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Ask HN: Can I help you be more awesome today? (No strings.)
37 points by mikegreenberg on Dec 16, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments
Hello HN!

Every once in a while, I like to offer my time to help other passionate people be a little more successful with their goals. If there's anything I can help you with, just ask here. No strings whatsoever. I've done this before a few times now, and it's worked out well for everyone. Check out some of the previous "No strings" sessions I've done to get an idea of how I can help. (http://news.ycombinator.com/submitted?id=mikegreenberg)

A few requests: Be specific about what you're trying to fix/solve/accomplish. The more details you provide, the better I can help you out. I will try to help all requests made before the end of today and will attempt to complete by the end of Sunday. Be patient and check back. Please keep requests to tasks I can do in ~15 minutes. I'll spend more time willingly, but smaller requests lets me help more people! Thanks. :)

An idea of some of the things I've helped others with recently:

- Led an interview for a non-technical entrepreneur looking for a tech co-founder

- Advising two startups-to-be who currently have no technical lead (pro bono)

- Helping my dad how to use the internet to teach his skills to others

- Regular feedback on projects that people are working on in my local community

I feel like I should do something a little special for this one since its the holidays. So the person (other than me) who helps "most generously" in this thread will get a copy of Eric Ries "The Lean Startup" shipped to them from Amazon. (If you already own the book, I'm happy to substitute it.) This will be subjectively chosen by me, but I think you all know how to be generous. I'll use any information in your profile I can find to contact you for delivery info. If I can't contact you, I'll broadcast on Twitter (@mikegreenberg) to try to reach you there. If you're not listening and I can't reach you, I pick someone else.

Cheers!! (And happy holidays!)

PS: If you'd rather give than receive: Go find someone else to do something nice for...like give them a back rub. Or leave your $0.02 for someone in this thread.

PPS: If this sounds too good to be true, here are some of my thoughts on why I do this: http://nobulb.com/2011/10/on-manufacturing-your-own-serendipity/




Well, since you helped me to find an awesome webhost last time, I figure I'll bite on some more generosity. :)

I have a product that will be completed soon. I do not plan on selling this product through my site, but I do want to drive traffic there before and after release. I have kept myself socially detached on the Internet in the past and I do not have a Facebook and only recently embraced Twitter and G+. I am slowly trying to build a brand around my name so that I might have traffic for future products.

Since launching my site, I have been working on learning HTML/CSS and it has slowly come together between work, school and children. Now I am venturing into the world of PHP. I built a little script that I use for people to register for my newsletter. It is driven by a form with one text box and a submit button. It takes whatever is in that box, throws it in a flat file, then redirects to a thanks page.

I like working with flat files, I always have, but I am currently up against a wall where I either need to dive deeper into PHP or look into a service like MailChimp. What I need to know:

I'd like for there to be more feedback to both the user and myself that their submission was okay. I'd like to generate a subscription email that is sent after the completion of the form which would also CC me. I am really not interested in a service that convolutes this process if it is something I can manage myself. What do you recommend? If you say PHP is the answer, are there any resources out there that you suggest that would put me on the right path?


Really happy that they are working out for you!

PHP has been my world for many years and recently I've begun branching out. After playing around with the likes of Python, Ruby, and NodeJS; they are all just tools that you can use to get the job done.

That said, there are much better tools than others for specific tasks. And I were to suggest a language that you should start learning in regards to web development, I would probably not recommend PHP. The language has hit a bit of a slow trough as they (the PHP gods) decide on an appropriate roadmap going forward. PHP will be around for a long, long time so there's not much worry of it becoming legacy too quickly.

But other languages are much better maintained and have more activity in the community. (My current favorite being Python.)

Regarding your problem at hand, PHP can do this quite simply and the only resource you'll need would be http://php.net/mail/. That said, I wouldn't use this for high volume traffic as the mail implementation in PHP is not efficient. (Read the notes on that link.)

Email on the internet is a bit tricky, especially when ensuring your message is delivered appropriately, well-formatted, readable in both text and HTML, etc. And as soon as you start hitting these problem, it's a much more efficient use of your time to go with these services over rolling your own.

This is just one person's opinion who ended up using a perl script to handle mailing functionality instead of PHP's native function in a PHP app he wrote. blush


Excellent reply sir, might I ask another?

The reason I used PHP for my little script was because I discovered that you just ship the output of the form button to whatever.php and it essentially took whatever values as arguments, then quickly spit me back to the site when it was done. I am familiar with Python, and have written some utilities I use daily, but is just as easy to implement Python server side or do I need to install some extensions that handle this sort of stuff?


