Stealth Player Development

My MicroISV. Where software development and pornography collide...

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New Site and Finally Got CC'd

CC Me
Ok people, I'm happy now. As you can tell from the last post, I was starting to loose my mind with payment processors and the minutia of getting things ready for launch. I've finally got good news though, I have a credit card payment processor! The best part is the discount rate, it's very reasonable and so is the monthly fee(s).

New Web Site
The basic premise for the new web site is up, but obviously has some place holder text.

As I've said in the past, I love to track everything, so here's some of the things I'll be tracking when the site is done and I'm accepting orders:

Pages to Downloads = What pages are the most often viewed that results in a download

Features to Downloads = The main page has a feature rotator that details a single feature of Stealth Player. I'll know which features are most often shown that then lead to downloads.

Bullets to Downloads = Again on the main page, there's a bulleted list of reasons to try Stealth Player. I'm going to create several versions of this list/content area and track which version leads to downloads.

Testimonials to Downloads = Again like the features and bullets above, this rotator for testimonials will be on the bottom left pane of the site. While testimonials will be anonymous (for obvious reasons) I still think they factor in to visitors decision making process.

Adwords to Downloads = Duh, tracking for my adwords campaign.

I'm on Track
I'm on track now for a Nov. 1st live date. I don't have any grand plans though, it will be done with little fan fair and I'll slowly start turning on the marketing dial on with guerilla style marketing, adwords, blogs, press releases, and affiliate partnerships.

Read more...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Beta 3 and Payment Processors

I haven't posted in a while and for good reason...I'm just too busy and while posting is nice, it doesn't help get things done.

I've been battling multiple fronts since the last post and to make this post have some sort of continuity, I'll write on each front separately.

Take my money damn it!
Yes, I still haven't gotten some of the images from a third party vendor because they can't figure out how to make easy money. Lesson here is have multiple ways to process payments.

Help, I've falling into a deep chasm and I can't get up!
Some how I've fallen into a void somewhere between porn and software. Porn payment processors don't seem to want me because I don't sell porn and software payment processors don't like the fact that my software is for viewing porn. So heaven doesn't want me and hell's afraid I'll take over.

My web site sucks and I know it
If you didn't notice, the old web site (that sucked) is gone and has been replaced by a new temporary web site (that also sucks). On the upside, a new site is coming from design outpost and doesn't suck.

A good website will inform your visit of exactly what your offer and give them a call to action...all without having to read one paragraph. That's not to say you can't have a paragraph full of details, but no one is going to read a paragraph just understand what you have to offer. A great ebook on this subject is offered up by Seth Godin...read "Knock Knock".

Beta 3 has arrived; Didn't you get the memo?
The new Beta (sigh) is out. I'm not happy that I have yet another Beta, but on the flip side, I don't have a payment processor, so why not continue to give it away for free (for life if you sign up before Oct. 31st).

Beta 3 is not a continuation of Beta 2. No, in fact it's an all new code base. The feedback so far has been great (positive) and even though it kicks ass, I'm still making improvements.

Losing money, but making up for it with volume
Yes, I've started paying for advertising...for free software. In fact, I'm paying as much as $2 a day for google to run a tiny add that will direct at most 20 people a day to my site.

Actually, I'm trying to test the adwords waters to see how the system works. I've heard some people have problems getting their campaigns running right. I figure I'll have 10X the problems because I'm in that porn software no man's land.

Guerrillas in the mist
Guerrilla marketing is not only cheap, but it can be fun. I've started posting on all types of internet forums (that are appropriate) with a tag line that directs people to my site. It's not spamming because I try to add to the conversation and it drives most of my traffic at this point.

Honestly, I could be doing more on this front, but for now (like adwords) I'm just testing the waters. I figure I should budget about 1 hour a night just for posting to forums.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Beta 2 Update – So Much to Say

Confession:
I’m not a planner. I usually have a good idea of what’s coming next but to me making plans lead to expectations, which inevitably leads to disappointment. I like to be more flexible.

With the release of Stealth Player Beta 2, I’ve come to the realization that I must do something drastic, something that was not planned. This round of beta testing attracted far more users, activity, and issues. Feedback for the Beta 2 has been excellent (as in lots of it), but not always positive. The UI seems to be the sticking point. Not just the way it looks, but the way it flows. It’s too busy and odd.

Two things to say about the UI:
- A typical Window’s UI would seem too sterile for this app. I needed something sexy.
- I’m not a UI expert.

