$1 billion

“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”
— Sean Parker *

Trade Me has announced details of their IPO, valuing the company at over $1 billion.

That’s cool!

To those who may say this means the original shareholders sold too soon …

I was very fortunate to have a small role to play in this story. Relative to my contribution, I arguably ended up with far more than my fair share, so I try not to feel too sorry for myself.

* This quote was attributed to Parker in The Social Network movie, but according to a recent interview with FT, he doesn’t actually believe it – his words: “[A billion dollars is] not cool. I think being a wealthy member of the establishment is the antithesis of cool. Being a countercultural revolutionary is cool. So to the extent that you’ve made a billion dollars, you’ve probably become uncool.”

Ten Years Ago

I was asked to speak to the Trade Me Commercial team off-site this morning. There are now 35 people in this team – more than in the entire company in 2004, when the commercial team was MOD.

So, please excuse the reminiscent mood…

Ten years ago this week I left New Zealand to live in London.

I had recently sold my start-up to Trade Me in return for stock. Trade Me was valued at about $1m in that deal. Shortly after that shareholders were asked to provide loans to keep the company afloat while we waited for the recently introduced success fees to start to cover costs.

I had mixed feelings about leaving. I’d spent a pretty full-on couple of years at Trade Me and was pretty proud of what I’d helped to create. But I was a little jaded too and ready for something new.

I was also just married.

I had organised a sponsored work permit to get into the UK, and can only imagine how that must have looked to the person processing our visa applications.

We had no idea…

We were up for an adventure, but within a couple of months we’d be struggling to find new work post 9/11 and wondering what the hell we’d gotten ourselves into. Partly in an effort to deal with the stress of that situation, I started running.

As it turned out Trade Me and impending parenthood would eventually entice us back, but we returned having fallen in love with London and with a new perspective courtesy of travel to some amazing parts of the world.

It seems like yesterday, until I think about everything that has happened between then and now at which point it seems like half a lifetime ago.

Trade Me Math 101

Someone smart once told me that the best way to determine a price for your product or service is to find the point at which the customer will wince, and then take half a step backwards.

I was reminded of that this morning reading some of the comments in the media and online about the latest round of Trade Me price increases announced earlier this week.

The official justification is based on a 91% increase in traffic in the two years since the last increase (holy crap!)

But, I wonder this tweet from David Slack perhaps describes it more succinctly:

That Trade Me price rise rationale in full: “Because we can.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, this announcement was enthustically reported by the NZ Herald, but as far as I can tell ignored by Fairfax.

The Herald article is terrible – as well as being a shameless plug for Sella, which they partly own (although that isn’t disclosed in the article), they also let themselves down with some shoddy maths by miscalculating the impact of the increase on a hypothetical $1000 item.

Choosing $1000 as the example is in itself not very smart – most stuff that sells on Trade Me is much cheaper than that.

So, as a service to numerically-challenged or commercially-conflicted reporters, here is a quick back-of-an-envelope analysis of the impact of this change:

Firstly, let’s take a random sample of 100 listings – auction #348,000,000 through #348,000,099.  These were all listed on the site earlier this month and closed over the last week or so.

Of these, 24 sold and attracted a success fee.  Six were “Buy Now” sales, another three were “Fixed Price Offer” sales and the remaining 15 were standard auctions.  The sale prices ranged from $1.50 to $1300.

Obviously this is way too small to be a statistically relevant sample, but actually those values and proportions feel about right to me, based on the sale rates that are published on the site and a quick look at the list of items closing soon.

The total success fees charged on these 24 sales was $141.98.  If the new fee structure was in place that amount would have been $151.53, which represents an increase of just over 6.7% (the Google Spreadsheet linked to above has the full calculation).

To really understand the possible impact of this change though, you need to multiply that increase across the hundreds of thousands of auctions that close on the site each day.  Trade Me don’t actually publish those numbers, but with a bit of digging you can roughly work it out.

As I type, auction #349,438,751 is about to close (I’m going to assume that this was listed this time last Sunday evening), and the latest auction is #351,145,747. That would imply that in the last week there have been ~1.7million new listings (about the same number currently listed on the site).

