I’m a developer, not a designer. I’ve always aspired to improve my front end skills. I have very strong opinions on how things should look, how site navigation should work, etc. Sadly, I have absolutely no ability to code any UI except for an unstyled steaming pile of HTML. I started watching the DOCTYPE podcast, hosted by Nick Pettit and Jim Hoskins in an effort to get some insight into the mysterious world of design. I had just caught up on their back catalog when I noticed that the last episode was posted back in March of 2011. Hmmm.
Like any reasonable person, I simply assumed that Nick and Jim had been abducted by aliens and went on about my business. Then, in one of the numerous podcasts I listen to I found a clue to their whereabouts. Turns out the alien abduction thing wasn’t far off. They’re both being held captive at Carsonified, I’m sure being subjected to strange medical experiments, probing, etc.
More importantly, when not being researched they are contributing to Carsonified’s latest creation, Treehouse (teamtreehouse.com). This used to be know as Think Vitamin Membership, but they’ve apparently re-positioned it, pumped some more resources in it and got Jim and Nick on-board to produce instructional video content.
Basically, Treehouse is an online subscription service with some pretty high production quality content on web design, web development and iOS development. Having been deprived of my instructional video fix, I joined up and am now addicted. Like a video game, Treehouse awards you badges for successful completion of quizzes and code challenges. Being the completionist I am, I’m going through all of the content even if I know the subject well. In doing so I’m finding out that the things I know well, maybe I didn’t know as well as I thought I did. Even if you’re experienced in any of the tracks the offer, it’s worth going through them again.
Although new and a work in progress, the content and site is very polished. Some of the videos haven’t been changed to the new Treehouse branding, but who cares? I’m sure they’ll get to it. The code challenges work well and the quizzes are somewhat evil in that if you get one wrong, or go review the material, the quiz resets so you have to answer all the randomly selected questions again. I did encounter a bug. One of the initial code challenges was to add a simple <div> to the body of an HTML page. I did it correctly, but Treehouse didn’t agree. I then pasted the example code into the box and it still thought it was incorrect. Refreshing the page and starting again fixed the problem though.
Treehouse starts at the absolute beginning for all topics, so if you’re a more experienced developer you might not find the initial stuff useful. If so, just take the quiz without watching the videos. Word on the street is that Facebook is looking at the Treehouse profiles and badge collections to identify potential recruits, so your Treehouse badges might turn into good resume bullet points at some point.
One thing that bothers me about Treehouse is that their mascot is a tree frog. Tree frogs creep me out. They never blink. What’s up with that?
I recently got a ping from Bobby Stark letting me know that he’d launched LYRICSnMUSIC, a sort of one-stop-shop for people searching for lyrics, music, artist and tour information, etc. Never wanting to pass by an opportunity to try and break something, I checked it out. The shot above was a search I did by words from a relatively obscure Donnie Iris song. How often do you have lyrics etched into your brain, but can’t for the life of you recall the artist or song title? Well, if you do give this site a shot and you’ll probably find what you’re looking for.
The site itself has a pretty streamlined, industrial looking design and is very functional and easy to figure out.
Since I’m addicted to the various blogs and podcasts where startup founders and entrepreneurs are interviewed, I thought I’d see if Bobby would be willing to bite and he agreed to answer a few questions on the genesis and future of LYRICSnMUSIC. So here’s our first ever web entrepreneur interview with Bobby (Bobby’s responses in a lovely blue color).
Interview with Bobby Stark – Founder of LYRICSnMUSIC
When did you launch the site?
We launched in open beta June 15th, 2011.
From idea to launch how long did it take to get the site up and running?
It took a little over 7 months.
What need did you see that LYRICSnMUSIC fulfills?
Since LYRICSnMUSIC has Song Lyrics, YouTube Videos, Images, Wikipedia entry, Tour Dates, iTunes/Amazon MP3 and even Guitar Tabs on one page, we eliminate the need of going to 3 or 4 different websites to find the info of a song/artist you like.
Did you get funding to build it or are you bootstrapping?
We are bootstrapping our project. Getting funding can be great but sometimes investors want to include things that don’t really make any sense. “Too many cooks spoil the soup.”
How long did it take you to build up the site?
The initial coding took a little over 5 months, but we are still improving the site. So it’s kind of an ongoing project.
Are the lyrics entirely community contributed?
It’s a combination of community and lyrics directly from the record companies.
If so was it tough building a large enough community to get critical mass of lyrics? I tried a few obscure songs and, sure enough, they were there.
Glad you found the song you where looking for. We have over 2 million song lyrics and that number literally grows everyday.
How is the site monetized? It looks like it may be a combination of affiliate links for music purchases and advertising. If that’s the case, where do you get the lion’s share of revenue?
The lion’s share of the revenue comes from banner advertising. The music purchase links are more of a convenience for visitors.
How have you been driving traffic to the site?
