Blog Hopping Servers, Be Back Shortly

Posted February 27, 2009 by Patrick
Categories: Uncategorized

This blog is getting transferred from to my own server at Slicehost.  This may result in some minor distortions as I get things working, and as DNS settings populate.

98, 99, 100!

Posted February 26, 2009 by Patrick
Categories: Uncategorized

Nice little milestone: Bingo Card Creator just crossed the 100th copy sold in February, for the first time.  The previous record was 93 back in October.

It is also fast approaching a much more consequential milestone, but more on that later.

Results of Native Compilation vs. Java Split Test

Posted February 24, 2009 by Patrick
Categories: Uncategorized

For the last month I’ve been testing a version of Bingo Card Creator compiled with Excelsior JET versus the standard Java one.  Half of all Windows downloaders have gotten one, half got the other.  I then have tallied when they confirm an installation (i.e. access my website through the application — for example by checking for updates or looking at the purchase page) and purchase the software.  

This is accomplished via a really simple expedient — Bingo Card Creator has a properties file in it, which contains all the strings for the interface like you would expect.  It also contains strings for the version number and site the trial was downloaded from, which I repurposed for the purpose of this split test (since I only track versus “all the download sites” at present anyhow).  

So if you click “Purchase now” from version 2.51 of the Java version of the program after getting hit with the print quota limit, you end up accessing

At which point Google Analytics springs into action, uses some very simple logic to parse the query string, and cookies you up with that information.  If you purchase within the next 30 days, the cookie is passed in when you hit the order acknowledgement page and scored as a conversion.  There is a custom segment in Google Analytics devoted to both the JET-compiled and native versions of BCC 2.51.

Anyhow: in the last 30 days I have had 118 sales of Bingo Card Creator.  (Wow, that number shocks me.)  Google Analytics has racked up 116 conversions, meaning they caught the access of the confirmation page on almost all transactions.  Of these 116 conversions, 75 of them were cookied up with a cookie indicating they were positively part of this split test.  (You could easily have participated without getting cookied — for example, if you decided to buy the software and then opened up a browser and Googled [Bingo Card Creator], I would have no way of knowing which executable you had downloaded.)

Of the 75 purchases, 44 were for the JET version and 31 were for the native Java compiled version.  So what’s that mean?  OK, back to Stats 102: if we assume hypothetically that it doesn’t matter which version you were using, we would expect that 50% of the total number of conversions would turn out each way.  However, just like flipping a coin twice doesn’t automatically mean you get one head and one tail, it won’t necessarily be exactly 37.5 sales of each version.  (One would hope not, right?  I’d hate to support the half-and-half.)  

The probability of each possible outcome on the 0 purchases for JET through 75 purchases through JET continuum is given by the binomial distribution.  There is this notion of cumulative probability — given the assumption of 50/50 fairness between the two versions, the probability that any particular result is like to be random is equal to the sum of the probability of that result and all results less extreme than it.  

Plugging and chugging with a binomial probability calculator, we arrive at the result that, if the versions were fair, in only 8% of all samples of 75 sales would we find 44 or more sales for JET.  Accordingly, we conclude that JET is helping sales, by some amount which the binomial probability test is not quite sensitive enough to determine.

Which is good enough for me.  One niggle: I discovered that for reasons beyond my ken, the JET version cannot save to the program directory on Vista, whereas the Java version can.  I probably should have listened to the advice a year and change ago when people said I should revisit the choice of home directories.  (Vista prevents programs from writing to subdirectories of Program Files to prevent bad behavior.  However, it emulates writing to Program Files to avoid breaking legacy software, and that emulation is sufficient for BCC Java but apparently not good enough for BCC JET).  Ah, we live and we learn.  

After I patch that little issue, the JET compiled version of BCC is going to become the default version for all Windows users, and I will keep the Java version around only for support purposes, and to upgrade folks who already have one installed.

Much thanks to Dmitry at Excelsior, who donated a copy of JET to make this experiment possible.


Massive Update To Stats Tracking

Posted February 23, 2009 by Patrick
Categories: Uncategorized

Well, after a few hours of work I have revamped the way BCC presents its public stats.  You can now see everything from one single, easy location:

Part of what I’ve been working on recently is taxes for 2008.  This required actually paging through and entering my expenses (oh, did I mention it tracks expenses now?), which is going to result in a bit of an earnings restatement for 2008.  I think I have everything but one stray freelancing invoice accounted for now.

Sales for 2008 (less returns): $21,116.65

Expenses for 2008 (excludes taxes): $11,782.62

Profit: $9334

You can see the detailed breakdown here — the big green slice is profit (~45% — a bit lower than I expected).  If you just want to see the relative expense breakdown that is available, too.  Unsurpisingly, my number one cost is advertising — the overwhelming majority of it is Google AdWords but I also paid much smaller amounts Microsoft, Stumbleupon, and a few directories. 

Since I’m using this to generate taxes for my business I included some things for my non-BCC projects which I intend to productize eventually but haven’t gotten around to yet.  Incidentally, expenses before 2008 aren’t totally entered yet, take that data with a grain of salt.  I don’t have easy access to all my old 2006/2007 credit card statements, and don’t even get me started about Paypal.

A/B Testing Lightbox Screenshot vs. Screenshot + Download Link

Posted February 22, 2009 by Patrick
Categories: web design

Everybody paying attention to this blog recently knows I have an unhealthy fascination with Lightboxes, particularly my new favorite iBox.  I like them because they work really well at increasing conversions, most recently in my shopping cart.  (Incidentally, guys, I went back and reset the test.  It really is about 100% improved over the old version.)

