Startup Customer Service

I upgraded this blog last week to WordPress 2.6. Prior to the upgrade I had been using a custom permalink structure. Upon upgrading from 2.5 to 2.6 the link structure would not display individual posts.

As I a result I changed my permalink structure to one of the defaults and my blog began displaying the posts correctly. Now I had changed my permalinks throughout the site.

I use Disqus the great full featured commenting system. Disqus essentially creates a forum area based on your post permalink for your comments. As I said I had just changed all my permalinks and my comments were now disconnected. My comments were effectively floating in the blogosphere.

I searched Google for a fix. I searched around on the Disqus site. David of the KnightKnetwork pointed me to this thread on the Disqus forums.

Apparently I was not the only one having this issue. In the thread Daniel Ha the founder of Disqus said,

“Please email help@disqus.com and we can, well, help. 🙂 “

I immediately sent an email as prescribed. My email basically said I upgraded WordPress and changed my permalink structure, Help! I sent the email at mid morning.

I received a reply at in the early afternoon from Jason Yan of Disqus. It said,

“Hi Franklin,
I’ve merged all your threads so they point to the new links.
Thanks,
Jason”

This was outstanding customer service. A while ago Marc Andreessen wrote several posts about startups. Startups are interesting entities. Building business processes from the ground up seems to be very challenging but very rewarding for the startup entrepreneur. Infrastructure needs to be built from the ground up. Customer service could be easily overlooked or handled very poorly.

I try many Web 2.0 Alphas and Betas and it seems the successful ones pay attention to the details. It is rare to find a good software product with poor customer service. Customer service is important to the end user.

I want to thank Jason Yan and the Disqus team for their prompt service.

I believe Disqus will be successful not only because of their great product but their great customer service as well.

In the world we know as Web 2.0 who is good at customer service? Who isn’t?

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Subscriber’s Remorse

I sign up for almost every web application/service available. I try the alphas and the betas. I use OpenID or create logins. My GMail is crammed with automated emails. Many of the services add social networking features. I add some of the same friend’s on almost every service.

I have user accounts on hundreds of websites. I am not claiming to be in the top 1% of early adopters either. I would venture I am in the top 50%. Off the top of my head I have tried, Social Median, Profy, Toluu, FriendFeed, Diigo, TripSay, TradeVibes, Jott, Xoopit, Yokway, RememberTheMilk, Skribit, Woopra, Newscred, Socialthing, Plaxo, Plurk, Identi.ca, and MyBlogLog many many others all in the last 6 months.

OpenID is a good idea. We all could use one less username and password combination to remember. But once you are signed up for the service my questions begin.

My remorse centers around several questions.

  • When I sign up for a service who owns the data? Can I get data out that I put in? – The most annoying would have to be Facebook and their strangehold on user data. But generally I want the ability to export any data I put in.
  • How many annoying emails will I receive? Can I effectively opt out of them? – If a startup begins without some set small set of options for email notifications I contend it is doomed for failure.
  • Can I block users on the service? Can I import contacts from other services? – The Hide function on FriendFeed makes it one of the most useful applications around. Functionality that allows the end user to customize their experience even a little is a brilliant benefit.
  • How do I quit the service all together? – What if the service is just not for me. I do not ever want another email about it. I just want to quit and be assured my data is destroyed.
  • Is the application just a proof of concept? Is active development taking place? – Toluu is my greatest example of this. Toluu enhancements have been implemented and rolled out so quickly that there is no doubt that the application is in active development. Let me reiterate I understand the effort that scalability and keeping an application running takes. The development must continue and readily be seen by the end user.

Have you ever had subscriber’s remorse?

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My Toluu Wishlist

What is the Goal of Toluu?

I began writing this with a different perspective about Toluu. Where is Toluu heading? I previously wrote a post titled “My Problems With Toluu.” This was several months ago as Toluu was in it’s infancy.

I considered titling this post “More Problems With Toluu” but thought better of it. I do not want to be critical but long for the value of this application to increase.

Toluu recently had a big day rolling out enhancements. At least 8 different blogs featured a post about the little RSS matching service from founder Caleb Elston. So I have been using the service again in earnest since that time.

Toluu is still making continual enhancements and the performance increases are sizable. If you have not logged in a while try it again. Speed has increased dramatically.

What does Toluu really have to offer an early adopter? What does Toluu have to offer an everyday user? Are the answers to these questions different? Finally, what is the Goal of Toluu?