Extrapolating the success fee revenue we calculated above across this number of listings gives revenue of $2.576m per week soon vs $2.413m per week currently.  So, approximately $163,000 extra per week or nearly $8.5m per year.  That should pay for some good times!

Of course, all of this assumes that the fee increases have no impact on the number of listings on the site, which may or may not turn out to be true.  I’d be confident though that the smart people at Trade Me will be watching this closely after the change is made to give themselves confidence that the overall impact is positive from their perspective.  I doubt they will be paying much attention to the wailing on the message boards, or in the NZ Herald comments, as similar threats, which have accompanied every single fee increase announcement since the very early days, have to date failed to make any dent in the continued growth in popularity of the site.

Anyway, the much more interesting question, which I haven’t seen anybody ask, is this: what good news does Trade Me have up their sleeve to announce on the 7th Feb? :-)

Disclosure: I am a Trade Me alumnus, but I left when the site was just a fraction of its current size, so really, what do I know?!

Ummm … I guess

I’ve been ticking off a few bucket list items recently. Including last weekend, when I had the opportunity to be on the Saturday Morning National Radio show hosted by Kim Hill, to coincide with the launch of Trade Me: The Inside Story.

It was terrifying at the time, but fun in hindsight.

As I mentioned on air, the podcast version of the show (now online) is unfortunately a little disjointed because they are unable to include the audio tracks for copyright reasons. It’s actually a shame that they can’t include the things we talked about off air while the songs were playing instead – in many ways that was the most interesting part of the interview.

I always enjoy watching people who are experts do their job, and so this was a great opportunity to watch a master journalist and interviewer up close. It was fascinating to see how well prepared she was – especially given the wide range of topics covered on the show that morning. And, to watch her constantly thinking several steps ahead. As I sat down the first thing she said to me was “So are you fabulously rich because of Trade Me?” I instinctively said “It depends what you mean by ‘fabulous’ I guess”. As I watched her scribble on her notes I realised that I’d already answered the first question, and we were still a few minutes away from going on air.

She was very charming and I managed to get through without saying anything too embarrassing. Although, the conversation I had earlier with Mark Cubey, her producer, about verbal crutches did make me doubly conscious of all of the filler words I use – you’ll notice that “ummm”, “I guess” and “sort of” feature heavily though out, as well as a couple of “hmmm”s as I quickly try and think of a sound bite answer to a difficult question.

Either way, take a listen and let me know what you think.

Hear if you can spot the obscure periodic table of the elements reference when we’re talking about athletic challenges.

Enjoy!  Listen Online

Download: MP3 | Ogg Vorbis

Trade Me Browser Stats

I’m pleased to see Trade Me have started posting their browser stats again, something I used to do here, way back in the day.

Here is the latest update, for May 2010: Browsers and Operating Systems

http://images.trademe.co.nz/tm/announcements/full/132922040.jpg

When people talk about Open Data they are nearly always referring to government data.  But, I think there are also lots of examples like this, where private companies have data which has a public good, and which they can open up at no material cost to themselves.

Trade Me is such a popular site that their audience can pretty much be used as a proxy for the internet in New Zealand, so this gives developers working on smaller or less popular sites a good idea of the sort of browsers they should be targeting.

Remember, if the equivalent numbers for your site are different from these there are two possible explanations:

  1. Your audience is a subset of the population which has a browser bias (e.g. if you attract more technical people you’ll probably tend to see a higher proportion of newer browsers and also some lesser known browsers that are not widely used in the mainstream)
  2. Your site makes it difficult for people with older browsers to use your site, so they choose not to.

Just about everybody assumes #1, when #2 is often more likely.

Remember that the 5% of Trade Me visitors using IE6 is still 31,500 unique visitors per day, or nearly one Westpac Stadium full.  Are you happy to turn all of those people away with a message telling them to upgrade their “browser”, what ever that means to them?

Learning from Flathunt

An old friend sent me this piece of nostalgia:

(full size)

This screenshot was taken in late 1999, shortly before launch.

If you look closely you can see some SQL debugging code and even a “blank cell” at the bottom.  All of the click HERE links are also a special touch.

Anybody else remember this old design?

Looking back, I can’t believe that I quit a perfectly good and well paid job to do this!

Everybody who thought I was a bit mad was clearly right.  I literally knew less than nothing when I started – because as lot of what I assumed I knew was wrong.

