Optimize, don't Organize: Part 5

Over the next week I will be giving out 7 (unedited) excerpts from an eBook I have in the works called Optimize, don't Organize. This is slightly less pretty than the eBook and doesn't contain any of the nice pictures or diagrams....but, as they say, you get what you pay for. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so by all means leave me some comments at the bottom of this page or contact me at [email protected] or even Twitter @alandownie

Start at Part 1 of Optimize, don't Organize here


5. The better way to prioritize.

The only thing you ever need to be concerned about is what you should be doing right now. Tomorrow’s list doesn’t help you right now. Worry about now now, and later later.

If something can wait, make it wait.

This doesn’t mean procrastinate or avoid things which really need to be done. It means something which has to be done today really should get done today. Priority isn’t always about relative importance. Sometimes the least significant job still needs to be done by COB today. The flip side of this is that if something doesn’t need to be done until next month, leave it till later. Don’t leave it to the last minute, but if you have something that needs doing sooner, do it...even if it just landed on your desk right now.

Clear junk in batches.

Sometimes you accumulate junk jobs. You need to renew your domain names, export your transaction statement, send that email to that guy from school, call back that person who left a message and then you have to take out the bloody bins. Rather than constantly interrupting your day with junk jobs, gather them up and do them in one morning. The danger with junk jobs is that they let you procrastinate. That 10 minute task can easily turn into a 30 minute task when you bookend it with Twittering. Set yourself three hours, and tick off one junk job after another. Once you’re done your list will be half the size and you can get on to doing the real work.

Do big tasks early.

Plenty of people suggest getting “quick wins” out of the way to build up momentum. This works sometimes, but more often than not clearing junk off your list before tackling a big job is just procrastination. Quick wins become more about seeming busy than they are about actually being busy. Worst of all, short tasks are the worst way to get into the zone. Big tasks, whilst hard to start, mean you’ll get more done in a shorter space of time.  You don’t need to be motivated to do the whole job, just motivated enough to start it.  The main reason to get your big tasks out of the way early is because they’re harder to finish when it comes to crunch time. If you’ve done all your big tasks, it'll be easier to find time to do the smaller ones at crunch time. That one big job you’ve got is unlikely to get any easier or any less important. Get it done first before moving on to the easy stuff.

Don’t do things in halves.

We all have to multi-task on occasion, but the reality is that we all suck at it. Dividing your attention between many tasks will make you less efficient overall. By concentrating on one task at a time, you’ll get all of them done a whole lot quicker. It is almost always quicker to knock over three full jobs than it is to complete six half-finished jobs. Working on one task at a time allows you to immerse yourself in that problem and see it through to completion. If you put it down only to have to pick it up again later, you have to relearn, rethink and remember. The less remembering we have to do for unfinished tasks, the more we can use our brains to remember more important things.


Coming up:

6 - Why task lists don't work.
7 - Sticky notes, and why they rock.


Quick PAYG Update

We've a bit of feedback from people regarding the new PAYG system. The system we've implemented works great for existing users who just want to get a "top up" of results. Unfortunately, for our "free" users, it is somewhat cumbersome to have to sign up to a different plan (even if it is still free) and then choose how many Karma you want etc etc etc. Also, for some people, us keeping their credit card on file for a one off purchase, just doesn't gel. All of that is fair enough too.

Unfortunately, it's the best we can do within the Chargify system. So, we've done a complete backflip and we're reintroducing PayPal payments as of today. We're only using PayPal for "one off" purchase. Subscriptions will still be done through the existing system. We hope this makes it easier for those who asked and for those who are yet to find this feature!

If you've already switched to the PAYG plan, have no fear. It works no differently than the community plan. So you can stay on that if you wish. We're just stopping any new users joining that plan. If you want, you can switch back to the community plan, or back to a paid plan....or you can stay where you are!

