SMICK.NET | Website of Mike Smick Graphics and Web Developer

Some thoughts on SaaS projects and pricing

There are a lot of web services out there that impress me. Some I’d really like to commit to but I simply can’t justify the cost. It may benefit me to have but I just can’t make myself pay money for it against what I feel is a proper price. I think the pricing structure on many of these new services is just off and becomes a turn-off for sole-proprietors. Because there is a lot of competition, it makes your product easy to ignore. The trend of $29.99 per month a very common price for SaaS products. Things like SaaS accounting or enhanced social media tools and bulk email software show that trend. I’m starting to see $39.99 as a base price too. I think some of these programs can become deeply ingrained in the workflow of companies. And some find their service uniquely meeting their needs. So big deal on the price right? Well I think it’s fair to make a few comments on pricing and SaaS trends in general from a perspective of a small business owner.

  1. Your name doesn’t mean diddly to me once I’ve evaluated your service. I know you needed a funny name to capture me and the attention of media and the heart of the public at first but it ends there. The service is either strong or weak. And the more “creative” the name, the more silly I may find recommending it to others. (e.g. GIMP). If your service is disappointing and you’ve associated it with baby mongoose well then congratulations, I now hate baby mongooses. (mongeese?) Whatever, just don’t overdo the name. I’d rather have a boring name and be rich than any alternative really.
  2. When you base your pricing directly on your competitors and other Saas projects, or in general follow trends, it’s obvious and annoying. I realize imitation is like an economic model, but a lot of us think you simply have no clear way of justifying anything. I realize that I may be hard to please and others buy into the trap more easily, but keep in mind that when you compare yourself to others, you also have to react more often to others. So if your competitor that you worked so hard to match drops their price, where does it leave you if you based everything so closely on others.
  3. I’m seeing 7 and 14 days trial are common and “Sign up Free” button next to that, as if you you think that’s somehow incredibly generous. Now I realize you read a blog post somewhere that said that was a cool way to get sign ups. But once again you’ve helped me conclude how unimpressive you are at this. Here’s a hint for you: At companies large and small, nobody has any time to evaluate something properly and share their thoughts and get feedback in just 7 or 14 days and be able to do a demo with everyone. Even 30 days still looks like you are stingy idiots. All of us evaluating this crap (I mean your really great offering) know that it’s costing you barely pennies to have our account folder created. All the communication is auto-generated so when you put a 30 day limit on this it just sounds artificial and arbitrary and lacks confidence. Instead why not give me three months to evaluate the software. Let me have enough time to make a decision among my 5 stakeholder colleagues. And what if I get everything done in that 3-month period without paying? Well if that scares you, it sounds like you need to kill off free trials all together. Because I know plenty of people who can complete the same project in seven or fourteen days that others would stretch to three months. Someone can always game the system. I think this comes down to confidence and actual worth. If your service is more of a one-and-done kind of thing maybe a monthly fee isn’t really appropriate and you need to view it that way.
  4. Take a look at Turbo Tax and TaxCut. Nobody likes paying for tax software. But we do it. And we sit on it for months, finally use it for 2 days and then it gets binned till next year. We paid maybe $30 or $99 for that and it’s something we could have done essentially for free on paper. I’m not necessarily praising Tax Cut or Turbo Tax because I can’t get over the fact that the IRS doesn’t have it’s own legit tax wizard software. And that we pay less for submitting (paper) which takes more overhead on their end to bother with. Whatever. What I’m saying is just look at those models outside your industry especially those where everyone buys them almost like mindless drones. Find out what they might be doing right.
  5. Don’t act surprised that people want to self-host. Why not plan for it where you can make some real money from that option. Some companies really don’t like or have policies against having 3rd parties host their data. They may really love your offering and would use it except for that it can’t be self-hosted. They might even be more than happy to pay a massive sum in order to use your software in-house. And your fee structure could be wildly different for that kind of client. These clients might be trying to move away from some buggy Sharepoint install and replace with your service. They could be paying a consultant team $50,000 a year to maintain it. If yours is a dedicated service that requires less maintenance, you might still be able to make say $15,000 or $20,000 by having a self-hosted method, provide support that beats a more generalized consultant and everybody is happier.
  6. Have a one-project model. Not everyone is going to live in this software. Sometimes it’s just a piece of software you use for a phase of one project and then you get out. I realize that I could just unsubscribe, but I don’t want to deal with that chance that the project gets postponed in the middle and then resumes 45 days later and this fee is just another detail to worry about. If I know that I can get this phase of my project out of the way by using your software and it’s gonna just work and not disappear, I’d be comfortable choosing your service. Did you all forget that people pay for peace-of-mind? Well start remembering because that’s really the point of software, to make the details easier to deal with and give us a comfortable workflow that matches our brain better. People might prepay for the software, use it actively for 2 months, would like it available but uneditable for 14 months and afterwards completely deleted. Account for this, make it easy for us to pass costs to our clients in a predictable way.