The very first feedback email I ever got was from a friendly stranger who explained why contextual links are generally better.  You do well to only make each mistake once, I suppose.

It’s now just over 10 years since I started working on this stuff.  That’s getting to be so long ago that it feels like a completely different time and place.

The web as it was back then is barely recognisable today: a relatively tiny population of connected users, the vast vast majority on dial-up (browsing with images turned off, to make it faster and cheaper was not uncommon); very primitive browsers which were rapidly evolving and quite unpredictable (CSS and JavaScript were only for the brave); tiny screen sizes (remember 640×468?); development tools and languages that required a bit of brute force; no conventions to build on or follow, etc etc.

The way we thought about the web back then, and what it took to create a successful site and successful business, is in some ways starting to look a bit dated  too.  Or, perhaps idealistic is a better word?

Here is one of the lessons that does still hold, I think:

The people who got up the learning curve the quickest were those that took off shoes and just jumped in, however unimpressive the initial things we were building seem looking back.  Those that sat on the sidelines desperately hoping to come up with a great idea for a website, or worse, spent all their time refining a concept or design until they considered it good enough to actually show people, were generally left behind.

I think there are a lot of parallels with the web back then and the way that mobile applications are developing at the moment: there seems to be a new or improved platform every week; nobody really has any idea about the best way to present applications to users (Objective-C or HTML5?) or to try and make money from them; the conventions and standards in interaction design are to a large extent still to be discovered and agreed; there is only a tiny user base (I’m told there are now ~50,000 iPhones in NZ, compared to about 8x as many internet users in 1999); pricing is an evolving art; and yet as all of this is playing out there is a huge amount of innovation happening.

If I were a discontented 24-year-old today this is what I’d be working on.

Or, a reasonably contented 34-year-old, for that matter.

More about that soon…

(In the meantime, if you’re a Powershop customer please download our meter reader and top-up app which launched this week).

Related

Whoppers

I was interested in this, from the recent NZ Herald profile of David Kirk:

“Kirk was personally responsible for its decision to fork out a whopping $700 million for online auction site Trade Me – a sum that initially bewildered analysts on both sides of the Tasman.

The deal was announced the same week Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace, and Kirk is quick to note he isn’t the one who is now experiencing buyer’s remorse.

Trade Me contributes around $85 million a year to Fairfax’s coffers, whereas MySpace, which has absorbed many more millions, has yet to make a profit.”

Fairfax paid NZ$750 million for Trade Me (there was a further $50 million of earn-out payments on top of the $700 million paid up-front).

News Corp paid US$580 million for MySpace or about NZ$860 using the exchange rate at the time of the acquisition in 2005.

By just about any measure Fairfax would have to be happy with their purchase.

Perhaps analysts in Australia were “bewildered” when they heard the announcement, but this was probably more likely because they had never heard of Trade Me than anything to do with the price, once they saw the revenues.

$750 million is actually not a “whopping” amount to pay for a business that generates $85 million of cash, just three years later, and continues to be in a strong position.

What do you think?

What’s in it for me?

I’ve been interested to watch the response to the new Trade Me design, which was launched this past week.

There has been a pretty caustic reaction on the message boards, with some long time members getting a bit worked up.

It’s amusing, from the outside at least, to see everybody asking for the old design back, forgetting that they hated that design too when it was first launched.

This is not the first time that Trade Me has changed the design of the site.

In fact, it has only ever changed.

There was a good article in Slate earlier this year about the controversial Facebook re-design, which I think is relevant:

“How can I be so sure that you’ll learn to like the re-design? Because you did the last two times Facebook did it. In 2006, Facebook added the original news feed to its site.  People hated it. They said the feed cluttered their home pages and violated their privacy. [CEO Mark Zuckerberg] responded with a blog post titled, ‘Calm down. Breathe. We hear you.’ Facebook tweaked the feed a bit, but the redesign stuck. Zuckerberg’s instinct was right on. In time, the news feed became Facebook’s signature feature, the part of the site that everyone checked first. Last summer, Facebook redesigned its front page to give more weight to the news feed. Again, millions protested. But once more, people learned to love the new site—stats show members started using Facebook more often.”

That’s an important lesson: watch what people do and react to that, rather than paying too much attention to what they say they are going to do.