If you have any queries, or concerns, please contact us at [email protected]

Optimize, don't Organize: Part 4

Over the next week I will be giving out 7 (unedited) excerpts from an eBook I have in the works called Optimize, don't Organize. This is slightly less pretty than the eBook and doesn't contain any of the nice pictures or diagrams....but, as they say, you get what you pay for. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so by all means leave me some comments at the bottom of this page or contact me at [email protected] or even Twitter @alandownie

Start at Part 1 of Optimize, don't Organize here

4. What’s the worst that can happen?

So what if you forget? What’s the worst that will happen? Do you really need to remember everything? Consider this before you add something to your todo list.

If it’s important, someone else will remind you.

In reality, there isn’t much you’ll need to remember that someone else isn’t also remembering. That’s not to say you should just become an unreliable slob, but it does mean if you DO forget something, someone will most likely let you know. I wouldn’t plan my life around forgetting everything, but it is a reality that you can get away with not trying to remember every little detail. The more important something is, the more people you’ll have knocking on your door for it. If you’re being reminded constantly about doing something, writing it down isn’t going to help you any more.

If it’s not important, why are you prioritising it?

A todo list is a list of things that you really MUST do. If it’s not a must, it shouldn’t be on your list. The quickest way to kill a list is to fill it with things you really have no intention of ever doing. If you add every little thing to it, you’ll quickly end up with a MAYBEDO list, not a TODO list. Nobody wants a MAYBEDO list; it just sounds stupid.

It’s important to you.

This is the one and only item that should be on your todo list. Your list is about you. That doesn’t mean you should fill your list with Golf, Video Games and Beer. Sometimes things that are important to you aren’t necessarily fun, but they still need to get done. If your list only has things which YOU find important on it, you’ll be far more motivated to tick things off. As soon as you hit an item that is for someone else, your list will fail. If it’s for someone else, let them put it on their list. However, buying flowers for your wife may be FOR her, but it’s still in YOUR best interests. The key here is that if you forget something on your own list, there will be no one to remind you, and you’ll only screw yourself over. The problem will be all yours. If that’s the case, put it on your list.


Coming up:

5 - The better way to prioritize.
6 - Why task lists don't work.
7 - Sticky notes, and why they rock.

Optimize, don't Organize: Part 3

Over the next week I will be giving out 7 (unedited) excerpts from an eBook I have in the works called Optimize, don't Organize. This is slightly less pretty than the eBook and doesn't contain any of the nice pictures or diagrams....but, as they say, you get what you pay for. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so by all means leave me some comments at the bottom of this page or contact me at [email protected] or even Twitter @alandownie

Start at Part 1 of Optimize, don't Organize here


3.Too much information is a bad thing.

If you don’t rely on your memory enough, you will get slow and lazy.  Conversely, if you try to remember too much, you end up remembering nothing. It's not only important to remember the right information, it's important to not overdo it. By trying to remember or learn more than you actually need, the important details can become lost in amongst the redundant details.

Information overload.

I remember at high school and university how much I’d laugh at people summarising text books. I can't think of a more useless activity. Some students would take a 400 page text book, and summarise it down to a 50 page set of notes and take that into an exam. These are the people that invariably don’t finish exams. They spend more time looking up examples than they do actually working. There is a balance. My “cheat sheet” only ever consisted of formulae that I really had no hope of remembering. While they were summarising, I was revising the application of these formulae. Everything in an exam is an application of knowledge. If you don’t trust yourself to hold that knowledge, how can you possibly hope to apply it? 

Long lists never last.

A mountain of notes, when finished, seems to be an insurmountable challenge. Similarly, long todo lists are more scary than they are helpful. In an attempt to get organized, the first thing everybody does is write down a todo list. Then they see a mountain of work and give up in disgust. Long lists are the world’s worst motivator. Yes it might feel good to tick a few items off, but when you feel like you’re not even scratching the surface it becomes a big turn off. You don’t even want to look at the list for the fear of rapid onset depression. The longer the list, the quicker you will drop it. If you must make a list, list the things that you need to do today or this week. Keep next month’s out of sight until next month.

