Read my latest article: Six days to complete the Rails hosting survey (posted Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:36:00 GMT)

Happy Birthday Allison

Posted by Thu, 29 Mar 2007 01:53:00 GMT

This morning was delightful. I woke up to find that 37signals had referenced our website on Signal vs Noise this morning. In particular, they referenced the Rails hosting order form on the PLANET ARGON site. What’s interesting is that Allison created this design over a year and a half ago.. and we’re actually in the process of a complete site redesign, which Chris and Allison are planning to blog about in depth. :-)

There are some discussions within the comments on the blog post about the design decisions that were made, some of which we’ve already begun to address in our redesign process brainstorming (based on google analytic conversion data).

On top of that, today is our Experience Director, Allison Beckwith’s, birthday.

Thanks for the linkage, 37signals!

...and… Happy Birthday Allison!

Do Your Views in Ruby on Rails need a cleaning service?

Posted by Wed, 28 Mar 2007 02:55:00 GMT

I’ve been working on a project with Graeme, and we’re spending some time cleaning up some RHTML views.

He posted an article earlier, titled, Dirty Views? Clean them up!, where he asks the following.

“I am also looking for more information on best practices with views in Rails. There doesn’t seem to be much information on the subject.”

We’re starting to re-evaluate how we approach our views and are curious what other teams are doing… especially if you have a team thats approx 1/2 designers… 1/2 developers per project. We’ll be reviewing some of the other options for the View layer over the coming week(s) and welcome any suggestions/insight to this area of Rails… head over to Graeme’s blog and share your thoughts. :-)

Staying home

Posted by Mon, 26 Mar 2007 19:17:00 GMT

So, the Microsoft Technology Summit started today, which I was invited to. I had to cancel my trip late last week so that I could help out the design and development team out on a project that we’re wrapping up. Our office has had some colds going around, so I’m putting in some extra time to help out.

If you were hoping to meet up with me on one of these evenings, I apologize. I may be heading up to Seattle in the coming weeks anyways and if you sent me an email, I’ll let you know when I am planning to.

To those at the MTS… have fun and keep us posted on what happens!

Review: Highrise, part 2

Posted by Tue, 20 Mar 2007 18:53:00 GMT

It’s been five days since I posted my initial review of Highrise, that shiny new application by our friends at 37signals. I’ve been getting adjusted to my new process of managing contacts and have had to remind myself a few times that there is a brand new tool that aims to make my life a little easier.

Contact Form Integration

I haven’t heard about a Highrise API available yet, but I will definitely be looking into tighter integration once that is available.

Direct Submissions (not yet)

It seems that Highrise isn’t going to allow direct emails to be sent to it, they need to come from an existing contact in your account. For example, our contact form sends an email to our customer service mailing list. At one point, we had it connected to the Basecamp API to submit each new contact request as a new message in a designated project, but it didn’t really give me what I was looking for. Since each user in Highrise has a custom dropbox email address, I thought that I would try to link up the contact form to submit directly to Highrise.

I got the following response back from Highrise. ;-)

Hi Robby- An email was sent to your Highrise dropbox from john@cusackforpresident.com. This address does not correspond to any address that you have recorded for yourself in your Highrise account, and so the email was discarded.

So, in the meantime, I’m following this process with new contact requests as well as the other people at PA who are responsible for responding to Contact Requests.

Contact Request Submission

So… let’s say that John Cusack (one of my favorite actors while growing up) is having a weird dream and wants to get a website built for the record store that he ran in High Fidelity.

PA Contact Request Form

He fills out the form and submits it, which our application than stores and also sends over his contact information to our customer service email address.

A few minutes later…

Manually Review in Mail.app (and apply 2-minute rule)

Here I am in Mail.app and doing a double-take… “is that the real John Cusack?” (no, it’s just test data).

Email in Mail.app

I then ask myself the following questions…

  • Can I answer this in less than 2 minutes?
    • If yes, respond immediately (forward to Highrise, if contact info will be needed again)
    • If no, forward to Highrise

Okay, so I’ve decided to forward this contact to Highrise as I decided to go ahead and speak with John over the phone, since he was kind enough to leave his phone number.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m using Act-On for forwarding emails to Highrise.

(back-tic h)

Mail.app with Act-On

...and off the email goes.

View/Edit message/contact in Highrise

I’m now logged into Highrise and looking at my dashboard. As you can see, John Cusack is now at the top of my dashboad and waiting for me to decide if I want to do something with it.