The numbers will quickly tell you if you’ve got it right or messed up!

I remember when Nigel was working on a tab re-design, to accommodate a new “Sell” tab. I was quite fond of the existing design and thought it looked better with only four tabs. But, luckily he didn’t listen to me, because that change turned out to be one of the single most successful design changes ever made to the site (and blindingly obvious in hindsight).

So, with my past track record in mind, there are three things about this latest design that I think are noteworthy…

Does mark-up make a difference?

Trade Me have called the new design a “clean and modern layout”.

Maybe tabs that actually look like tabs are now classical? I’m not sure?

Is fixed-width the new black? On the surface at least, it’s a bit ironic to move to a fixed-width design in response to larger screen sizes.  On the other hand, I’m sure that working with a fixed size canvas will make it significantly easier to make design changes to the body of pages in the future.

I wonder if most of the cleaning and modernising they are talking about has actually occurred under the covers.

The HTML that makes up the new home page has changed significantly.

The <table> tags and one square pixel spacer images of yesterday have been replaced by CSS and some shiny new semantic mark-up.

Although, there is still one remaining <table> tag (for old times sake?):

<table id="PagingFooter" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="3" border="0" width="100%">
<tr><td colspan="3" align="center">
<h1 id="MoreLink"><a href="/listings-feature.htm">More homepage features...</a></h1>
</td></tr>
</table>

I’d be interested to understand what has motivated this change.

No doubt there was a lot of cludgy old mark-up to clean-up, and it’s great to see this happening.  But when I see new HTML like this, I can’t help but wonder if the inmates are running the asylum:

<div class="Widget Corner TL"><!-- ie --></div>
<div class="Widget Corner TR"><!-- ie --></div>
<div class="Widget Corner BL"><!-- ie --></div>
<div class="Widget Corner BR"><!-- ie --></div>

Perhaps I’m just showing my age, but how is that an improvement?

On dancing chickens etc…

The first thing that many people would have noticed in the new design is the larger and now animated adverts dancing about in the header, sidebar and even in the body of the home page.

I’d be lying if I tried to defend these. The dancing chicken that filled this space on the first day wasn’t a great start, and the fact that there were some early bugs which meant that ads were in some cases overlapping with other content only made it worse.

Up until now Trade Me has been one of the few sites of any scale that refused to host animated adverts. There was a simple reason for this, as explained by Sam a few years ago when he said: “Users don’t like them, so we don’t have them”.

For similar reasons the ads used in the old design were smaller than the industry standard dimensions and had strict size requirements in order to ensure they were fast loading.

MG from Trade Me had this to say on an IAB forum just over a year ago:

“The best results we are seeing from flash placements within Trade Me are those with input fields for valid consumer benefit (mortgage calculator, airline departure/arrival locations, etc). Practical usage wins out over gratuitous animation. Movement doesn’t not [sic] necessarily lead to increased click-thoughs but can be relevant for brand positioning. A case of working out what you’re trying to achieve and developing a suitable ad & placement schedule to deliver to your objectives.

That said, from the industry results I’ve been party to, Trade Me’s [click thru rate] from Tab & Tower static gifs have out-performed their flash equivalents (from other publishers) on a [cost per impression] basis every time. But I don’t get to see the full campaign results from too many advertisers … is anyone prepared to present any campaign results that dispute this claim?”

I don’t think that users like slow and distracting ads any more now than they did back then, so it would seem brave to reverse that position.

It would be interesting to see the impact on what people actually do in response to these. Do they click on these annoying ads more? Does it change at all the way they engage with the site?

This is my newly formed general theory about animated or otherwise intrusive ads: the annoying-ness of the advertising on any given website is inversely proportional to revenue growth.

Perhaps the first derivative is the explanation in this case?

Something for everybody

They say a change is as good as a holiday. But there is also nothing worse than hearing about how great somebody else’s holiday was!

It seems to me that the biggest mis-step with this change is that all of the obvious benefits are internal.  There really isn’t anything in it at all for all of the people who use the site.

In fact, some small features have been removed, such as the ability to customise the sidebar links and the ability to search within a single region (actually you can still do this, it’s just one click further away).