Be selective about what you write down.

Some things you really should just remember. Your partner’s birthday, your computer password and when that “really important thing” is due are things you should probably be able to remember. If you need to write these things down to remember them, you’re going to find yourself in trouble. Over reliance on todo lists is as bad as not having one at all. As good as my wife is at organising, she can never remember our anniversary without looking it up first. One day you’ll be caught without your precious list, and then you'll find yourself red faced, or worse. Barring serious health concerns or a head injury you’ll always have your memory with you. Trust it...even if it is just a little bit. Over reliance on lists and notes just makes us lazy.

Coming up:

4 -  What's the worst that can happen?
5 - The better way to prioritize.
6 - Why task lists don't work.
7 - Sticky notes, and why they rock.


Optimize, don't Organize: Part 2

Over the next week I will be giving out 7 (unedited) excerpts from an eBook I have in the works called Optimize, don't Organize. This is slightly less pretty than the eBook and doesn't contain any of the nice pictures or diagrams....but, as they say, you get what you pay for. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so by all means leave me some comments at the bottom of this page or contact me at [email protected] or even Twitter @alandownie

Read Part 1 of Optimize, don't Organize here

2. Work to your strengths but remember your limitations.

I’m usually a great navigator. I refuse to buy a GPS, not because of some manly desire to always know the directions, but because it’s a fantastic mental exercise. I enjoy the test of looking at a map, remembering the route and then getting there. What's even better is being able to get to some new location a second time, without needing to look it up again. I don't have a great memory for details, but I have a great memory for generalities. Knowing this strength and weakness of mine is how I never get lost.

Remember the turn, not the name.

The usual method for navigation is to write down a step by step recipe, “Right at York, Left at Sayers” etc. Recalling these instructions not only involves remembering many distinct (and often peculiar) names, but it requires looking for itty bitty street signs whilst trying not to run over small animals or old ladies.

The problem with remembering specifics is that it's far too easy to get them wrong. This is especially true in suburbs where street names are often along a certain theme. Our suburb, for example, are named after New York streets. I grew up in a suburb where the street names were all native trees. The cues we use to remember words or names are easily confused when you're forced to pick one name from many thematically similar names. This is especially true when you see them one at a time instead of as a whole.

In reality, it’s far easier to remember to turn left after the sports ground, or right at first roundabout, or straight until you reach the school. In a broader context, it’s easier to remember generalities than it is to remember specifics, but more on that in a moment. It also means that once you've been to a location once, you have a visual memory of where to turn instead of just a name you need to try and recall. 

Know when you don’t know.

Before I go any further, if you’re lost, pull over and look at the damn map. Nothing will make you look like more of an imbecile than driving around protesting, “I’m sure it was a left at that last junction”. If you think you got it wrong, own up to it. Stop and have a look. Nobody will ever get angry at you for not knowing everything, but they will sure get pissed if you pretend you do.

In any situation, it's always better to say you need to look something up than to pretend you know. I've conducted possibly hundreds of job interviews of the years, and one trick that never failed me was to ask a candidate a question which they could not possibly remember. At least 80% of people try to prove their worth by having a guess, rambling incessantly and just hoping they hit the right answer or worse yet state a blatant untruth with absolute conviction in the hopes that if they believe it we will too. The 20% that say, "I don't know, I'd need to look it up" are the ones that get a big tick in my book. I'd rather work with someone who knows they don't know than someone who'd rather lead us all down the wrong path in an effort to impress.

Broad concepts are easier to recall than intricate details.

If you were to describe a movie plot to someone, you talk in broad terms about big ideas. It’s unlikely that when describing Die Hard (the first and best), that you’d feel the need to mention that it was in LA or that the protagonist's name was John McClane. What you’d more likely describe is, a cop, a terrorist, an office tower, explosives and hostages.  Even if you haven’t seen the movie in 20 years, that is enough for you to start recalling your own finer details about the movie. Therefore, rather than trying to recall specifics, recall the big picture stuff and let your subconscious fill in the gaps for you.