  7. I look at the number of users limitation on Saas products and again it just looks artificial. Artificiality breeds mistrust. Think about it. because I have four people I have to pay 10 times the amount because I’m suddenly an enterprise customer? The thresholds simply aren’t generous or realistic enough for me. One user vs three users isn’t bogging down your servers. Smart customers know this. So why are we pretending that this threshold is meaningful. I don’t have an answer for this dilemma that fits every company but I can just reiterate that peace of mind and engendering confidence should be the goal. Arbitrary limitations do not engender confidence with me. Or consider this. Show me why a fourth person makes all the difference in the world and should double your cost and my price. Give me a page that explains why four users increases your support volume so much that you have no other choice.
  8. Equal price for additional users doesn’t feel right. Although I can see in some cases it probably makes the most sense. It’s very democratic but let me just comment on this structure a bit. So if I have your program dedicated to a specific set of tasks my company depends on, I probably have a dedicated user for it and happily pay $XX.95 a month for her to get her job done. But I probably also have people who sort of buzz in and out to check on things just periodically. One one hand, I don’t want to set functionality limits on these secondary users, but they will use it so much less that the value isn’t as high for them. To me those users shouldn’t cost the same as the dedicated user and maybe should be considerably less. The upside is if it’s cheaper to add people to the account the more likely I’ll add more people and you might gain another $4.95 a month for three more users who logged in two times the entire quarter. This is another example of setting people’s minds at ease and reinforcing the reality that it costs very little to have an account on a server somewhere.
  9. If your website has default Bootstrap written all over it, and your app looks like bootstrap that’s totally fine with me. Absolutely fine to the point where if you’re getting complaints I think you should ignore them. Bootstrap can do most people quite well. Because it’s so common it also caches well and speeds everything up the more popular it is. It handes web app functionality and it’s a very cost effective way to do UI. Rather than a yawn, I’ll probably think you’re a pretty smart team. With that said, by using unstyled bootstrap also revealed that you’ve leveraged and saved money from open source software and I absolutely expect savings passed on to me. Can you see that there’s a distinction. That I expect a savings yet I’m not devaluing it? There is a real distinction there in terms of reputation. I actually think it’s very smart business. I use a self-hosted app right now that’s bootstrappy for invoicing. I like it a lot and I know that it can be modified more easily and upgrades and add-ons will also share that efficiency. It’s a good move to play in a lower-overhead tier. Because of that, I will not absolutely demand, but I will assume a better price. Keep this in mind and adjust accordingly. But be smart about it. Look at fast food. It’s very inexpensive and very profitable when you make efficient decisions. Software can be better because efficiency decisions don’t effect long-term health either.
  10. I wasn’t sure I’d get to ten, but here goes. Leave behind older browsers without shame but do your best to support all the latest ones especially mobile. Some things are available on Chrome that aren’t on Firefox and that bothers me because there’s cutting edge and bleeding edge. Certainly IE and Android and iOS and Opera make it pretty difficult task to support everything. Old browsers don’t really help you or your client base. And though I said earlier that you should support the idea of self-hosted installs and the opportunities there I firmly believe that older browsers hinder you moving forward efficiently. Moving to Saas offerings to me is a signal to progression. And the amount of time trying to implement something sophisticated such as a html5 canvas app backward compatible to previous versions of IE mean that the rest of us pay a lot more for your overhead to maintain a very small number of clients. As a result, features and fixes and mobile improvements don’t happen because the team is forced to focus an inordinate amount of energy to old stuff. With that said, if a product of yours worked on IE in a previous version, maintain that version for people and allow people to cross-grade smoothly if possible, but don’t continue to move backwards. If I’m stuck on IE8 for the next three years, I’m probably not used to change and improvements anyway so keep me on the old version that gets little to no upkeep. Consider scaling your prices accordingly too. If the old version gets 5% of the maintenance maybe the agreement needs an end-of-life clause and an adjustment to pricing makes sense. Use these old versions to leverage customers to upgrade to the latest browser and version of your system. Make it clear that an upgrade savings leaves IE8 behind and the benefit is a cheaper monthly price. Consider these options and don’t discount the benefit to transparency for things like this. If you need to change prices to support old systems or new upgrades, make it clear and transparent.

