Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Oct04

ThemeForest.net Review and Custom Deposit Amount Hack

A couple weeks ago TechCrunch covered a story about a company by the name of Envato launching a service that would allow users to buy and sell website templates - ThemeForest.  I think it’s actually been around for a while but that’s the first coverage I saw (I later found something from early September – linked above).  When I initially looked it was mostly WordPress themes but when I checked the other day there seems to be more generic web templates.

I’m always in the market for great WordPress themes.  I’ve changed the theme for this blog a couple times and each time I find something I don’t care for.  I started looking for themes on ThemeForest and found a WordPress theme that I thought would work well for the site (I’ve since purchased it but I haven’t finished customizing it yet – expect a rollout in a week or two).   I also found a generic website template that I wanted to buy.

In order to purchase templates you have to deposit money into your ThemeForest account…you can’t pay for each transaction individually after you find your design.  No ‘shopping cart’ functionality but they do allow you to bookmark themes you like.  I think that’s a mistake from a usability standpoint but if people want the theme bad enough, they’ll succomb to the poor process design.

So I start the process to deposit money and find that I can only give them money in multiples of $20.  Slightly confused/turned-off by yet another usability problem I contact customer service and ask if there is another way to make this happen.  I get a response a few hours later (great turn around by the way, seriously, I was impressed) tell me that their system can only handle the amounts displayed but that “although your money does expire after a year it can easily be renewed by emailing Support, so in actual fact you can keep the remaining credit in the account indefinatly.”

That’s great except for the fact that I may never use that money.  I ask if they offered refunds after a year but was shot down on that as well.  I mean it’s only $5 (my combined total was going to be $35) but why should I give you a free $5 because you have a poor design.

Frustrated, I set out to find a way around this but told myself I’d dedicate no more than 15 minutes to the effort.  I know PayPal can handle any amounts you throw at them so I figure I would explore bypassing their absurd “checks”.  Luckily, I know enough about web development and form submissions that I figure I would try a couple elementary hacks.  After locating the script on their server they submit to before sending to PayPal I locate the variable names and amount format and proceed to deposit exactly $35.  Here’s a shot of my deposit history for all you doubters…details on the hack are below the image.

ThemeForest.net Deposit Amount Hack

Hack Details

1) Locate the themes you want to purchase and calculate your total

2) Translate your total into a 4-character non-currency format.  For example, my $35.00 deposit was translated to an amount of “3500

3) Login to your ThemeForest.net account

4) Once logged in, enter the following URL in your browsers address bar and change XXXX to your amount determined in step 2: http://themeforest.net/accounts/confirm_deposit/?amount=XXXX.  For example, the URL for my $35.00 transaction was “http://themeforest.net/accounts/confirm_deposit/?amount=3500″

5) Once redirected to the PayPal website, confirm that your user id is referenced in the description and that the amount is right.  Your user id should be within the red rectangle on the image below

Confirm User ID

6) Once you complete the PayPal transaction you’ll be redirected back to your ThemeForest account where you can purchase your templates

NOTE: Use this hack at your own risk.  I don’t claim to be huge in the blogosphere but once the hack is public it’s possible ThemeForest will close the loop-hole.  I make no claims or warranties that the hack will work as described and can not be held liable for any losses you may incur.  Also, I did not ‘hack’ into their system to prepare this.  ’Hack’ in this context means ‘manual work around’ and all I did to determine how to accomplish this was review the HTML source sent to my browser by their server.

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Sep27

LinkedIn Gets Facebook Style Messaging

Every few days I get a message on LinkedIn about ‘hot SAP career opportunities’.  That’s excellent except for the fact that responding to messages on LinkedIn isn’t the best experience and I still enjoy my current job.

LinkedIn recently made a move to improve their messaging capabilities.  Sadly, they’re doing a very poor job of simply copying Facebook.

Facebook has been enhancing it’s messaging system for a while now and it’s actually pretty good.  I can message a friend, a friend list or an external email address.  I can add dozens of friends to a single message (I’ve added up to around 20) and the interface is clean and very easy to use.  The ‘new’ LinkedIn message center is simply a less functional copy of Facebook.