Just as remembering a sports ground is easier than remembering a street name, it's also easier to remember general programming concepts than it is to remember specific syntactic rules. It's the main reason why when a developer learns one language, they can often easily jump from one to the next. Once you learn how to create a loop in one language, applying that same knowledge anywhere else is simply a matter of looking the syntax specifics of that language.

In a wider sense, broad knowledge of how an internal combustion engine works is far more beneficial (and easier to learn) than it is to learn the specifics of a particular make and model of car. Before fuel injection engines came along, pretty much ever car worked the same way. If you had replaced the distributor off a Toyota, you could probably do the same on a Ford. Knowing exactly how a distributor works isn't as important as knowing that all cars have them.

Learn to apply, not to recall.

Unless you’re responsible for making split-second decisions in a critical scenario, you are most likely always going to have time to stop and look something up. It’s far better to learn how to research and apply knowledge than it is to remember things off the top of your head. This is especially true given the wonderful source of information and knowledge that is the Internet.  Whilst you may forget the specifics you learn today, you will still remember the general application of that knowledge in 20 years time. 

If you have put your efforts into learning general principles and broad concepts, when you are faced with a new problem at the detailed level, your broad knowledge will allow you to fill in the gaps. Being adaptable is about taking general learning, twisting it and making it fit a new situation. If, in school, you spent your time memorising the formula for Newton's Second Law (Force = Mass x Acceleration), it will assist you in solving exactly one problem. If instead of memorising the formula, you learned how it can be altered, rearranged and applied with other formulae, then whenever you're confronted with any one of a hundred different problems, you're understanding of the concepts behind it all would allow you to invent a means to solve the problem. Anyone who spent their time rote learning formulae failed to gain the ability to apply the formula they're remembering!

In short, it is always easy to look up specifics, and it is always hard to look up their application.

Coming up:

3 - Too much information is a bad thing.
4 -  What's the worst that can happen?
5 - The better way to prioritize.
6 - Why task lists don't work.
7 - Sticky notes, and why they rock.

UsabilityHub introduces Pay As You Go plan

We think we have pretty good value subscription plans. Not only are they cheap, you can cancel any time you like! You can pay $20, get your responses and immediately cancel, never to be charged again.

Alas, our users have spoken and you want Pay As You Go purchasing, and so that is what we've done. From today you can purchase Karma in bulk from your dashboard. If you're on the free plan, you can switch to the PAYG plan whenever you like and start buying results. If you're already a paid subscriber, you can even top up your account if you run low on quota. PAYG karma is a little more expensive than being on a subscription, but it does have the benefit of not expiring. If you're only an occasional user of UsabilitHub, this may be a great option for you.

The important thing to take into consideration is how we do the billing. We use a great service called Chargify.com for our payment system. Primarily it is a subscription tool, but it also allows one-off payments. The catch is that to do that, you need to be active subscriber....although not necessarily on a paid plan. What this means is that for us to bill you "one off" we have to sign you up to our subscription system. You don't have to pay us anything monthly, but it does mean we need to keep an active credit card on file to be able to bill you for your responses. The upside of this is that it's dead easy to buy more responses. Two clicks and you can continue testing.

I realise that this solution may not be for everyone, but it's the best we can do at the moment, and I hope it suits your needs. We're going to give this method a go for a while, but if the feedback is that customers would rather not go through this process (and would rather a traditional checkout system) we will look into doing that. At the moment Chargify don't support this sort of billing, so it'd mean we'd have to set up a new checkout. We'll see how we go.

