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Show HN: Add “Magic” to Your Business (sendsonar.com)
84 points by MatthewB on Feb 23, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 69 comments

It's really frustrating to me when a Show HN gets thrashed this way. Every developer puts love into what they build, and most of the people here are developers that hopefully feel the same way. Imagine how terrible it must feel to have your work responded to with such a harshly critical eye - what you're doing is making the opinions of HN more generally negative and more easily ignored, just as directors now ignore the overly critical tome of movie critics.

This was a great demonstration of an interesting piece of technology, that has been met with an overwhelmingly negative response. It's designed really well and I can see it being especially useful for small businesses with a more personal approach to client management.

I couldn't agree more. I can only imagine the disconnect the author of this must feel.

Author, whomever, this is great work. I can see it being very useful for certain applications. Really nice, well-written and simple ruby gem too :)

Thanks for the kind words:)

Luckily, there weren't too many negative comments but I was happy to address their concerns. Can't make everyone happy (especially on the internet).

To make this really interesting, have you thought about making plugins/addons for, say, SalesForce/WHMCS/ZenDesk? A plugin there could easily allow this thing to skyrocket.

"Imagine how terrible it must feel to have your work responded to with such a harshly critical eye - what you're doing is making the opinions of HN more generally negative and more easily ignored, just as directors now ignore the overly critical tome of movie critics."

What does "feeling" have to do with it?

I can't agree with that. Criticism is valuable. You can't learn anything from a pat on the back as you can from criticism. That's not saying that some of the things aren't deserved.

As an example I always get frustrated when the manager/owner of a restaurant walks around and says "is everything ok?" rather than "what can we do better or what wasn't perfect?" (in other words invite comments that may be negative).

Enough with the attaboys.

As far as HN what you typically can't learn from is downvotes without an explanation of why a downvote was received.

I agree that criticism is valuable, it's just that when I joined HN there used to be incredibly useful feedback (designers would comment on design, UX people would give detailed walkthroughs of where they ran into bugs). It seems that since then, any Show HN that doesn't blow your mind to pieces goes straight to the wolves.

It's like being that restaurant owner and having people take one bite of their steak before complaining that it's not as good as the steak from the place down the street.

The post is an ad for their service and they kind of vaguely hate on Magic throughout. Not particularly valuable.

I feel like as an art piece, "Magic" is sort of the distillation and abstraction of everything that has happened with the Internet over the last 20 years - especially lately.

"Send a blackbox a message and you get something - on demand!"

That's art. Or it's an incredibly sad state of affairs with what qualifies as "technology" and is a horrible commentary on modern societies values. Or a reflection of it - imitating it I suppose.

"Magic" & "Yo" - The future is bright.

I think there's something in your comment, even if you end up on the wrong track in being dismissive.

More likely it's an abstraction (via the blackbox) of the way we build internet services and ordering. That something so simple neared 500 comments and 1,200 upvotes on HN suggests to me that for 10+ years we have built ecommerce in one way, when people would rather it in a different way. No continual re-creation of accounts, of declining newsletters, declining warranties and insurance, of re-entering shipping details, etc.

Or avoiding phone ordering processes that involve waiting on the line, repeating details three times, clarifying specials and so on.

How is something that saves us time and allows us more time with our families and friends a horrible commentary on society's values? Surely the interest in Magic is a commentary on how off many of our assumptions are when building online/phone ordering processes?

As I mentioned in another post I'm not really dismissive (not entirely - but skeptical for sure) and I agree with you - who is to say that our assumptions based on old models were right?

Part of our identity and love of capitalism is shopping as entertainment. We love advertising and responding to brands that we identify with. What if this is all a lie, as you imply?

I just find it all very interesting.

Freedom of choice was the old way. Freedom from choice could be the new way?

What are we supposed to value?

I'm not sure. That's the job of art to reflect upon our culture to let people judge for themselves.

I find it brilliant, disgusting, tempting and shocking all at once. I'm not sure if it's a civilization in decline and on the eve of revolution or if it's a beautiful thing.

You don't get an emotional response from just saying "Pizza" and a price comes back and you reply with a "Yes/No" and then it arrives? Where is the service that says "Pizza" and "Yes/No" for me? Clearly that's the only place the form can go.

I guess it's the infantilization of society?

I tend not to order food, so the idea of making it easier didn't really resonate with me. I also tend to be a cheapo, so the idea of spending $4 extra also put me off. So my reaction to magic wasn't very strong.

I also don't really see the difference in values between buying flour and making obtaining a pizza really easy. Why is buying flour okay, or dealing with the details of ordering pizza yourself okay, but handing off the last little bit of the pizza ordering is reflective of decay?

