On becoming an employee

I made the choice a few months ago to become an full time employee.  After a number of years of contracting, this was not an easy choice.  However, the company for which I work, 8z Real Estate, was not a black box to me.  I had contracted for them off and on since 2005.  Still, this was a big step for me, and I just wanted to blog about some of my thoughts around it.

Key reasons I became an employee:

  • An opportunity to really focus on the technical side.  No more being worried about the next gig.  Becoming an employee makes it easier for an employer to offer more freedom (for example, to explore a different skill set) to an employee as well.
  • The chance to be part of a kickass team with good teammates and a great manager.
  • It is fun to be part of a growing company.  We have Beer Fridays and other social events.
  • Less stress about work in general, although, as Bob Lewis said, the only difference between an employee and a contractor is that the employee has the illusion of job security.
  • 8z is doing some pretty cool stuff with some pretty interesting data, and offers a valuable service to many many people.  I can’t tell you how many folks have told me they love COhomefinder, the flagship webapp that I work on.

What I miss about being a contractor:

  • Business development–it was fun and challenging to think about how I could help everyone I met, or how they could help me
  • Extreme flexibility of hours, including when and how much I worked.
  • Greenfield development is always nice.  I am constantly learning and so sometimes cringe when I see code I wrote years ago.
  • Being able to say ‘no’/fire a client.

What I don’t miss about being a contractor:

  • Waiting for invoices to roll in and/or reminding clients about outstanding invoices.
  • Thinking about the next gig before the current one is done.
  • Regular overcommitment–making hay while the sun shines is what I had to do, but I did over commit at times.  Work life balance is easier to achieve.
  • Paperwork.

I’ll be blogging about my work at 8z from time to time going forward, so I added an 8z category to this blog.

Tech folks can learn from rap stars about social media

At least, this one did.

I am just finishing watching this hour long interview with Chamillionaire, (found via Both Sides of the Table).  It’s long, but worth listening to.  It is very interesting to see some of the patterns that arise in entreprenuership, venture capital, and the music industry. The key takeaway for me is that the rise of the internet means you are not limited to going through gatekeepers like you used to be (and this is true for entrepreneurs and musicians–check out this interesting company I found out about at Boco last year for a nice intersection of the two).

This isn’t strictly due to the internet (Chamillionaire started with mix tapes), but the internet radically increases the scope and breadth of our reach.  All you have to do is put in the time, blood, sweat and tears, and you can build your audience.  And, most importantly, you can take that audience with you wherever you go (Chamillionaire will when he leaves Universal, and Dion Almaer will as he leaves Palm).

Other highlights/takeaways:

  • control your image–even when you hire or use other people’s services, it is still on you maintain quality
  • you have lots of gifts to give–find out what people want and will pay for
  • go beyond your normal boundaries–when promoting one of his hits, Chamillionaire searched out rappers from beyond the mainstream (NZ, Greece) and leveraged their talents, rather than sticking with pop
  • the best presentation in the world fails if you don’t hold the microphone correctly
  • quora sounds like a useful, for pay, collection of questions and answers

In addition, lots of echos of Gary Vaynerchuk’s great video on building personal brands (cursing).  The user questions (the host took 5-10 during the hour) added a nice touch.  This is the first time I have watched ‘This Week in Venture Capital’ and I found the ‘sponsor breaks’ to be a bit abrupt, but I suppose the host has to pay the bills.

Two books of interest to freelancers

I recently read two finance books that might be of interest to freelancers.

The first is The Money Book For Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a finance book aimed directly at people with sporadic income.  This book is written in an easy going style, with examples drawn from the author’s lives, as well as those of their friends.

The major takeaway is that you should pay yourself first–when a check comes in, allocate a percentage for taxes, a percentage for retirement, and a percentage for an emergency fund.  Do that first, so you aren’t even tempted to spend it.  I do this because of my corporate structure and SIMPLE IRA, but if you’re a new freelancer, or someone who is a schedule C worker, then it’s great advice.