Other things we've added in this update:

  • Tax Invoices/Receipts - Another down side of Chargify at the moment is that their invoice/receipt system is kinda non-existent. So we built our own! If you're a paying user, you can view and print your tax receipts from the Account section of the site. There is also a link under your account details on the dashboard.
  • Tour pages - We've updated our tour pages with some more information about how our tests work, what they're good for as well as a demo video of our to use each application. I hope this makes it a little clearer about how to make the most of our apps!
  • Private tests - Thanks to same great feedback, we've modified the way private tests are displayed. Basically we've cut way back on the "sharing" and "karma" type text and making it a lot more streamlined. This means you can send your users to do a test without worrying about them going off to do other tests or even worse, skipping the one you sent them to!
  • Forgot Password - We had quite a few people having problems with the Forgot Password function. We've rewritten it from scratch to ensure it works for everybody.

That's all for now, but don't think we're resting! We have a heap of other much-requested features in the works. Stay tuned!

Thanks to all of you for your support over the past couple of years, and particular in the last few months since we brought in our subscription system. The feedback has been fantastic!

Optimize, don't Organize: Part 1

Over the next week I will be giving out 7 (unedited) excerpts from an eBook I have in the works called Optimize, don't Organize. This is slightly less pretty than the eBook and doesn't contain any of the nice pictures or diagrams....but, as they say, you get what you pay for. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so by all means leave me some comments at the bottom of this page or contact me at [email protected] or even Twitter @alandownie

1. Don’t remember what you don’t need

I drive some people crazy; especially my wife. To some people I seem forgetful and careless; to others I appear efficient and percipient. It all depends on the person and the context. I make a point to remember things which I need to remember, and I rely on people, resources and notes to cover the rest. Forgetting stuff I don't need leaves room for things I do need.

There’s no need to remember something someone else will. 

My wife is a list person. Everything we ever do individually, socially or financially is written down in a list somewhere. I don’t need to remember where we’ll be for lunch next week any more than a security guard needs to know “today’s specials” at K-mart. In the context of databases, we’re a highly normalized couple...but only in the context of databases. Just as she need not understand the inner workings of our Rancilio espresso machine, I need not know what we’re doing next Thursday at 6pm. This isn’t a matter of delegation; it’s a matter of playing to one's strengths...or to someone else’s as the case may be. 

There’s no need to remember something you don’t need to know. 

If you were to ask me what our quarterly tax bill is, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. There is little point in me remembering, or even knowing when our accountant has it more than under control. I have a vague inkling that my birthday is somewhere in September, but I’m damned sure to remember my wife’s and son’s. The point is, remembering things which we will never need to act on just fills our minds with information that will never be useful. Remembering all the capital cities of the world may make for a fun trick at dinner parties, but unless you're choosing "Cities of the World for $500", there is not otherwise a lot of point.

There’s no need to remember something you can look up. 

My domain is here in front of my computer, developing software. I have over 10 years experience doing just that. Surely by that measure, I’d be able to code blind in any of 5 different languages? Sorry to disappoint, but no. I tackle every problem on its merits. I rely on proven techniques, of course, but more frequently I refer to previous work done, or online resources. The recall of knowledge is far less important than its application. Besides, do you really think you can remember everything about a certain API, language or framework? Even if you could, it’d only be out of date next year, so why bother? There are certain tools or techniques which never date and are broadly applicable, these are worth remembering. But remembering specifics or minute details which may only server you once or twice in your programming life is a complete waste of space.

Be an expert on things you DO need to remember. 

Of course, it’s not all as easy as forgetting whatever you like. The idea of clearing space in the old memory banks is to make room for something else. In this case, when you’re expected to be an expert, you MUST be an expert. In situations when you can’t rely on someone else, you can’t look it up and you really DO need to know, then it is absolutely essential that you have the answer. It’s ok to be a slacker when it doesn’t matter, but when something is your responsibility and people look to you for the answer; you have a duty to those around you to know your stuff inside out. We're not all programmers, and we don't all of the Internet at our fingertips every day of the week. If you need to know your stuff, make sure you bloody well know it.

Coming up:

2 - Work to your strengths, but remember your limitations.
3 - Too much information is a bad thing.
4 -  What's the worst that can happen?
5 - The better way to prioritize.
6 - Why task lists don't work.
7 - Sticky notes, and why they rock.

