What I Miss

March 11, 2008

So I have been living up here in Washington for about 5 months now and I am really missing some of the food I am used to in San Diego. In no particular order they are:

Hopefully it is just a matter of having to learn about the local spots up here for good food. I am not all that hopeful that I will find mexican food up here like they have in San Diego.

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I Was Given the Gift of Smugmug Customer Service

December 31, 2007

In my previous post, I outlined a little trouble I ran into trying to purchase a friend a Smugmug account as a gift. Well, I am happy to report that the folks at Smugmug responded amazingly and have managed to show how much they care about their customers (as well as potential customers)…I guess there is a reason why they refer to their support personal as “Support Heroes”.

The Man Himself

If you look at the comments for my previous post, you will notice the first comment is from none other than the founder, CEO and Chief Geek at SmugMug – Don MacAskill. I love it when leaders of companies care enough about their company that they are willing to step up and participate in the conversation about their company on the Internet. There are a couple of things Don said in his comment that I think explain exactly why I even wrote the first post in the first place:

I’m so glad you spoke up about it rather than just shrugging and going somewhere else

It is usually way easier to just shrug something off. In fact, I was ready to do that and just buy my friend a Flickr account as a gift. But, my wife was persistent about at least seeing the Smugmug thing through and I figured I wasn’t the only one who had experienced this problem. This is a key point for users of any software: If you are confused about something or are experiencing any type of difficulty, chances are you are not alone. It is too easy for users to blame themselves.

without feedback like this, we’d never improve, so I’m glad to hear it.

Smugmug is obviously a company that wants to improve their product any way they can. One reason why I love Don’s stance on this issue so much, is that I now how hard it is to accept feedback on something you feel so passionate about. Smugmug is a family owned business that Don MacAskill started with his father and he could have just have easily been defensive or taken feedback personally. You’d be surprised how many CEOs react like that. And don’t get me started on developers being defensive about their code. Feedback is good. Wouldn’t your rather hear what your actual users think rather than just guessing what they must think?

Above and Beyond

Well, in the end I was able to give the gift of Smugmug as well as receive a gift because the folks at Smugmug decided to give me and my friend free accounts as a way to show how much they care about any difficulty I have experienced. That is more then I would have ever wanted to come out of this situation. They didn’t have to do that. But they did. And that is why they have renewed my faith in how much they care about their customers.


Why Won’t You Let Me Give the Gift of Smugmug?

December 29, 2007

Ok, so here is the story. I have some friends that are having a baby soon so I thought a good Christmas gift to give them would be a subscription to a photo sharing web site so they could share all their photos of them and their new child. Since I have a Flickr pro account and love it, I figured I would get them a Flickr account. But then I read about Robert Scoble raving about how much he loves Smugmug and that he is possibly moving from Flickr to Smugmug. So I decided to give Smugmug a try.

On Trial

So I signed up for a trial account with Smugmug and just browsed around to get a general feel for the site. I really like the site and they have a done a wonderful job of making it easy to perform most of the common tasks that a photo sharing site should enable you to do.

I talked it over with my wife and we both agreed that Flickr is more techy while Smugmug is more family friendly. Since we wanted a site which would allow our friends to share baby photos with their family, Smugmug seemed like a really good choice.

A Snafu

So I searched around the Smugmug site and finally found a page where you can “give the gift of Smugmug” so I decided I would go ahead with that. One problem though, when I reached the gifting page, I was greeted with a blank page. Hmmm. That’s strange. Maybe it is my browser. So I tried it in Firefox. Same thing. Try it for yourself, here is the Url:

https://www.smugmug.com/gift.mg

Then, I remembered that Smugmug is a family owned business and they boast that they have really personal and friendly support. So I wrote those wonderful humans at help@smugmug.com.

Warm, but not very helpful

I wrote support and explained that I was getting a blank page in both browsers when trying to give the gift of Smugmug. I received a response a couple of days* later that basically consisted of the usual support response: Clear your browser cache, delete all of your cookies, and restart your computer. Ok, that is to be expected. It seems that in technical support you have to start with the most basic things first. I knew it wouldn’t help but I decided to try it anyway. Well, it didn’t help. I was still getting a blank page.

*Update: After going back and checking the timestamps on the emails with Smugmug support, the response actually came the next day and from then on out they responded to all of my emails within a couple of hours except for my very last message to them which was never responded to.

Next, I tried it at a different computer (from work) and again, in both browsers. Same results. So I replied to support and told them this and asked if they had any other ideas. The response I received really puzzled me:

Thanks for contacting SmugMug. To give the ‘Gift of SmugMug’ you must
have a current / active account with us and have credit card information
in the control panel of your account. Check to make sure you have
updates your account billing information.

Well, I guess I don’t mind giving them my credit card information since I will need to be paying for this gift. So I went to my user settings on Smugmug and went to update my credit card information. Well, in order to enter credit card information, I must sign up for my own Smugmug account and pay for it. Ok, so let me get this straight. To give somebody else a gift, I must fist purchase an account for myself? But I am perfectly happy with my Flickr account and I don’t need to pay another fee for a site I may or may not use.

In A Tight Spot

So now here I am, three days after Christmas and I still have not been able to purchase a Christmas gift for my friends. My first reaction was to just back out and give them a Flickr account. But my wife insisted we get them a Smugmug account – it is prettier. So what do I do? At this point I don’t feel like I am getting much help from Smugmug. I am trying to give them money and they won’t take it.

Why Blank?

Ok, so maybe they haven’t really set up a way for non-members to give others gifts. Maybe this is even a business rule they decided to enforce on their web site. But why not explain this on the page rather than just giving me nothing? Here is what the code for that page must look like:

if(User.IsPayingCustomer)
{
     DisplayGiftForm();
}
else
{
     DisplayBlankPage();
}

Makes no sense to me. I must be missing something.


