Archives for category: Software

This is part 1 of a series about recent redesigns on LunchTable.

I’ve been taking LunchTable in a very different direction from its initial vector as a social networking site. Though it maintains its core ideals, I’ve had to progress it forward naturally; these are where I made my decisions.

Try first

This is the largest new feature: the ability to try it first. These days, so many services want you to read what makes them so great (as told by them, of course), and instantly hand over your email and name to enjoy the honor of using their system. How do you even know if that service will be of use to you? How can you imagine it through abstract explanations and marketing hyperbole?

I navigated to Pinterest the other week for the first time to try it and see what it actually does, and was presented by a wall of infinitely-scrolling images. I had to navigate to Help to get a simple English description of the site, and that didn’t truly give me a good idea of what I could do with it. I clicked an image, and out of curiosity clicked Like on it. I was directed immediately to a sign-up page–diverting my previous train of thought from what a nice picture to: do I really want to hand over my email address? I’d imagine a similar bewilderment if I was asked for my contact information before trying on clothes at a store, especially after being led to believe it wouldn’t happen.

There are plenty of free services that let you use them without registering with them. I used jsFiddle almost every day for my previous web development job; Jottit is another amazing service I recently discovered. There are myriad other sites like these. But to me, these services are reminiscent of the early internet days, when people seemed to prefer to make something cool so perhaps you’d click their flashing banner ad, instead of, for example, cajoling you into sharing your most intimate details with people you already know (and the man in the middle). Most importantly, they enable you to use a product first-hand before you hand over any money or even just your email address– something I personally hold just as valuable.

Jump right in

For a site that normally relies on the interactions of personally-tied identities, the initial implementation of a registration-free LunchTable was hard to conceive. But once I let go of the hope for a near-1:1 representation, I afforded myself some flexibility and creativity. After all, the idea was to demonstrate LT’s abilities as far as possible within the restrictions of a free-roaming experience. So these key features were put in place:

  • Anyone can join a table someone else has created, simply with a link. (This was a given; without this, there would be no interaction element).
  • Users can make posts and chat. (These demonstrate real-time functionality).
  • Users can customize their Table to their liking. (This allows some hands-on experience with similar editing abilities they’ll see later, should they sign up).

Trial .’s

The 90s called, and they want their software marketing strategies back. No one likes to have a ticking clock hanging over his or her head. Why 30 or 60 or 90 days, anyway? Will you run out of bits to send me, and you’ll need to order more? You wouldn’t kick a customer out of the store because they take more than an hour to find what they’re looking for, so why do you do it with software?

I’m of the mind that the more arbitrary limits you put on your software, the more people will either try to circumvent your protections, or will quickly shy away from your product because you’re greedy and don’t like to share. Shouldn’t people want to pay you for this amazing thing you’ve created anyway, instead of feeling they have to?

Shut up and take my money

It helps to trust that people have good taste, and if they see something they like, they will want to pay for it.

If instead you warmly welcome them into your service, let them poke around and even use you a little more than you’d hope to offer, you’ve done a good thing for them, and in one way or another for you too. And it will make more sense to them when you offer a little extra functionality for a little bit of money. Just be ready to catch them when they start reaching for their wallets.

You can give LunchTable a whirl (without signing up) on Android, and you’ll soon enjoy the same on the web.

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I love working from the command line. And while I can quickly open and hack away at any terminal in Ubuntu, I noticed a laggy experience on my MacBook Pro in iTerm2. Typing commands didn’t bug me as much as editing in vim, which would slow considerably when scrolling through a file.

I tried changing the font and upping the keystroke repeat rate (which needed to be done anyways), but all to no avail. It wasn’t until I plugged in a second monitor that I noticed the real issue: my Retina display; iTerm was snappy on my non-Apple 1080p monitor.

It looks like this has been an issue for a while. For now, it’s back to Terminal.app for me.

$ logout

I very recently had a conversation with a client about implementing email notifications for his online community built with my software. There was, of course, an urge in him to notify users every time the equivalent of a thread is created or responded to. There was also the need for an email to go out as soon as a personal message was received.

For the latter, I was on board; but for the former, I had to make a point– no matter how subjective. My point was that I will unsubscribe from any site’s mailing list the minute I get an email with things I don’t care about. Emails are on the level with text messages for me, arriving on my phone with an envelope notification, pining to pull me away from reality the minute it arrives. And it’s not that my time is money, but because I loathe spending time reading random minutia that I hate your everyday “engaging” emails (especially when they arrive every day).