Then, after a while, when you’re comfortable with the system, you can start to save for other goals.  One of the strongest parts of the book was when they encouraged you to sit down and write out your particular financial goals.  It’s tough to do, because when you do so, then you’re confronted with the hard work of trying to achieve them, but it’s great advice.

While this book was full of tips for dealing with the income side, I felt like the outgo side was covered as well.  They had advice about breaking up your expenses into required (taxes, retirement, emergency), overhead (rent/mortgage, food, insurance), and variable (eating out, classes).  Once you know your overhead and required expenses, if you get a windfall (that big client finally paid!) you can siphon that off into a separate account and use that for future months of expenses.  The authors also did a good job talking nuts and bolts, going down to the details of what type of bank accounts you need.

They didn’t really cover some things that are on the periphery of financial concerns–corporate structure, handling employees and contractors and types of insurance, for instance.  But doing so would probably have distracted from the main point of the book, so I understand.

If you’re a freelancer, and this strategy doesn’t work for you, you probably want to check this book out.

I also read Are you a Stock or a Bond by Moshe A. Milevsky.  This book is a fascinating look at the best way for modern savers with 401(k)s and IRAs to replicate what the WWII generation had–a pension.

The hook of the book is that savers should consider their lifetime earning potential and job prospects when planning a retirement asset allocation strategy.  Those who are in a more stable job (the author uses himself as an example–a tenured professor) should consider their earnings more bond-like and thus invest more in stocks (to the point of borrowing to buy stocks).  Those in a more tenuous job (farmer? I don’t remember his example) should do the opposite.

The hook, while thought provoking, is not really the focus of the book.  In fact, I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t spend more time telling you how to determine if your income stream was more stock like or more bond like.  Instead, he charges off into what you should do with your accumulated savings when you retire.

The short answer–buy an annuity.  The reason for this is that the guaranteed income from an annuity is impossible to replicate from the same amount of capital invested individually.  Why?  Because an annuity spreads payments across a population in which some will die before others.  Annuities essentially transfer wealth from those who die early to those who die later.  This asset class reduces your greatest financial risk at retirement–running out of money.  Just like a pension.

Definitely a thought provoking book, and one that would be especially useful to people approaching retirement.

One customer’s experience with offshoring

I’ve been thinking about offshoring for some time, but haven’t had many interactions with someone who really used an offshore developer. Recently, I ran into a client who did try to develop some software using an offshore developer, and was able to ask him some questions about the experience.  (Disclaimer: this client owns the dating site I blogged about recently).  Plus, outsourcing/freelancing is on my mind, due to the pick.im launch.

Dan: What did you ask your offshore developer to do? Did they succeed in that?

Michael:  We asked that a dating and friendship site be created for adults with mental illness and that it mimic sites similar to Match.com. We were assured that this would be no problem, but that was far from how things transpired. We did end up with a finished product, but I wouldn’t say it was a success. Nightmare would define things more accurately.

D:  How exactly was the finished product deficient? Did it not perform well? Did it not meet your expectations? Did it not do what the developer said it would do? Were there unfixed bugs? Did it look bad?

M: There were certain features that never worked, and the developer kept maintaining that everything worked just fine.  No, it did not meet the expectation that we would have a fully operational site with the features we had requested along with our bid that was accepted.  He also promised support for his work, but when we started experiencing bugs he would only fix for additional fees.  We didn’t know anybody else and really feel trapped.  … The overall aesthetics were fine, but the internal workings had issues.

D: What were your motivations for using them? What was the cost savings?

M: Money was the only motivation. I have to say that the cost savings were significant up front. However, we were constantly investing money to fix issues that plagued the site from day one. So, we probably ended up spending more, because we eventually scrapped the website and started over.

D: Did the offshore developer build the ASP website we recently scrapped (for skadate), or was there a previous iteration?

M: No, that was the site that the offshore developer originally built.  However, we found a local guy who made some modifications and was able to fix many of the issues.

D: How did you manage them? How were the requirements documented?