My last comment regarding Saas pricing is that no matter what you think about your product, it’s no where near as essential as email and reliable email can be had for $24 a year down to near zero. So if you’re not as essential and everyone falls back on email as the most dependable way of transmitting communication, how does that configure in how people will perceive your product’s value and what will convince them to sign up. I see this a lot. A product is useful and replaces email chains and attachments but it’s priced way out and the added hassle of getting everyone on board with logins is a brain hassle that we end up paying for when we can just fall back to email for the time being. Think about that.

January 12, 2014 at 12:43 pm | computers, freelance, rants, webdev | No comment

How to pronounce GIF – a protest

Just learned the creator of the GIF image format is surprised there’s still a debate on how to pronounce GIF.  The maker of the GIF file says it’s supposed to be a soft G and sound like J. Well, I’m not doing that ever. Here’s why:

  1. It’s an acronym so making a word out of it is a fun exercise, but it doesn’t carry a lot of weight. But if it did…
  2. Through reasoning, we can deduce a logical hard G for the pronunciation because the first letter in the acronym stands for “Graphic” or “Graphical” which, thank you, is a Hard G.
  3. If we must make a word out of it, sorry but the word Gift is a lot older and has a convention we follow which is, you guested it, a Hard G.
  4. There’s a peanut butter brand called JIF and that is distracting.  I’m trying to show you how to export a file and then you’re off thinking about peanut butter. No.
  5. One guy doesn’t decide how a language evolves. Social groups and culture evolves it. Got a problem with that? Take a salt tablet. Hard G.

SamuelJackson

May 22, 2013 at 1:36 am | graphics, nothing, rants | No comment

The Forgotten Adobe Customers

Adobe has announced their move to Creative Cloud this week.  And though it seems like a great deal to some, I’m beyond skeptical and downright disappointed. For one thing, it’s not really a great price as far as cloud storage goes. To get 20 GB of space, you can spend a heck of a lot less on your own hosting where a much smaller number of people will be hitting your own server every day. So your throughput will be better elsewhere for less money.

I’m sure Adobe knows who their customers are right? But I think they will find after a while, these forgotten user-types will have stopped buying the software and Adobe is going to miss it.  Will somehow the funds recovered from piracy make up for it?  Maybe. Or will the pirates just continue to pirate the best version out there?

The Administrative Assistant

This user is employed at small or medium business, like an architectural firm and the boxed Creative Suite Standard was purchased for them for occasional uses such as photo work, newsletter development, presentation graphics. The facts about this user are interesting. They don’t actually need the Creative Suite. It’s way too powerful for the kind of superficial edits that it will be used for. Lucky for Adobe though, the company boss purchases the license for the potential use by the employee. And it’s convenient for them to have the software around.  They get it installed and don’t have to think about it much.

The IT Guy with a Creative itch

This is a very common archetype if you will. The IT guy might own his own copy or convinced the boss to purchase the extra license.  The IT guy bangs on the companies fledgling website using Dreamweaver and a little Photoshop. Of course his graphics always display out of proportion, but things work. Maybe he’s aware of other options for web development, but this is the tool he knows is popular and was easy enough to get started and find tutorials. . Again seeing the potential of it’s use over time, it was a purchase made to get tasks done and scratch that itch.

The Retiree Hobbyist

He or she has graduated their careers and maybe is moving into a new hobby or startup doing weddings or nature videography / photography, and to maybe play around with music a bit.  Sure their Windows computer has the movie maker software on it but they never bothered to notice.  The Video Collection was a steep purchase, but they were sure they will have EVERYTHING they need to get things done. Because they often get stuck on things, weeks or months will go by on projects because they aren’t sure how to complete various tasks. They also have the patience and available time to return to something completed and rework it after they’ve learned a new technique.

The Disenchanted Freelancer

This person is me.  Not on the continuous upgrade path, but willing to spend on the new Adobe Collection every odd or even version to stay up to date with colleagues and vendors. Things are expensive to stay current but on the plus side, a having those older boxed versions to outfit a second computer for an intern or collaborator, or to make an aging machine capable has been great.  As far a loyalty goes, a freelancer is about the best Adobe can hope for. Despite being more than capable of learning other tools, the freelancer uses Adobe because it’s convenient. The freelancer owns his / her own company name. They like having their own systems in place. They like not having a boss to tell them what to spend time and energy on.

