Tag Archives: outsourcing

An experiment with Pinterest

Pinterest is the latest darling on the social media scene. Pinterest reportedly hit ten million monthly unique visitors faster than any other website. It is currently claimed to have some 15 million users. Basically it allows you assemble (‘pin’) images from anywhere on the web into themed folders (‘pinboards’). You can download browser plug-ins that allow you to pin an image from a website to one of your pinboards in a few clicks. The social element comes from ‘following’ other Pinterest users and commenting on and re-pinning their images. It is a simple idea slickly executed. The emphasis on images makes it rather different to Facebook, Twitter and other social media brands.

83% of US users of Pinterest are women and typical pinboard themes include:  fashion, funny images of cats, interior design, places to visit, food and wedding ideas. Check the Pinterest home page to see a sample of images currently being pinned. The interest in weddings is particularly relevant to me as I sell wedding seating planner software. So I started to create some wedding reception themed pinboards as an experiment. I quickly decided that scouring the web for pictures of pretty seating charts, place cards  and wedding cakes wasn’t a) a good use of my time b) the right thing for a 46 year old heterosexual man to be doing (GRRR!). So, using outsourcing site odesk.com, I found a nice lady in the Philippines to do it for me for a very reasonable hourly rate. She also (unsurprisingly) proved to have much better taste than me. I think she also really quite enjoyed herself! The resulting Pinterest pinboard is at http://pinterest.com/tableplan/.

Here is some data from my little experiment:

Cost: approx $50, plus a few hours of my time
Total ‘pins’ to date: 551
Clickthroughs to http://www.perfecttableplan.com/: 154
Avg time on site: 0:42
Bounce rate: 75%
Traceable sales (from analytics and cookie tracking): 0

So that works out >$0.30 per click for not very targeted traffic (as shown by the bounce rate and avg time on site) and not a single sale. Not very encouraging. What’s worse, it only generated traffic while new pins were being added. As soon as new pins were no longer being added the clickthroughs fell off a cliff:

I may get some SEO benefit. But Pinterest isn’t looking a like a win for me. Also there are issues with Pinterest terms and general IP issues. Pinterest’s terms originally claimed that they could sell anything you pinned. They have since amended that to something more sensible. But pinning images you don’t own the copyright to is still problematic. I think most sites will be happy for people to pin their images, as long as they are correctly attributed – it is free advertising for them.  And it is obvious that most Pinterest users are happily pinning images without any thought about copyright. But it could conceivably get you into trouble for copyright infringement.

If you are a big name company with a big marketing budget, it may be worth putting some effort into Pinterest. Especially if you already have a big catalogue of images you own. But, based on my experiences, I think most small software companies can find better ways to spend their time.

Programming skills wanted

I am looking to outsource some self-contained programming tasks in areas that I don’t have expertise in. I am hoping that someone reading this blog might be able to help (or know someone that can) so I don’t have to go through outsourcing sites. These are the two skills sets I am currently looking for:

  1. Javascript/CSS/HTML – To write a single page web app. This will have a relatively simple UI displaying data read from XML. The app will need to work on a wide range of browsers and devices. Ideally you should also have some web design skills, but this isn’t essential.
  2. C++/Qt 4/OpenGL – To write a relatively simple 3D visualization model that runs on Windows and Mac. This will involve populating a 3D space with specified shapes and allowing simple movement around it.

Details:

  • I am expecting that I will need 2 different people, but it is possible there might be someone out there with experience in both.
  • These are small projects (probably less than 2 weeks for task 1 and less than 1 week for task 2). But they might lead on to more work in future.
  • Time scales are reasonably relaxed. Ideally I would like the work to be finished by the end of September.
  • You can be based anywhere in the world, but must be able to communicate in English (written and spoken).
  • Full copyright to the work will pass to my company on full payment.
  • Obviously cost is an issue. If I have 2 promising candidates, I am likely to pick the cheaper one.

If you are interested in doing either of these tasks please email me ( andy at oryxdigital.com ) before the end of Friday 26th August with subject “programming work” and a brief outline of:

  • Which of the 2 tasks you are interested in.
  • Your relevant experience. Ideally including details of related projects completed.
  • Your daily rate in Pounds Sterlings or US dollars.

I will send detailed specs to a shortlist of the best candidates. The work will be awarded on the basis of fixed price bids against the spec. Please don’t apply unless you have relevant experience – if I wanted a programmer without experience in these areas I could do it myself. ;0)

Outsourcing software testing

Every time I write a post for this blog I carefully check it for typos. I then get my wife to proof-read it. She always finds at least one typo. Often there will be whole words missing that my brain must have interpolated when I checked it. I read what I thought I had written. She is unencumbered by such preconceptions.

Similarly, it isn’t sufficient to do all your own testing on software you wrote, no matter how hard you try. You will tend to see what you intended to program, not what you actually programmed. Furthermore your users have different experiences, assumptions, and patterns of usage to you. Even in the unlikely event that you manage 100% code coverage in your testing, those pesky users won’t execute those lines of code in the same order you did. I have spent hours testing a program without finding a bug, only to see someone else break it within minutes or even seconds.