M: This was very loose and managed through email. I have to say, we were very ignorant and really should have sought out the advice of an expert before proceeding with the project. We knew what we wanted the site to do, but we really had no clue what we were doing…shame on us. What  can I say though, using an offshore freelancer sounded pretty good for a social worker trying to make things happen on a shoestring budget.

D: So, did you have a master checklist of requirements, or did you just kind of email the developer feature by feature?

M: There was a list of basic features that was provided when we posted the job, but I wouldn’t call it a master list.  That would make it sound like we were prepared!  We didn’t even know what language the site should be written in.  We did not know that asp was kind of a dinosaur language…

D: How did you find them?

M: getafreelancer.com

D: How were they lacking, and/or not lacking?

M: Let me try to recap a bit. Things started out nicely. There was a lot of email communication and even some discussion over skype (although the language barrier made this difficult, so we primarily stuck with email). The great communication didn’t last though. The email responses slowed to a trickle and then all together stopped.

Fortunately, the payment funds had been deposited into an escrow account, and we refused earlier requests to release part of the funds until the work had been completed. This was a recommendation by the freelance site, and were we glad we at least had this leverage. When we finally resumed communication with the developer he threatened to stop work on the site until we released the funds. We were so exhausted that we called his bluff, and told him to go ahead and keep the site. To make a long story short, he completed the project, and we went our separate ways. Oh, and the project took twice as long as he had agreed.

Retelling this is making my blood pressure rise, so I think I’ll leave it there…

D: What would you do differently next time to increase your chances of success?

M: I would not go offshore, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t choose someone who I couldn’t drive over to their house. I’d also make sure I sucked it up and paid for someone with development knowledge who could  help manage the project.

D: Do you think that your project failed primarily because you went offshore, or primarily because you were a relative novice at managing a technical project, or some combination of the two?

M: I’m sure a bit of both, but it definitely would have helped if we would have had someone with development expertise that could have managed the project for us.


Wow.  What a nightmare!  (For a contrasting experience, read this excellent article about using RentACoder.)

So, as I alluded to in my last couple of questions, I think that this project would have been hard for any developer, anywhere.  Obstacles to overcome include:

  • shoestring budget
  • lack of technical knowledge
  • missing/unknown requirements
  • lack of project management.  It sounds like the client wasn’t able to do this, and the developer couldn’t or didn’t.

However, I think the issues above were exacerbated by offshoring because of

  • language and timezone barriers
  • missing trust building opportunities (face to face meetings, local get togethers)
  • no real reputation risk for the developer if his work was not up to snuff (sure, his rating on a site might go down, but that’s different than running into someone you screwed at a networking event)

Anyway, a fascinating look at how offshore development can go awry.  Try to think about the total costs, rather than just the hourly wage.

Anyone you know care about society?

As a society and democracy, we don’t need newspapers, but we do need journalism.  Please send Clay’s article to anyone who reads or writes for newspapers.  We all need to start thinking about how to preserve journalism through the internet revolution instead of hiding from it.  Oh, and this too: most of a local newspaper is not journalism.

Thanks to Clay Shirky for a cogent, scary, realistic analysis of this issue.  Via Barry Ritholtz.

PS: I hope the universities know that the internet is coming for them too.

StackOverflow and Community

“Hey, have you heard?  StackExchange is the new faq/forum.  It’s the cat’s pajamas, with SEO friendly urls, lots of web 2.0 features (including a realtime wysiwyg editor) and social goodness baked in.” — Dan, trying on his hipster hat

If you’re a programmer, and you use the google to look for answers to your programming questions, you’ve probably seen stackoverflow.com pop up in the search results.  This site, started as a collaboration between Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood last year, is a better way to do question and answer sites, aka FAQs.  It opens the FAQ asking and answering process to anyone with a browser, has anti spam features, some community aspects (voting, editing answers, reputation, commenting, user accounts), and great urls.  And, incidentally, a great support staff–I emailed them a question about my account and they responded is less than 24 hours.

They’ve done a good job of generalizing the platform, and now you can create your very own.  There are a wide variety of stack sites: real estate, your pressing Yoda needs, small business, space exploration.  Here’s a list.  I love the fact they are charging for this software–$129/month for a 1M pageviews is not very much for software that lets you build your community and lets your community share knowledge.