All of these users are valuable customers and revenue for Adobe. And yet all of them represent a thin thread, easily broken.  That thin thread for many was the creative potential that owning your own software brings. Sure they won’t be able to crank out webpages, or videos or right away, but if they can sit on it for a while, let the ideas digest and come to fruition.  Then they can make something special or useful.  Or they won’t. But the point was the potential. With Creative Cloud, you remove that potential.

The disenchanted freelancer will sign on for a month when absolutely necessary to fix up a problem in an incompatible proprietary file, but otherwise, there’s no benefit to paying to borrow software for many of us.  Ask the IT guy whether he’s cool with yet another subscription. I mean he only pays for TV, ESPN, HBO, Family Cell Phone plan, kids hockey, Netflix.  Will the boss pay for a creative cloud subscription for the admin assistant or will he figure out that Office has Publisher and she can use Picasa or some online photo editor to handle the image crops. And the Retiree? Good luck getting his money now on something he’s only using 11% of realistically.

I’m not sure presenting people with the decision every month or even every year if they want to keep using the Creative Cloud is a good idea.  Because it’s a reminder of whether or not it’s worth their time or money. Whereas before somebody only had to worry about if they were living up to their creative potential.

May 9, 2013 at 10:45 am | computers, design, freelance, graphics, publishing, rants | No comment

March, the most disappointing month of the year

I’ve been under the covers crying for most of the day. Sorry to my neighbor who was innocently shoveling. This wasn’t meant for you.

wintery-march

March 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm | humor, rants | No comment

Workplaces for designers and front end coders are way behind

Ask yourself… How does my workplace help me succeed?

I’ve worked in a lot of office environments and it comes down to this fact. They are basically the same. They are adequate, climate-controlled and exist for people to work in the same vicinity, but other than that, they don’t serve the worker all that well.

You have a small area you can furnish yourself a little bit, typically a set of tools that are somewhere between mediocre or decent and you are expected to stay in one place for 7-11 hours a day.

There are no incentives to improve the space yourself using your own funds; you can ask for better equipment when you need it, but you’d be expected to demonstrate that it’s problematic or limiting. You can improve your workspace by requesting a better chair, maybe a doctor’s note will help you in that way, but a better desk isn’t likely.

Expectations that conflict

You’re expected as a designer / developer to create, to bring a succession of progressive enhancements to your work in order to provide better service. And my view is you can’t do that in a typical work space. And no change in wall color or cube formation is going to ultimately fix that. A creator who is stagnant and does the same thing repeatedly is going to dwindle in usefulness. They will miss their family, resent their job a lot of the time and go home at the end of the day tired and unable to absorb or maximize their life experience outside of the workplace, not refreshed for the next day.

How does one create?

Well we do so by absorbing through experience in our life and by crafting a solution to a set of problems.  When you sit at the same desk for a sequence of so many days. How is your life experience bringing you things to help generate ideas?  What about that hour lunch break? Does it regenerate you really? I’ve always found myself rushing through it, and basically listening or contributing to complaint sessions with my colleagues.

The structure of offices is just strange to me. I get the whole discipline thing and team oriented work. But with design and development, you’ll have short bursts of team work which then require an individual to separate from the huddle and actually bring something to life so the group can discuss it. The majority of your time is taken in these individual tasks. The group feedback loops are at most 10% of your days at most. Probably more like 3%.

So what I’m getting at is if I’m required to be at an office, but mostly working solo, in order to serve the creative requirements of my job, isn’t there a conflict in my lack of world experience that I’m generating as well?

I had that thinking less than 6 months into my first office job. And despite my best efforts, I’ve worked in many other offices after that. Will I ever learn? Slowly but surely I guess.

Can you go big, portable or remote?