Highrise Dashboard

Schedule Follow Up tasks

As I mentioned, I spoke with John over the phone and promised him that I’d send him a follow up email with a proposed date/time for a meeting next week.

Adding task in Highrise

...and that’s one way that I’m now using Highrise to getting all my contacts organized.

Five Day Review

Well, after five days of using Highrise, I’m still impressed with it. Our Administrative Assistant began using it last Friday and is using it to schedule follow up tasks for me. This definitely beats the old process of leaving post-it notes on my desk with names and phone numbers. :-)

We also upgraded to a paying account and paid for invoice #4.... and I plan to hit contact #200 later today within our account.

A few bugs:

  • Forwarding email from Thunderbird doesn’t currently work (as of last Friday)
  • A few forwarded emails from Mail.app didn’t work right (garbled… html emails perhaps?)

Also… it appears that 37signals has opened the doors to the public earlier today.

Have fun!

Review: Highrise, part 1

Posted by Thu, 15 Mar 2007 23:45:00 GMT

So, today I got what I’ll call a platinum ticket from one of our pals at 37signals for their upcoming new application, Highrise, which is what they’d call a “shared contact manager.” The rest of you can keep hoping that you’ll win a golden ticket this weekend. ;-)

For the past year and a half, I’ve been wanting to build some sort of contact and task management tool for organizing all of the contact requests that PLANET ARGON receives about our Design and Development and Rails Hosting services. If I go away for a week, I come back to a huge backlog of people who may be waiting a response from me. Having a tool to allow others at PA to see what is in my queue and in some cases, respond on my behalf… has been needed. When I first heard about Highrise long ago, I got excited and have tried several different tools and each of those tools has left me feeling uneasy. Perhaps I’ll post some reviews of the other tools one day.

First Impressions

The signup process looks familiar… :-)

highrise signup

Look and Feel

Well, it definitely looks and feels like a 37signals application. There might have been a time when I thought that would be silly… but really, when you look at other product suites, consistency is extremely important to the user experience. While they are definitely going to attract people to Highrise who have never used any of their other products, I’d also expect a huge majority of their initial customers will be users of their other products. It’s obvious that Highrise was in response to a void in the market that people (likely customers) were asking for in other products like Basecamp.

Highrise has all the Ajaxy goodness that you’d expect in a brand new modern web application. Most of it seems very intuitive, but I found myself getting caught up on the extra tabs across the top of the screen. When new tabs appear, my natural response was to try to close them when I was finished looking at the page. Perhaps this is just a design decision that I’ll learn to really like. At the moment, I’m still not quite sure because I expect the tabs to change quite frequently.

Highrise tabs

(few minutes later)

Actually… I wonder if the interface designers at 37signals did this to help their users avoid having several tabs open in their web browser. I use Safari for Basecamp and generally have 5-8 tabs open throughout the day for different projects that our team is working on because the Dashboard view doesn’t really give me a good feel for what is happening throughout the day on our various internal and client projects. I’ll try to pay attention to my usage habits to see if I’m opening less browser tabs in Highrise.

So far, this is the one thing that I’m not quite sure about (yet).

Highrise meets Act-On

Once I saw that you could forward emails to Highrise and it’d auto-magically create a contact and store it, I jumped for joy (not literally… but I got an evil grin). I have been using (more like heavily relying on) Mail Act-On for what seems a really long time. I’m constantly forwarding emails off to my colleagues to keep things from sitting stagnant for too long. So, guess what I did?

Mail Act-On + Highrise

This is working beautifully and allowed me to move about 20 contact requests to Highrise in just a few minutes.

With this new ability, I can remove that one project in Basecamp that I was using to collect contact request information. That information now has a proper home!

Manage your Peeps

PLANET ARGON peeps

I’m taking more screenshots and going to continue putting more of our contacts into Highrise… so… consider this part one of a short series of posts.

To be continued…

Poor Communication and IT Projects

Posted by Mon, 12 Mar 2007 22:25:00 GMT

InformationWeek has a short story titled, Poor Communications, Unrealistic Scheduling Lead To IT Project Failure.

“Communications failures top the list of reasons IT projects fail, according to poll results from the Computing Technology Industry Association.

About 28% of 1,000 respondents identified poor communications as the main cause of project failure, according to CompTIA, which offers project management training.”

So, while we’re all spending so much of our time focused on improving our technical skills, are we also investing our time into becoming communication superstars?

If you look back at the following posts, you’ll see some links to some excellent books on this topic.

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