I think your solution is perfect for problem. The biggest gripe I have with PHP is the mail interface. When you outgrow your currently solution, the next step I'd take is use your PHP solution to pass the mail request to a mail service provider. That will give you the most bang for your buck without added complexity.

If you're feeling really brave and really want to roll your own solution, try to find a way to cheaply create a HTTP POST interface that you could point your form at to process your request. A python/django instance could do this but might be a lot of overhead for just a mail processor, for example.

Just don't try to over engineer it. :)


I've done something similar to this in the past. If you want to use mailchimp (which I would recommend), I pasted some example code for you at https://gist.github.com/1488819 . It uses jquery and the ketchup plugin for validation, found at http://demos.usejquery.com/ketchup-plugin/ . Let me know if you need help with getting it working.


Thanks for the code. I looked at MailChimp and the only reason I didn't go with them was to keep yet another service out of the stack. I'm not one to remember things easily so sprinkling bits and pieces of my structure around on different services is really limiting for me. That being said, I'm starting to see the value in using something like MailChimp and if I can't accomplish what I want in a few days with just PHP/Python, I might head there.


Hey, Mike -

Do you know anyone who needs a software developer? I was just laid off out of the blue from my latest gig, and I'm looking for something else. I live in Denver right now, and have had a couple of interviews in the past few days, but I'm looking to spread as wide of a net as possible. They say it's easiest to find a job when you have a job, and while the subject of my current employment hasn't come up yet, it's bound to eventually. I'd just as soon have many eggs in many baskets in the event that this reflects poorly on me.

My wife has been asking me if we can move to Florida, where I believe you're from, so I'd be open to relocation as well. My e-mail address is located in my profile.

Thanks!


I know of a few opportunities here. I'll shoot you a quick email.


Gracias. Happy holidays!


for whatever reason, there is a HUGE demand for etl and bi developers here in FL. Data Warehousing is evidently strong in these parts. You wouldn't know this from reading blogs/twitter/etc but there is quite a bit going on here.


I commented before but guess it hasn't showed up, so I'll comment again lol.

I need an idea for an Individual Project Proposal.

Details: Studying Business Information Systems -- this is Database oriented at the moment but also includes Decision Support Systems and Artificial Intelligence next year. I'm also becoming interested in programming and web scripting although the idea of a web site was not approved by my tutor. I want to do something with gaming or an app; something that I can easily learn. The project should be original or an improvement of a system/ combines existing technology to create something useful.

Thanks a lot!!


Not sure of the depth or scope required for your proposal, but a fun experiment I occasionally try: redesign something that you use every day as a proof of concept. Like a cell phone, or how email/text communications might work. Explore typical use cases and figure out how you can incorporate software intelligence into the workflow. :)


Why don't you start with a problem you or someone you know faces and then work backwards to an idea to solve that problem.

I find people often build things because they are possible and interesting but unless you solve a problem they don't add a lot of value and therefore don't get used.


Excellent advice, often ignored. To your comment, I would add that you shouldn't limit your problem to something small or "doable." List and describe as grandiose a problem as interests you, then carve out a piece of that problem whose scope is appropriate for your project.


I think thats really simple and excellent piece of advice. I think we as human are very good at ignoring simple things.


Thanks a lot for the advice guys!!

Yh I've been keeping an eye out for problems to solve and I keep telling myself to buy a notepad to jot down any ideas I come up with or a problem I discover. There are problems although big that's why I was ignoring them as they are way put of my league lol but I will listen to your advice and look into it, Thanks again! :)


Hi

I have 2 questions:

1) If you are being overwhelmed by the amount of books you are being suggested by mentors, entrepreneurs and others, how do you tackle this information overload so that you only read and implement the ones which would have the most impact in your life ?

2) What would you do if you had recent failure and now you don't have enough clarity about goals, life direction and the skills you wanna learn to succeed ? I'm 22/non-technical and got little bit of savings from sales commission I earned through online stuff after dropping out from my undergrad program. The money that I made from online sales was higher than the money I could had made from the job in next 10-12 yrs after getting my undergrad degree. So that sales thing is now busted and I was naive enough to believe that the sales gig would last long but it lasted only 1.5 yrs. I had no team at the time, didn't knew much about marketing, startups etc. It was just self employed thing. I'm living in asia. Although I could still start that sales thing again cuz now I know alot more, but it would be just like a commission you get. Should I work on some other idea/startup or get some skills before I do something. Right now I know little bit of sales/marketing. What do you suggest ?