I think the issue is, many of us simply cannot bring with us a sufficient portable space, so we work where a den was made, and though networking is sophisticated enough, teammates do not use the capabilities of the available tools to work remotely in nearly the same capacity as an in-person setup. It basically works like this…

Worker: I want to work from home, I think I could get things done just as well (murmurs about office distractions)
Supervisor: That sounds good, how about maybe every other Friday you work from home
Worker: That’s something, (that sucks) but let’s do that (for starters hopefully).
Supervisor: Of course you’ll need to check in with me during that time
Worker: No problem you want to set up skype or get on chat or maybe open a phone bridge all day, or just open the view to the source code repository as I check things in?
Supervisor: I’m not familiar with all that, let’s set up some phone meeting times to go over some things
Worker: Ok fine

And what happens is, the worker spends a few extra half-hours during the day preparing to provide reports to the boss to justify working there. Eventually it’s a huge hassle and at some point he’s on the toilet when a call comes in, the boss starts preaching that it’s not working out and feigns panic.

Humans should be together, but not necessarily co-workers all the time. I’m advocating for a change in creative work where schedules are mixed, working from remote locations is encouraged and the absorption of experience resulting in the synthesis of ideas is maximized.  I realize this produces more opportunity to screw off and bosses don’t like screwing off. But you know what… I really don’t care.  Because change starts at home. I’m advocating people demand of their next job and plan on updating their home or portable capabilities.

Try this, when you actually have time for your family, when you split up your day, go home or for an outing for 3 hours multiple times during the week rather than spending the majority of the sunlight hours sitting indoors. I’m going to bet that you feel a little more refreshed, and capable of being excited over new challenges. I’m not talking about a couple days vacation or a bi-monthly “teambuilding” event only then to return to normal and then work on those ideas. I’m talking about killing normal and creating based on goals and energy, not required sitting periods.

‘Cuz I won’t be the one left behind, you can’t be king of the world if you’re slave to the grind’

-Skid Row (1990)

May 17, 2012 at 3:02 pm | design, family, inspiration, philosophy, rants | No comment

Stop watching stupid crap

Another reason why the collective in society aren’t to be trusted, believed or followed without extreme caution.

This video below has less than a thousand views. That’s on the high end for the content it contains as compared to similar. It represents a vast array of human skills applied to bicycle stunt riding in the discipline of flatland. It takes place in a contest format  in Japan where riders meet up, share their skills and technique maybe win a little money. A little showing off, creative expression. As awesome and difficult as flatland is, it’s quite unknown and barely seen. But it takes a lot of energy and persistence to learn and requires a level of commitment most people just don’t have. In short, these people are more skilled and talented and peristent than 99.999% of the rest of the world.

And then we have THIS video below, featured on the front page of youtube giving it has 1.5 MILLION views. What can I say about this video other than it’s absolute crap. You can tell that in about 7 seconds or less.

Here’s where I was encouraged to write about this.  I ran some numbers. If everyone of those viewers of the second video watched it all the way through, that’s 7.5 million minutes spent or 125000 hours, OR 5,208 days, OR if you like, spread out it’s 14 years wasted on that talentless clown in the second youtube video.

It’s really hard to try to make a point about this without getting into the useless argument that one form of entertainment or expression is better than another. So I’m going to just be the alpha male and pounce on this. The bike video is better than the Ray William Johnson video in absolutely every way without question. There’s nothing good about the 2nd video at all. Nothing funny or worth remembering. I’m not enjoying it during the experience and after it’s a big pile of regret. After analysis and discovering the 14 wasted years thing, it’s another nice kick in the balls too.

To compare it to something else, let’s say you need a house built. 20 guys working 8 hour days for three months can handle that easily. At that count you’re looking at 14400 man hours, all together 600 twenty-four hour days.  That’s less than 2 years stretched out.

It doesn’t matter what I say people should do, but the question remains, why does crap get so much attention when we all claim to care about quality? I realize it’s just 2 videos but it’s enough to offer a warning to all of us. We should be seeking out things even in our mindless entertainment that will create an impression that bursts open our imagination. Demand the good stuff and we won’t be as vulnerable to the pull of all the crap begging for our attention. And those people making crap will be less encouraged to do so.

With that out of the way, I’d like to happily report (as a BMX flatland fanatic) that the following 2 videos have 9 million and 1.5 million views. Bravo people. I think the music helped both of these videos a lot though. Without the music, the views would be dramatically different.  That speaks to where content creators can be putting a lot of emphasis on.

May 8, 2011 at 2:16 am | bikes, freestyle, media, music, rants | No comment

Yahoo! mail sucks to the 419th degree

I had one message in my Yahoo! account today.  Been trying to phase it out  years it seems.  Today though, one shiny new 419 scam message came through. I guess I’ll have to give my friends at Yahoo! a few tips on filtering.  Ok, so Yahoo! if a message comes through with the words, ‘inheritance’ and ‘Nigeria’, it’s a f–king scam and puts your users at risk!  When this occurs it should be sent into the bulk spam folder.  OK!? What’s that? I can filter things using my own mail options?  Normally that would be the case, but you chumps limited me to 8 filters and the slots have been filled since the first day I used your email service 15 years ago.

