CAPTCHA advertising

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

Norton 360 CAPTCHA ad

It’s kind of clever because not only do you have to read the ad but you also have to type part of it in so their catch phrase is more likely to stick.

It’s mostly throw up in your mouth, because it takes a while to even figure out that this is a CAPTCHA and because you know that you could be digitizing books instead.

Spotted on boxbe, although some light Googling suggests that this has been around for a few years.

Is PAD dead?

Updated on Thursday, December 26, 2019

I’ve been a member of the Association of Software Professionals (née Shareware Professionals) for nearly ten years and I publish PAD files for most Catfood products. The idea is that PAD provides a standardized XML format for syndicating product information out to download sites. I used the ASPs PAD directory back in 2009 to analyze product information available in this format.

It used to be that download sites were a significant source of traffic and downloads, especially cnet’s Download.com. This just isn’t the case for me any more. I need to really massage Google Analytics to find any referral traffic from download sites. While I have PAD files available I no longer make any effort to promote them. Given a spare minute or two it’s far more effective to write a blog post.

Historically Download.com did a great job surfacing new products. They’ve shifted to emphasizing paid placements and the most popular so unless you’re a category killer (in a pre-defined category) it’s much harder to get traction. Lower tier download sites used to offer some SEO benefit but I really don’t see this any more as the sites have got wise to preserving their limited link juice.

Other than inbound marketing efforts my best source of traffic is creating Google Gadget versions of my products where appropriate. These provide independent value and link to the downloadable version for people who want more (a fusion of freemium and shareware).

Having got to the point of giving up on PAD I’m excited to see Ryan Smyth’s rallying cry in the introduction to a series on this topic on cynic.me:

“I’m going to once and for all shut up the many nay-sayers that are constantly poo-pooing on PAD, Robosoft, and download sites.”

Maybe I’m just doing it wrong. I hope so and I’ll be happy to learn something if this is the case.

Email marketing - don't shoot yourself in the foot

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

If you send email to customers it's important that you let them know where the email will come from and then use then use this address consistently. Using different email addresses is a recipe for getting trapped in spam filters. This is equally important for marketing and other messaging like bills and canceled flights.

I bring up flights because I'm flying to the UK later today and was planning to return on Sunday. British Airways' Cabin Crew is going on strike this weekend and my return flight has been canceled. Instead of sending a text message BA tried to notify me by email. This would have been fine if they used the address they've used for years, but instead they used a new address and a new domain. In fact in the process of canceling and re-booking I (eventually) got email from britishairways.com, my.ba.com, email.ba.com and pop3.amadeus.net.

Since I've had the same email address for twelve years now I get a fair amount of spam. I use SpamArrest to keep myself sane:

94.9% of my email is spam. Since I started using the service SpamArrest has eaten 482,494 messages for me. I'm far from alone in using white list based email filtering so if you want your message to get through transparency and consistency are the way to go.

Licensing Fail: WinZip vs. ScanToPDF

Updated on Sunday, May 3, 2020
Software licensing is a tricky art - too little security and you leak revenue, too much and you leak customers. I worked on several license management systems at Ç-Dilla and Macrovision so I've spent far more time than is healthy thinking about this problem.

In general I think the best system is one that helps keep honest users honest. A speed bump that itches the conscience but doesn't get in the way of legitimate customers getting their job done.

I just migrated to a new computer and have finished several days of installing software and drivers. This is never a fun task, but I've been through it a few times and keep all my license information on a NAS drive to reduce the pain.

WinZip has a great trial model. The product is fully functional and nags you just enough that you'll eventually pay. I've been a customer for years, and as I moved to Windows 7 I emailed to ask about upgrade pricing. I got a prompt response and was up and running in no time.

I didn't need to upgrade. The old version of WinZip installed just fine using an existing license key.

ScanToPDF from O Imaging was a different story. The license is locked to a PC, and there's no way to move it automatically. You have to email them. It then gets worse - there's an "administration charge" to move a license. So as a paying customer I have to wait for the UK office to respond to email and even then I can't continue to use the product I've paid for.

I'm sure it's in the small print somewhere.

But the impact is that ScanToPDF has lost a customer, an advocate (I've suggested the product to others in the past, never again) and infuriated me enough to throw up a negative blog post. Is the administration charge really worth it?

At Catfood I use very simple license keys locked just to an email address. I'll refund any purchase with no questions asked. I'll issue new licenses as needed to keep customers happy. I have an online service to retrieve lost keys.

The products get pirated immediately, and finding a key generator doesn't take a lot of sleuthing. I don't care about this at all, because happy customers recommend products to their friends. Pain-free licensing is absolutely key to happy customers. Don't fall into the trap of putting your energy into complicated licensing and enforcing procedures. Add a new feature instead.

State of the Micro-ISV-osphere

Updated on Saturday, May 1, 2021

I was a micro-ISV (µISV) for years before I heard of the term. It was coined by Eric Sink to describe a one man software shop, and is now generally used for any small software company.

There isn't much market data available this far down the long tail so I've spent some time analyzing PAD files to see if I could answer a few questions.

PAD is the Portable Application Description specification from the Association of Shareware Professionals. It's used to describe software for submission to download sites. How useful these sites are is another question — read Scott Kane on this if you haven't already.