1) This is very common problem, everybody has problem of information overload. Its not possible to read all the book, read all the blog post etc you get the idea. We are always worried by not reading a particular book, we are missing on something important. Our mind try to deceive us whenever we are doing something that we are losing on something else, it will try to bump some idea so that you get off the work, its afraid that he might lose the control on you.

Solution: The main point here is taking back the control, when you are doing something and your mind tells that you are missing, or I have this another great idea. Ask him objectively what is the great idea or what I am missing, if he can answer your question, write it down in your notebook and politely say to him that I know you are trying to help me, I have duly noted down your suggestion / idea will work on it once I am done with the current stuff I am doing.

About books , blog , videos etc, I know I can find the something useful if I go find the dustbin again. The idea here is pick some gem, pick your books / blogs very acutely. Now trust that the book you are reading is sufficient and good and if you need to know anything other than this one, you will bumped by difficultly when you will be needed to know. I think the whole problem arise when we try to use books as Textbooks not as helpbooks, when we try to find the exact method in books not direction where to go from current situation.


For second problem, I would advice you, encourage you to go finish the undergrad if possible. If its not possible, don't worry its not the end of the world.

When I don't know what are my goals and dreams, I help others to accomplish there dreams and goals, that's really a great starting point. Go help some startup use your skills to further their goals and nourish your skills.


Apologies for the slow reply. I had an unexpectedly busy weekend.

Much as has been said, information overload is a real problem we subject ourselves to. The way I help cull this wicked overflow is by using "systems"... or any method or tool which helps regulate flow. It's important to realize the fixed set of resources we each have available to us. The king of these is time. Managing it is topic I'll leave to experts. But we consciously decide to use a portion of our available time to improve ourselves in various capacities. And the trick is to use systems to maximize the efficiency of our learning during the time we dedicate.

Some examples: We browse an ungodly amount on the web. Usually without purpose. I use an RSS reader to improve my efficiency. Not only does it let me control the inputs by subscribing only to the content I'm interested in, but it lets me eliminate most of the distractions that being on their website would introduce (ads, links to other parts of their site, comments, etc). And as a bonus, my RSS reader tracks my usage...so now I know which sites I really read so I can regularly trim the fat and optimize my reading schedule around the parts of the week when the interesting content gets published.

Another example: Email is burden for everyone. Having a good email client that you know REALLY well and fits into your routine will help tremendously. My email client provides me an incredible backlog of my activity on the internet which I keep for reference. I use filters to automatically sort this information for me. Important contacts, social activity, purchases, subscriptions, marketing, spam...all divided up automatically with the relevant portions being pushed to my phone as needed. (Yep, my phone doesn't notify me of just any email...just ones on my "VIP" list. Now I can help emergencies as needed and deal with my regular email zeroing once or twice a day.)

Books are something I don't particularly deal with because of the long commitment required to get through them. I'll try to find an abridged version of an audiobook if it's HIGHLY recommended. I can't think of any particularly good suggestions on how to get through them quickly aside from scanning them in the bookstore and deciding if you want to invest a week of your time getting through one or not.

Regarding your "clarity about goals", I don't think anyone is ever 100% certain about the direction they should be going in until they have enough experience to know that's the right way to go. You're young and being worried about the "right way" is pretty natural. And I've found that the time you spend "idling" and figuring out the best possible route could cause you to miss some interesting opportunities. Don't spend too much time on the decision.

You're looking at the problem from the perspective of "these are my skills, how can I use them?" Instead, you should be asking "Of the opportunities I have in front of me, which would I most regret not doing?" It's how I try to frame my decision making and sometimes it helps make a difficult decision an easier one to live with in the long run. Worst case scenario, most of the time you'll be able to double-back and find a way to go down the "other path" if you're disappointed with results.

Hope this helps. :)


I'm trying to find a mentor. I need help finding potential candidates.

I'm 19 and I'm really interested in doing systems-level work in either C or, more recently, I've been looking at Erlang. I'm just picking stuff up on my own.

The thing is, I don't know any professional programmers. I don't really have any idea how one finds a mentor. I don't know who I should contact. If anyone knows someone who might be interested in this kind of relationship, my contact info is in my profile.


You need to surround yourself with the sort of people whom you want to emulate. And no matter where you are, there's sure to be a community of programmers who are interested in getting together and talking about their trade.