I am not sure I know the exact answer but would love to hear from Caleb on the subject. Application development is an interesting process as I know first hand. An application does not always end up in the exact place you conceive it might at the onset.

In any case Toluu adds feeds to your feed reader and Toluu via bookmarklet. As long as you use the bookmarklet the feeds stay in Sync. Toluu also provides matching to other users in an attempt to recommend additional feeds. Toluu is designed with clean UI and is what this user expects from Web 2.0. It is in private Beta so I do not aim to condemn but am contemplating its usefulness, relevance, and future.

The following is a list of ideas produced from the Toluu friendfeed room and simple brainstorming. If the goal of Toluu is to provide simple solid functionality then Toluu is well on the way. But here is a list of features I would personally like to see.

Toluu Enhancement Thoughts

  • Tag/Organize/Categorize Feeds – This is my #1 the rest of the enhancements are in no particular order. Feed tagging increases Toluu ability to present recommendation, organization, search, categorization. Feed tagging would change the Toluu forever.
  • Feed Similarities – What feeds are similar to other feeds. Tagging or feed meta data could greatly assist with this. I want feed relationships. Tell me that if I read Lifehacker then Download Squad and Lifehack are similar.
  • Personalized Feed Recommendations – Beyond matching. Matching is certainly a good way to offer users insight into feeds they might like. I would like better feed recommendations in the way Amazon does. Tell me I would like feed “B” because 75% of users that read feed “A” also read feed “B”.
  • Matching Speed – The matching speed was recently greatly increased TWICE. The speed is NO longer an issue. The matching would now qualify as instant. One comment though: I wish it would not display current contacts as matches. If they are a current contact then I already know about them.
  • Syncing Between Your Feed Reader & Toluu & Feedly – See this link to the FriendFeed discussion about this one.
  • Better Integration With Other services
    • Integration with Feedly
    • Integration with Friendfeed – I find Feeds more and more with FriendFeed. I have to launch the article and use the bookmarklet. It would be great to have an addon or greasemonkey script thought integrated a Toluu feed link into FriendFeed.
  • I hate bookmarklets – Everything has a bookmarklet these days. They clutter my bookmarks bar and I am uncertain what each one does. Perhaps a Firefox Addon.
  • User Profiles – I would love to see additional information about a user.
  • Clearly Display the User’s blog(s) feed(s) – This goes right along with the previous but I am listing seperate to emphasize its importance. It is not easy to see the blog feed for each user.
  • Import my FriendFeed contacts – I would say 90/95 % of my FriendFeed contacts are on Toluu. But I am not sure they are all contacts on Toluu. I would like them to be.  Bummer.
  • Browse Feeds by Name
  • Browse Feeds by Tag Directory
  • Feed Search
  • Contact/Person Search
  • URI search – I put in a web address and the feed page is displayed
  • Most Popular Feeds (feed stats)
  • Hot New Feeds – popular
  • Enhance the Bookmarklet and future Firefox addon to support Tagging
  • Number of Toluu Subscribers per feed on feed view
  • Site Help – Sometimes I am uncertain what Toluu can currently do and what it can not
  • Edit My Toluu Feed List – A clean easy interface for editing my feed list
  • Clear My Feeds / RSS Reset – Is this already possible?

Toluu is a young private beta application. From my view the future is very bright.

Most of my enhancements center around Toluu being about feeds. I understand the data commitment and strain that storing meta data and information about individual feed data could consume. But I believe it would be very worth it to the end user.

Toluu is great and I say once again I believe its future is bright. I can not wait for its features to extend and its value to increase. I have Toluu invites if you would like to try it.

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Google Reader Gets Notes

Google Reader Notes 1Image by VoIPman via Flickr

Google Reader gets notes. The ability to annotate a note to a post is very cool. The ability to share anything from the web feed or not is cool. But…

I typed a quick note as I shared a Louis Gray post. But I misspelled a word. How do I correct it? This is just an example of many questions I have with these new enhancements.

Sidebar – Who else thinks this is too little too late? I am using FriendFeed so much this is almost irrelevant. FriendFeed allows more than a note. It is a real social network with conversation. I can comment and then edit the comment. – End Sidebar

I still love Google Reader it just seems like the enhancements are so reactionary. What happened to Reader being on the cutting innovative edge? It seems Reader is back on their heels.