It’s a combination of social media, search engines and positive reviews from bloggers.
You make it clear that the lyrics are 100% legit and the artists are compensated. What kind of issues with licensing or IP did you encounter?
Getting legal lyrics can be a bit of a minefield. So we partnered with a lyric aggregator that takes care of all artist compensation and legal record keeping. It’s been a great partnership for us, because it allows us to focus on the user experience instead of dealing with lawyers.
How has the reception been since you launched?
It’s been great! We have had visitors from nearly every country on the planet and our traffic continues to grow.
What are your hopes for the future of LYRICSnMUSIC?
We have some BIG plans for the future, but we are still working on the on it, so I’d rather not say right now.
Now to the more techie questions…
I did a search for “the night winds stir the old ghosts” and the song I was thinking of was the first hit. Very impressive as it was a bit obscure. What do you use to power your search? Something like SOLR/Lucene?
It’s an algorithm that is continually being improved on. We should have an update in the next 30 days, so the search results should get even better.
What kind of datastore are you using?
Right now it’s Amazon S3.
What is the site built on (PHP, Django, Rails, .NET, etc)?
We use Ruby on Rails and really like the speed of how we can get new features online.
Did you build it yourself or outsource/offshore?
We have a team that we have been working with for 5 years.
Any thoughts on a mobile app to complement the web site?
Yes, that is one of the things we will be working on and hope to have it live in the next few months.
What do you host on? Dedicated servers, VPS, cloud services or all of the above?
Heroku cloud services.
Have you hit any scalability issues?
Not yet (knock on wood). Scalability is one of the things we love about cloud services. It’s really easy to add more resources when you start hitting your current limit.
I’ve known about Pluggio for quite a while. It was created by Justin Vincent, one of the hosts of the Techzing podcast (which I listen to and highly recommend). Oddly enough, Justin and I have crossed paths before. He was kind enough to license one of his songs (he used to be a musician) for promotional use for the venture we’re now using Pluggio for.
Most of our kiwiluv projects do not lend themselves to social media marketing. However, my business partner and I have teamed up with one of her Wharton classmates to build 7 Regent Lane, which is an eCommerce enterprise dealing in custom mensware. Social media marketing is critical to our success over there, so here was a golden opportunity to give Pluggio a test drive.
I am a cheap bastard. I knew that Pluggio didn’t have a free tier so it would cost money out of the box. Pluggio does offer a money back guarantee so the risk is low, however the cheapskate in me compelled me to try out Hootsuite first. Bottom line, I didn’t care for it so Pluggio got the call.
Report from the Trenches
So, with my newly created Pluggio account I was ready to give it a shot. Pluggio is what I would consider an automation tool. Our 7 Regent Lane venture is highly automated (I’ll be posting many tales of woe here about that later) so this tool fit right in. Our goal was to build a following of Twitter users who are likely to be interested in our product. Pluggio enables this by allowing you to filter and curate information from a variety of sources (RSS feeds, etc.) which you can Tweet. It also suggests folks that you might want to follow based on the same set of keywords.
Bottom line, Pluggio is working great. In a few days we had accumulated a few hundred followers. Things have slowed down a bit but we haven’t yet tweeted a large volume of useful tweets, but are working on it.
Like most Twitter clients of this type, Pluggio lets you schedule tweets. It also lets you throw them into a rolling schedule which is probably my favorite feature. I can spend an hour or so per week filling a tweet queue and I’ve configured Pluggio to spit them out at random intervals from 30-90 minutes.
The Cool Stuff
Here’s the stuff that I love about Pluggio so far:
- The price. For a single account the price point is around ten bucks. If I had to grow a Twitter following the hard way I’d have to spend a lot of time being a Twitter operator.
- Scheduled and rolling tweets. In about an hour, you can curate tweets which will appeal to your audience for an entire week and forget about it.
- User suggestions. These aren’t bad, although I think the algorithm could be beefed up a bit. It does take some effort to filter out the folks you’d really like to follow from Pluggio’s suggestions.
- Unfollow suggestions. These are helpful. If the folks you follow don’t follow back in a certain time Pluggio suggests you ditch them. My personal Twitter account is so I can keep track of people I’m intersted. The one for 7 Regent Lane is intended to push information the other direction so this feature is very useful to weed out users who aren’t interested in what you have to say.
- ping.fm and bit.ly integration. These integrations give you access to bit.ly click tracking and ping.fm will let you post to a boatload of other social networks in addition to Twitter. We use it to post onto our Facebook page.
- Lots of help. Pluggio is loaded with short screencasts to help explain how features work. These are extremely well produced and very helpful. Also, Pluggio was kind enough to put a hyperlink to where to find your API key for external services. If you’ve ever tried to find where this is on ping.fm, you know the true meaning of pain. Go ahead…try to find it…I’ll wait. Pluggio had a hyperlink that took me right there.
So, lots to love here.