Colleges are obvious hotspots for this sort of activity, but also consider approaching some local tech companies for possible internships (even if they aren't looking for any). Seek out people online and get in touch with them. Most of them are quite friendly and will usually be happy to help any way they can.

Lastly, get involved in some open source projects. Sometimes, finding a smaller project with fewer contributors will give you the opportunity to build a relationship with them. Generally, contributing to open source projects will give you easy, real-world experience without any of the overhead/commitment of having a job or internship.

If you're interested in moving to South Florida, I know a few internship opportunities that I could point you toward as well that would be right up your alley!


Thanks, I might be interested in moving to South Florida. I'd love to hear about those opportunities.


Sent you an email. :)


Have you tried going to tech events in your neighbourhood (http://www.meetup.com/) to find a mentor? This has worked very well for me.

I'm not a developer so I don't think I would be a good mentor for you. However, if you ever want someone to bounce business/marketing stuff off, I'm always happy to help. @daniellicht


Yeah, this is something that I've been meaning to do. I'll be sure to hit you up if I ever have any business/marketing questions.


I recently had my first interview for a programming internship that I was applying to. It was over the phone, and I more or less "froze up."

I haven't had a lot of formal CS education - most of what I know has been self-taught. However, I'm looking for a way to prepare for interviews in the future. I have tried coding on the whiteboard, reviewing sorting algorithms, reading interview blogs, going over data structures, etc.

However, the interview was nothing like I had expected. It was not about prior knowledge (which was lucky for me) - and rather about thinking on the spot. What stopped me from doing my best during the interview was a combination of the anxiety and time pressure that I felt looming over me.

It would be great to get some advice on these types of phone interviews and how to stay calm during them. Knowing ways to reason through or tackle programming problems that are new to you (and can seem intimidating) would also be helpful.

If anyone's feeling especially helpful, it would even help to have some practice coding sessions over the web.

Thanks!


You can work on your problem solving/programming skills online on a number of sites: * http://projecteuler.net/ * http://www.topcoder.com/ * http://www.spoj.pl/ * http://online-judge.uva.es/problemset/

As for keeping calm during the interviews, it would help to try to keep the frame of mind that you are just having a normal conversation with another person. Take a breath before giving an answer. This should also give you a few moments to compose an answer in your head. If you feel you need more time to think you can use a phrase that will buy you a few seconds like "That's an interesting question..." or "Let me think about this a bit", etc.

Finally, get some practice. Have conversations with people as frequently as possible. These don't have to be technical conversations, any situation where you get to practice framing your thoughts into clear, concise sentences will help. If possible also go on more interviews. Practice makes perfect. Don't get down on yourself if you do not get the job(s). It is usually not due to a deficiency on your part. Maybe the interviewer had a bad day. Maybe you sound/look like a person that the interviewer hates....


Let's put the "interview" part of this aside. I think the biggest problem here is anxiety. There's a lot riding on the outcome of this conversation and that makes you choke. I suffer similarly and, agreeing with the other reply, practice is what it takes! There's a particular frame of mind that you can develop which turns these "interviews" into just another conversation. For me, the easiest way I was able to achieve this was by doing a lot of interviews.

Go to college job boards and blanket apply to everything. Learn what they are looking for in their hire and try your hardest to come across as that person. You don't have to lie. But applying for a job which you're not qualified (even remotely) will do a few things for you:

a) Most importantly, you don't care if you fumble. Enough rounds of not caring will become habit-forming after some time. The goal of these interviews is not to get the job. (A job offer will always help your ego, but you'll also learn how to say "no" and politely decline opportunities which aren't inline with your goals....another really helpful skill.) The primary goal is to help you stop caring about the outcome and focusing more about the conversation and providing value to the interviewer. They could be asking you about programming languages which you're not familiar with, but what's to stop you from sharing your interest in learning new languages and offering relevant anecdotes that communicate the value that you suspect the interviewer is looking for. (The skill here is reading people and understanding conversation flow.)

b) You'll improve your awareness of what companies are actually looking for in a developer. You'll learn where to best focus your time... what technologies, what tools are they using, what algorithms they are interested in, etc... Job descriptions aren't always reflective of what they are really looking for and talking with companies directly will help flesh these details out for you and give you a better professional roadmap than any university could give you.

c) You'll also learn that being a good developer isn't just about knowing algorithms and tools. Really good software engineers know how to put systems together in non-obvious ways. Being able to design solutions around impossible problems is a skill EVERYONE needs. Interviewers will constantly try to challenge you to understand your methodology and approach to solving these problems. "How many gas stations are optimal in a city?" "What is the optimal placement of a parked elevator in a 10-story building?" "What if there are two elevators? How does your algorithm change?" These questions can be tough, but practice will be the equalizer you need to really do well.

