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Mike is Following You!

January 6, 2011

First off, let me apologize for slacking on my blogging duties the past few weeks.  I’ve been visiting a friend in Hong Kong and, between seeing the sites and sampling the food, haven’t been able to make scribbling in my blog a high enough priority.  This post is mainly just to say I’m still alive and bring people up to date with the latest happenings at KitchenPC.

Shortly after the beta launch of KitchenPC, I wrote about my committments to the project and what my current goals were.  I’d like to connect back with the post and jot down my progress thus far.

First 1,000 Users: Check!

I’m happy to announce that on December 26th, I passed the 1,000 user mark and am quickly climbing!  This was actually a harder goal than I initially realized, and in my case took a bit of luck to pull off.  What’s equally note-worthy is the fact that the majority of these new users came in all at once; within the span of a few days.  I think without that mention in Food Now, I’d still be sitting around the two or three hundred mark.  I think the lessons learned from this are to be patient and wait for a big break.  The editor at Food Now found out about my website through my press release a couple months ago, so I guess some further advice would be to write a press release and not to expect any overnight responses to it.

Though there was a huge initial spike in visitors (several thousand the first few days), that traffic has died down but not completely disappeared.  I still get between one or two hundred visitors on the site per day, and a good portion seem to be returning.  However, I think what’s more powerful about this traffic spike is not immediate customer loyalty, but the acquisition of potential ears.  I now have well over a thousand email addresses of potential users who are at least somewhat interested in my site, and I can use these connections to poll for feedback and pivot the site based on their input.  I’ve already noticed a good surge in feedback on my UserVoice forum, so now it’s just a matter of iterating the product and targeting new features around real customers, and not hypothetical ones.

Social Networking Features Are Now Live!

The other big news is today I launched the first wave of social networking features, which includes basic functionality that will help connect users.  Most of the backend was already done and working before the beta launch, however there was no UI to expose it.

Subscriptions Page

This initial implementation contains two new web pages on the site.  First, users can control their subscriptions and notification preferences on a single page by clicking the “Subscriptions” link on the top of any page.  This page shows users who they’re currently subscribed to and allows the user to add a new subscription or remove an existing one.  The popup User Viewer was also modified to allow users to subscribe to someone directly when they click on a username throughout the site.  The Subscriptions page also contains check boxes to set preferences as to which email notifications users want to receive.

The second new page is the public profile page.  This page is intended to provide detailed information for a user and show their recent activities on KitchenPC.  Right now, this page shows basic information such as the user’s name, location, when they signed up, and when they last logged on.  The page also contains their most recent activity (similar to the news feed on the home page) and contains the first ten entries in their cookbook.  A visiting user can also “Follow” the displayed user directly from the page.  Since notification emails have links to the user’s public profile, this makes it easy for a user to immediate follow someone who is following them.  In other words, if you receive an email saying that I’m following you, you can click on my name to see my profile, then click “Follow” to subscribe to my feed as well.

Public Profile Page

Overall, I think this is a good first attempt at some basic social networking features for the site, and I’m curious to see how they’ll be used by the current user base.  I purposely kept the first release as simple as possible just to get something out there, but I have all sorts of great improvements in mind.  On the Subscriptions page, I’d like a way for users to import connections from other sources.  Pulling in your GMail contact list would be a great start, as well as the ability to send out “Invite” emails to contacts that don’t already have accounts.  Importing Facebook friends (similar to what Yelp does) would also be a huge win.

Facebook integration was something I really wanted to have for the first release, but it didn’t make the cut for two reasons.  First off, Facebook Connect only exposes Facebook IDs and not email addresses.  This means that I would only be able to import connections that not only is the user friends with, not only are also users of KitchenPC, but also use their Facebook credentials to logon to KitchenPC.  Any way you look at it, the majority of users who tried to import Facebook contacts would just see zero results.  This would be fine if we could use this as a free advertising tool.  However, since Facebook won’t give me email addresses, I can’t send them invite emails.  I could, perhaps, send them Facebook messages or post on their wall, but this just seemed too spam-y to consider at this time.  With this said, I think I really need some sort of viral way to advertise the site by allowing users to invite their friends and connect using other social mediums.  I think a bit more thought will have to go into this subject first.

There’s also some improvements I want to do for the public profile page.  I’d like to show the user’s calendar, of course.  What the user is planning to make and what they’ve made recently would be interesting information to share.  Providing a list of who the user is following would also make “exploring” the user database a lot more fun.  I’d also like to show what recipes the user has rated five stars, or perhaps just show all the ratings for the given user.  I felt, for now, these features would just clutter up the UI too much and the first release should be very simple.  This sort of functionality could be implemented using a tab interface, or perhaps similar to Facebook’s page with the left-hand filters that provide access to various information.

Another thing I’m planning on doing is making user profile URLs a bit more friendly.  Right now, user pages are at /user.html?id=xxx where xxx is a unique identifier for that user.  Since usernames are all unique, a better way would be to incorporate the username in the URL.  For example, my public profile could be at /Users/Mike.html.  This almost made it in for the initial release, however I didn’t think many people would bookmark these URLs so I felt okay with the idea of changing them later.

This is the first major feature implemented post-beta so I’m very excited about it.  The fact that this feature was the second most requested feature on UserVoice also helps quite a bit, though I was planning on implementing this sort of functionality anyway.  If you haven’t checked out the site in a while, I encourage you to logon and explore these new features.  Let me know what you think, and feel free to share your ideas on what improvements you’d like to see.  That’s all for now!

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