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Archive for January, 2007

Kudos to Sun

January 23, 2007 1 comment

Wow, I wasn’t expecting this. I’m very, very impressed. Sun is profitable again.

In case you don’t get it, this is a much much bigger deal than the partnership with Intel they announced yesterday.

I’ve been worried about Sun for years, and for the last year in particular I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that Jonathan Schwartz has an incredibly tough job ahead of him. He’s been talking the talk for awhile now, saying all of the right things, but actually turning a large corporation and getting them going in another direction takes an awful lot more than talk. It sure looks like he’s doing it.

But it wouldn’t be fair to heap all the praise on his shoulders alone. Sun employees could easily not get on board with the new direction, making his job impossible. Obviously, that hasn’t happened and everyone must be on-board and embracing change. So kudos to the entire company – this is quite an accomplishment and a rarity in Silicon Valley. Just look at all the server and workstation company corpses around… SGI, anyone?

Keep it up, Sun!

Categories: business

Kudos to Jonathan Schwartz

January 22, 2007 8 comments

This is a great blog post from Jonathan, CEO at Sun. If more companies were like this, the world would be a better place.

Just imagine if your cell phone provider, for example, actually cared about whether you were happy and whether they were delivering good value to you, their customer? Or how about your broadband provider?

I know, I know, we’d all die of heart attacks from the shock. 🙂

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by Sun’s response to my detailed review of the Sun Fire CoolThreads T1000 server and our interest in buying them. Sun assembled a great team of engineers and spent some time with us trying to figure out why our application wasn’t performing up to snuff on their hardware.

For those of you who are still wondering what’s up with that, I’m the one dropping the ball, not Sun – I’ve just gotten swamped. But I’m still interested, so as soon as I come up for air, I’ll try to get more hours put into it. Last time we all worked on it, Sun wasn’t able to get more performance out of it than I was – but they’re anxious to try again and I’m anxious to let them.

In related news, my current server provider, Rackable, seems to have fallen on hard times. We started using them something like 4 years ago, and loved them. Lately, though, their stock is in the toilet, they’ve taken ages to get hardware to us (and a few other major brands I shouldn’t divulge), and worst of all, very expensive brand-new servers from them are failing left and right. Anyone at Dell or HP want our business?

Categories: business, smugmug, web 2.0

Hello Speed, Beauty & Brains – Goodbye Alexa

January 22, 2007 11 comments

Michael Arrington at TechCrunch just broke the story of our latest release and it’s a great write-up. We’re really thrilled to have this puppy out the door and let everyone play with it.

This is a pretty fundamental shift for us, and while I don’t want to give us too much credit, I really think it’s the beginning of a sea change on the web. There have been plenty of apps which launched with 100% AJAX, like GMail, but I can’t think of any that have yet made the plunge to change an existing, entrenched product with lots of users. I’m sure there have been a few, so forgive me if I overlooked you, but certainly not many – most of the big apps are still HTML driven. But I believe that’s going to change because the customer experience just gets so much better.

Everyone is going to do this. The only question is when? (Ok, two questions: And who will be left behind?)

We’ve been playing with 100% JavaScript/AJAX interfaces like this internally for quite some time, but there were some huge pitfalls that kept us from actually releasing it. When we finally solved the last hurdle we got really really excited – this was gonna be great for customers. The minor downside is that I expect our Alexa rank to plummet – we’re no longer really doing page views, which I think they track. (We already get unfairly penalized because so many of our customers use their own custom domain names, but this should really do us in). I could really care less from a business point of view – this is good for customers, after all, but the geek in me thinks that’ll be fascinating to watch and see what happens.

The benefits of this release are obvious: the interface is faster, prettier, and smarter. But the pitfalls are less obvious. Here are a few of the biggies:

  • Search engines. I know Google’s been testing a more JavaScript-aware version of Googlebot, but how aware it really is is anyone’s guess. Certainly no crawlers I’m aware of do even a marginal job of crawling AJAX pages. But our customers spend tons of time captioning, describing, and keywording the 120+ million photos at SmugMug.
  • Backwards compatiblity. We built our URLs from day one to be “permalinks” so they wouldn’t change if you used them in your blog and forum posts. We had to make sure that things still worked going forward.
  • AJAX Permalinks. Now we needed new permalinks that describe various pieces of data for browsing SmugMug, but we also needed to keep them short so people could copy & paste easily, so they wouldn’t wrap in emails, etc.
  • Stats tracking. Specifically external sources like StatCounter and Google Analytics which only track page views, not JavaScript UI interactions. Our customers, especially the tens of thousands of hardworking Pros who build their photography businesses at SmugMug, expect to still get useful and meaningful statistics on who’s viewing what.
  • Browser interfaces. People expect the Back & Forward buttons to work properly, along with History and Bookmarks. Doing so in all three major browsers was thought to be impossible, and we failed many times. We solved this one, and this was the last biggie. I believe it’s an internet first. Jimmy will be updating his blog about exactly how we do it so anyone else can follow suit. It’s good for the web as a whole for this stuff to move forward.