Profy.com a new hosted blog/feed reader Google Reader competitor is giving much more flexibility for noting. Profy‘s free form way of letting you share a whole post and blog it in any way you want is much better. [For more on Profy see David Knight’s interview with Svetlana Gladkova, Profy Vice President.]

The Google Reader note is good idea. I just think buggy enhancements need to be thought out more. Do not put it in play and then fix it.

But now my first ever note has a freaking TYPO! How do I fix it? Geez. I wanted Google Reader to update already but the enhancements need to be clear and valuable. Get rid of the bugs and complete the enhancements. So here is my bug/completion list…

  • Combine Notes to remove duplicates – If one entry has a note and the other doesn’t I do not need to read both.
  • Show/Link original linker – If you read alot of shared feeds or just Scobles’ you will see notes and have no idea whom they came from. I suggest linking to that person’s shared feed.
  • Edit my notes – you can not edit a note once it has been posted.
  • Fix the double share process. If you note something and check shared it shares it once. When the note box goes away the share button is not selected. Make the check box on the note window flag an entry as shared.
  • Friendfeed can read comments separate from the entry. Question only: Can the notes be read in XML independently from the post?

Real Estate Agent Search – HomeThinking.com

I am selling my home. Long story short – my wife gave birth to twins just over 2 years ago and as a result we are quickly running out of space.

So we are selling our home. So I have been delving into Real Estate Web 2.0 lately.

So in the weeks to come I will mention some of the tools that I am actually using to search realtors and listings.

HomeThinking.com is a Real Estate Agent Search engine. It is not a brand new site but new to me. From the about page:

“Homethinking is an online service that helps home owners choose the most remarkable neighborhood real estate agents to sell their house. We measure performance by monitoring real estate transactions to know which houses each real estate agent has sold, for how much and how long on average it took them to do so. There are also user reviews by home owners who have sold their house with the particular agent that helps determine the rank of them.”

The homepage is clean and allows you to quickly browse by state and city. It then displays all the agents in that city/area. I then could easily browse the agents in my city alphabetically by last name. I quickly found my agent.

The display shows my agents average sale price per home , the high sale price, and the low sale price.

Two tables are displayed additionally on the agent page. On the left it shows me all houses sold by the agent in the last couple of years.

On the right I can also see all houses being listed by the agent including asking price.

During the agent search it boasts the following:

“Tracking 1,520,018 Real Estate Agent Profiles 5,538,707 Total Transactions 1684 This Month”

That is a lot of agents. I checked out several of agent search sites but this one was the best for my area. Check it out. Link

Update Already

In this strange landscape that we call Web 2.0 a web app is born with few features but lots of promise. In the exciting but cliché “BETA” phase many changes take place. Rich features are developed to make the app a must use and must see. This is the most exciting time in the life of a web application where many changes and development take place.

Then comes the dreaded phase of a web application in which all resources are devoted to keeping the application running. This becomes a state where little or no development/enhancement takes place.

I understand full well the difficulty and pressures of keeping a web application running. Meanwhile investors and other onlookers ask and question profitability. Other pundits wonder about the applications strategy and potential for actually making money.

All of that makes sense to me in the big picture. However as a passionate end user invested in the application this “stay up phase” is very frustrating.

So the app has made it to the stay up phase, has a loyal following/user base of thousands or millions and loads of potential. We can call it the “rock solid app.”

Then bring on the competitors. Small start ups with little funding but lots of ideas start sprouting. The user base of our rock solid steady app is intrigued.

Why? Simply because of the phase change. The new start ups are shiny and new and in that cool “BETA” stage or even in “private BETA.” Development is occurring on a daily basis as the start ups develop and fine tune their feature sets.

The user base of the rock solid app user base may decline slightly but stays about the same. For it is rock solid and keeps running.

Time passes… more time passes… and more time passes… the rock solid app does nothing new to speak of but its up. No new features but hey it is running.

UPDATE Already!!! Meanwhile the blogosphere dreams up all sorts of enhancements for the rock solid app. The rock solid app can also pull ideas from the smaller start up competitors.

The rock solid app has the resources, plenty of ideas, and a large mostly loyal user base. But no new enhancements.

UPDATE Already!!! But the rock solid app is up and running.

This is the point in the post when I wanted to name the app. But the more I thought about it I know it applies to many. This is unfortunately very common. Update Already. Please?