"Why is buying flour okay, or dealing with the details of ordering pizza yourself okay, but handing off the last little bit of the pizza ordering is reflective of decay?"

I think it has to do with the fact that you surrendered choice in where this pizza comes from. You have no agency in the quality, labor conditions, ingredients, etc of the pizza. You have reduced your "freedom OF choice" to "freedom FROM choice".

Devo was right.

"Hey Magic, can I get two pizzas from (insert organic pizza place you like)? You choose the toppings."

If anything, having people within the blackbox means you might get a better choice rather than just the closest or cheapest choice.

I was sort of thinking the opposite here is more interesting. I just want to text to a blackbox:


And a short time later food (possibly Soylent to keep the baby food aesthetic right) shows up. If I can do this while wearing a VR mask showing a strange new world with bigger people that talk, even better. I want to be an infant again.

Maybe they can add a feature where it can hear me shriek out and automate this process.

In your scenario the UX may be broken since Seamless can do this much faster I think?

I think this completely misses the point. The "magic" part of Magic isn't that it's over text -- that's just an implementation detail. Rather, the value is that it navigates all these services for you. You don't have to mess with Instacart or Postmates or Doordash or any specific app. You don't have to search or filter or download or re-enter your credit card a million times. It just happens.

So, creating a single-business-specific Magic seems kinda useless.

Well, there are two aspects to Magic... one is that it's versatile, the other is that it's low (close to zero) friction. Sonar seems to take care of the low friction part, I guess the versatility/usefulness is up to the business implementing it.

I believe a lot of the value is the simplicity of SMS. No logins, save the number in your phone and just text them like you would your friend with a request...done!

You're right though, the aggregation is definitely a big part of it.

The 'magic' of Magic isn't that unique either. It boils down to an open channel(s) to communicate with a personal assistant / concierge service. And I suspect that that calling a live person to describe the initial request seems much more expedient that bouncing texts or emails back and forth...

Many companies already offer that kind of service, e.g. https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/benefits/det...

Oddly enough, my insurance company just started offering up that type of service too....

Right. Ordering stuff over SMS isn't that great an idea. There's going to be a lot of back and forth - what size do you want, is it OK if your flight has a change of planes at DFW, do you want anchovies on the pizza? Sending an order for a bag of groceries via SMS is going to take a lot of typing.

Processing the order is currently manual. You're back in the call center era. For the back and forth, you'd probably be better off using voice. As in, the customer calls the service on the phone.

The big advantage of web ordering is that the user gets to browse the catalog and select. They can find out if it's in stock before they order. The order gets captured correctly and automatically. There's one central service for buying, and it's called Amazon.com.

For more applications, a couple back and forths is all it will take. Then, you can have your preferences saved for next time.

For me, I'd rather send a few text messages back and forth than sit synchronously on a voice call for 15 minutes.

Companies are able to handle a much larger volume of text messages than they could via voice (sync vs async).

At least for me, I send thousands of text messages per month but only do a few voice calls.

Speaking personally, half of Magic's draw is precisely because it's over text. Sure, part of the allure is that I don't have to deal with the services directly. However, for me, the other benefit is that I don't have to interact with the people behind these services directly. Maybe I'm just antisocial.

Can you give some insight in how a business would capture unique payment info related to a phone # in Stripe? Is there a payment link sent to users?

I don't know how they're doing payments exactly but if I had to guess they are recording a customer's credit card info to stripe and associate to a phone number somewhere.

Since Magic says you need to send them your credit card and address info the first time you use their service, my guess is that they would have to record that info so next time you text message, they just look up your credit card by your phone number (probably not in stripe, most likely in a separate database they keep). They can associate your stripe customer id with your phone number so they don't have to store raw credit card numbers (let stripe handle that!).

I would think existing businesses would already have a payment processing relationship in place and so the challenge would be hooking it up to many of those choices (if they didn't have one then Stripe is a good default) The question is how is that card data getting from the text message into the payment processor in a PCI compliant manner? Once they get it from their SMS app into Stripe then Stripe will give them a token and they can map the token and phone number for future charges. But I wonder how it gets there in the first place. Again, due to PCI compliance, I expect the Magic guys are never seeing the actual card numbers. So they must be paying for services on their own cards and charging your card against their Stripe account. So there's some double CC processing fees happening and chargeback exposure. I suspect though the Magic guys just hacked this together (in a great way) and given the interest I hope they can raise and solve for some of the unscalable parts like this.

hey all - matt from Sonar here. happy to answer any questions. you can offer Magic-like service to your customers within minutes with Sonar.

why would someone choose sonar over twilio?

great question. the main reason to use Sonar over twilio is that you'd have to essentially build our platform to be able to offer service like Magic. You need to be able to quickly send and receive text-messages through a web-UI (otherwise it becomes cumbersome to do it on a phone). we built that entire product already and it handle large volumes of messages from 10-digit numbers very well. with twilio, you just get the API.

also, we're built on (and love) twilio:)


As a spokesperson of the company you may want to avoid a defensive tone. Let me translate that into something friendlier for you:

"At Sonar, we offer a drop-in javascript widget so you don't have to write code. Twilio is a more low-level solution."