It was an amazing team effort over here to get this thing done, including tons of our customers. GreenJimmy, our resident Web Superhero, especially drove this project long and hard. Hopefully we can talk more about what we did, technically, so others can avoid making the same mistakes we did.

I really have to also give props to the awesome team over at Yahoo! working on YUI. We couldn’t have pulled this off without their library (easily the best JavaScript library around). They did a profile on us just a week and a half ago, but that was before this release. Now we’re even more hardcore with all the YUI stuff. 🙂

Enjoy the release, and just wait to see what we’ve got coming next…. 🙂

Find Satoshi!

January 20, 2007 Comments off

Is it possible to use the power of the internet to find a person given only a photo of them and their first name? The Find Satoshi Project is trying to do just that, and I think it’s fascinating. Billions of people to sort through, but given enough exposure on the net, I’m sure it’s possible.

Can you help? Go Find Satoshi and tell your friends!

Categories: personal

Amen, brother.

January 17, 2007 3 comments

Billionaire Mark Cuban is preaching to my choir with his anti-suit rant.

I’ve only ever owned a single suit, and I only ever wear it to weddings and funerals. Suits are certainly not required or encouraged around SmugMug and never will be.

I’d love to know why so many people think they must wear them. They’re uncomfortable, expensive, difficult to keep clean, bad at temperature regulation, etc etc. Useless, basically.

Categories: personal

Growth + Happy Customers = Success

January 16, 2007 3 comments

Discovered over on Thomas Hawk’s blog that my nPost interview had been posted. I know, I know, I did the interview, I should have noticed when it went up, my bad. Thanks Thomas!

I did the interview over the phone a month or two ago, and thought it was a lot of fun. Looks like there are some minor typos in the transcription (or I didn’t speak clearly enough on the phone), but you’ll get the general idea.

I had no idea I ended up with such a great summary sentence (which I re-used for the title of this blog post), but there it is. My secret formula. 🙂

If you want a pretty good insight into what makes me tick and SmugMug hum, go check it out.

Categories: business, smugmug

PCworld.ca: Letter to the Editor

January 1, 2007 16 comments

PCworld.ca had a story about digital photos a few days ago. I was stoked to hear that we were in it. I wasn’t so stoked, however, once I discovered that our involvement was limited to two sentences because we have a “hefty monthly fee” and “lagging print quality,” of all things!

I whipped off a letter to the editor using their form submission thing, and waited for the reply. Since none has been forthcoming, and I’m getting emails about the article, I thought I’d repost the email I sent them here:


Hi Paul,

I’m the CEO and Chief Geek at SmugMug, and I couldn’t help noticing that we were unfairly excluded from your review. I’m hoping I can set the record straight.

You mentioned a “hefty monthly fee” and “lagging print quality” specifically, which raised our eyebrows. A SmugMug subscription with unlimited storage is $39.95 per year, or $3.33 per month. Hardly hefty. 🙂

As for the print quality, we’re renowned in the industry for having the best prints around, bar none. We certainly won’t win on price, but you get what you pay for. We have tens of thousands of professional photographers who build their businesses on SmugMug. As you can imagine, when you’re shooting a wedding or selling multi-hundred dollar prints of Yosemite, the print quality has to be pristine.

As a result, we conduct blind “taste tests” of various printers (10 at last count, including all of those listed in your review) every year. What’s more, we publish the results for all to see, and they’re widely distributed on the net. Some of our competitors have personally thanked us for publishing the results, since it helped them select their own printing partners. You can see for yourself:

http://www.smugmug.com/prints/digital-prints.mg

We use a top-of-the-line professional lab in Georgia called EZPrints at the moment, since they’ve consistently won the “taste test” for 3 years running, but we’re committed to print quality at all costs. Ask any of our customers, or try a Google search for ‘SmugMug print quality’, or better yet, order some prints and see for yourself.

I hope that sets the record straight, and by all means, holler if you have any other questions about our service. Hopefully we can make it into the next one!

Thanks,

Don

So there you have it. I wish were were fairly compared in the article, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

National Geographic and MacWorld seem to like us well enough, though, and we were even in The New York Times today, so I suppose I can’t complain. 🙂

Not that I really have to remind you, but if you DO email the editor at PCworld.ca yourself, please be polite. They’re only human, just like the rest of us.

Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to a great 2007!

Categories: business, smugmug
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