Archive for November, 2011


Now with Facebook Comments

My coding skills are practically non-existant, but every once in a while I like to get my hands dirty and try to hack something together.

The blog previously had a Facebook Connect implementation which was a little buggy and limiting, so I cracked away one evening to implement the new’ish Facebook Comments Box. A fairly straightforward task I should imagine, but it still took me several hours to fine tune it.

I first grabbed the XFBML code from Facebook’s developer site and inserted it into my theme. Turns out that it conflicted with the old Connect hack, so I had to remove that to get the Comments Box to show up.

I was keen to retain the historic WordPress comments, so I demoted them further down the page, labelled them as “Archived WordPress Comments” and removed the capacity to leave new comments.

WordPress has a function to show the number of comments for a post:

get_comments_number()

However, I now wanted to show the true total which would aggregate the number archived WordPress comments and also Facebook comments.

The Facebook Open Graph API (my first ever interaction with an API!) allows you to grab the comment count and store it as a variable:

<?php
$source_url = get_permalink($post->ID);
$data = file_get_contents(‘http://graph.facebook.com/?id=’. urlencode($source_url));
$json = $data;
$obj = json_decode($json);
$fbcommentcount = $obj->{‘comments’};
?>

Then this value can simply be added to the WordPress count:

$commentotal = $fbcommentcount + get_comments_number();

To show the comment count below each post, I replaced the existing function with the following:

<a href=”<?php the_permalink(); ?>#comments” class=”commentslink” title=”Comment on <?php echo the_title(); ?>”><?php echo $commentotal . ‘ Comment’ . ($commentotal == 1 ? ” : ‘s’); ?></a>

And that’s it. I suspect the code isn’t at all elegant, but it does the job and I’m kinda proud.

Next up:

  • Use the API to fetch the comments and store them behind the JavaScript for SEO.
  • Figure out how to calculate the total comment count across all posts.
  • Cache the comment count rather than making a call on each page request. 

Some useful posts during the hackathon session:

The plugin is fantastic. Much less friction for users (which should hopefully encourage more commenting), less spam (since people are attaching their real identity), more distribution through Facebook, better moderation tools, and other things.

Why not say hello below?

 Tags: Random   Published: 28th November '11

The 24-hour Fake Startup

A few weeks ago, Sophie (a fellow Project Getaway participant) and I both launched a business within just 24-hours (actually, we had both hit out goal after just 18-hours).

We both had come up with ideas for products that we thought could be interesting to sell online, but we didn’t want to stake a large investment in a complex website or sourcing inventory. So we formulated a plan to instead ‘fake it’. We created an online store, showcased some mock products, promoted the site through AdWords, and waited to see the results.

This concept takes ideas from Tim Ferris and the Lean Startup; namely the concept of minimum viable product (TechCrunch has a nice piece on how Dropbox used MVP to create demand without a working product), whereby you launch a business with the very bare bones of a product or service to test the waters before making a larger commitment.

My venture centered around fascinators; those fancy hair broche type of things that have seen a boom in the UK since the Royal Wedding. I figured that they could be sourced cheaply from China, shipped over to the UK in bulk and sold online at a price that reflected good value.

After a quick bit of brainstorming, Sophie & Fox was born. We used the superb Shopify platform to launch our webshop, taking advantage of Paypal for simple payment processing.

Here’s a screenshot of the Sophie & Fox homepage (the site has now been put offline). I made use of a standard template, with a bit of customisation and a custom-made logo. I’m pretty happy with the look; it feels very professional and slick.

I spent most of the day hacking the template to make it more bespoke, working with a graphic designer on some elements (which turned out to be quite painful) and adding some products to the store.

We whacked together a super quick AdWords campaign (featuring the most obvious broad keywords, coupled with a few ad texts and some negative keywords) and set it live immediately with a budget of $30/day. Traffic acquisition through Google might not be commercially viable in the long-term, but it served us perfectly for this experiment – if we can’t convert highly targeted visitors, then it’s unlikely that there’s demand for our product.