Some people might feel like this creates a lot of overhead for interviewers and is bad form. I completely disagree. But that's another conversation altogether. Hope this gives you some food for thought. Follow questions are welcome.


I love these things and have wanted to participate for a while, so I'll ask you (Mike) something and offer other HNers my services.

Mike, what do you think about the technology scene in south Florida? I'd like to move back home at some point, and I fear returning to a tech-barren wasteland. It's clear that SFla isn't some tech desert, since you're in SFla and I hear about a lot of events from you. Still, my friends and I generally agree that we'll have to build the culture (via starting up or meetups) if we want it to exist. What's your take? What do you see in the coming years?

And now, my offer: I'm a stats/machine learning student, and I'd like to answer any questions you guys might have--whether you're studying for finals (like me), or you're wondering how ML can improve your work. Just reply to me here or email me (in my profile; don't forget the +hn).

Happy Friday to all!


Hey Alex, I lived in Miami for 7 years and moved to Chicago 4 years ago. I recently organized CodeRetreatMiami.com and a lot of people showed up.

This was unexpected for me. I thought 4 people would registered and 22 people showed up and stayed all day.

My objective with the event was to start paying my dues back to Miami and bring back what I have learned from the tech scene in Chicago.

I contacted a few of the leaders of the local meetups and got good responses from most of them. I also contacted 2 guys that seemed to have been putting a lot into the community and surprisingly both blew me off.

I have been comparing the tech communities of Boston, Austin, Chicago, SF and Miami. People from SF have said that one of the most important key in the startup community is collaboration. By that he meant that you would be able to contact anybody from the tech community no matter how high their position is and most of the times they would be able to give you some time to talk to you.

The same is happening here in Chicago. I could call anybody to ask for advice and they would actually find time for you to meet you. Nobody (so far) is trying to rip off your idea, instead they want to hear your problem and see how they can help.

There are a lot of meetups here and usually a lot of people show up. The meetup with the most attendance is the Lean Startup. On average they get 200 people to a meetup and they come from all over the city and the suburbs. Some people even drive up to an hour and a half to get to those meetups. And not only this but also other tech meetups like Ruby, Android, Drupal. Which means that distance is not important even if we have good transportation system.

The same happens with Austin. You have to drive everywhere just like Miami. Austin has a scene because real state is cheap, a couple of big tech companies are there and there is a college in the middle of downtown.

I would say that even when people say that the problem with Miami is the distances, I would say is not a problem comparing the same to Chicago and Austin.

I would say that the challenges are people communicating with each other, encouraging people to go to events and evangelize an attitude of collaboration.


Well Alex, you know my take on this. Like our bourgeoning young arts and music scenes, tech is definitely glowing. It's not there yet and probably won't be for a good 5 years. The problem is not talent or efforts or meetups; I think the biggest hurdle we have is culture. Overall the SoFla region is very pretentious, reserved and secretive. Open exchange of information, ideas and effort is the only way we'll break into a setup more like Cali or NY. How we can establish that cultural shift is the real question.


why not come down to SFLA and check out one of the upcoming events http://miamitechevents.com

there might not be a haskell meetup or riak meetup yet, but you are welcome to start it and my group RefreshMiami will help you promote it/jump start it.


There are a few people who have already commented about what is happening in South Florida. (And there is a lot of activity...) Here is a good thread to follow as it stood earlier this year: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2545955

Separately, Brian Breslin (who's been involved here for quite a few years now) has recently written a blog post about it that is another perspective on it: http://brianbreslin.com/on-building-a-community/

I've also been talking about writing this post for some time now and have never found the time to dig in and do it, but I'll mention some of the highlights that I'd discuss:

- There is an overwhelming interest from many different parts of the community (even those outside of tech) to grow the entrepreneurial and technical skill here in South Florida. City development, local business, chamber of commerce, non-profits, universities, and individual leaders are all quite active in putting on events and getting really great people involved here. (Case-in-point: Rasmus Lerdorf just gave two talks about PHP this week. Zed Shaw was in town back in March for Miami Tech Week. Dave McClure was here some weeks ago at a Biz Dev/VC conference.)

- There are people looking for talent and qualified talent is still difficult to find. I'm personally looking for CTO/entrepreneurs for the two groups I'm advising. Both have some capital and have a strong likelihood of success, IMHO. Companies are hiring here as well! Well established companies doing interesting work! (Senzari, for example, is based in Miami.) It wouldn't be hard to find work, if you aren't picky. And if you have time, you can find a really interesting job within months.