And that’s the key.  Like most other social software, what you get out of a stack site is highly correlated to what you put into it.  If, like the folks at Redmonk, you create a stack site about a topic on which you have expertise and publicize it where you know interested people will hear about it and spend time answering questions on it, I imagine you have a good chance to build a community around it. And once you get to a certain threshold, it will take on a life of its own.  But you need to provide that activation energy–it’s an organizational commitment.
If, on the other hand, you create a stack site and don’t have a community which can get excited about it, or don’t do a good job reaching out to them, you end up with an abandoned stack site (worse than an abandoned blog, imho).  I’m hoping that Teaching Ninja won’t be in this state for long, but right now there’s only 3 questions and no answers there.

The proliferation of social software infrastructure sites (I’m looking at you, ning) has made it easier than ever to create the foundations for communities online.  But, you need to have people for community software to have any value!  Because it is so easy, getting others involved is not a case of ‘if you build it they will come’ (if it ever was).  There are too many competing sites for other’s time.  Software can make it easier and easier to build the infrastructure around community, but it’s the invisible structures (bonds between you and your users, and between them) that will actually create ongoing value.

If you’re looking for an outward facing FAQ site and willing to invest the time in it, a stack site seems to be one of the best software platforms for building that right now.  (I have some qualms about who owns the data, but it seems like they are planning export functionality.)  Just don’t believe the hype: “The Stack Exchange technology is so compelling, sites can take off right away.”  No software can make a social site ‘take off right away’.

[tags]no silver bullet for community,ask yoda,stackoverflow,community[/tags]

Boco: Colorado’s SXSW?

I spent yesterday at boco.me, a one day, one track conference in Boulder Colorado. The focus was on three different areas: food, tech, and music.  Apparently, South by Southwest (SXSW) has a similar multidimensional focus.

I was looking forward to meeting people from different spheres with different interests, and it certainly delivered that. Most attendees I talked to were tech people, however. Many thanks to Andrew Hyde and company for organizing this. I hope it’s the first of many.

Before signing up and actually before the conference, I did not have a very good idea of how much I was getting.  It was actually quite affordable: $99. For this modest price, attendees received:

  • entry to a concert: value $15
  • $30 worth of dinner at one of Boulder’s many fine restaurants
  • happy hour with beer and wine and apps
  • three sessions with about six speakers per session
  • three breakout sessions
  • a free T-shirt
  • a thank you note from Andrew(!)

Boco was, to put it mildly, a hell of a deal.

The conference had, as first year conferences tend to, a few flaws. The things I would change were:

  • allow users to ask questions of the speakers
  • have the breakout sessions be a bit more organized–they felt very ad hoc.

What follows are my notes from yesterday.  Here’s what the Daily Camera had to say.

First up was Rachel Weidinger (her slides are here). She mentioned the “big here and long now” and talked about tools that make our here bigger–“handheld awesome detectors”.  The tool that excited me the most was the Good Guide. This site offers what I’ve been looking for for a long time, which is detailed information on products, so that price and marketing are not the sole guides when you purchase something off the cuff. This guide has an API so that third-party developers can access their data. Oh, and Rachel is also looking for someone to build snake detecting goggles.

Next, Mark Menagh spoke on the differences between eating organic and eating locally.  I paraphrase, but he said that folks who eat organics are pessimists who want rules to prevent bad things from happening to their food and locavores are optimists.  He also emphasized that this November, Boulder voters are going to be asked to extend the Open Space sales tax ( till 2034! [pdf]) and that while we do that, voters should let the county commissioners know how they feel about GMO crops on open space land.

Then, Justin Perkins, from Olomomo Nut Company discussed some of the similarities he had noticed between building a band fanbase, as he did in the 1990s, and building one for a local food company, as he is doing now.  I can tell you from experience that his nut products are quite good.  He talked about engaging users in the product so that they feel it’s part of their story. Takeaway quote: entrepreneurs “have to be consistent and persistent as hell”.