The Not So Cool Stuff
Not much actually. I think my biggest complaint is that I found the icons for scheduling tweets and adding them to the rolling schedule somewhat nonintuitive. However the embedded screencasts make this a non problem.
Pluggio has a couple of features which are clearly marked “beta” which I played with. One looks like it attempts to bring another level of automation to offload even the tweet curation work from you. I tried it and wound up with some tweets going out that I wouldn’t have picked, however that may be more related to my choice of sources than anything Pluggio did.
Give it a Try
If this is a pain point in your life, Pluggio will definitely help. In the few days since we’ve been using it we’ve seen a spike in traffic to our web site and blog due to Twitter traffic. The UI is easy to use so I’m going to turn the curation process over to a fashion designer overseas to curate suitable content for the 7 Regent Lane customer base. I’m convinced that she’ll have no problem operating it and the users will no longer be subjected to my sense of style (I have a large collection of cargo shorts and I’ll fitting t-shirts).
A colleague shared this one with me and it cracked me up, so I couldn’t resist posting it. I have a foot in both worlds. My day job involves systems with millions of clients and zero tolerance for downtime. Our venture does Web 2.0ish stuff using Rails. You hear a lot about MVC (minimum viable product) these days, and for kiwiluv products, which are as yet unproven, we adhere to that philosophy. Yes, I know full well that we’ll have to pump some more work into it to get it to scale, but the point is to see if you get traction in order to figure out if that next wave of investment is worth it.
On the other hand, if you have a system where you know full well it’s got to handle gazillions of users with no downtime, it’s irresponsible not to sharpen your pencils and use a little piece of your brain to make sure the wheels aren’t going to come flying off.
Either that or find a nice landing page with a cute “Fail Whale”esque picture for people to joke about when your servers fly apart at the seams.
By the way, if you’re concerned about this kind of thing you should be reading the High Scalability blog. There’s good stuff there so check it out.
I got an email this morning that Rails for Zombies (a cool introductory tutorial by the guys at Envy Labs) was now hosted at Code School (an Envy Labs product actually). Naturally, I was lured by the promise of fame and glory, so I went over and got my OZ (original zombie) badge which I felt I had earned at great personal risk (zombies). I had test driven it a while back for fun…and because zombies are so damn cool.
Guys…please do a general Java Script course. My Java Script Fu is weak.
I heard about this and couldn’t believe it so I had to check it out for myself. The folks at True Knowledge have apparently, through a detailed scientific process, determined that April 11, 1954 was the most boring day in history. I had planned to post some snide remark about the wasteful use of CPU cycles in large environmentally hostile data centers, but then I got hypnotized playing with True Knowledge.
For example, I decided that it was absolutely critical that I know how many strips a typical zebra had…
You gotta be friggin kidding me! I didn’t even know there were that many kinds of zebra.
This site is worth a visit because in addition to it’s ability to answer those disturbing questions that have always plagued us, like zebra strip statistics, they’ve posted some detailed information on the engine’s architecture which is of general interest to the techies out there.
So, if you were alive on April 11, 1954 do you remember that day? No? Well, now you know why.
We love software that’s simple and clean. Duck Duck Go definitely fits the bill. We’ve posted a couple of interviews from Duck Duck Go’s creator, Gabriel Weinberg (another Philadelphia area entrepreneur). However, we never really said much about the site itself.
Google has reached the point where it is a verb in the English (and other) language. Search is ‘Googling’ now no matter where you are and what you’re doing. Sadly, I’m old enough to remember when Alta Vista was the search to beat.
I give Google a tip of my hat for their algorithms and what they’ve accomplished. They’re not the only game in town though, and for some things perhaps not the best. One thing’s for sure…Duck Duck Go is much prettier.
Google, the gorilla of search, also does a decent job, but lacks style. Also, the results are purely the work of the algorithm and somehow lack a human touch. Not to mention Google produces some of the most butt ugly user interfaces…
Yuck. Well, it’s given you the results based on the traffic and interconnections that the Googlerithm has determined. But is it what you were looking for? Why not give Duck Duck Go a try for a few days and see what life outside of the Google Hegemony is like.
Oh, for techies here’s a nice post from Gabriel’s blog on Duck Duck Go’s architecture. Worth a look!
Ryan Singer from 37Signals gives a nice talk on the design process. Interesting to see how design and development meet in his world.
Update: Oops…forgot to title this post. Hate it when that happens.
Deployment sucks. I spent a full day deploying two poorly structured ASP.NET apps at work and am still shaking and can’t eat or sleep from the experience. Heroku has spared me the pain of learning much about deploying Rails on production servers. Sadly, on can’t sidestep the deployment pain forever.
Djangy is a new service in private beta which looks like the equivalent for Django. I’ve signed up, so if they let me in I’ll give it a whirl…once they get it out of private beta I’ll post more about it here as I use the service. Thanks to aRailsDemo who triggered the thought during an email exchange that I should post about this.