[edit] Thanks Matt, that's what I was looking for.

Yep. Sorry didn't mean to come off as defensive, just trying to respond to everyone quickly:)

My bad. Thanks, Matt!

So why not use, like, "web messages"? I heard about this thing called HTTP, seems pretty cool. Any opinions?

I heard about this thing called discussing your opinion directly instead of schoolyard passive aggression. It'd be awesome if we all did it. Thoughts?

I actually do like this concept. I've always found it cumbersome that online support is a live session where either one of you can get disconnected at any time, or that you might get occupied and can't finish the session there and then. Sonar easily solves that, while giving me the possibility to just pick up "messages" on my phone and ask them something out of the blue later on.

do you mean webchat? that's a good option as well but to build something as simple and awesome as Magic, text messaging is the way to go

yeah no, I mean like literally let the user insert a message through a form, like <input type="text">, that thing you know? And then you could, like, save that. Just save that data. And read it. And respond. Something like that. THEY ARE ON A BROWSER. Am I crazy here? Please, anyone? What year is this? Where am I?

Just so you (person who is new to HN) understands why your comment is downvoted here - HN is more of a community for providing constructive feedback. Read the other comments on this post to get practical examples.

If I posted something I had poured my heart and soul into for months/years and had to deal with sarcastic vitriol from someone who completely misses the point of what I'm trying to accomplish, I wouldn't feel comfortable posting my work here. I'm personally very grateful there is a community like HN where negativity and closed-mindedness is grayed out.

What do you mean they're on a browser? The purpose of Magic is to be able to hold the entire interaction with a text message. No browser involved.

You seem to be very confused (or trolling). This is about SMS, not an in-browser chats.

you probably ignore emails all day,

How often do you ignore text messages?

Minor edit:

s/Below is out you get started/Below is how you get started

thanks, updated.

It's not about technology but about service.

Is this using a long code or a short code? The examples seem to show a long code, which is basically a phone number.

The FCC is in the process of cracking down on companies that use long codes for marketing and interacting with customers. It's too amenable to fraud.

You should be using short codes which have strict requirements for opting in, opting out, and restrictions on spam.

If this is using long codes you are setting yourself up for fines and legal problems if you use this service.

We use long codes.

There's a distinct difference between marketing/spam and customer service/support. When a customer initiates the conversation via text, it is generally seen as an assumed opt-in.

Our issue with short codes are that they are very expensive ($3000 setup fee and cost per text after that) and a 12 week approval process. That just doesn't work for our use case.

The laws definitely need to be updated though.

Last I checked random short codes were $500 per month and vanity short codes were $1,000 per month. In the past I did mobile banking projects for large regional banks and of course a vanity short code is appropriate for that. For small businesses though I don't see the monthly fee, let alone the stringent approval requirements being feasible.

I've also done many text projects for small businesses using Twilio with long codes. I sincerely hope the FCC would prioritize cracking down on scamming robocallers (a major nuisance) before they crack down on small businesses attempting legitimate communication with their customers.

Agreed about the FCC. For the $500/month short codes, were those unique or shared? Shared short codes don't work with 2-way communication (when someone replies, which business does it go to?).

The $500/month short codes were for unique. That is the actual CSCA pricing. When I do mobile banking projects, we typically pay that directly to CSCA and then we pay our SMS Gateway provider (commonly used Syniverse in the past) separately for usage.


I'm a pretty risk-averse person and I can't imagine in any way the FCC cracking down on the use of long codes for legitimate two way communication with an existing customer. On the other hand, using long codes for mass marketing campaigns and you'll probably be shut down by the carriers and possibly sued, no FCC action required.

If the person is in more than one opt in keyword then it goes to either all campaigns or it goes to the last communicated campaign.

Not ideal of course. Best to have geographically isolated short codes to minimize this. But it's better to be FCC compliant.

Providers typically do a shared short code in this case. They share customers across multiple unique keywords per shortcode and their API lets you be on your own. Siignal7 or something like that is one of these. They also monitor your compliance with the FCC rules.

Now is probably not the time to be using long codes.

does twilio offer this sort of service? I have a toll free number and would like to offer text based replies.

Not out of the box, no. Sonar makes use of Twilio in the back-end to provide all the front-end functionality that you see.

