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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…. 🙂

Quickies: Chicken Soup & free photo-sharing

October 18, 2006 1 comment

If you follow my father’s blog, you’ve probably already read these entries, but in case you haven’t, they’re great reads:

Chicken Soup – The SmugMug story has been published and we’d like you to have a copy! Our story is in the newly-released Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul and my father, the author of our chapter, has more info about it and how to get your copy.

Free photo sharing? – Not for us, and here’s why. It’s taken us awhile to really understand the difference between a pay site like ours and a free one like some of our competitors, but we get it now and thought we’d share. The short version? You get what you pay for. 🙂

Categories: business, smugblogs, smugmug

Found on smugmug

November 5, 2005 1 comment

You may have already noticed, but Ben has put together an awesome blog about goodies we find on smugmug. With 43,000,000 photos (and climbing fast!), it’s amazing all the gems we manage to find buried in the pile.

Check it out if you haven’t already.

Categories: smugblogs, smugmug

smugblogs

June 21, 2005 1 comment

We’ve been active on our forums and plenty of other people’s blog comments, but never got around to setting our own up. (Well, I’ve been blogging since 1994, but we haven’t had official company blogs. 🙂 )

No more! We’ve got a Release Notes blog to track changes on smugmug, a getting great prints blog to track everything we’re learning about getting great prints from digital shots, and even a web tricks blog for our resident web superhero, Green Jimmy, to spill the beans on all the easter eggs available with smugmug’s customization.

Of course, we have personal employee blogs as well. See Chris MacAskill‘s and Jimmy Thompson‘s.

Let’s hope this little experiment works out.

Oh, and BTW, if Batman were to blog … he’d use WordPress. 🙂

Categories: smugblogs, smugmug
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