Archive for October, 2008

Tuesday Push –

Another Tuesday Push is a Software as a Service web application made by the guys over at Active Online.

From their site they describe it as so:

With, it’s easy to keep track of room bookings for your organisation all in one place. You can view availability and make booking reservations effortlessly, share reservations across your organisation and track usage.

It looks like a great tool, and something that would be very useful for medium to large offices and shared office space facilities, but I can only guess that from the promotional site’s blurb and the nice screenshots of the application that accompany it. The reason I’m only guessing is because I didn’t sign up for a test account.

No Non-Expiring Trial Account

One thing that really surprised me about this web application is that there’s no non-expiring trial account. Instead, there’s an offer of a 30 day trial. On the face of it, this looks quite acceptable, just another way of letting a prospective customer check out the nooks and crannies of the software before they decide to put their hand in their pocket. But when I looked a little closer I realised I had to provide my credit card details to sign up for this 30-day trial just in case I wanted to extend my usage of the application beyond the 30 days.

I’m surprised the the guys behind decided to use this approach for account sign-ups. My first impression was that they’re trying to trick me into entering my credit card details so they can charge my card on the off chance that I forget to cancel the account at the end of the trial (assuming that I decide not to use it). It felt as if they were asking me for a little too much too soon.

As a general rule of thumb, whether I’m buying online or in a bricks and mortar shop, I won’t hand over the cash unless I know what I’m buying. So, when I’m asked for my credit card details before I’ve even seen the product (even if I’m not going to be charged immediately) little tiny alarm bells go off in my head. I begin to wonder whether my card will get charged anyway, or if I’ll have a similar experience to the one I had with the eFax guys when I tried to cancel my free trial with them.

The High Quality Users

Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong though. Perhaps the reason there’s no free non-expiring trial is because it’s just not commercially viable to maintain free accounts, even if they are only small restricted ones. What this approach certainly guarantees is that there aren’t any accounts in the system older then 30 days that aren’t fully paying customers. The result of this means that the user base is extremely high quality and there aren’t hundreds (or thousands) of old abandoned accounts taking up valuable space in the database.

The Best Approach

I can’t decide what I think the best approach is. On one hand I still have a bad taste in my mouth from when I tried to close my eFax account (who use the same sign-up strategy), but on the other I can sympathise with the desire to have a high proportion of paying customers on the books.

Either way, really does like a great product and the fact that it’s Irish owned just amplifies my good will towards it. The best of luck with the product guys, but maybe you’d consider changing your sign-up strategy?

UPDATE – Since writing this post, Jeremiah Ryan from ActiveOnline, the company behind, contacted me and enquired further about the issues I had with the service. Soon afterwards he announced (see comments below) that they would be lifting the mandatory requirement to include your credit card details as part of the sign up process for a trial account.

All Change in the Webstrong House

When a company doubles in size in a single day (from one to two!) some major changes need to be made. The way I run every aspect of my business has been turned on its head. Now you would think that all this change would be tough and stressful, and… you’d be right. But it has also forced me out of my comfort zone and I’ve had to completely redesign how I develop code for client projects.

When I was a one-man-band, it was all very simple. It was just me, the client and my pc. All the code I wrote was saved on my hard disk and when a project was finished I’d simply upload it to either a test site or a live site via FTP. Perfectly simply, but, not anymore. Now that I’m developing projects in collaboration with others, I need a new system.

Source Code Control Built In

So, with the help of the ever patient Adrian Skehill, I have completely changed how I manage my code. Out with Dreamweaver, Filezilla and Register365, and in with Aptana, Subversion, Ant, Hudson, and VPS Hosting (care of Blacknight).

The introduction of version control has made an immediate difference. No more risk of overwriting each other’s code and with the added advantage of being able to roll back to any previous state makes version control a must-have for development teams, and highly desirable for lone developers.

Forcing Myself to Change

I’ve dabbled with version control before, but found it failed to catch on for two main reasons. The first problem was that I setup a local repository which meant that I could only commit from that machine and it also prevented others from collaborating on the code. The second reason it didn’t last was because committing to the repository was a separate action from uploading changes to the web server. The result was that I often forgot to use the version control system.

So, to tackle this I’ve found a way to force myself and my team to use version control. Here’s what I did:

I stopped using Dreamweaver and adopted Aptana instead. Aptana is built on the well known Eclipse IDE and has been created with the web developer in mind. It has a strong emphasis on providing support for web technologies such as CSS, XHTML, PHP and Javascript (including jQuery). These features make Aptana a very real alternative to the ubiquitous Dreamweaver, but where it really comes into it’s own is in it’s integrated Subversion support. Using a plugin called Subversive, I can commit to the repository directly from Aptana.

I setup hosted version control. Using my new VPS account on Blacknight, I installed a hosted Subversion system. Now I can commit updates from any machine with an Internet connection. Also, a nice side effect of this is that my valuable source code is backed up multiple times a day to a remote location.

I integrated Subversion with my deployment process. Rather then committing separately to version control and then uploading the same code to the web server through FTP, I installed a continuous integration system called Hudson. This is a fantastic tool that monitors all my repositories for changes and automatically uploads the newly committed code to the test server (and lets me deploy to a live server with a single click).

The Finishing Touch

I’ve been using this new development environment now for a few days and so far it’s been a dream to work with. Everytime I commit my changes on my development box to version control, Hudson picks it up and updates the test site so the client can review them. It also shoots off an email to me and my team, so that everyone’s kept in the loop.

As a finishing touch to this new system, I took advantage of the available plugins in Hudson and setup automatic Twitter notifications every time a new project is built. For this, I setup a dedicated Twitter account at So now, every time one of my projects is updated I can read about it through Twhirl!

Overall I’m delighted with how these changes have affected my daily work. My code is easier to manage, and more secure. Plus it’s collaborator friendly and most importantly it’s setup in a way that will ensure I maintain this new approach for years to come.

I always love hearing how other developers and designers work day to day, so if your approach differs from mine please let me know!