I’m a fan of removing under-used features, to avoid a bloated application. But, in the absence of anything new to compensate, the vocal minority who did use those features which have been dropped will naturally be annoyed.

It’s a shame that there weren’t some new features included in this release, as a bit of Fire & Motion.

Fact vs Opinion

The team at Trade Me has changed a lot since the last major re-design in 2006.  I have a lot of respect for all of them, and I think it’s good to see them start to stamp their own personality on the site.

Will any of these changes make a material difference? I’m not sure. They will take a while to get used to, and hence give people something else to think about, other than using the site, until they do.  But, I’m sure most will manage and life will go on.

I’m sure that the team will be listening to all of the feedback, and keeping a close eye on the numbers.

The rest of us can but watch and throw stones from the sidelines :-)

What do you think of the changes? Are they growing on you yet?

Visualise your audience

I love the buzz of a big crowd.  It’s exciting to soak up the atmosphere created when lots of people are all in the same space at the same time.

If you’re lucky enough to be the band, or sports team or speaker who is the focus of the crowds attention, then that is quite powerful.

(Or terrifying, I suppose, depending on their mood!)

If you design or develop software it’s much harder to get feedback like this.

But, it’s still useful to think of crowds to help you visualise the audience of people who are using what you’re building.

This was the idea behind the photo I use in the header this site.

Another from the same shoot is below, for those of you reading via my feed:

Idealog Stadium

These come from a 2006 article about Trade Me in Idealog, and were taken at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington on a wet and wild day (hence the slightly damp windswept look and the Icebreaker jacket).

The stadium seats about 35,000 people when it’s full.  At the time there were about that many people online at once every evening on Trade Me.

(As I type there are over 80,000 online, showing how much it has continued to grow since then!)

When you think of that many people all in one space together, and the noise and activity they generate, it changes the way you think about the people using your site.

One of the things that software developers do all the time is dismiss a percentage of their audience as unimportant for one reason or another, without thinking of them as a distinct group of people.

If you don’t think you need to worry about people stuck using IE6 (for whatever reason) or a dial-up connection, or people who struggle to read small fonts, or people who are colour blind (or completely blind), or people who don’t know how to use a command line, or people who are still nervous (paranoid or otherwise) about entering their credit card details into a website, or people who want help from a real person, or people who use Firefox on a Mac … because on a percentage basis they are not that many … calculate just how big that group is (take your unique visitor count and multiply by the percentage, however small), and then imagine standing up in front of that group and telling them to their face that they don’t matter to you.

If you don’t think it’s a big deal for your site to be broken or off line while you make changes … think of all of the people who happen to be visiting at that point and imagine what it would feel like to have them all in the room with you while you flick the switch.  No matter how small the number it would probably feel like a lot of people.  And, you might be motivated to get the site back up more quickly if they were all standing behind you impatiently looking over your shoulder.

You can use the same technique to help put other numbers in perspective.

It’s amazing the difference it makes when you start thinking of your metrics as real people.

For example…

  • 2 people = your mum and dad!
  • 5 people = a car full
  • 15 people = a rugby team
  • 30 people = a school class
  • 100 people = a bus full
  • 120 people = a parliament full of MPs (actually 122, to be precise)
  • 380 people = all of the passengers on an Air NZ 747-400
  • 550 people = the audience at Webstock earlier this year
  • 1,500 people = capacity of the Aotea Centre in Auckland
  • 2,500 people = all of the students at Auckland Grammar school
  • 6,000 people = capacity of the TSB Arena in Wellington
  • 10,000 people = population of Gore :-)
  • 12,000 people = capacity of the Vector Arena in Auckland
  • 18,000 people = all of the students at Otago University
  • 20,000 people = population of Levin
  • 25,000 people = the crowd at Augusta National each day this week
  • 35,000 people = capacity of Westpac Stadium in Wellington
  • 60,000 people = capacity of Eden Park in Auckland, post-renovations
  • 100,000 people = capacity of MCG in Australia (also, incidentally, approx. the number of people who voted for NZ First at the last election)
  • 250,000 people = capacity of St Peter’s Square in Rome
  • 475,000 people = population of greater Wellington region
  • Etc, etc.

Help me out with some more examples…

In the beginning…

This month it is 10 years since Trade Me was launched.

