Friday, November 30, 2007
One major feature released tonight was the Document Library. This feature allows communities to create folders to store and share documents related to the community. The possibilities are limitless but most communities will likely store documents such as their covenants and bylaws, minutes of the Board of Directors and other committee meetings, as well as archives of their old paper newsletters from before they joined HOAInTouch.com.
Other possible uses would be to store vendor contracts, budget worksheets and monthly financials or to serve as a central place to store all of the flyers that used to be taped to mailboxes and light poles. Really the only limit is your imagination. Let us know what you come up with!
We also made some significant changes that should ensure more relevant advertisements are displayed. Prior to tonight Google was providing general ads for many pages. Moving forward we are more heavily weighting items like the title of a news post or name of an event or group. This should improve the context and thus the relevancy of the ads. Feel free to let us know if you think it helps.
Thanks and we will see you ‘round the neighborhood!
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Community News was the first feature we implemented for HOAInTouch.com because the need was so acute. After joining the Board of Directors of my own HOA it quickly became apparent that there was a disconnect between what the Board was focused on and the perception of the neighborhood.
To be fair, this really wasn't anyone's fault - it is simply a reality many communities face in today's fast-paced lifestyle. With school, church, social & sporting activities, etc. consuming our evenings, who has time to attend monthly Board meetings? For their part, the Board attempted to update the neighborhood via a newsletter mailed quarterly but it just didn't seem to be enough yet it was too expensive to publish any more frequently.
So with that in mind we set out to create a system that would be incredibly easy to use and yet powerful enough to keep the neighborhood up to date without users changing their daily behavior. The result is Community News and it is by far the most used feature of HOAInTouch.com. I think this is for two primary reasons.
First, the barrier of creating a news post is so incredibly low. As the screenshot to the right shows, a news post consists of just two fields, a subject and a body - much like an email, a concept with which most internet users are already familiar.
This ensures there is little or no learning curve. We intentionally made it as simple as possible to post news and in some ways sacrificed features for simplicity. We felt this was necessary because:
- We knew that our user base would cover the complete spectrum of computer literacy and we needed to ensure that everyone from a computer super-user to my mom (who just got internet access earlier this year) would feel comfortable using HOAInTouch.com.
- We also wanted to get the Community News feature out there and in front of actual users as quickly as possible. Simplifying by implementing only the barest of essentials helps to expedite the development process and, while there are many different features we could have thrown in, it is anyone’s guess as to what features would actually get used. This way we can get your feedback and focus on adding the features that will provide the most benefit for our users. So let us know if we are missing something you think will be useful!
In the interest of keeping the barrier as low as possible, we also made the decision to allow any approved users to post news. At first this tends to make some people a tad apprehensive but the reality is this is a neighborhood community and each person should have an equal opportunity to share with the community. We have found opening up in this fashion really allows for greater community participation and a better informed neighborhood. After all, Community News is only useful if it is used!
Also, in the rare event of abuse, the news post can always be edited or deleted by a moderator and in extreme cases the community administrator can disable the user's account.
This safety measure ensures that a community's content is accurate and appropriate. Included to the right are a couple of screen shots demonstrating this.
The second reason Community News is so frequently used is because it keeps everyone one informed without changing their behavior. When news is posted to the site, each user in the community is notified via email. This allows the entire community to stay up to date simply by checking their email – something they are already doing every day!
I don’t believe the power of this simplicity can be overstated. Users don’t need to remember yet another user name and password or remember to check the website daily just to stay informed. They simply continue to do what they already do!
We have also made the ability for users to comment on news posts really, really simple but I will save that for a separate post.
Hopefully this post has provided a good overview on the functionality of the Community News feature of HOAInTouch.com and provided some insight to the design decisions we made when developing Community News.