Some advice to others (based on what I now know):
- Use a standard Window’s UI if possible.
- If not possible, seek HELP.
- Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.
- Buy icons stock or custom (I prefer .png format)

In my case, help is Delicious Library (beta tester’s suggestion) and iTunes. I consider both these interfaces sexy and Delicious Library has won usability awards for its UI. So instead of hiring a graphics designer at this point, I’m going to emulate these great UIs and start from scratch.

Starting Over:
It’s not as bad as it sounds. The Beta 1 was basically an over done prototype and Beta 2 was a refinement of that. There was a complete lack of coherent design and the code was starting to get sloppy. Starting over allowed me to isolate the patterns I was using and boil them down to reusable templates.

The fact that I’ve gotten a lot done in very little time is a good indication that I’m heading the right direction. The multi-threading logic is simplified greatly thanks to the fact that I finally found out how to treat events in VB.NET more like you can in C#. If you’re looking to call properties and methods of the event (like you can in C#) just add “Event” to the end of the event name and voila! Did you know that? I didn’t. I just always assumed it was a limitation of VB.NET.

Outstanding issues:
Regardless of the new development there are outstanding issues that need to be addressed. These are:
- Proxy Servers: seem to cause a problem with the Web Service connection…Still looking for a good solution that doesn’t require user intervention. There’s a new article on MSDN about this, I just need to read it.
- Getting MAC Address: I need to find a reliable way to get MAC Address. One user has an issue with the way Stealth Player is getting it now (screen scrape from nbstat). The user has nbstat on the computer and it’s on path, so I need to look into this further.
- No Video: User reports that images work fine, but video causes Stealth Player to freeze. I'll be changing the way Stealth Player plays video, so I hope that will fix the issue.

Interesting Download Stats:
Since the beginning of Beta 2 my web site and web service have been tracking many statistics. Here’s some info I’ve been collecting per visitor:
- OS
- .Net Installation
- LicenseID – Gets populated when the user downloads.
- Registered – This happens when the user registers the product key.

From these fields I can start to answer the following important question. Do users without .Net installed download but NOT install Stealth Player at a rate higher than those who already have .NET? When Stealth Player is installed it will go through a prerequisite installation. If the user doesn’t have .NET then it gets downloaded and installed…many people think this turns users away.

Here are the results so far:
- 65% of users who did not have .NET installed completed the installation of Stealth Player and registered.
- 40% of users who did have .NET installed completed the installation of Stealth Player and registered.

While the sample size is small, the size both groups are nearly the same. Here’s another interesting stat:
- 35% of users with XP have a version of .NET installed already.
- 65% (the rest of the group) don’t.

What it all means:
To me this means that .NET installation is not a deterrent and that more .NET installations are starting to reach XP users through MS auto update. Good news for .NET MicroISV’s.

The “plan” as it stands now:
The new UI should be done by the begging of next week. Unfortunately, I’m at the mercy of a graphics vendor that doesn’t seem to want my money right now. I need their icons in order to finish on time.

After this release, I plan to force the product into production quickly.

I keep telling myself, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Realistically, while I enjoy the challenges of the journey, I need to get to my destination soon.


Read more...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Beta 2 Review

I wanted to create a list of things that changed for Beta 2. And also let everyone know what's on the agenda for RC1.

Also here are basic instructions on upgrading from Beta 1 to Beta 2:
Uninstall Beta 1 by using the uninstall link provided in c:\program files\SPDownload the new installation HERE.
Run the install and start Stealth Player. The new setup wizard will have a couple questions for you, more on that below.

Beta 2 Changes
- Security –
I got a Digital Signature from COMODO and signed all my executables. It’s more professional and safer for the end user.

- Setting Wizard -
Created a settings wizard that allows you to customize what categories you want to see. There is now a setting for connection speed which will optimize downloading for your connection type. Also, as requested, Stealth Player can now operate without its stealth capabilities. This means options to put shortcuts on the desktop and programs menu. As well, you can turn off encryption which will allow you to view images and video outside of Stealth Player. Finally, you can now specify paths for the temp directory and archive directory. This is particularly helpful to those with larger volumes outside of the C drive.

- Navigation -
This changed significantly. Starting in the Navigation Pane, the options changed from selecting the category to selecting the view. The views are:
New - Items you've not seen and are queued up to be reviewed.
Archived - Items you liked enough to save you your hard drive (encrypted).
Favorites - Galleries you liked, but didn't want saved locally.
History - Galleries you viewed in the past.
Reviewed - Galleries for which you reviewed the thumbnail.