What do you do when company X (or Z) copies your app?

It's the first question you'll be asked whenever you ask an investor for money, or if you're just doing SWOT analysis of your own product. It's also the first question you should ask yourself when you have that first great stroke of inspiration. The usual question is, "What would you do if Google copied your app?".

The answer is usually, "Panic!!". In the words of Douglas Adams, "Don't Panic". If you're building something cool, and someone copies you, it means you're on to a good thing. Stick with it!

We've had a lot of people ask us about Verify App and more specifically Clue app. They ask how cheesed we are that it looks to be a "direct copy of fivesecondtest.com". Plenty of people have even mentioned to us that their entire suite of "verify" apps are in one way or another "inspired" by our work. We've kept quiet about it for the past few months, because...well...frankly I don't care what they're doing. 

People keep asking me...so now I'm answering.

I wouldn't say they've stolen our apps. I don't believe it's possible to "steal" an idea, or a concept, or even an implementation. Sure their memory test runs exactly like our five second test, and sure they ask what 5 things you remember exactly like ours (and it's displayed the same way), and yes they display test results in exactly the same way with exactly the same bar chart with exactly the same grouping of keywords. The big difference is that their test is 5 and half seconds! Got to have something to differentiate I guess? Ideas are free, and they can take what they like and implement it how they like. I'm not going to get my nose out of joint about it (except when press call them innovative...that really pisses me off).

And about Verify App? Yes their label test works exactly like ours (which we ditched), and their click test works exactly like ours, and their preference test is exactly the same as our preference test (which we also ditched) and their multi-page click test is a (poor) copy of our Navflow app. I think they only app they've built that isn't like one we'd already built is the one that is based on their own Notable app (which is a great app I might add).  I've heard it all before, yes we know...yes it's annoying. But it's not like we invented any of those things. There are dozens of them around, and most of them in isolation are better than either Zurb's or ours, particularly those that do live web site testing.

Here's the thing though, none of it matters. Yes Zurb suck. Yes I hate them as much as I would hate anyone who sees something they like and pays wads of cash to get it. But it doesn't matter. They've already lost and they don't even know it. I laugh at them and their silly hats. I may sound like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but you can't say the guy didn't have balls.

The thing is, we've been in this space for well over 2 years now. We practically invented crowd sourced usability testing. We know this space better than anyone. We've spent 2 years learning the absolute best way to crowd source and deliver fast but useful usability testing. Zurb think they've got something over us, but in reality they don't. It amazes me the number of users on ClueApp that get ZERO responses. Yes, ZERO. And they want people to pay for that? Wow. The tests they've only just finished implementing, we've already ditched. They have a nicer interface than us, I'll give them that...but otherwise, they're way behind.

The real problem is that ClueApp.com is useless. Just as useless as our original five second test was. It's a gimmick, nothing more. Something you tweet about and people fill it in and you realise you've not learned a damned thing. We never intended it to be anything more, and I doubt Zurb do either. As a usability test, it's meaningless. We ditched our "label" test for the same reason. It was ineffective at communicating what could be done easier with Fivesecondtest or with our existing click test. We ditched the preference test because people invariably just clicked "the image on the left". We ditched the little bar chart in five second test results because it was hopeless at conveying widely varying responses. We ditched the simple "what do you remember" question because without context, any usability test is useless. If there is one thing you take away from this post, it's that you know your product better than anyone. Don't worry what the other guy is doing when you already know better.

Zurb don't even realise that before they've even started, half of their apps are completely and utterly worthless as real usability tests. (Sorry to break it to you guys!) I'm not saying that because I'm pissed that they "copied us". I'm saying that because we had these apps and made the decision to cull them from our tools. The ones that remained; we changed how they work over and over until we hit the magic spot. Zurb will do the same once they realise they got it wrong. Wait and see how long it takes them to move away from the bar graph to a tag cloud (thanks to DannyB for that suggestion).