Last night there was a party for staff to celebrate the milestone.

As part of this they kindly invited a few of us who were there in the beginning to tell some stories about how we got involved and about the early days of working on the site.

Here is my part of that (the extended director’s-cut edition) …

In 1999 I was working as an IT consultant in Sydney and really wanted to move back to Wellington.

In those days to find a good flat you needed to get up really early on a Wednesday or Saturday and buy a paper and hit the phones – and by lunch time normally all of the good ones had been taken.

So, that obviously wasn’t very convenient for me over in Australia.

This was also the middle of the dot-com bubble, and I had this nagging fear that I was missing out on something, and was really keen to get my hands dirty and try to build my own website.

So, I put those two things together and came up with the idea for Flathunt.

That was all good. 

The first version of the site was a bit rubbish, but I was proud of it.

Then, in a moment of madness, I decided to quit my job and work on Flathunt full-time.

I had an exit interview with the senior partner at the firm I was working at, and in as many words he told me that he thought I was throwing my career away.

In a way you could say he was right, because since then I’ve never worn a suit and tie again!

Anyway, I just put my head down and tried to make Flathunt as good as I could make it.

I called every property manager and real estate agent I could find, and asked them to list on the site.

And, surprisingly a few of them said “yes” and the site slowly started growing.

Soon after it launched, we actually found a flat for ourselves through the site – it was listed at 2pm and we went and saw it at 4pm and signed the lease that evening.  Which was great, except that our new landlord straight away took the listing down, and at that stage I was a bit desperate for all of the listings I could get.  So, that was a bit annoying!

After about 3 months my girlfriend (now my lovely wife) got a bit sick of paying all of the bills.

Flathunt was making enough to cover costs, but not enough to pay me a salary, so I had to go out and find some paid work.

Around that time I had lunch with Sam, who was an old friend from school, and with Phil McCaw who along with his colleagues from AMR had just invested, and they told me what they were doing with Trade Me. 

I’d seen the “Only Turkeys Pay For Classifieds” billboard. 

I thought it sounded exciting.

So we did a deal around Flathunt and they hired me as a developer.

I became the first employee who wasn’t a Morgan, and got to work.

And, there was no shortage of things to do.

Within the first year we completely redesigned the site: we put in place a new design – coming up with the yellow sidebar and tabs and the “Kevin the Kiwi” logo etc which are still more-or-less in place today, we introduced charging, and usernames (rather than just showing everybody’s email address on the site) and built photo uploading, and autobidding, and the first incarnation of text bidding (which nobody really used apart from us)… and a whole bunch of other stuff.

It’s hard to imagine today that the site would have worked at all without all of those things, but somehow it did.

We even built a Japanese version of SafeTrader, of all things, but that’s a story for another day.

We were just making it up as we went.

Sometimes we’d have an idea while we were out at lunch and rush back and try and build it and deploy it before we went home.  It was incredible that the site didn’t break a lot more than it did.

All the while the business was growing at a ridiculous rate.

But we were still impatient.

One day Sam decided to try and get on Fair Go … as you do.  So he called the producers and said “I really want you to come and film a story about Trade Me”.  They didn’t really know what to say, I don’t think, because the people they were used to dealing with would normally try and lock the doors or punch the cameraman.

But they came in anyway and filmed some interviews.

Then we panicked.

We were not really prepared for the sort of traffic that a top-rating prime time television show might generate.  I think the site was running on a single server at that point.  So we quickly rushed out and hired a bigger server and then braced ourselves.

We invited some family and friends into the office the evening it aired for some drinks, and we setup a projector showing the number of people online.

And, if I’m correct, that was the first time we ever had more than 1000 people on the site at once, which was an exciting milestone.

Anyway, it was a crazy time.

I’ve never worked so hard or had so much fun. 

We got to experience a business growing at an astonishing rate, although what we didn’t realise at the time was that this was just the beginning.

It was a privilege to be part of it.

 

Trade Me Home Page Retrospective

(click for full-size screen shots)

1999:

2000:

2001:

2002:

2003:

2004:

2005:

2006:

2007:

2008:

The Key To Happiness

The key to happiness is apparently simple: low expectations and unsuccessful friends.