- The community wants to be stronger; to be on par with the likes of NY, Boston, Seattle, SV; but they don't always get involved. Turn-out at events is really hit and miss depending on location, timing and topic matter. I attribute this to a few things: poor city layout making it difficult to get people outside of a 10-15 mile radius to your event, good intentions and no follow-up...

- The tech leadership doesn't support each other as much as I think they should. If you're well-connected and know the right people, there's sure to be resources shared; but otherwise, there's a lot of work that community organizers needs to make to coordinate events and pool efforts across the community.

- Despite these things, the leadership here puts together really great events on a consistent basis: TEDxMIA (http://tedxmia.com) , SuperConf (http://superconf.net), Refresh Miami (http://refreshsofla.org), South Florida Hack and Tell (my own meetup) (http://hackandtell.org), a whole slew of events on http://miamitechevents.com/ and they keep coming!

Overall, I think South Florida could be a really successful area to live in professionally. The momentum as been positive and people definitely care. If I had an extra 5-10 hours a week, I would dedicate that to helping the community become more cohesive and better connected. There's no reason why events couldn't be cross-promoted and sponsorship within the community be more prevalent than it is today.


Another perspective from @alexdc (another long-time South Florida leader) circa 2009: http://alexdc.org/2009/07/retrospective-of-south-floridas-st...

Here's more communities which I failed to mention originally:

- Mobile Miami Monday (http://momomiami.com/)

- Barcamp Miami (http://barcampmiami.org/)

- Social Media Club (http://smcsf.org/)

- The LaunchPad (http://thelaunchpad.org)


I need some help and advice with my product. My company (www.pyronyx.com) has recently launched our iPhone app, iQila (www.iqila.com). We envision this app to help people find and share interior design tips and ideas and post questions or get advice from professional interior designers. The app in the current version allows you to take images and post them along with your question. Other users can then comment on your post or share it on Facebook. We have another version coming up with more sharing options and better camera/image UI and layout.

There are a few problems I know are there and I don't have concrete ways to solve: 1. Getting the message across. I find it difficult to explain the idea to people. It's not complicated at all but I think my choice of words is not correct and people don't understand the idea of the app if I email it to them, or through the app store. We've got about 300 downloads in the past week but only a handful of people have used the app. What do you think after reading the website and app store descriptions? How can I improve it? How can I convert those downloads to users?

2. How do I get professionals to use the app? We plan on having professional profiles where people can search for designers in their areas. That is for a future release, and for that to work, I need to introduce the app to professionals in the field who would want to use the app in the first place to market themselves, answer questions, post ideas etc.. I look up professional interior designers online and personally them on twitter and through email but I'm not seeing ANY feedback. I think I'm lost and need help in targeting and finding the correct users, partners.

3. Any general advice on the product. We've built the app and the web backend such that we can change it for other domains and add and remove features. Initially, we thought of a framework we can provide other companies so that they can have their own similar apps. Although we aren't going that route yet, we ourselves can change directions easily, if need be.

About the company: We are just 2 developers with full time jobs and a shoestring budget.


Hi,

Some time back I started working on a DIY learning solution for Computer Science. It is based on the concept of peer based social learning.

The website has courses which are a collection of material, forums, and activities. Participants consume the information, ask/answer questions, submit responses to activities, and even review other participant's responses.

There are no certificates, but whatever a participant does is made available in their profile and is their credentials.

I will really appreciate if you can take a look at the website and offer me suggestions on how I can offer the participant's a better learning experience.

http://diycomputerscience.com/

Thank you very much for volunteering your time.


This is a great idea in a really crowded market. I browsed through the site and tested some functionality. Thoughts:

- The site is quite text heavy. This is probably not a big issue for those highly-motivated to use the site, you're going to discourage use from the casual crowd...which seems to be a big attribute that your site promotes. Casual, self-paced learning. Right?

- The various functions don't seem to be tied together in a very meaningful way. They are all partitioned and activity in one part doesn't seem to surface anywhere else. If you're looking for engagement, this is important. Take a look at Stackoverflow. Practically ANYWHERE you touch on that site will surface additional value to others on the site. Votes will bump old questions. Comments alert the OP that you had something to say. Adding tags expands the reach of specific questions.

- I think you want other people to add content to the site as well, but it's not immediately clear on the best way to do that.