Yahoo Mail Sucks - 419 scam's aren't filtered

This message did make me smile though.  Could Yahoo be  wise to my personality from all their data mining and know we’ll all get a little chuckle at the lengths scamming parasites will go to fish for idiots.  They’ve been doing this inheritance bit since the ’70’s or something. I’m starting to think that 419 scamming is like a service that autostarts on Nigerian computers, kind of like a Google Toolbar.  “Thank you for installing Nigerian  Skype ‘Mr. Olaide.’ Check this box if you would like to additionally install the 419 Scam-bar so you can chat with your rich American friends.”

Update

This was a boring post granted, it’s just that I don’t see how Yahoo will get me back to using their stuff when I get more spam, everything is slower ( had to fully disable the advanced email interface it was crashing my browser for a long time.) And today I got a repeat of an email from the exact same person with the same photo and the same sender that I marked as spam. Same subject line. Something about connecting with some Chinese goddess named Yao, with a singles photo. I’ve given up trying to understand spammer motivations, because there are many, but at least I want no repeats of them after I’ve made my decision to send them to oblivion. That’s Yahoo!’s filter’s job.

February 15, 2010 at 8:13 pm | rants | No comment

New Mac Laptops are still weak

Apple just introduced new laptops this past week.  But unfortunately they just aren’t there yet.  Foolishly Apple is  omitting some things that really should be there for people. And sometimes I think they must be looking at some competitors and deciding purposely not do what others are doing even if those ideas are good. To me it should be very simple. You look at what you promise and you maintain a strong sense of what people deserve in the products you sell them.  The new MacBook and Pros still don’t have an embedded card reader.  Why is this?  They should have a CF and SD camera card reader. Probably a Sony Memory Stick and others should be there despite whatever political issues might be there. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Also, what is with these strange ports Apple uses sometimes?  Apple’s magnetic power port is a superior idea even though it’s a custom port. But when it comes to video ports and monitors and peripherals, they really need to just make it standard, to match everybody else. The more compatible the better we all are equipped. Even though it’s boring to be standard and its tempting to stylize ports a company shouldn’t create monitors and require the purchasing of a $30 adapter. How does it look when you overprice a connector while creating a headache for customers?  I hate having to carry these kinds of things with me.  Stop doing this to people. Stop making modified video, firewire, and USB ports on your and devices. Keep it simple because customers deserve it. And keep firewire when you make people depend on it.  They removed Firewire for the lesser MacBook and there’s really no reason other than an attempt to make people want to go over the threshold and buy the more expensive MacBook Pro. Unfortunately this will annoy people rather than encouraging them.

And that’s really what this is about. People buy things they don’t understand because they like what the technology does for them.  But as they understand it more and can compare with other products, if their product is missing something it’s frustrating because it’s limiting them. From my perspective, limiting people is wrong when you can do more to enable them. Free people to do more with what they have. You can be simple and standardized and connectable.

October 19, 2008 at 2:41 am | computers, rants | No comment

Renew your plates on Missouri’s pile of trash plate-renewal website

It was that time again for me.  Renew my plates.  I used to go downtown and do it.  Then I remembered that even though the lady at the desk and the ladies at the window are usually nice (when I’m prepared), everything else in between, the metered parking downtown on shitty one-way streets, the long lines (not always though) I decided it’s better for everyone if I just do it online.  After doing so I realize that somehow the MO plates website has been made to mimic the annoyance of the real life DMV.

Here’s my walkthru because you have a few minutes.

Our story starts off ok at plates.mo.gov.  Right at the top, a single big link to “Click Here to Renew Plates Online” cool!  Or maybe not so cool.  I’ll explain in a couple points.

