Tag Archives: wordpress plugins

Competitive Analysis

So, for a little over a year I’ve been working on a new WordPress plugin. A full-fledged management system for an industry that currently has about 3 or 4 major competitors.

This has been a big project, and I’d say I’m 80% of the way to being able to release something preliminary. I get sidetracked a lot and after working all day on code, I just plain don’t feel like coding when I come home. Plus there’s more fun stuff to do.

Part of what I’ve been doing when I don’t feel like coding is the competitive analysis portion. It’s a little late in the game – you should do this up front, and I did – but it keeps my mind occupied.

I have about 500 screen shots fo their systems, 40 Google documents listing features of each component including all the announcements of new features. I read their support forums, industry forums, magazines & newsletters looking for trends, patterns and unmet needs.

Here’s how the competition stacks up as I see them:

  • Competitor A – Nicely done interface, solid set of features, industry experience, attractive site, outdated demos, incomplete help. I’m paying a small amount for access to this site and their active user forum. The staff and users are active on the forum, but the site owner’s idea of customer service attitude is more attitude than service.
  • Competitor B – Ok interface (a little tight & terse), hard to navigate, solid set of features, broad appeal. Open demo site with all features. Help system is under a different company name, loads slowly, and isn’t terribly helpful.
  • Competitor C – Antiquated interface (the 90s called), I couldn’t figure out where to start, or add new stuff, layout is a single column of links, primary website hides more than it sells, help is not helpful. Well, I did figure out kind of how to add stuff.

In short, not only is the project fascinating to me (and extremely challenging), but there’s plenty of room in this market. Comp A claims to have 15,000 clients and Comps B and C would seem to have both plenty of clients and some money in their pockets (although C should spend it on programming, not advertising). My own scans of site lists shows a number of WordPress installs, but not a huge number.

Oh, and Competitor A runs ads every month (for the last 2 years it seems) in an industry print (and online) magazine. The ad is nice looking and appropriate, but the site they advertise (not their main site which is odd) actually has no content on it. It has a header and a menu, like it was meant to be a demo site, and yet there’s nothingĀ  here! It’s a HUGE waste and makes them look bad, I think.

This is an industry where the companies spend hundreds of dollars a month, and carry huge investments in inventory. The competitors services are all fully hosted, and pricing varies. Comp A has packages ranging from $10 – $50 per month (mainly about capacity for storing the number of items) and Comp C is a $99/year. Comp B is a mystery. Their site doesn’t disclose pricing (so far as I’ve found) until after you join. And I don’t need/want to do that just yet. Apparently Comp B offers their site for “free” if you join one of their other services, starting at $12 per month. They all offer “widgets” and things you can include in your site that links back to theirs. If you don’t pay for a premium option, you get a url like http://mycompanyname.theircompanyname.com – which looks a little sad. I see why they do it for the upgrade.

My plan? In an ideal world, I’ll sell the plugin for $150 – $250 with lifetime upgrades and support. Perhaps selling additional modules, installation & configuration services. I may have to go higher. Also, turn it into a hosted service like the others do, running on WordPress multi-site and partnering with a web designer/firm to offer solid templates, and refer work. And everyone gets a domain. Subdomains like these guys use are as useful & professional as a hotmail.com email address.

This is a grand dream, and it’s going to take a while to get there. But I’ve put this out there for a few reasons.

Mainly, just to vent about how crappy these other guys seem to be. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all doing many, many things right and have pretty good word of mouth and awareness. But there are gaps. I’ll have gaps when I launch too and that’s ok.

Secondly, by putting it out there, my friends and family know about it and can call me to task on it when necessary. Yes, I’m a procrastinator, but that’s for a future post.

It's full of empty!

My god it’s full of empty!

I read a great article on Smashing Magazine today, detailing the author’s favorite Programming Mistakes, which really highlighted just a couple of mistakes I’ve made, and seen other programmers make.

Tonight, while waiting for Chris to come home, I was working on this big WordPress plugin project I’ve been doing. Apparently I’ve been doing it for a year, based on the dates on a few files. Well, I took like 4 months off to do another one, but I digress….

The point is I found a common programming mistake that I make, and I see my fellow programmers make at work. They forget to consider the EMPTY state.

