Here’s a rundown of the last few days. It’s been busy.
After returning from a ski trip to the Poconos last weekend, I spent most of Sunday preparing Domain Pigeon for an initial feedback launch on Monday.
Sunday’s major task was integrating DP with Paypal. I didn’t want to charge any of the initial users, but I did want the system to be in place for the HackerNews launch.
Thanks to my work with ALL IN Expert, I already had some experience with their Instant Payment Notification system, which is how Paypal notifies a site when a transaction is made. When DP receives the notification, assuming it’s legitimate and the payment goes through, DP authorizes your account and allows you to sign in.
Of course, there were a few bumps along the way. For one, the Business Name on my Paypal account was “ALL IN Expert”, which needed to be changed to “Domain Pigeon”. Their support site pointed me to a page which it said would allow me to change the name. The page was there, but no such option. I later found out that they had removed this option and that their support site hadn’t been updated to reflect the changes–doh. It speaks highly of Paypal that I assumed it was my fault that I was having trouble updating the name and not a problem with their support site. After spending 45 minutes trying to figure out how to make the change online, I called up their customer service.
A woman with a heavy accent told me to use the Contact form on their website to make the request and that it should only take a few minutes for the change to be made. The next morning rolled around and Paypal still said ALL IN Expert. I wanted to get some feeback from people, but didn’t want to until the Business Name was fixed. (In retrospect, since I allowed everyone to bypass the payment step this really wasn’t as time sensitive as I first thought.) Frustrated, I called again and explained the situation to another woman. She apologized for the delay, told me to wait a minute, and promptly made the change to “Domain Pigeon”. So easy–why didn’t the first rep do that? The next day someone responded to my initial request that somewhat answers:
We have reviewed your request regarding the name change on your account. Unfortunately, we are unable to process your request at this time.
Please provide the following documentation in order to complete your name change request:
* Some form of proof, which contains both the business name, as well as the individual’s name that will be added to the PayPal account. Acceptable forms of proof include Articles of Incorporation or the equivalent, current business license, any business documents/forms approved by and filed with the business’s governing state, or a bank statement for the bank account registered on the PayPal account. The bank statement or other business documents must show the business name and the name of the new contact person. If the bank statement shows the business name only, please include a copy of the signature card.
Articles of Incorporation? Eh, not quite yet.
Fortunately, my call on Monday got the job done, though I don’t think it was supposed to happen that way. It probably would have taken a week or more to do it per the email instructions. I figure this new policy, which prevents you from making Business Name updates online, is an attempt to reduce phishing scams (imagine you click through to a site and the top of the Paypal page says “eBay”). What I don’t get is why they need a bank statement if my Paypal account is already linked with my bank account. What’s the point? I’m probably missing something. Regardless, it’s a pain if you legitimately want to make change your Business Name.
Sunday I also had the pleasure of doing some extensive cross browser testing, which I had only done a bit of in the past. I used a site called BrowserShots, which tests your site on browsers of your choosing and then shows you screenshots of the results. To sum it up: If IE6 was a glass window, I’d throw a brick through it. The right column on my site was in the entirely wrong area and my beautiful logo, which was in PNG file, wasn’t transparent. It was a big, nasty block at the top of the site. Sigh. I fuddled around with the style sheet and think I just got lucky making the columns work fit correctly across all the browsers. I changed the logo to a GIF, but not without losing some of the clarity and having to add a small black outline to the logo so it appeared correctly.
I had the day off due to MLK Day, giving me plenty of time to work. I set my alarm for 8, knowing that if I didn’t I’d sleep till noon, losing a big chunk of my day. You can’t control everything, but you can control your effort.
I did a few last minute checks to make sure all the major functionality worked (which unit testing confirmed), and then sent a link out to a few friends on Facebook and AIM. Most of them knew I had been working on it and were happy to provide the initial feedback. I didn’t want to charge them to test, so I let them bypass Paypal by starting their passwords with @@. (Note to self: Remove this from the next release.)
Their responses were overwhelmingly positive and their feedback helped me fix a few bugs that I had not noticed. After all, your unit tests are only as good as what you tell it to test.
One friend, John, an Orlando-based web developer that I knew well in high school, provided the best feedback. He knew to test things that the others wouldn’t, which helped a lot. He said the site was good, but a bit boring. Boring? Hmm.