So it is essential to involve people other than the original programmer in testing, in addition to (but not instead of) the testing programmers do on their own code. This poses something of a challenge to one-man-bands such as my own. I don’t have other programmers, let alone QA staff, to call on. I can, and do, use volunteer customers for beta testing. But, in my experience, beta testing is not an effective substitute for professional testing:

  • It is haphazard. I never hear from ~90% of my beta testers.
  • You can’t control beta testers sufficiently, for example you can’t set them tight deadlines, make them concentrate on a particular feature or do their testing on a particular operating system
  • The quality of bug reports from customers is often poor. Customers often don’t understand (or don’t have the patience) to describe a bug in enough detail for you to reproduce it.
  • Professional testers know how to break software.
  • The new release should be as polished as possible before any customers see it. Your beta testers will be some of your most enthusiastic customers. You don’t want to use up that goodwill by sending them buggy software.

Consequently I like to pay third party testers to test my own PerfectTablePlan product after I have finished my own testing and before I do any beta testing. Previously I have used softwareexaminer.com, but they are no longer in business. So I decided to try a couple of other offshore testing companies I had heard about:

testlab2.com
qsgsoft.com

The problem with paying a testing company is that it is hard to assess the quality of their work until it is too late. If they report few bugs it could because there are few bugs or because they didn’t do a very good job of testing. By using 2 companies to test the same software release I was also testing the testers (I didn’t tell them this).

I paid each company to do approximately 3 days testing on the Windows and Mac versions of PerfectTablePlan. I was very pleased with the results. Both companies found a useful number of bugs in the software. They were also able to test on platforms that I didn’t have access to at the time (64 bit Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.6). I didn’t keep an exact score, but I would say that QSG found more bugs, while TestLab2 was more responsive.

QSG found some quite obscure bugs. They were even able to tell me how to reproduce a very rare and obscure bug that I had been trying to track down for months without success. Communications were sometimes a little slow (at least partly due to us being in different time zones) but it wasn’t a huge issue. My only real grumble is their billing. Despite several reminder emails from me I am still waiting to be invoiced for the work several months later. I like to pay my bills promptly and then forget about them.

TestLab2 didn’t find quite as many bugs, but I was impressed with their responsiveness. They installed Mac OS X 10.6 within a few days of it being released, so they could test PerfectTablePlan on it. When I emailed them on  a Saturday about a last minute bug fix for Mac OS X 10.6 they tested the fix the same day. That is great service.

TestLab2 and QSG are based in Ukraine and India, respectively. At around $15/hour they are about a third the price of equivalent US/European companies I contacted (who might also outsource the work to Eastern Europe and India, for all I know). Some people believe outsourcing work to countries with lower costs of living is evil. I’m not one of them. I sell my software worldwide and I am also happy to buy my services worldwide, especially if I can get significantly better value for money by doing so. While there are rational arguments to be made about problems caused by differences in culture, language and time zone caused by outsourcing to other countries, I didn’t find any of these to be a major issue in this case. Most of the other arguments I have heard boil down to the simple ugly fact that some westerners feel they are entitled to a disproportionate share of the global pie. But I don’t see any reason why someone in Europe or North America is any more deserving of a job than someone in Ukraine or India.

With the help of these two companies I was able to put out a really solid PerfectTablePlan v4.1.0 release, despite the large number of new features. In fact, I am only just putting out a v4.1.1 with some bugs fixes several months later. I plan to use both companies again. I hope readers of this blog will give them some additional work to ensure they stay in business. But not so much that they don’t have time to do my next round of testing!

Outsourcing artwork through 99designs.com

99designsMost software developers have horrible graphics design skills. I am no exception. So I decided to run a contest on 99designs.com for some artwork I wanted to use to promote Perfect Table Plan. I have used DesignOutput.com once before, but I decided to give their competitor a try after seeing the  stackoverflow.com and homedocumentmanager.com logos created through 99designs.

I put up $300 prize money for a humorous cartoon of a seating arrangement gone wrong. Fees cost me an additional $69. The detailed brief is here and I also supplied this rough sketch:

99designs_cartoon

Here is the winner I chose:

99designs_winner

I ran it as a ‘guaranteed’ competition to try and attract more designers I also made an effort to give plenty of feedback on the designs submitted and I let it run the full 7 days. I found the 99designs website easy and intuitive to use. Setting up the competition only took ten minutes or so. My only gripe is that the ‘eliminate’ and ‘choose winner’ buttons are so close together that it would be easy to click the wrong one. You do have to confirm the winning choice however.

Most of the other competitions are for logos and websites, so mine was a little unusual. But I still got over 40 different designs (some variations on a theme) from 20 different designers. You can see the designs here (those that haven’t been withdrawn). The quality of the entries varied, but much of it was really excellent. I am very happy with the winning entry.

99designs seems rather brutal for the designers. 40+ entries is common and some contests get over 1,000 designs entered. This means stiff competition and the designers don’t get anything unless they win. I am guessing that they are mostly students, who are happy for the practice, or living in cheaper parts of the world, where $300 is a significant amount of money. But it certainly offers excellent value for money for those running contests.