LinkedIn only allows up to 10 contacts on a message.  I can’t think of too many situations where I’d need more than a few people on a LinkedIn message but there are always exceptions and the fact that they’ve limited it is just silly.  They also don’t allow me (at least that I could figure out) to enter someones email address.  What if I want the message to go to an account that isn’t linked to my LinkedIn account, or to a co-worker that doesn’t have LinkedIn (yes, there are still those few).

One thing I did like about the LinkedIn message composer is the fact that it allows me to choose which linked email address the message is sent from.  Definitely something over Facebook…but then again Facebook doesn’t really need this.  I don’t want my work email address sent to people when replying to job opportunities.

Here’s a couple shots of the different messaging services for comparison:

Facebook Message Center

LinkedIn Gets Facebook Style Messaging

I know devloping these kinds of services requires a lot of work and I appreciate that.  It’s better than what it used to be.  I just think if you’re going to blatantly copy another social networks messaging capabilities you need to do it justice.

 

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Aug13

Google Analytics Makes Login Easier

As with a majority of the web-publishers (if you can really call me that), I use Google Analytics to track visitor stats. It’s simple to implement, easy to use, requires almost no server load and best of all it’s free. My only real complaint about the service was that it required me to login again even if I was already logged into other Google services. Obviously not a major issue, I’m more than willing to do that for free access to such a great service, but it was just a productivity buzz kill.

I started noticing the changes Tuesday morning when I logged in and was immediately excited. Google announced the new streamlined login Tuesday night on the Google Analytics blog.

Now to play the devils advocate. I appreciate the change because I hated pausing to enter my password again but I’m not sure why they couldn’t take it one step further and take me right to the main landing page. If it’s for security reasons, I’ve got to say there are other services that use the Google single-signon that I’m more worried about if my account is compromised.

Also, if you visit Google Analytics without being logged into another Google service you now have an additional step. Now, you have to click the ‘access analytics’ button which will determine you’re not logged in and then you have to enter your Google credentials.

All in all, I think it will save me some time because I don’t often visit Analytics first thing (I tend to be an email person followed by RSS reader) but I’m not exactly sure what the engineers where thinking when they ok’d that approach.

Here are a couple screenshots of the new login approach:

Google Analytics Streamlines Login

Google Analytics Streamlines Login

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Aug06

Google Apps Experiencing Issues

I think I’ve said it before, but just in case you haven’t heard, I’m a big fan of the Google productivity suite.  I use their email, calendar, photos, documents…I think you get the picture. Well, when a few friends and I decided to start an investment club the logical choice for an easy to set-up website was Google Apps for your domain.  It allows us to easily share information, administer users and experiment with things while we decide what we want our more permanent solution to look like.  All in all, it’s worked pretty well and the group members love it.

Tonight, as with most nights, I login to check club activity and make sure things are working smoothly.  I have a lot of faith in Google but based on my experiences at work, a random check up here and there can save you in the long run.

Much to my surprise, I was greeted by a message that said my users may have issues using Google Apps – specifically the email application.  I like that I was warned and luckily we all still keep our own personal email addresses, but I was still pretty shocked.  While implementing the site I read several of the forums and there are a lot of people that use Google Apps for ‘mission critical’ purposes.

I will say though…at least they warn you.  It was nice for them to let me know I may get some crappy emails before they actually made it to my inbox.  I tried to get an image of the problem but I’m on the road (Dallas, TX this week) for work and well…my company issued computer is pretty worthless.  I apologize for its quality in advance.

Google Apps Issues

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Jul03

Apparently Intuit QuickBase Isn’t Dead

Ok, so almost 3 months ago when TechCrunch wrote that Intuit (the makers of TurboTax, QuickBooks, Quicken, etc) were launching a development platform within QuickBase I signed up.  I thought it would be pretty cool to at least see what they were doing and I’m really into Enterprise software (small, medium or large enterprises are all the same to me – business is business no matter the size).

Well, after registering I didn’t get a confirmation email, a “thanks for registering” email or even a “you were rejected, better luck next time”.   I figured it was a good try, I guess I’m not getting that 5 minutes back.  Then yesterday, completely out of the blue, I get a note from QuickBase that  I’ve “been accepted into the Intuit QuickBase Developer Program”.  Ok, well that’s cool but you may want to communicate a little better next time.  I figured some server troll somewhere ate my application.  Good thing you didn’t make me submit my password when I initially signed up or I would have been in trouble.