I spidered all the PAD files listed in the ASP directory, downloading data on 76,066 products from 39,861 µISVs (companies / people / publishers). It's not a perfect data set as there are PADs that aren't software and µISVs that don't use PAD. I've also heard that some people are developing web apps these days. But here goes…

Where are the µISVs?

Countries with the most micro-ISVs

Overwhelmingly in the US. Other countries with more than a thousand listed are the UK, Russia, China, India, Canada, Germany and Australia (in descending order). Most countries have at least one µISV but the numbers fall off pretty quickly.

How much do µISVs charge for their products?

Micro-ISV product cost distribution

$29.95.

About a third of products are free and a third fall into 9 price points (all ending in 5). I found over a thousand different US Dollar price points overall.

The most expensive product was a $150,000 Green Living site license from South Beach Software (an order of magnitude more expensive than the runner up).

How large are µISVs products?

Micro-ISV product sizes

There's not much action past 20 MB. Most downloads are between 1-2 MB. There's an interesting little spike around 14 MB. I guess this is a popular framework, possibly Java? The largest download was almost 1.5 GB.

Are µISVs still releasing downloadable software?

Most recent micro-ISV product release by month

This is a tough one to get at because PAD files just tell you about the most recent version, not the release history. The chart really shows a last update distribution for the products in the PAD catalog.

There's a large number of products last updated in mid-2008 with nothing comparable in 2009. Could this be a drop-off in PAD usage? A shift to web apps? Maybe final releases before the recession hit leading to less spare cycles for side projects (my µISV certainly pays for beers rather than mortgages).

How many products do µISVs publish?

Micro-ISV products per company

This final chart shows that most µISVs have just one product. Of course in some cases there might be a brand per product and still a single entity — it's impossible to separate this out from the PAD data. The largest number of products from a single µISV is 616.

Business of Software 2009

Updated on Sunday, May 3, 2020
I'm a Joel Spolsky stalker at the moment - after Stack Overflow DevDays last month I spent three days this week at the Business of Software conference in San Francisco.

It was an incredibly high value conference, in terms of both speakers and attendees. Next year it will be back in Boston, which sucks for me, but I'll make every effort to attend.

I was really excited to see Geoffrey Moore speak. An old boss once bought a crate of Crossing the Chasm for everyone in the division to read. It's still the best business book I've ever read. At the conference Moore spoke about innovation - specifically differentiation (get out of the competitive set), neutralization (get back in to the competitive set) and optimization (productivity gains). All three are essential, but you're shooting yourself in the foot if you spend too much time on neutralization - "Best of breed is a suckers game". His thesis was to do the bare minimum needed to stay competitive and then pour resources back into differentiation.

A theme of the conference was on motivating yourself and others - how to build a great company/culture. Several speakers talked about carving out time for creativity and fun. Carsonified evidently operates on a four day week. I've spent the last couple of years on a six day week... lots of food for thought here.

I convinced myself to attend this year after watching some of the videos from the 2008 conference. These are available on the Business of Software Ning - I'd recommend joining and checking them out. Hopefully videos from this year's conference will be posted soon.

Do I need a Zumbox?

Updated on Saturday, July 18, 2020

Zumbox is trying to take the paper out of the postal system. It's a laudable goal, if it takes off it would stop me from feeling that I need to do this:

Junk Mail Solution

Signing up is easy. Enter your mailing address and Zumbox send you a letter with a verification code. Once verified you can start sending and receiving mail online. You can mail a few people for free, bulk mail is five cents per recipient.

Of course you'll only receive mail that has been sent to you via Zumbox. It's not a mail scanning service (like Earth Class Mail) so you end up with yet another mailbox to check.

Zumbox is trying to help businesses go paperless. This includes bills and other necessary communication. It also includes junk mail.

My experience so far is mainly junk mail. I did get a circular about recycling from Gavin Newsom but otherwise just a stream of special offers.

This is a big problem because Zumbox provides very little control over email notifications:

Zumbox Email Preferences

It's all or nothing. Either I get a daily email reminding me to go look at junk mail, or I get no notification at all (and might miss the next thrilling update from Gavin).

Most of my bills and statements are already paperless via email. This isn't as secure as Zumbox, but I'm not sure how much of an advantage this is as I really just need notification.

I really want to like Zumbox, but right now it's just another source of spam.

The Perfect Twitter Client

Updated on Sunday, May 3, 2020

I started using bDule today after reading about it on Techcrunch. It seems to be very nearly the perfect twitter client for me - decent multi-account support, Facebook integration and reasonably snappy. Also, and this is really important for me, it's not oppressively black.

The group feature isn't quite there yet, it doesn't list all my friends and there's no way to edit a group after you create it. There's also no spell checker and getting the right layout is unnecessarily awkward. It's still in alpha so there's good reason to hope that these problems will be addressed soon.

I wonder where the name comes from. It makes me think of a certain casual game where you swap gemstones around until you're ready to chew your eyeballs out. I'm the last person to talk about puzzling software names though.

bDule is WPF/.NET3.5 so only runs on Windows XP or better. It also seems to suffer from the same creeping memory usage that plagues other desktop Twitter clients. I really wish someone would start offloading the stream into a database. I've got nearly frustrated enough with this to write my own Twitter client a couple of times, but it's not exactly an uncrowded market.

If you're a Windows tweeter give bDule a try.