The idea is for this to work like newsgator online. In the New view, you review the thumbnails, double clicking the galleries you would like to open. When you’ve opened all the galleries you like on the page, you click the “Mark as Reviewed” button and Stealth Player will grab the next set of gallery thumbnails to review.

- Hot Keys –
Hot keys allow you to do most navigation function with one key press while in media player mode. Some navigation functionality is tied to more than one key, so both right and left handed users should feel equally comfortable. Here’s a list:
Show Next (image or video) “D” or “L”
Show Previous (image or video) “A” or “J”
Next Gallery “S” or “K”
Previous Gallery “W” or “I”
Restart Video “Q” or “U”
Pause or Continue Video “E” or “O”
Archive Gallery “R”
Add Gallery to Favorites “F”
Close Gallery “C” or “N”
Toggle Thumbnail Preview “T”
Remove Item from Gallery (image or video) “DEL”
Panic Button “ESC”

- Filter -
You can now filter galleries on category, media type, size, and also domain.

- Sort -
You can also sort galleries by date added, category, domain, size, and rating.

- Dynamic Help -
Dynamic Help was added to the navigation pane in case the user is not sure what to do.

Upcoming Changes for RC1
- Add Billing Support -
There will be two different subscription levels:
Free – users will be given an allowance of 10 sessions a month.
Premium – users will be given an allowance of 100 sessions a month for a nominal fee of less than $5 per month. I was going to allow monthly subscriptions, but decided against it. Instead subscriptions will be yearly. $49.95 for one year of access ($4.16 a month).

There are two reasons I decided to not bill monthly. First, risk. The more transactions, the more charge backs. At $25 bucks a pop for a charge back it would take 6 legitimate transactions to pay for just one charge back. Second, cash flow. I want to provide top notch service and support to my customers while adding additional features. If I bill monthly and 200 people sign up in the first month, then I have about $1,000 of revenue to work with. Billing yearly generates $10,000 on the same number of subscribers, which is a much better model for growth.

During RC1 Beta testers will be asked to purchase the Premium subscription using test credit card information.

Please Note: All Beta testers will receive one year of Premium Subscription for free starting on the official release date. To qualify Beta tester must participate in RC1 subscription test mentioned above.

- Account Management -
There is already a place holder for this screen in Stealth Player. It will allow users to change passwords and to view account statistics such as: # of session left, next session refresh, and billing history (if any).

- Back Office -
There are a ton of apps that I need to complete for back office management. I need to make an admin app that contains everything I need to manage the system effectively. Error report, site stats, customer mass emailer, gallery categorizer (for manual categorization), and a gallery release scheduler (for time releasing galleries). There are a couple more items too. The goal is to automate as much as possible.

We’re getting there!

Read more...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Site is down.

UPDATE - Stealth Player is back up. It sounds like aquesthosting did a good job considering the circumstances. Here's they're response to my inquiry:

Ian,

There was a power outage in the area of our data center that took down portions of both grids that we set on. We have been told this was due to a vehicular accident in the area and the outage was unplanned.

We apologize for the outage and all systems have been restored.

Thank you,
John Lyon
Aquest Support Team

John always gets back to my amazingly quick.


StealthPlayer.com is down due to my hosting company being down. This is an unplanned outage and is not something I've experienced with this company in over a year of hosting.

This also underscores my need for email that is not through the hosting provider, because right now I don't have a way to contact them (email is out too). Hopefully, the site will be back up soon and they'll have a good reason why it all came crashing down.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Hallucinations and Beta 2

Beta 2 is ready! However, due to complications the auto update feature will not upgrade you from Beta 1 to Beta 2. So if you’re already a registered user you can download and manually install the update here. If you’re not a registered user and you’ve been waiting just for this moment to experience Stealth Player click here.

I’ve had a couple late nights (early mornings actually) trying to get Beta 2 ready and deployed. This morning I got to my clients office and couldn’t quite remember how I got there. At this point, I can’t see straight and I keep seeing things in my peripheral vision that make me jump. I think lack of sleep may cause paranoia.

After I get some sleep I’ll post more about the new functionality of Beta 2, the additions to the StealthPlayer.com website, and what’s next on the agenda.

Oh, also…I want feedback! It’s super easy to submit feedback through the Stealth Player application! Click the “Feedback” button on the top menu, enter your comments, and click “OK”. I seriously want to know what you think.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Beta 2 Release Problem

Almost done with the release, but I hit a snag. The auto update is crashing on existing installations. I'll fix it soon. The Beta 2 will should be ready with the new fix by the end of Monday. Sorry for the delay! Hey, it's still beta!

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