Cindy O’Keeffe spoke about her experience fighting the GMO beets on Boulder County Open Space land.  I had heard about this issue before (Mark also discussed it), but she gave a good overview of the issues, and she had a compelling story about her personal journey from detached global environmentalist to local leader opposing the GMO planting.

Rick Levine, an author of the Cluetrain Manifesto (read it if you haven’t!) and now chocolatier, gave an overview of the Cluetrain ideas, and then talked about his new venture into high end chocolates, including some of the physics of chocolate.  Seth Ellis, his company, have shiny candy bar wrappers that he claimed were home compostable.  When talking about the Cluetrain and his experiences in technology, he offered up the observation that while he had been really interested in technology, his really great moments were talking to people.

The Autumn Film, a two person Boulder band, talked a bit about their experiences in music creation at this time.  Takeaway: music used to be “work hard, get lucky, hit it big”, but the industry changes have now just made it “work hard, hit it big, work harder”.  You can check out some of their music for free (well, you have to give them some of your personal information). Then, one member of the band performed.

I enjoyed the first breakout in which five of us gathered outside and discussed a wide variety of topics.  It was great to have a framework for getting to know the other conference participants.

Amber Case led off the second session by talking about cyborg anthropology–basically the idea that humans extend themselves via their tools, and that the malleability of current tools (think iphone) far exceeds the malleability of previous tools (think hammer).  Several of the other attendees found her ideas fascinating, but I wasn’t as astonished.  I guess I have thought about this topic, though certainly not with the rigor that Amber has.  (reading Snow Crash is no thesis.)  She did have some neat pointers to other work going on in this field: human-blender ‘communication’ and hug storage. Humorously, her email sig reads “Sent from my external proesthetic device“

Rich Grote and Dave Angulo then talked about what makes an online influencer–relevance, audience, access and one other thing I forgot to write down.  They are working on a company, which I was unable to find a link to, to leverage online influencers for marketing purposes.  It reminded me a bit of what Lijit presented on in June at the BDNT.  They also talked a bit about Dunbar’s number, which is the “theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships”.

Scott Andreas discussed his experiences building social software for non profits.  The takeaway for me was that when you have a cohesive group and you provide them social software, it can enrich the community.  The most important thing is that the community (and their norms) exists and is enforced outside of the software.  He also talked about Sunlight Labs, an open data source about the US government. Also, Andrew Hyde mentioned at this time the idea of floating your revenue through Kiva.  I certainly am not earning a lot of interest on my business savings right now, and using the funds to do microloans could be a great social good.  I would be a bit concerned about loan losses, though (98% loan repayment is a bit worrisome).

Sean Porter of Gigbot gave a breakdown of the live music industry ecosystem.  There’s a lot of middlemen between the fan and the band when it comes to concerts–ticketing agencies, promoters, management.  He started down the path of explaining how much of the ticket price you and I pay each of these folks get, but didn’t go all the way; if he had, I think his presentation would have been much stronger.

Ingrid Alongi talked about how she learned about work life balance, and techniques for maintaining it.  Good ideas in there–having a status meeting with coworkers while on a bike ride was probably my favorite, though.  Incidentally, she was laid off on Monday and had found a new job by the time she talked on Friday

Grant Blakeman and Reid Phillips (the latter being a member of The Autumn Film) talked about the new music business models.  Takeaway quote: “things always change”.  Sounds like Abe Lincoln. They are building tools that allow musicians to use some new media to market and connect with their fans. I enjoyed their insistence on musicians retaining control of their work, and using new technology to facilitate that.  It reminded me of this great article by Joel Spolsky where he talks about how your business should never outsource core business functions.  Fan interaction seems a pretty core part of the band business, so I doubt it should be outsourced.

Ari Newman of Filtrbox talked about the realtime web: how we’ve reached a technology tipping point and that Twitter and its open API pushed the real time web into the forefront, but that it is larger than the Twitterstream.  Ari also mentioned how the real time web actually isn’t all that real time–even if the technology delivers news to your computer in half a second, if it is not in front of you, it doesn’t matter.  Maybe he should collaborate with Amber on some goggles that would push realtime news to you all the time 🙂 .  He had real neat slide effects, too.  I chatted with him a bit and it was great to hear stories of his old sysadmin days–Linux on a Mac 8500!