As for porting your phone number over... a quick search found this: https://www.twilio.com/help/faq/phone-numbers/i-already-have...

Feel free to send me an email: vishal@sendsonar.com.

looks like they have real operators 24/7.

how can you get those kind of operators, hopefully at low prices? odesk?

A company that wants to operate 24/7 would need to hire for the night-shift. This would be based on demand, of course. Night-shift hours are probably lower since most customers go to sleep at night.

I don't see why hiring evening and night staff would be that different apart from training. It's probably a bit more difficult to find people that want to work the night shift... some companies get around this by rotating staff between the day and night shifts regularly to give everyone a chance to lead a normal life.

I'm not sure that much thought has been put into this. Should probably work out the CEO/CTO titles first, figure out where to get funding for this clearly multi-billion dollar opportunity and begin to plan the exit immediately.

"Lady luck please let the dice stay hot..."

This comment violates HN's rules about comments. Please read the guidelines and try harder to follow them:




So someone was watching too much "Eden of the East",Noblesse oblige.

Explenation: In the animee there is a phone that can call a number which makes anything happen or done. You have a billion credit. Too bad you die if you use all the money.

I really don't like this opportunistic BS. These guys yesterday struggled with their launch and you took that opportunity to tell the world how to build a better clone?

Cheap shot & I hope someone did the same when you guys launched and I hope it made you struggle.

I think it's brilliant. The original discussion about Magic included comments and questions about what's _powering_ it. For example, people wondered how the texts got routed, whether it's automated or manual, how fulfillment is done, etc. Clearly there was some curiosity about what powers these types of apps, as further evidenced by this post's frontpage status.

Exactly our purpose. We want to show other businesses how to do what Magic did (at least the texting piece).

Execution is everything though.

It's nothing like you describe. They go to great length to say how they love Magic to turn around and tell the world how to do build a better clone.

Did they write about the routing? No. They advertised their product piggybacking on a frontpage story.

Look, if the same thing would happen but Magic would be an established company, I'd say it's brilliant, but it's not. And it matters.

How are they teaching someone to make a BETTER clone? All they're teaching is how to communicate via text message through a web interface. The method of communication isn't what makes Magic magic.

We loved their implementation of SMS and so did a lot of other people. We aren't saying "here's how to build a better version" as own main point but rather, if you want to add this type of service to your own business, you can easily. You can definitely use our service to clone the functionality of Magic as well.

Opportunistic? Maybe. But we love SMS and we love Magic so why not show other companies how to apply that awesomeness to their own business?

The fact that you acknowledge the opportunistic part of my comment proves my point. Yes, when you love something so damn much, you don't go out there and tell people how to build the same thing in a better way, using their name.

It's hilarious that I'm being downvoted for being exactly right.

You're being downvoted for comments like this: "I hope someone did the same when you guys launched and I hope it made you struggle."

The fact is that you're freaking out about something nobody else here really cares about. "Piggybacking" on the popularity of something else is a tried and true marketing technique. When McDonald's tweets something featuring a trending hashtag that's only tangentially related, they're "piggybacking" on its popularity. Magic itself is "piggybacking" on the popularity of the services it navigates for you.

More importantly, this isn't going to hurt Magic one bit. You could build a "clone" of magic yourself in less than a day: set up a stripe account, build a low-fi landing page, and own a phone. Boom. You're done. Hell, you could build a Sonar clone on Twilio without too much effort (nb: I've never used the service, but I'm referring to the basic feature set). The trick would be making the same kind of splash that Magic made, and therein lies the challenge.

In summary: calm down and you'll stop losing so many Internet points.

I don't think it's about building a clone, and I'd certainly hope that magic has some features in place to help automate things--that "magic" part is totally missing from this.

This is really just slapping the "magic" name on "sms-based customer service." That's entirely different from magic.

If magic's only chance for success was in ensuring that nobody else could figure out how they were doing it, they weren't going to be in the marketplace for very long anyway.

For reference, almost everybody knows how to wash their car, but that hasn't put car washes out of business. McDonald's doesn't succeed because nobody knows how to make burgers, or that their special sauce is thousand island.

Restaurants, maid services, landscaping, etc., all benefit from the same aims -- if they can provide convenience to the users willing to pay for it, and do so in a way that compels those users to keep paying for it, there will be space in the marketplace for them.

The Internet is built around finding out how to make clones of technical implementations. Hell, half the world is built around that. Technical implementations are the easy part. The hard part is getting the entire business right, including sales and marketing and customer service. The 'magic' of Magic isn't how to read and respond to text messages from your PC, it's being able to navigate basically any third-party vendor imaginable to fulfill a customer's request. That can't be copied with a Twilio app.

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