We first saw VerifyApp a few months ago when Navflow.com was coming out of beta. I haven't looked at it since. I know Zurb are watching us. While they're watching, they're not innovating. As a startup, that's the thing you always need to keep in mind. The only interest we show in what they're doing is in the Press.We do what we can to hitch a ride on their press dollars. We got a good mentioned in a New York Times article about ClueApp without us spending a cent on marketing. They're doing it for us. That netted us a big bag of new customers. Whenever their marketing hounds push their way into TechCrunch or any other site we make sure we're there. Whenever one of their customers complain on Twitter about having no results, we're there to offer them an alternative. Best of all, we have our fans out their telling their stories and how they've enjoyed our apps, and to them we owe a great many thanks.

Yes, Zurb have got a bigger marketing team than us (we don't have one), they have more developers (we only have me), they have more designers (we just have Matt) and THAT is precisely the main reason they'll fail long before us. We know the market, and we know we can support a small team on what UsabilityHub and Fivesecondtest.com bring in. We're not making truckloads of cash, but we don't need to make truckloads. Zurb...well...they have to. We're in a highly competitive, low-priced, throw-away testing market. If they invested as much as it look like they invested....well...ouch! I'd hate to be at that meeting....

Matt and I both do consulting work as our main vocation, and run UsabilityHub because it's something we're passionate about. Zurb, on the other hand, are doing it to make money. Our knowledge of the market, and our knowledge of our users tells us where we need to be, and that is the only competitive edge we need over Zurb or anyone else.

So the moral of this story is, if you have a good idea someone will copy it, it's just a matter of when. If you're small, like us, you can listen to your users and change direction, you can spin on a dime, provide 1 on 1 service, and use your knowledge of your market to beat all newcomers. Be small, be fast, keep your product focused and most of all concentrate on what you're doing and not what your competitors are doing. 

UsabilityHub update: 6 Features in 6 Days

We've just updated UsabilityHub. We're calling this "your version". We've spent the last 6 days doing a heap of changes that have been requested by you, our users. There is pretty much nothing in here that didn't come from either an email, a tweet or from User Voice. Of course, we haven't gotten everything into this release. There are some more updates coming but, for now, this one is big enough! So we wanted to achieve two main goals with this update. Firstly, we wanted to start providing better value to our paying customers. So far you guys and girls have been paying us just for "responses", but now we want you to start getting some extra benefits for being in our elite little club of subscribers. Secondly, we wanted to start working towards creating better workflows for test owners. What you see here is really only phase 1, we have a lot more planned.  So here is a quick list of what's in this update for you!

  • Deleting Five second test responses - This is version 1 of deleting responses. This hides the response from your list, but you won't get a credit for the response. We hope to do something about that soon! For now, this will help tidy up your reports. The results will still appear in your export should you need them and are just appended with a bar | so you can filter them out manually.
  • Split Tests/Iterations - You can now create variations of tests. You can either use this as a means to do A/B testing where you just want to compare the performance of two different UIs at the same time. Or, you can use it to iterate and make changes one after the other over a period of time. Either way, the important thing is that any user will only be able to do ONE of the tests in the group. This not only means you get a wider group of testers, it also means you want get users feeling like they're doing duplicate tests.
  • Private tests  - Private tests now give you the option to have your referrals only do YOUR test (i.e. not be asked to go on to do another). This means they will be shown your test, and then a thank you page, and that's all. As we don't get the benefit of getting this user to go on to do more tests, these testers will count towards your requested responses, so make sure you allow for this when you send out your link. Of course, you can still get results for free by letting users do another test after yours!
  • Export! - You can now export your five second test results as a CSV to do with as you please. Huzzah!

Other updates:

  • Deleting half-finished tests - when you delete a half finished test, you will be refunded the unused responses.
  • Better cross-site integration - All tests are now managed from the one screen, and we're now making better use of projects to help you organise them. The new interface is a lot nicer, and hopefully will help get around your tests more quickly.
  • Loads of bug fixes...yes...we all have them.