Anyways, I’ve completed the registration and I’m going to begin poking around what they have to offer.  At first glance it seems functional but not as visually pleasing as something I’d expect from Intuit.  It is in Beta though so I won’t give them too hard of a time.

More to come on QuickBase in the near future.  Maybe if I can find a few hours I’ll get an example application up.

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Jul02

Review: AIM for Windows Mobile

AOL launched a mobile version of it’s once king AOL Instant Messanger (AIM) the other day and initial findings are promising but they’ve got a ways to go. ReadWriteWeb thinks it’s a must have app for Windows Mobile devices and I tend to agree if they make some changes. However, hands down it beats what Google is offering for my mobile phone without downloading a third party application…a big fat goose egg. I understand they’re pushing their own mobile operating system but come on! Blackberry has one and Bill Gates isn’t even running the day to day operations at Microsoft anymore so let bygones be bygones. But I digress. I know it’s still in Beta but here are some thoughts.

  1. IT’S A HUGE BATTERY KILLER!!! I know the TREO 750 already has ‘poor’ battery life according to critics but this drains it faster than Britney Spears bounces in and out of rehab. I can normally get through a full day with moderate email/phone usage but when I’m running Mobile AIM my battery is ready for charging by 11AM – that’s roughly 3.5 hours of use for you bean counters. This has got to be fixed before launching the final version.
  2. IT’S A MEMORY HOG!!! I’m not sure if it’s just intense processing or if it’s an actual memory leak but I gained 12MB of memory after shutting down AIM. Gained means it allocated it back to usable memory when I shut it down…it was using 15% (give or take) of my processing power. On a mobile device that’s a HUGE amount of processing power!
  3. It doesn’t give external notifications (other than sound which is just obnoxious) when you have a new IM. If you choose to turn on sound it will play the standard new IM sound. However, if your phone is on vibrate it doesn’t do anything to alert you.
  4. The interface is visually pleasing and mostly functional, here are a few comments:
    • Good:
      • Navigating between various conversations and your buddy list is extremely easy, especially if you have a touch screen. I think without a touch screen many of the features I enjoy would be difficult
      • You can add/edit/delete groups and friends which is pretty slick for a mobile Beta release
      • You can easily toggle between available, busy and invisible (major plus considering Google Talk hasn’t even got that right in their desktop client yet)
      • Setting messages (away or status – however you use them) is a breeze
    • Bad:
      • There are some issues with how it ‘pages’ when you scroll through your buddy list – it’s a little clunky. This may be attributed to the fact that it’s using so much processing power and the system chokes a little when you try and scroll
      • When you’re in the conversation mode the ‘send’ button is on the wrong side – at least compared to the TREO 750. Text messaging on the TREO is displayed a lot like IM conversations and the send/close buttons are on different sides than AIM Mobile has them. This is big from a usability stand-point – I’ve already had several messages that didn’t get sent because I clicked the wrong button. Just takes getting used to I suppose…
      • There is an ‘alert me when’ option on the menu that I can’t seem to activate. Not sure how it would work given the fact that I don’t get notified of IMs unless I’m physically in the application
  5. There isn’t an automatic updater. Not a huge deal but definitely an inconvenience. Now I have to go to the Beta site and download the new version every time they release a fix. They have said an update notification is on it’s way in a future version though. In the mean time it would be nice if the site included dates/times of the most recent release so I could guesstimate whether I should install again. Maybe I’m just missing it because that seems like common sense.

Here are a couple things I’d like to see them add on top of general usability/performance:

  1. Add an option to my photo menu to set a particular image as my AIM icon
  2. Add an option to my photo menu to send images to AIM buddies if I’m logged in
  3. Allow me to add a link to my Windows Today screen that will take me to a new IM if there is one

My current client has blocked AIM/Google Talk so if you’re in the same boat this is definitely worth the download. Here’s a shot of the user interface from the AIM Mobile site.

(image courtesy of AIM Beta site)

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