- Everyone on your site is a Twitter account...and that's probably not the perspective you want your users to have on each other. Looking at SO again, their profile tags are quite expressive about the value they add to the community at a glance. This is the target you want to shoot for.

- Making DIYComputerScience an auxiliary tool for your resume is a good idea, but as it stands right now this is not something I would want to use to represent me professionally. I know this is probably still young, but if this is going to be one of your value propositions you're going to have to shine. Again, SO has careers.stackoverflow.com and those layouts are VERY nice and does a great job of pulling in experience/value that you've added from their StackExchange sites. (I use them almost exclusively for my online resume.)

I'm going to give advice that I give to any startup who is entering a crowded market. Your PRIMARY differentiation will be your user's experience. It's good that you realize this and am making it your goal. Here's a great answer on Quora which touches on this exactly: http://www.quora.com/Internet-Startups/Should-I-focus-on-a-g...


Hi Mike,

Thank you very much for your excellent feedback and for giving your time and effort. You have made very important observations. I will address all these concerns as I move ahead with the development.


I run http://www.feedsapi.com and I loose too many customers on my funnel for the trial premium between the subscription step and the paypal payment step,( which is free to start: Users enter their datas and click on the submission button, but don't proceed to paypal, which is the next step). How can I fix this? I'm already runnning a multivariant test on my form to tweak the call to action text. Any advice? Thanks for the action.


Sure, here are my thoughts:

- First thing I can tell you is that when you redirect to Paypal, you don't redirect to a localized version of Paypal. I was sent to the German version, for example. Probably going to turn off many of your visitors who aren't German-speaking.

- Second, WHY are you asking for Paypal credentials if you're not asking for money. To most people, the perception is Paypal == monetary_transaction. Even if they COULD read what the paypal page was saying, they'll see the Paypal domain and instantly click away. And let's assume that they even see that you're not charging anything, this is still a huge obstacle (30-seconds of diversion is HUGE!) in the way of letting potential customer actually understand what your product does. I say, let your users kick the tires without any barriers. If you're really solving a need, people will give you their money.

- Which brings me to my next point... what does your product do? I can't tell? Do you take short-linked RSS feeds and make full-text RSS feeds out of them? Do you take full-text feeds and perform extraction on them? All of that text to the right of your signup form should say simply:

"We make RSS feeds easily readable."

I'm instantly turned off when you say anything like "...tool that tries, and usually succeeds in, separating actual content from other web page elements such as...blahblahblah". There's no confidence in your product and you take too long to get the meat of it.

- Your text is not given any room to breathe. With your text living on top of each other, it makes it difficult for your readers to scan your page for content important to them. (And believe me, they aren't reading it...they're scanning it.) Consider using a CSS framework that will add rhythm and spacing to your text. http://blueprintcss.org or http://960.gs are both decent at what they do and will give you a great foundation to start (even if you have no design skills).

Please take my criticism with a grain of salt. Hope it helps. :)


Thanks for the help Mike, I will try to update the paypal landing page, wasn't aware of that. We indeed "turn short rss feed into full text rss feed" , that's the main title (yellow)


Hi Mike,

Although I'm nervous about asking, I'm going to bravely step out on the line and ask your thoughts about the design of our startup http://www.uencounter.me. From the look of your own artwork - you obviously have a good eye and while our site is more colorful and different in aesthetic, its clear your opinion and experience is valued. Constructive comments are always welcome.


I think a really great idea !

About design * Give feedback button is really hidden, I think in general call for action button should be clearly visible, they very mixed with other buttons in your design. Give to some stranger and see how he sees your site, the first thing he will try to find something to do and if he doesn't find the right place to click the only person at loss is you.

* The light color over white is really bad combination until you want to hide that thing.The text "Map your life experiences and rediscover your past!" is invisible. Can you good contrast ratio over here.

* Can you put a register button at top also, will be good boost not to find the register everywhere else in page, or simply make it first thing visible on page.

* The color pattern ( the transistion from blue to white where you have orange slowly fading ) doesn't look good. ( Personal Opinion )


Thanks on all accounts! Willing to take comments from anyone else since I stepped out and asked!


Hey Mike

Could you (or anyone) take a quick read of this intro post? It's simply designed to collect some emails so when I launch, there's people to email etc. I'm wondering, well, if it sounds weird, or if it is convincing enough to get people to sign up. First "sales" letter I've really written.

Password is "a"

http://blog.minecraftsaver.com/2011/11/introducing-minecraft...

Thanks!