This Google results page shows the Sophie & Fox ad on top for the “fascinators” keyword.

After $101 and 262 clicks of ad spend, I had received just 1 order. (Of course, I refunded the payment immediately and apologised for not being able to supply the product at the time).

My experience suggests that fascinators aren’t a great product to sell online. Of course, perhaps a more conversion-optimised page could have performed better, and building the brand would help enormously, but I was hoping to see a much higher conversion rate which would show a much greater opportunity to work with.

But I wouldn’t consider the test a failure. I had only spent a hundred bucks and a day of my time to turn a seed of an idea into fully fledged proof of concept. I feel confident that I could now go on to test out other products in the same way and I’m sure after a while I’d find something that sticks.

Sophie worked on building Sticky Inspiration; cool little Post-it like notes with inspirational quotes that you can stick anywhere. Her test continues.

 Tags: Business   Published: 21st November '11

Headphone Hattrick

I inadvertently acquired some Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones a couple of weeks ago and I’m chuffed to bits with them. More so, I think they now complete a perfect hattrick:

That’s the Bose QuietComfort 15 ($300), Etymotic E6i ($125) and Hama HK-3023 ($10).

It’s quite an investment. An opt choice of word, I feel. I dislike owning anything particularly expensive, but given I spend a good portion of my day in front of a computer listening to music, it makes sense to have decent headphones that allow me to enjoy the music more and keep greater focus whilst I work.

The Bose headphones are incredibly well known. They’ve got their direct marketing campaigns and retail presence (less prominent outside of the US) down to a fine art. You can pick up a pair on a 30-day money back guarantee and I’m sure the return rate is pretty low; and for a good reason – they’re damn good headphones. You pay top dollar for the branding alone, but you’re rewarded with superb comfort and excellent sound quality. The impact of the active noise cancelling is incredible; it completely changes the enjoyment level of long-haul travel especially. Far too bulky and precious to use out and about, but perfect for keeping on the desk for focused work sessions.

On the other hand, Etymotic is probably a company you’ve never heard of. Reasuringly, they specialise in just one product group (headphones, earplugs) and have a record of supplying products to music professionals. Whilst they don’t have any active noise cancelling, shoving the eartips into your ears gives a near identical effect. With the volume cranked up, you’ll be unable to hear anything from the outside world. The compact size makes it perfect for the great outdoors. One problem I find is that you become pretty sensitive to any movements of the cable, with the vibrations sent directly into your ears. This makes them uncomfortable when running or on long walks. You also need to be incredibly careful about anything that could snag onto the cable and rib the earphones out of your ears – it’s really painful and could cause damage to your eardrums.

The particular model I have is now discontinued. This video has a nice overview of the three new products that Etymotic currently produce:

Lastly, I picked up some cheap, generic in-ear earphones by Hama (German). Turns out, they’re pretty good and get great reviews for their price class. I use them exclusively for exercise as they let in a good amount of external noise (think: safety) and the low cost means you don’t tend to worry about the risk of water damage.

Next up: I picked up a custom earplug mould kit and plan on hacking it to create custom fit earphones (here’s a nice guide on how to do it) using the Hama earphones.

I cringe whenever I see someone with a fancy new iPod using the standard Apple earphones. If you listen to music a lot, I really encourage you to go down to your local electronics shop and try out a bunch of options – you won’t regret it.

 Tags: Random   Published: 12th November '11

The Social Media Water Cooler

Understanding social media isn’t about understanding Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare (okay, I’m being a little bit of a devil’s advocate). It’s a realisation that the water cooler is now a digital and highly-networked meeting place. Previously you might discuss your weekend trip to a few colleagues over lunch, but now you’re sharing the details online with all your friends and the wider public through reviews and Tweets. The impact of word of mouth is huge in this new world.

A brand shouldn’t concern themselves with creating a flashy Page or amassing followers, they should first and foremost try to identify where their customers are talking and to join in those conversations. You don’t create social media, it’s already happening. Your task is to encourage, converse and ultimately engage with your customers, using these tools and platforms to make it possible.

 Tags: Random   Published: 5th November '11