My day job is working for a 15 year old website with tons of users. Our dev systems are replicas of live data so we have lots of stuff to test against. I call this the FULL state. What we fail to consider is the EMPTY state. What happens when a user first sets up an account and is face with a blank slate? Sounds like an obvious question, right? But it’s not always.

We all start with a blank slate and program for it. But a few days/weeks/months into a project, we have been re-using that same old test account with that awesome and witty test data for Bugs Bunny, Megan Fox, or whatever your favorite mock-data is. It’s familiar and comfortable. And you blithely make changes to this stored procedure, that class or some function.

And the code gets to the next phase. Maybe it’s QA, or maybe it’s LIVE/PRODUCTION (god forbid) and the first report hits.

“Dude, when I log in/click start/add a listing, I get a massive error.”

Huh? What? It’s been working all these months fine. What could be wrong?

Well, it turns out you didn’t consider that the user (fine, intelligent user that they are) hasn’t got any data yet!

Currently, running on my test blog for just such cases, my plugin looks like this:

It's full of empty!


Yeah, that’s not even close to pretty. Granted the big error markers are coming from xDebug so it wouldn’t look like this to the end user normally, but still, I obviously failed to consider the empty.

So, one of my jobs this weekend is to go and rework those functions to not explode if there’s not found data, but rather to gently prompt the user to go and enter the required data.

I’ll also want to add some nag bars to the system if critical data like this is missing.

I sure hope it rains so I’m not missing anything.

My new plugin – Drafts Scheduler

This started last year as a simple project. I needed a way to bulk-schedule a whole bunch of posts in WordPress over a period of time. WordPress doesn’t have an easy way to do this, so I started writing my own.

I got stuck, then busy and it got left behind. Well, the other day, I picked it up, dusted it off and decided to finish it.

It’s now available in the WordPress Extend repository – meaning it can be downloaded from WordPress.org or installed directly inside your WordPress install. You can download it here: http;//www.wordpress.org/extend/plugins/drafts-scheduler

It does just one thing – lets you scheduler ALL of your drafts in one go.

Options? Yeah, we got options.

  1. You can schedule the drafts sequentially or randomly at an arbitrary interval of your choosing (3h 9m for example) starting at a set date.
  2. You can schedule drafts ENTIRELY randomly. Sort of. You still pick the starting date, the maximum number of posts per day, and also the start and end times within the day to confine your posts. After that, all bets are off. So you could schedule your posts to post up to 5 times a day, and only between 9am and 5pm if you wanted. Or between 10pm and 11:47pm if that makes you happy.
  3. That’s it. There is no 3.

I’m anxious for feedback. This was a fairly simple plugin that I should have created FIRST before my other, more complicated projects, but didn’t. Anyway, enjoy and leave me your comments here or on my development site: http://www.installedforyou.com/wordpress/new-plugin-drafts-scheduler/393/

My WordPress Adventures

Image via Wikipedia

For the non-techies out there, this website or blog runs on the WordPress platform. WordPress is a tool that makes blogging easier by simplifying a lot of the “tech” bits.

That said, I like my “tech” bits, so I dig a little deeper.

I run several (over 10) WordPress blogs, and even started looking at WordPress MU to build communities.

I also started developing plugins, or add-ons, to give it even more functionality. My first attempt was a good idea, poorly implemented, that I haven’t been back to revisit.

Recently, I’ve been working with a commercial or premium plugin with my friend Alex called Standout Comments and it’s nearly ready. We’ve designed it to be an all-in-one comment plugin with lots of great features for your average site owner, but also for Internet Marketers who want “everything”. It’s not perfect, but it’s “good enough” for a beta release.

Alex has lined up Vancouver blogger and big-man-on-campus, John Chow to help us (awesome) and given a couple of people a private beta copy. I’ve installed it on all of my main blogs (including this one) but am looking for more testers.

You can test Standout Comments in one of 2 ways.

  1. Leave comments here and/or tweet about posts using the Tweetback URL provided – this is the function I’ve tested least. Tweetbacks should be tracked and show up in comments automatically.
  2. Request a beta copy by leaving a comment below. I’ll take a look at your site and make a decision. Ideally you get a bunch of visitors and comments daily to put the plugin through it’s paces.

Beta testers will get free access to the software when it’s launched.

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