Life Changes So Fast

October 11, 2007

If Scott Hanselman and Phil Haack can do it then why can’t I? That’s right, I am joining Microsoft on the Windows reliability team as an SDET. The craziest part is it has all happened so fast that I am not sure the best way to prepare to move from San Diego to Washington in two weeks.

I am very excited about this opportunity to grow and work in an area that is outside of my usual expertise. Just in case you are not clear about exactly what and SDET does or if you had some of the same misconceptions I did, here are a couple of posts from jobsblog to clear things up:

I am not sure what this move will mean for the future content of this blog. I plan on keeping up with all things .Net even though I will be taking a new journey into the land of unmanaged code.


Netidentity Email Migration Nightmare: Update

October 5, 2006

Last week I wrote about how my email provider Netidentity had completely messed up a migration with their web email system and left thousands of user without their paid for email service.

Well, after 5 days with no email I did finally gain access to my email.  So how did my email get fixed? Did the people at Netidentity find the problem and fix it system wide? no. Did one of my emails or calls to support get my problem escalated to a priority and they fixed it? no.  Did I spend days and days reading though the blog of one of their employees and all of the angry comments only to discover that I could post my email address there to get it fixed?  Yup.

I am pretty sure that if I had not found the blog and read through it to figure out that netidentity was paying more attention to users problems if they post their information directly on the blog, I would still be without email. I can’t even imagine how this must be for the typical customer who does not read blogs or search alternative means for reaching customer service but instead just sits and waits for netidentity to fix their email.

So everything is fine now right?  Wrong.  My email worked for a couple of days and now I am getting an error message “An error occurred while reading your settings. Please contact your system administrator.” when I try to access my web mail.

This is ridiculous. I guess it is time to abandon this service and search for a new one. I really wish they didn’t own the domain name of my last name.  I guess I will change my last name to zlkdjfaowiejfadsjf and purchase the domain name right away.

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Netidentity.com’s Email Migration Nightmare

September 29, 2006

Back in 1998 or so, I decided to see if the domain name for my last name was available for purchase. To my surprise (my last name is not that common), a company called Mailbank ha purchased the domain and was selling email addresses and web space on the domain for $5/year.  That seemed like a small price to pay for the service so I signed up.

Mailbank was sold and the company became Netidenty.  Their prices have continued to increase (I now pay like $50/year) but I stuck with the service.  I think in the back of my mind I always hoped they would give up on the business model of mass buying tons of domain names and give up the less profitable ones.  Since there have never been more than 2 users that I know of on the Foust.com domain, I figured there may be a chance that one day I could buy the domain.

In any event, the company was recently sold to Tuscows and they decided to upgrade their web mail interface.  This is a fairly popular action for email services to make so I didn’t think much of it.  Well, my mailbox got corrupted during the migration and now I have been without my personal email for 3 days.  This has been a migration gone bad to say the least.  I have placed an email and a call into support with no response.  The only real message I get is that there are thousands of people with the same problem as me.  Not really much of a consolation for any single person left without email for days on end when they could have settled with another email service for free.

The closest thing to customer service I have seen, are a couple of blog posts by a senior product manager.  This has helped as far as information goes, but it doesn’t really make me, a loyal customer, very satisfied.  It makes me especially angry when I read the following:

Mailbox index corruption. I have been informed that this problem has been solved. We were able to ascertain that the indexes of roughly 2500 accounts had been corrupted. Once all of the accounts were identified, it was relatively easy to fix the issue. This means that no one should be stuck on the pending migration page.

This is absolutely not true for me and for many others according to the comments of Ross’ blog post. You can tell a lot about a company by how they respond to crisis and I have to say that Netidentity has failed in almost every way.  It will be interesting to see how this whole thing shakes out.

Here is my advice to Tuscows (the new owner of Netidenty), stop raising prices and keep the service simple and reliable.


How Much Does The Name Of Your Blog Matter?

September 13, 2006

I have noticed a curious thing lately. The actual name of the blogs I read have to do with my perception of them. Let me explain. I use NewsGator integrated with Outlook as my rss reader. When I come into work in the morning, all of the blog posts since the end of the previous work day are downloaded and they show up as unread mail in outlook. My usual routine is to just click on ‘Unread Mail’ and begin reading from the top down.

So here is the thing, since the blogs are generally sorted by their alpha numeric name, I get to the ones which are named starting with A-D much sooner than the ones that start with letters later in the alphabet.

So why does this matter? Well, let me give you an example: There are at least 3 different feeds which I read which basically aggregate various stories from a round the web and report the ones they find interesting. The first one is the one and only Digg. I subscribe to the front page feed as a way to keep up with what the Digg community deems as interesting or important. The content of this feed can be both interesting and very annoying (but that is a different top altogether). The next feed is Gizmodo’s main feed. This feed consists of anything and everything having to do with gadgets. The third “catch all” feed is the main feed on Techmeme. This site just basically aggregates what is currently popular in the blogosphere. These topics tend to be mostly techy and geeky in content.

The thing is, the content of these three feeds sometimes overlaps.

So if the same story is in all three feeds, I tend to see it in Digg first and Techmeme last. Does this mean that Tecmeme is somehow delivering me old information? No, but it tends to appear that way. I have noticed that when I am looking through my blog feeds I read Digg items more closely but by the time I get to the end and I am on the Techmeme feed, I am less interested and I tend to skim more than read. Over time, this makes Digg seem more “cool” and up to date than Techmeme in my mind. Does anybody else run into this problem? I guess I should rename my blog “Aardvark’s Antics”.