If you believe that then I should be a miserable wreck. I have neither!  Good thing happiness is over-rated. :-)

Here is an article by Peter Griffin from the July/August issue of Idealog about the multi-talented Nigel Stanford, possibly the most successful person you’ve never heard of, and one of my old friends who continues to motivate me to do more:

The Road To Rubber Monkey

The best quote:
“It sounds terrible but the gift I have is the ability to think like a stupid person.”

How’s the weather?

The tenth most visited NZ site in July with over 500,000 unique browsers…

metservice.co.nz

Yup, that about sums it up doesn’t it!

Trade Me still dominates, with 2.8 million unique browsers and over 1 billion page impressions.  That’s 64% of all recorded domestic page views!  And they’re still hiring.

Meanwhile, according to latest figures there are now 1.5 million internet “subscribers” in New Zealand.  Of these 59% are broadband users (I’m not sure what definition of broadband is used here, but we’ll take it as meaning not-dial-up).  

So, while that has improved a lot in the last year (see my previous post: Broadband usage still under 50% from March 2007), that’s still a lot of dial-up users out there.

I wonder if iPhone users are counted as subscribers yet?

Usage stats from Neilsen Online, subscriber numbers from Statistics New Zealand via NZ Herald

Push The Button

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/unseelie/766346338/

How many steps does it take to get a change live on your website?

Ideally it should be a one click process.

Otherwise, when the pressure is on (i.e. when there is a bug on the site that you quickly need to fix) you’re sure to forget some critical step and make an even bigger hole for yourself.

What we called “the deployment process” changed a lot during my time at Trade Me.

In the very early days we just copied ASP scripts directly onto the production server. We only got away with this because there were not many people writing code and there were not many people using the site.

Later, as we moved to having multiple web servers which each required a copy of the code, we created a simple Windows application which copied the files from our local directory onto each of the web servers and would also execute selected SQL scripts against the production database. This was much better, but still relied on the developer doing the push to have the correct files on their local machine.

As the site got bigger there were some new complications. For a start there were more people involved. The teams responsible for testing and for maintaining the database and servers got increasingly nervous about developers having the ability to push code at any time. The code base got bigger, making it more difficult to keep in sync. The number of people using the site increased massively, making it less and less practical to just put code changes multiple times during the day. And, we also moved to using ASP.NET, which added the complication of having a build step in the process.

To address some of these issues we developed a new tool we called the “Release Manager” which hooked into source control and allowed us to package up changes so that they could be pushed to test or to production with one click (using simple NAnt scripts under the covers). This removed a lot of the complexity and stress from the process.

I’m sure it has continued to evolve since I left – if anybody from Trade Me is reading it would be interesting to hear about how you do it now.

Towards the end of my time there the test team, who had final sign-off on each release (twice per day at that point), got into the habit of queuing up ‘Push The Button’ by the Sugarbabes on the MP3 player when they were ready for changes to be deployed to production. Every time I hear that song now my pulse increases slightly at the prospect of some site changes going live!

I always thought it would be fun to wire up a proper red button to trigger the deployment, but never got the time …

If you’re interested, I wrote a little more about the tools and processes we used (as at April ’07) here:

Questions from Tim Haines, Part II

How do you manage deployment?

Trade Me Changes

There have been some interesting changes on Trade Me over the last week.

The “cards” used to display lists of items for sale have had a design upgrade, with bigger fonts and bigger photos.

These two simple things have resulted in good improvements in the past, so the team at Trade Me will be hopeful that the same will be true this time.

I think they are a nice evolution and look great!

I especially like the new photo viewer in Trade Me Property, which means you can now view all of the photos for a listing without having to first click into the listing itself. This makes it much quicker to browse.

But, as always opinion is divided on the message boards.

Trade Me will be amused by the comments, but mostly interested in the numbers. They will probably already know if these changes have had a positive or negative impact on page views, bids and length of time spent on the site. In the past all three of these metrics have been improved just by increasing thumb nail image sizes. In time they will be able to tell if it has resulted in more sales. If you’re keen you can follow this yourself using the published sell-thru rates (the percentage of items listed that actually sell).

Meanwhile, the message boarders have moved on to complaining about postage prices.

:-)

Disclaimer: I no longer work at Trade Me or have a financial interest – I’m just an interested observer like the rest of you.