I didn’t know what to think. At first I was a little offended. It’s not boring. You’re boring (just kidding). But it got me thinking. He was right. As it was, people were going to arrive and think “Hmm, this is interesting” instead of “Wow, this is interesting”. He suggested a copywriter that I could contact if I wanted help, but I’m going to try a few things out before I resort to that. Do it yourself first, right?
This also made me realize that I might not be so good at branding. It’s something that’ll wind up being very important in the long run and something that I haven’t given too much thought to so far. It might just happen as a result of my design decisions, but, I feel like there’s a lot there that I’m missing. For example, check out Tyler Cruz’s blog. Whenever I think of branding, I think of this guy. I visited the site once and yet months later I still remember his name. Oh, and Donald Trump too. Damn him and his crappy golden books. Disclaimer: I’ve never read one… they just look crappy.
After I made a few of their recommended changes, I sent an email to Philly on Rails, a local group of Ruby programmers group that I demoed DP to a few weeks back.
Their feedback was generally positive, but again, it lacked the “wow” that I had hoped for.
There were a few other things that needed work. For one, it wasn’t clear to people that the search box on the left column was to search unregistered domain names on DP, not unregistered domain names in general. One person said “I searched for ‘poker’ but nothing came up.” I added a small label above the box explaining the scope of the search. One BIG todo item is to add a feature that helps people generate unregistered domain names based on terms of their choosing, similar to BustAName.com, as opposed to merely searching the existing ones on DP. That was the original idea that prompted DP, but it’s something that’ll have to wait a few iterations to introduce.
I made lots of small changes throughout the day, including lots of wording changes. “Find unregistered domain names for your websites” or “Find an unregistered domain name for your website.” or “We help you find unregistered domain names for your websites.” etc. Probably a minor thing, but, all these small improvements are +EV in the long run.
Speaking of +EV, I got some skepticism about the business model which boils down to “Who is going to pay $14.95” to which I usually respond, “Me”. The truth is I’m not entirely sure what the reception will be with the larger internet community and I probably won’t know until the site starts receiving heavier traffic. The best indication I have is that it’s something I would use and pay for. We shall see.
So, this was fun: I get home from work and my PC doesn’t power on. I use my Macbook for the majority of DP’s development, but certain things I keep on my PC. Notably, the software I wrote to scan for unregistered domain names is on the PC, including the results of several hundred thousand WHOIS queries (to check domain availability).
I have almost everything backed up. I say almost because the WHOIS software and the database were not. Instead of getting straight to work, I drove out to Circuit City, where I brought the PC to see what they can do. “Sorry, we’re going out of business, we can’t help you. You can try across the street at Best Buy.” Yeah, okay.
Long story short: Bad power supply, the guy was able to fix it on the spot, and by the end of the evening I had the PC back and working just as it did the day before it died.
Lesson learned: Stop sucking at hardware.
Lesson learned: Backup, backup, backup.
I was lucky that it was just the power supply. Had it been the motherboard, it would have pushed back the next phase of DP some time (after all, I’d have to start the availability searches all over again). There are new ways I picked up that I could do this quicker, but still, I’m fortunate that nothing was lost. Additionally, imagine if DP had really launched and was receiving lots of traffic and sign ups. Then what? Long nights is what.
I took down the site, which currently has an ugly maintenance notification on the homepage. I want to fix up a few things before the HackerNews launch, which should be around next Monday, 26 January. I want to add some more unit tests, add a little more bang to it, and refactor some inelegant sections of code, among other things.
For example, I realized the default sort on the unregistered domains is by date added, which means that whenever I add a new batch of domains the homepage will be entirely white because the domains that used to be there will get pushed back a few pages. When new people arrive, it’s important that they see lots of green shading to entice to click a domain. As it was, every time I added domains, the shades would disappear, giving people the mistaken (hopefully) impression that there wasn’t much traffic to the site.
How do you fix this though? Sorting by popularity would guarantee a colorful homepage, but it would result in large rows of similar shadings of green for domains with a similar number of views. That’s not only ugly (try sorting by popularity when you get a chance), but it doesn’t reflect the dynamic nature of the site.
The solution, for now, is to compromise. At the top of the homepage, DP’s top unregistered domain names will be displayed in their own little section. Below those, the most recently added will appear as normal. This accomplishes two things: 1) Immediately shows people the best unregistered domains on DP—”DP is awesome!” and 2) Encourages them to explore the recently added and find other gems—”Wow, this is interesting”. And, despite my initial fears, it doesn’t look half bad either.
Lot’s of work ahead… It’s an exciting time.