  1. Quickly it all goes to hell.  Next we have a long list of reasons why I won’t be able to complete this process.  A bunch of exceptions. Thanks for the vote of confidence.  Just like the mean ladies downtown.  Why not shove these on a sidebar m’kay?
  2. After the exceptions list we have the prominent “Click Here” button.  That must be it.  It has to be, I’m so tired of reading exceptions. Well actually it’s not it. ‘Click Here’ and a page tells me my renewal is not complete.  No kidding.  That’s why I’m here.  Site error? After trying that button 5 times, I realize I’m not experiencing a site error, it’s just a horribly placed and vaguely labeled button.  That button is to  check if my renewal went through. It’s for people who did this 5 days ago and want to verify the system accepted it.  Why is this “click here” button here? The first site page told me to this page to renew my plates.  If I wanted to check my already renewed status, that option should have been on the very first page.  I’ll repeat this just so it sinks in.  On the “Renew my plates” page I start off with reasons why I might not be able to renew and then just under that we have the unlabeled link to check my renewal.  Oh but it gets better.
  3. After figuring out the first half is not applicable, we scroll down to “Getting Started”  Wait, what?  I thought I already started 10 minutes ago? Oh that’s right, the first 10 minutes you are just playing with yourself.  Duhh.  If you haven’t realized it yet, this chunk that says “Getting Started” info needs to be placed at the top.
  4. Next we have a big orange panel of what we need.  Now were talking.  I like strong color backgrounds used for emphasis. This colored list is good Except for #6, you actually do not need your insurance card to do this.
  5. Next we must agree that we won’t submit false information and a reminder that’s against the law.  I’m kind of mixed on agreements these.  As someone who would never do that, it seems cheesy. I’m also not sure this will matter to one who intends to insert false info.  Oh well it’s not too annoying.  “I agree, please continue.”
  6. Enter your pin and license plate#.   Aw dang it.  What is my plate #.  Why didn’t that nice orange box tell me I needed that?  Oh good it’s on the paperwork.  You see if I took the time to find my license plate, the session would have timed out in a matter of a hundred seconds idle time.  Then I have to start over.  Thanks.
  7. After entering my pin and license itt verifies my information. Cool,I’m in the system! That’s convenient right?
  8. Then it verifies your information again (pay special attention to the way your name is listed there).
  9. Then you have a form that says “enter ID and product code. But then it says if you aren’t from X counties you don’t need to do option one, move on to option 2.  Interestingly option one, which is the product code area, isn’t actually labeled as such? But that has to be what they mean right?   Hurray! I can skip to option 2, Jackson County has it’s privileges!  Option two isn’t labeled either, so go ahead and muddle your way through that, which is the best way to fill out critical government forms anyway in my opinion. Hope I’m right.
  10. Option 2 is Fill out your name, address, city state etc. (as printed on your tax receipt, and they say damnit make sure if your address has two lines, then use both address lines of the form. ) Ok, Ok I will.  I need to follow the format of the tax receipt. I’m fine with that.  But wait, why am I even filling this out again?  You already showed me that you had my information.  You verified it to me 2 or three times where you made me agree it was correct.  This is just another chance for me to make a mistake and get kicked out again.   And…
  11. Error, (I’m paraphrasing) “You need to fill out the appropriate information.”  That’s vague.  So I DID need the product code and ID from Option 1?  But I don’t have a product code or ID on my tax bill.
  12. So maybe just a temporary error.  I’ll try again…Error, And again, keep getting it.  WTF?  I read the error page thoroughly.  It mentions I might need cookies enabled.  And it links to instructions for IE and..Netscape Navigator?  Jesus, that browser isn’t supported any longer and is unmistakenly dead.  I’m using Firefox.  Then I wonder is this a Firefox issue?  I’m going to be really mad if Firefox isn’t supported and netscape is.  And what about people on Mac using Safari? Screw this, I’ll go to the horrible unsecure Internet Explorer in order to submit my legal information over the internet.
  13. Now I’m in IE, ladadadada,  doing it all over again. Then I notice something.. When it makes me verify my personal information twice, it shows my name as Last, First M.  I didn’t notice it the first time because it’s just a quick verification.  Wait, you don’t think that I need to print it that way on the next page do you?  But I followed the tax receipt, like they told me and on the tax receipt it was printed normally.  Ok, I’ll try it.
  14. Blammo, it works. Thank GOD.
  15. Then 38 seconds of screaming, one broken coffee mug. Who in the hell is going to realize this naming convention? I’m lucky. I spotted it by pure luck. Everyone else is going to get pissed off and bring their anger to the DMV office.  Why do they want this?
  16. Ready to pay?  Great!  Simply fill out your personal information AGAIN.  AHHHHH!!!!! You already have my info!!! WHY WHY!!!!
  17. Next, do you want to pay by Credit card or E-Check?   (It’s a trap.  I remember it from months ago. Pay by credit card and it will cost you a few dollars, and an e-check is 60 cents charge) Obviously I’m gonna go with e-check but how many people don’t realize this?  Yeah everybody else.  Later and on other pages, they call these “convenience fees.”  Hey DMV dickwads, It’s more convenient for YOU if I pay by credit card or check, because it eases your lines, your parking and your employees.  And yet you make ME pay for YOUR convenience.  And even though it’s just 60 cents, FU.
  18. Next we have the longest processing time ever.  I am on the supposed double-fast DSL and it just creeps along. Normally I don’t complain about this kind of thing, but if this was dial-up, it’s totally gonna time out on me.  After all that work if it times out on me,  I’m grabbing my torch and saber.  If it happens to time out, it won’t tell me if the payment went through.  Then everything’s in limbo.  Then I’m going to call the DMV, take up their time and give them the 3rd degree.  So, find a fast way to process payments. Period.  And if it costs more, you fire one guy from your web team who created this monstrosity and pay for it that way.
  19. Lastly we end on a good note.  A decent 1 page formatted receipt that we can print out.  But the happiness of that is quite thin because going back to point #2, because I received this notice that it went through, why would I come back and check that ridiculous ‘Click Here’ button on the front page to verify my renewal.  I suppose I could somehow forget that I didn’t renew and I come back to check?  Given the rarity that would happen, it makes that “Click Here” button at the beginning seem very dumb for it’s placement.