Thanks and we will see you 'round the neighborhood!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
It is truly rewarding to be talking with someone about your product and have them immediately come to the realization that this is something they didn't even know they were missing but definitely need. It’s fun to watch the wheels start turning and listen to them spin off five or ten different ways this would have been useful to them at some point in the past. Makes all the work worth it.
So, back to the stats. Drum roll please… After the first week we already have 15 communities signed up in 15 different zip codes! After slicing and dicing the database a bit, there are some other key stats listed below as well.
- Number of users: 19
- Number of contacts: 32
- Number of groups: 5
- Number of news posts: 34
- Number of events: 17
Definitely not bad for week one - especially considering I really just expected to get my own HOA setup.
For the fellow computer geeks out there (or anyone otherwise interested), we use Google Analytics to track our number of visitors, page views, etc. and I have included some of those statistics below as well.
- Visits: 172
- Unique Visitors: 137
- Page Views: 975
- Pages/Visit: 5.67
- Time on Site: 2:59
A few observations immediately come to mind. First our number of users per community is anemic but that is to be expected out of the gate. Many users were signing up simply to see what the product is all about. Our focus over the next few months is to help these early adopters evangelize the product and get better adoption in their respective neighborhoods.
Second, about 20% of our visits were from repeat visitors. If we can increase the adoption in existing neighborhoods this number should go way, way up. I think this is one of the most critical statistics for this type of a product. We want repeat visitors to be hitting the site frequently checking up on or adding news, upcoming events, posting comments, etc.
Lastly, users, on average, spent almost three full minutes on the site. To me this is surprising and actually seems relatively high. My guess is this will trend downward over time as most users will be popping in to their community dashboard for a quick update and moving on. Which is great. It shouldn't take 10 minutes to figure out what is going on in your neighborhood or to lookup John's phone number.
I am planning on posting these stats again after the first month and then after each subsequent month. Should be interesting to see the trends. Feel free to let me know if there is an interesting statistic I am missing.
Thanks for a great first week everyone! We will see you 'round the neighborhood.
Friday, November 16, 2007
I will post some statistics after we have been live for a week, again after the first month and then each subsequent month. It should be interesting to see the growth.
Also wanted to make you aware of a few enhancements and tweaks to the system that we released tonight.
- We have received a number of great questions from users and potential communities. In order to provide you with better support we have added a FAQ page and answered the most common questions to date. We will definitely continue to augment these as we receive more questions.
- We revamped the Help page and now also display it on the marketing site instead of waiting until after you log in. With all of the tutorials on one page, every once in a great while IE would get cranky because of the number of simultaneous requests to YouTube. Now each video tutorial is displayed in a nice modal window when requested and there is far less scrolling to find the tutorial you are looking for.
- Lastly, we had a few reports from users indicating that our generated emails had a minor display quirk in some email clients. We heard you and apologize for that. We did test over a variety of clients but clearly missed one or two. Getting rich email design is a surprisingly difficult task so we took a few steps back and decided to greatly simplify the email templates. The end result is we think they still look great and should play nicer with the email clients out there.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Getting version one of any product released is always a daunting task – especially the final 2%. There is a tremendous amount of time, effort and discipline that goes into the final polishing and inevitable last minute tweaks necessary to ensure a quality product is delivered. With that said, seeing people actually use the product and hearing how it has enriched their lives in some way is tremendously rewarding and always makes it all well, well worth it!
Over the next few weeks I will be dedicating several posts to delving deeper into the primary features of HOAInTouch.com but to quickly hit some of the highlights, the initial release includes features like community news and events, a contact directory and community groups/committees. Of course, if you are anything like me, you can always go for the instant gratification and take a tour of the product if you like. :)
The great news is we definitely aren’t done yet! We have so many more ideas of how the site can bring communities together! However, at this point, we really felt we needed to get it released and in front of the actual users – you – before we did anything else. We could continue to add features, test and tweak for weeks but nothing beats users actually experiencing the site and providing real world feedback. So let us know what you think!
See you ‘round the neighborhood!