Needless to say, I made the point that when designing a product and how it will send out notification emails, it’s important to remember:

  • You’re not the only site that any given user is a member of.
  • People have vastly varying degrees of tolerance for emails meant only for getting them to your site again.
  • Don’t automatically opt users in. Unless your software is going to take me out to dinner and learn my quirks first, don’t assume you know how I like my email notifications. Instead, give me the choice and demonstrate why your notifications will be useful to me.

On a related note, LunchTable just got email notifications today, unsent until you subscribe.

$ logout

DRM is a common theme in the Internet Age’s story. Like watermarks on currency or microprint on checks, there are many reasons to prevent people from copying things, especially when you remove tangibility.

But sometimes it goes too far. I never bought music off the iTunes store again after I downloaded an album and found it wouldn’t abscond with me to another player. After I bought my first ebook today, I can’t say I’ll readily do it again.

I found an interesting technology book that I wanted to read on Amazon, ready for purchase in Kindle’s format. I own a Nook because it supports open formats (and PDFs), so I started looking around for a compatible version. Barnes & Noble only sold hard copies and the publisher only offered it in iPad format. I thought maybe I can convert it and I found out about a site that does just this. So I bought the book, and was told conversion wasn’t possible due to DRM. Ah, it’s so nice of Amazon to protect me from myself.

  1. So the first step was getting the book out of the cloud. For this I downloaded Kindle for my OS; I was on my work computer so I downloaded the Mac version. If I was at home, I would’ve had to get the Windows version and use wine to get it on Ubuntu.
  2. I found the AZW file for my book in the file system and copied it into a more visible location. It was located in:
    1. Windows: C:\Users\<username>\Documents\My Kindle Content\
    2. Mac: /home/<username>/Library/Application Support/Kindle/My Kindle Content/
  3. After reading a superuser question, I found a DRM removal tool for this exact situation. The standalone app didn’t work for me, so I downloaded calibre (cross-platform, nice!) and installed the DeDRM plugin from the previously downloaded tool, following the README instructions.
  4. Restarted calibre, opened up my book for conversion to ePub, and had a free and open copy in less than a minute.

I don’t believe in an era of innovation and free-flowing information ushered in by overprotective rights owners. From my reality, I’ve already given you my money–and for a mere $5 less than a physical copy, which is outrageous in itself. The least you could do is give me a quality product that will work with my gadget of preference.

So I can’t say I’ll be anxiously looking for my next ebook purchase. But it’s comforting to know that there are always ways to shake off the fetters of myopic companies and their ill-founded mechanics.

I read an article a few years ago about someone noticing a cyclical trend in computing: going from dumb-terminal-connected-to-mainframe to personal-computing and now back to cloud computing.

I’ve always loved the idea of creating a website, since I made my first one on an IBM ThinkPad running Windows 95 in 5th grade. It was both my foray into “programming” (just HTML, not much javascript) and sharing something I’ve created with the world. I’ve held on to that feeling through all the websites I’ve made since then; the feeling of looking at my own creation, that I could change at any time to my liking. Like a painting that never dries, and is on constant display in space— where anyone in the world can see it. This is quite the image of grandeur, but one that attracts me to what I do, despite missing the hubris to match up.

So when new services come about—ones that allow you to create something, especially—I’m instantly hesitant to trust them completely with my data. Back in “the day,” any Myspace designs would be best hosted on my own site, in case / when they change the design. Important Twitter-like statuses are best stored on my local machine. I can only use Dropbox knowing those files are actually saved on my computers, and not purely on their servers.

It’s this visceral feeling that makes me uneasy and mostly apprehensive towards the longevity of activities I partake in on the internet. Some creations aren’t as important as others: I won’t miss a Facebook status disappearing into the great /dev/null in the sky, but some products of using these platforms (a Facebook note, for example) are worth keeping, and it’d be nice to know they’re safely on one of my own hard drives.

In my own case, there’s LunchTable: users post statuses (long and short) and interact with each other, adding to a group’s conversation what is necessary or interesting. They have the ability to create something they otherwise can’t in offline software— but why shouldn’t they reap the benefits of both worlds? With LunchBox, the accompanying open source project for using exported LunchTable data, I’m hoping to encourage users to both create something meaningful and feel like they’re not dependent on a service to forever access their own data. It’s a trend I would love to see more of.

$ logout