our unique value proposition to achieve a specific goal.” Our brand is what others think of us when they hear our names, its how we are perceived and what makes us stand out from everyone else. Those who sit back and don’t use the personal branding practice will turn into commodities. As a developer, it’s your chance to craft new technologies that can be implemented online and by doing so you become more visible, credible and famous.

Through blogging and social networking, developers have the resources readily available to them to start building a business. If you don’t have the business skills or the capital to start you business or fund your software projects, then you can pick and choose from your communities to fill positions. How do you know who is qualified? You know from the comments, the content and their biography, if they have the necessary skills to help you on your project.

Developers have the technical know-how to create the most impressive programs available and if that knowledge is paired with a businessman, then there is potential for an all-star team. I’ve seen this happen a lot on the web and sometimes the developer is also the businessman, such as Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. Whether it be a brand new social network (there are far too many as is) or a new application for business use, developers have more choices than ever and can freely connect with individuals online. To be an entrepreneur it now requires less money, but more people and great ideas.

Dan is the lead personal branding expert for generation-y. He commands the world famous Personal Branding Blog, publishes Personal Branding Magazine, directs Personal Branding TV, and is the head judge for the 2008 Personal Brand Awards

[tags]branding, entrepreneurs[/tags]

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Personal branding – turning developers into entrepreneurs

Truer words never spoken

I caught the kick off conference call of the Personal Branding Summit this morning and I’m glad I recommended it here yesterday: some really good insightful discussion about building a brand for individuals and small companies.

Best quote of the session in my opinion goes to Andy Sernovitz: “Without a brand, you have to sell yourself twice.” So true! First you have to establish some credibility and authority and then, and only then, can you persuade your microISV customers to consider your product or service.

By blogging, by participating in or even building an online community, by commenting on blogs, by doing white papers, speaking at conferences within your industry, you build a brand. What brand marketing are you doing?

The Branding Summit is ongoing today (Thursday), and it’s free.

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Truer words never spoken

26 Branding Seminars free Nov. 8th.

Branding is something microISVs should know a lot more about. My friend Pamela Slim (Escape from Cubicle Nation) just clued me in on what sounds like a great free resource for microISVs:

My buddy Jason Alba from JibberJobber has organized a pretty cool free learning event tomorrow, entitled Personal Branding Summit. Details are here. It includes some of my favorite marketing and career types like Guy Kawasaki, John Jantsch, Krishna De, Richard Bolles, Phil Gerbyshak and Debbie Weil. Sign up for individual sessions that cover all kinds of personal branding and marketing topics.You can’t beat this line up for free.

Check out the sessions here – here’s a smattering that got my attention:

  • Evangelizing Evangelists to Build a Business and Build Your Brand – Panel: Guy Kawasaki (facilitator), Krishna De, John Jantsch, Andy Sernovitz, Tim Demello
  • Success Built to Last – Secrets from the most successful people on earth! – Stewart Emery
  • How A Book Becomes A Brand: The 35-Year History of WHAT COLOR IS YOUR PARACHUTE? -Richard Nelson Bolles
  • Three Steps to a Winning Brand – William Arruda.

[tags]Branding, Branding Summit[/tags]

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26 Branding Seminars free Nov. 8th.

The secret formula of microISV success.

A programmer friend of mine emailed me a few days ago with a frustration I’ve heard often:

The projects I can think of working on are rather generic (and
probably the low-hanging fruits): File backup/restore, information
storage/retrieval, money management… I can’t seem to figure out how
to find more “niche” problems.

What can I do to find them?

I mulled this over earlier this week while at the Business of Software Conference, listening to some really sharp people talk about different and interesting ways of looking at this business we are in.

Here’s what I came up with:

(Problem / Market ) * (Passion + Disruption) = microISV app.

Problem – This is something that causes a non-programmer pain. Note I said non-programmers. Programmers are not normal people and don’t see the world the way they do. First off, we actually like tech – they do not, unless their friends like it and it’s now been made cool and safe (think iPod and iPhone). Second, we think binary – either this class works or it doesn’t: They do not.

Market – These are the people who have the problem and are ready, willing and able to change. You can’t sell shoes to a man unable to walk and you can’t sell without a 24 month sales cycle, round 2 VC money and a direct sales force an enterprise software system to a HR department already locked into a system.

People are busy and have lots of problems. When problems hurt enough, when the pain, frustration, emotional hurt or self-image damage is enough, that’s when and only when they go to Google looking for a solution.

This relationship between Problem and Market means you need to find a sufficiently painful problem to enough people ready willing and able to change what they are doing now for you to succeed.

Let’s look at the lower half of the equation.

Passion – That’s what you need to have for the Problem. Since you’re not going to get paid (yet) for creating this app to address the Problem, you are going to need a large supply of Passion. Some people for various reasons find money generates passion. Most need something more – like liking the people who have the Problem, wanting to prove to themselves and the world they can write great software. Negative emotions can tank up your Passion tank too – Anger at some dumbass company that sells you something you know could and should be better; Frustration when you are part of that market.

Whatever floats your boat – just keep in mind you’re going to need a lot of it and no matter how horrendous the problem, no matter how large the market, you have to be sold on it first, it has to be something you feel a burning need to do something about. This is a pretty high bar to jump, and why hundreds of millions of people can know about a problem (Darfur comes to mind), but only hundreds will feel the absolute imperative to do something about it.

Finally there’s Disruption. This is the secret weapon in the secret formula. Because we’re programmers we can create tools to solve problems that are not 10% better, but 100 times better. We can disrupt – taking how people did things (the Problem) and recast it in an entirely different way.

Pick 10 apps or web sites you think are really successful. How many of them built their success on disrupting the way things were done before they came along? Every single one of them.

Disruption – called innovation by the suits – is what has driven technology for some 203 years since some bloke mounted a steam engine on a set of wheels running on metal rails and upset the established order.

MicroISVs have the incredible advantage of not having to produce n+1 apps. We are in the disruption business – and very happy to be so.

So when you are mulling what app or web service you should build your microISV around, go find someone’s apple cart to turn over, go find a problem that needs a heathy dose of disruption that gets you excited and energized – that’s the app you should write.

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The secret formula of microISV success.