The second breakout session was over lunch.  Was really interesting to talk with Ryan and Angie of Location 3, a Denver interactive agency, as well as Andrew Hyde, Ef, Rahoul(sp?) and Dan Kohler; wide ranging discussion and not too focused.

The third set of sessions was more informal.  Half of the speakers did not follow their topics on the program…

First, Emily Olson, from Foodzie, discussed how she had turned her passion (food) into a job (Foodzie, among others).  Her main points: pay attention to what you do in your free time–that’s an indication of your passion; find a mentor; be willing to work for free, especially at first; don’t try to find the one true vocation.

Dan Kohler, of Renegade Kitchen, discussed how to not have your blog/website suck.  He had 3 people up on stage read 3 different posts, and critiqued them.  Takeaway–“put your voice into” your blog.  I have a pretty vanilla voice on this blog, but part of that is due to professional concerns; however, Dan made the point that really, if you do drive some people off with the tone of your blog, the people you have left will be fiercer fans.

There was a panel on where the local music scene was heading, moderated by Sharon Glassman, a local bluegrass musician, and featuring Jason Bradley and Ira Leibtag.  I stepped out during this panel, but I do remember Jason Bradly discussing how “lots of people live in a box” in reference to his bringing an accordion to a bluegrass jam (and the reaction of the other players).

Brad Feld discussed the startup visa movement.  The idea is anyone who wants to move to the United States and start a company would get a 2 year visa; it would be automatically renewable for achieving certain goals (raising more funding, employing a certain number of people).  The founder would have to show proof of funding.  More information here.  I like anything that gets more smart folks to move to the USA.

Elana Amsterdam spoke on her experience turning a blog she wrote into a recipe book, and stated that her experience showed how you could really build a full fledged business out of a blog, using your passion and the blog as a platform to publish.  She also recommended “Write the Perfect Book Proposal” by Jeff Herman.  Updated 10/4: I asked a friend in the book publishing business about this book and she said: “Yikes. Any book that says “it’s easier to get published than you think” makes me want to hurt myself. Proposals aren’t about capturing a publisher’s attention. They’re about showing your expertise, your marketability, and just plain having an idea that fits within what a company actually publishes.”  For what that’s worth…  I think that she’s absolutely correct, for certain kinds of blogs.  I know that Eric Sink did the same thing with “Eric Sink on the Business of Software”, a fine book that has a collection of blog posts at its core.

Finally, Lilly Allison, a personal chef, spoke about eating seasonally and consciously.  She is using the web to extend her reach (and her brand!) as a personal chef–if you sign up, she’ll send you meal weekly plans with in season menus.  I signed up and will let you know how it goes—I do have lots of food from my CSA (here’s a list of Colorado CSAs).

There was a third breakout session, but I had to run some errands, so I missed it.

Then, it was happy hour time.  Off to the Boulder Digital Works, above Brasserie 1010.  It’s a beautiful space in downtown Boulder, and I talked with some of the incoming students who are doing the first 60 week advertising certificate.  In addition I had conversations on a variety of topics from the success of boco to how to scale a custom chocolate business to whether presenting at BDNT helped business (answer, indirectly, yes) to what to do with consulting requests that interfere with your core business (with the Occipital folks)

At the end of happy hour, we gathered into groups of four.  I had dinner with with Scott Andreas, Dan Kohler, and Jen Myronuk; a fine meal at Centro and then to a concert at the Boulder Theater: Paper Bird.

All in all, a fantastic conference.  It was eclectic and not as focused as other conferences I’ve been to, but for that reason alone has value.  I get bored if I only educate myself in one dimension.  Thanks again to the boco team, and here’s hoping that next year is as good, if not better.