Ok DMV, see ya next year.  At that time I’ll need an inspection so it’s gonna be even more fun.  Oh if anyone from that website group reads this.  Maybe consider spending about 2 hours, with some pizza and a couple testers to just walk through the paying process like I did.  This should never have created this poorly.  Clearly there was no testing done.  Or there was, but everyone was completed drunk when they did it.  And you know what.  I know that if their web guy or girl does read this, she’ll be upset.  I’m sure you are a nice person web guy/girl.  I don’t mean for you to get down in the dumps.  But you first need to admit this is bad logic, programming and design, and never do it that way again.  Because though you think it’s no big deal and my posting is much too offensive, It’s you who have caused pain to hundreds of thousands of people by doing this, including your co-workers who answer calls and have to pick up the pieces from a broken process daily.

March 28, 2008 at 8:55 pm | computers, general, rants, webdev | No comment

Mainstream media shows its maturity and balance again

Here’s how you write a good political headline:

Ron Paul Emerging As More Of A GOP Contender

This is from a CBS Denver Affiliate December 21st 2007. I can agree with it based on my own heavy news reading, although I believe he’s already well “emerged.” Considering he’s done well for months and months of smaller polls and of course all the money he’s earned from a hundred thousand or more individual donations.

Now here’s how you demonstrate your bias and bullshit agenda (from a day earlier than the above):

Will Ron Paul Play Spoiler?

And you know what’s really great? This is CBS national news. So we have an affiliate that must have seen the national headline and editors said, “our program and site is better than that, better than our parent company.” Denver has had a reputation of a good news market in the past. I don’t know if it’s true always, but here it definitely is. CBS national news is also following leads from elsewhere. Yahoo guilty, along with the AP this time, which makes me ready to drop their email all together. Bye Bye Yahoo Mail!

Paul shaping up as spoiler in GOP race

I’m not going to spend time analyzing this. What’s the point? I’ll spend the time writing letters. Let’s just identify something. The Yahoo story is from an AP feed. Who wrote the headline? And why is the headline, not part of the URL? Instead the URL uses a quote from the biased story “news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071220/ap_po/anti_war_asterisk.” In the story, it states that Ron Paul was not long ago, an Anti-War asterisk in the race for republican nomination. What exactly does that mean? Can somebody tell me if this comes from common political jargon? An asterisk. And don’t get me wrong, if you write Hillary Clinton, blah blah “asterisk“, I’m still left wondering if that’s like “special candidate” or footnote? It’s anything but an informational label for someone, we know that. And we know that news is supposed to be facts, not labels and stereotypes. Why is this allowed, and then even worse, tolerated.
Let’s get something straight here. There are no such things as spoilers. People still believe that there are, and stories are manipulated that way. When you have two shitty candidates, you simply have voters in a 3rd, 4th and 5th group that just don’t vote. And they still have something called a write-in vote. Mickey Mouse is still doing well there too. So to say that one candidate has a function of merely pulling votes away from another, is false.

December 22, 2007 at 4:14 pm | media, politics, rants | No comment

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