We have another fairly major update coming in a few weeks time which will feature a load of other requests.  Among other things, this will include annotations and demographics (at last!). Any problems or feedback, please feel free to drop us a line at [email protected]

What are you basing your decisions on?

As more and more startups, entrepreneurs and VCs discover the value of having an audience, I've begun noticing an interesting trend in writing. Of late I've noticed the proliferation of a new type of blog post which has the sole intent of gaining page views by contradicting someone else.  It would appear that the best way to get people reading your article is to disagree (loudly) with a currently popular article. If I read an article today about how "free is dead", you can bet someone tomorrow will write an article about "how free is very much alive" (in this case, me). Although it's not immediately obvious it really proves to me the old adage "Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see". How can both articles be right if they're completely opposite points of view?

For every article out there that promotes working with remote teams, there is another article that says how horrible it is. In fact, pick any topic, and you'll find an article actively sprouting  the complete opposite point of view. This is a good thing, as it brings to light an important point. They can't both be right, so why are you believing that either is? The simple fact is that regardless of how factual, scientific or logical either article appears, they are almost always anecdotal, personal and opinionated. It's too easy to become brain washed by your RSS feed, and you really need to start questioning everything you read. Opinion does not equal fact, no matter how many followers the author may have! The simple fact is that being opinionated gets you page views. You really need to ask yourself whether the article you're reading is about teaching or about ad revenue. Being right is less about having the facts, and more about sounding like you have the facts. A good writer can have you believe anything they like. How believable their point of view is has more to do with their writing skills than it does with any actual facts they may present. I've often said that the only thing you need to know to be an expert is more than the person you're talking to.

People are sponges, and will absorb some pretty amazing crap if they feel that the person delivering it knows more than they do. It's for this reason that Jeff Goldblum has died several times over, as has Bill Cosby and, most famously, Mark Twain who famously wrote "The report of my death is an exaggeration". What's worse is that it only takes one reputable source to add to the spin, and that false information can quickly become relayed as fact. The greatest example of this that I can think of in recent times is a mockumentary called "Dark Side of the Moon". This is a wonderful piece of film which claims to prove that the moon landing was faked by the CIA with the help of film maker Stanley Kubrick.  Two things made this such a great success. First is the fact that an amazingly large portion of the community already believed this nonsense; Secondly, that it includes interviews with sources such as ex-US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Buzz Aldrin and even Stanley Kubricks widow, Christiane Kubrick. Faced with such well known faces, it is almost hard to NOT believe the story you're being sold. The magic of the documentary is that it gradually gets more and more absurd until you eventually reach your own conclusion that it is, in fact, a hoax... you've been conned. But what if the makers of Dark Side of the Moon never let on that it was a hoax? Millions of viewers would have walked away more convinced than ever that this absurd notion is actually true. Not only that, they would likely discuss their new found facts with others, even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.

The simple fact is that people will read, listen, watch and believe without often questioning what they're being told...especially if it is from someone trustworthy. So getting back to our problem; if you read an article and make a decision based on what you've read, how sure are you that the information you're acting on is correct? The biggest complaint against the writings of 37Signals is that it purports to be fact, when in reality, it's based purely on the founders' own experience. Even if I show you stats on how much "method X" improved my sales, that's still just one person with one example. Just because it works for me, doesn't mean it will work for you. Shouldn't you check my theory before implementing it yourself?

So what can you do to stop getting yourself drowning in the ocean of "dumb facts"? Read more of them! If you read an article telling you that you should iterate as fast as possible, find an article that says that slow and steady is the way to go. If you read how meetings are waste of time, find an article on how to make better use of them. If you read that sharing your roadmap is a bad idea, find an article that says transparency is awesome. If you read my article on why Free Plans DO Work, read the article that inspired it. You can't call yourself informed unless you have both sides of the story. And if you can't find a contradictory article on your topic of choice, write your own because there is always another point of view.