Samasource: Outsourcing as social enterprise

One of my clients (Twomile Heavy Industries) is building a large website.  He is involved in the non profit technology world (NTEN, CTNC, etc), and ran across Samasource, which is a social enterprise to bring outsourcing work into the developing world.  And not just Bangalore–they have work centers in refugee camps. They will be providing some testing services for this project.

Samasource offers a wide variety of services, all via screened partners.  I seem them as a cross between Odesk (which an interviewee touchs on here), Elance (which I joined, mostly to see what kind of jobs are available) and Kiva (which I learned about via Andrew Leonard).  See Samasource’s take on comparisons to Odesk and Elance in their FAQ.

What a great idea!  Very ‘the world is flat’.  This type of social enterprise overcomes my main objection to Kiva, because Samasource could provide a cost savings to their clients; compare that to Kiva, which provides no monetary return to lenders.

Anyhow, I’ll try to update when I’ve actually engaged with the folks that Samasource led us to, but it was such a cool business model I had to give them a shout out.

[tags]social enterprise, outsourcing, developing world[/tags]

NearlyFreeSpeech.net: pay only for the hosting you use

I had a friend tell me about NearlyFreeSpeech.net. Much like Amazon’s cloud computing services, you only pay for what you use.  Unlike Amazon, there’s no complicated infrastructure or proprietary protocols to get familiar with.  I doubt it has the reliability and scalability of Amazon either.

The pricing is pretty crazy: a penny a day for a website, $1/GB for your first GB of transfer, etc.  There’s a calculator to give you an idea of what you’d pay.

For a certain type of user, who my ‘web presence in two hours’ method just won’t work for, and who can use time in lieu of money, this seems like a great solution. I’m thinking, for example, of non-profits that are just trying to get a web presence and who don’t want to use one of the blog sites for reasons of design control.  If all you have is a static site, this can be very affordable:

“Static sites don’t have any baseline charges at all; you pay only for the storage and bandwidth you use, making them incredibly affordable if you’re on a limited budget and you’re working with a prebuilt website like those produced by many of the most popular web design programs.”

I don’t have any idea what kind of support or uptime they offer, but I love the idea of hosting that might start at $3/month, but can scale up easily and transparently.  They’ve been around since 2002, so they must be doing something right.

[tags]hosting, don’t buy what you can’t afford[/tags]

Using APIs to move time entries from FreshBooks to Harvest

I recently was working for a client who has their own time tracking system–they use Harvest.  They want me to enter time that I work for them into that system–they want more insight into my time use than monthly invoice. However, I still use my own invoicing system, FreshBooks (more on that choice here) and will need to invoice them as well.  Before the days when APIs were common, or if either of these sites did not have an API, I would have had three, equally unsavory, choices:

  • Convince the client to use my system or at least access it for whatever data they needed
  • Send reports (spreadsheets) to the client from my system and let them process it
  • Enter my time in both places.  This option would have won, as I don’t like to inconvenience people who write me checks.

Luckily, both Harvest and FreshBooks provide APIs for time tracking (Harvest doco here, FreshBooks doco here). I was surprised at how similar the time tracking data formats were.  With the combination of curl, gnu date, sed, Perl and bash, I was able to write a small script (~80 lines) that

  • pulled down my time data for this client, for this week, from FreshBooks (note you have to enable API access to your account for this to work)
  • mapped it it from the FreshBooks format to the Harvest format
  • then posted it to Harvest.

A couple of caveats:

  • I still log in to Harvest to submit my time (I didn’t see a way to submit my time in the API documentation), but it’s a heck a lot easier to press one button and submit a weeks worth of time than to do double entry.
  • I used similar project and task codes in both systems (or, more accurately, I set up the FreshBooks tasks and projects to map to the Harvest ones, since FreshBooks is what I had control over).  That mapping was probably the most tedious part of writing the script.

You can view my script here, or at least a sanitized version thereof.  it took about an hour and a half to do this. Double entry might have been quicker in the short term, but now I’m not worried about entry mistakes, and submitting my time every week is easy!  I could also have used XSLT to transform from one data format to the other, but they were so similar it was easier just parse text.

[tags]getharvest,freshbooks,time tracking, process automation[/tags]

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