I think this is good from a marketing perspective. You've hit the important points:

- State the problem - Show the solution - Indicate the value-add - Prompt for the desired action

Is this convincing enough? I'm not a good person to ask. I don't play minecraft. Though you juxtapose your solution against Dropbox and that only benefit I see you offering above Dropbox is a way for users to "display" their minecraft world on the web. The real question is if people want this. I'm not sure. But other than that, I think you hit the nail on the head pretty well.

I'd probably test variations of this where you indicate the hassle of the existing solutions. The goal being to further separate your solution from theirs as being the "obviously" superior answer.

Hope this helps.


Thank you very much, this helped a lot. I'm at least glad that it sounds "normal" enough, and I do believe that what I've presented is compelling to Minecraft players.


Hi,

I love these helpful offers. :)

I'd like to add to the generosity and offer a few things.

- Detailed user feedback on your site/startup/app - A resume re-write (I used to be a technical resume writer) - Discuss your ideas/startup options on Skype, brainstorm some possibilities.

I'm happy to help in anyway I can! I'm my user name on gmail.com

Thanks all - Happy Holidays!


Helen, would love your feedback on http://www.uencounter.me - thanks.


Helen, thanks so much for the time and comments! They all 'feel' right. Your generosity is greatly appreciated.


I am looking for more creative no/low cost marketing ideas to promote my gift inspiration site (giftlizard.com) before christmas rolls around.

I'd love to hear ideas/suggestions you ma have (or anyone else reading this may have).


The best marketing is from word of mouth, do your friends want to use it, would they recommend to there friends.

Would a stranger using it will recommend it for gift giving to their friends.

On holiday season, people are looking for great gifting ideas, can you provide them with good ideas by providing a simple choice form ( no more than 3-4 objective questions).

Can you advertise in local bill board and ask your friends in other cities to get the print out and stick on bill board they can?


The holidays got hectic for me, but I still wanted to leave an answer for you. Sorry for the delay.

I would take a page out of patio11's book. People give gifts for a LOT of different reasons. The trick for getting use out of this site is to be available at the exact right moment someone needs it (difficult, but doable) OR be memorable enough to be found when the person is thinking about gift giving (much harder, but also doable). Let's focus on the first objective: being available at just the right moment.

Thinking about how people shop for gifts on the internet, Google is an obvious first step (and the easiest to approach). patio11 makes a Bingo Card Creator which is pretty generic on its own. But the next thing he did was quite ingenious. He started generating custom landing pages for SPECIFIC segments within his product's market. For example, he would make a Christmas Bingo Card landing page, or an Astronomy Bingo Card landing page. He has a system which practically does this for him, requiring very little work up-front and a great deal of value over the lifetime of his product. I think it would be quite easy to replicate this process to work for you... making landing pages for Birthdays, Bar/Bot-mitzvahs, Graduations, etc. By creating custom landing pages, you can take advantage of Google's traffic to point people at microsites you've created for each (very specific) segment of the gift giving market (which is HUGE, btw). If you ask ANYONE (expecially Ramit Sethi) about marketing, they'll tell you to "niche it down".

There's a really good "How-to" direct from patio11 himself at http://mixergy.com/patrick-mckenzie-interview/. You can also find more detailed information about his process at http://appsumo.com/hacking-content-creation/. (If you're feeling generous, earn me a few dollars of credit by using this link instead: http://appsumo.com/hacking-content-creation/?r=cbhz). I should also mention that patio11 shares LOADS of information about how he monetizes his Bingo Card creator on his blog. I'd start at http://www.kalzumeus.com/greatest-hits/

Another way people shop for gifts on the internet is asking their friends about the person. This might take a little more effort on your part, but consider extending what you've started and let people create "Gift Profiles" for each other on your service. People already have wish lists on Amazon so why not make that experience a little more exciting (and memorable). While I can't tell you the best way to go about this, but there are plenty of interesting ways you could consider. For example, make a game out of it. How well do you know your friend? or "This or That Gift" where they narrow down a gift choice gradually getting points for gifts closer (instead of further) to what the recipient might like. Or, let people personalize their own gift list for specific occasions. Or allow people to put an embedded (and personalized) gift widget on their site. If the experience is good enough, people remember your service as well as be in the right place at the right time. Use these ideas to provide a better gift recommendation EXPERIENCE (this is key) than your competition.

Clearly, none of these things would have helped you in time for Christmas anyway, but Christmas is only one of many opportunities. Hope this helps.


I'd appreciate feedback on the copy on the current http://moustach.io landing page.




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