So this week I removed the old Lightbox lightbox from my home page and replaced it with an iBox.  I haven’t looked in any rigorous fashion whether that improved things or not — I just did it to cut a few kilobytes off all the Javascript people have to download to use my site, and also because I think the iBox looks cooler out of the box.

Then I noticed that the iBox introduces a loading screen, which the old lightbox did as well.  I hate load screens.  When I see them I think “This is me, losing money”.  Because if two seconds to load the shopping cart cost me half of my potential sales then 2 seconds to look at a screenshot must likewise be suboptimal, and MANY people look at the screenshot (something like 20% of the people who view the page, if CrazyEgg is counting right).

Also, unlike Lightbox, iBox can cause you to get dumped direct to image if you click before the script loads.  Bad news, bears, that means a bounce for most of my users.  I got around this by putting onclick=”false” on the relevant links.

Many, many moons ago (in late 2007!) I experimented with adding blue instructory text to the lightboxed image, exhorting people to download the trial.  That was a crashing failure — it looked like a link but if you clicked it, wham, the image vanished.  But I sort of like the general idea, so it is time for a new split test — take a gander at the screenshot behavior here and tell me if you like it.

You could see the old version of the behavior on my homepage but, well, only if you flip heads the first time you load it.  It is basically the stock lightbox effect — brings up an image, click anywhere to dismiss the image.

I’m hoping for a lift in trial downloads, particularly from clicks coming from advertising.  My worry is that the people are going to get stuck in the lightbox and bounce, since it is much harder to dismiss now.  Oh well, that is what testing is for.  Bring on the visitors!

Ninety. Four. Percent. “()$#(“)

Posted February 17, 2009 by Patrick
Categories: Uncategorized

The results from the shopping cart redesign are in.

Short version: Conversions increased by 94%.  I’m pretty flabbergasted.

Someday, someday…

Posted February 16, 2009 by Patrick
Categories: Uncategorized

… I will learn to not, under any circumstances, commit any code to the trunk which is not ready for immediate deployment.

Because when I do, I inevitably do “just a quick deploy to fix up that unrelated mistake” and then, boom, the lightbox on the front page silently fails for three days.


On the plus side, I once again have experimental confirmation that functional lightboxes beat the stuffing out of direct links to images!

Improving Support One Changelog At A Time

Posted February 14, 2009 by Patrick
Categories: support

sales.rb Revision 539:

Unanticipated behavior: Some customers put Registration Key into Lookup My Registration Key form.  This looks up transactions by order number and email address, thus failing to find any matching records, then informs customer to email me to find their Registration Key.  This is suboptimal.

Fix: If input into LMRK form resembles a Registration Key, search for a line item which had that Registration Key assigned.  If one exists, then it was actually issued to a customer — redirect them to explanatory text with pictures on how to enter a Registration Key into the application, not the website.

If Registration Key does not exist, then tell customer to email me.

Sales Up Massively, My Guesses As To Why

Posted February 13, 2009 by Patrick
Categories: Uncategorized

I have dumb-as-rocks logic on my dashboard that straight-line predicts sales out to the end of the month.  Currently, its suggesting I’m likely to have $3,000+ sales in February.  What is scary is that number is increasing every day — i.e. the projection keeps going up because the last day’s sales beat the straight-line projection.  (Or, in some cases, shattered it.  Today was my best day ever.)

What’s doing it?  Well, its a witches brew:

1)  Early indications are that the new cart that I was so excited about kicks royal buttocks.  There is an A/B test running at the moment.  Suffice it to say that if I told you the improvement I am seeing you would not believe me.  I’m not even sure I believe me.  The results are not statistically bulletproof yet and, against all my instincts to cry it from the rooftops, I’m going to wait until they are to show off.

2)  I am having good results from a really simple change to my Check for Updates page, which is seen by a large portion of trial downloaders.  The basic idea is simple: as long as I have you on my webpage because you’ve demonstrated that you care about having the latest and greatest, why don’t I sell you on the benefits of getting the latest and greatest forever?

3)  I’m having fairly decent results with the testing of the version of the software packaged with Excelsior JET versus the stock Launch4j wrapped executable.  It isn’t quite the murderously one-sided contest that the shopping cart appears to be, but hey, improvements are improvements.  I’ll wait until the test is over to unveil the results, although I gave an interim update here for those interested. 

4)  I made some changes to BCC 2.51 to make it more usable and, at the same time, make it sell better.  One alteration which might slip the notice of programmers was to the UI.  Can you find the change between these two screenshots?

Old version:


New version:

Give up?  Click on the second image and you’ll be taken to the annotated version, with the two important bits called out in red.  Or you could highlight the following text: [The number one reason to buy my software is to get randomly scrambled bingo cards.  Despite the fact that I hammer away at this on my website, many people don’t actually know that the program does this.  I get asked sometimes “How do I scramble the cards?”, which indicates that the whole Sample Cart element was an epic failure at comprehensibility.  Hence the clarification by it.  Similarly, users perceive a need to get unique bingo cards.  There are 24! bingo cards possible from the smallest possible word list.  That is 620 septillion bingo cards.  But users are worried that if they print some insanely big number, like twenty, they will get a repeat.]

Incidentally: if there is an exceptionally nice person out there who could reproduce the first image for me on a machine that has Windows XP on it, I would be very obliged.  Just open any of the Language Arts -> Reading -> Dolch Sight Words lists, and show the program with the word list opened and scrolled down, as that image does.   Thank you, Chris.

5)  BCC 2.51 includes a “soft” timed trial mechanic.  Here is how it works: the user gets to use the software for forever, as they always have been.  The software prompts to be updated once every 15 days, as it has for quite some time.  If a user says they want an update, the software then displays the following dialog after popping the website: 

Yes, that spelling mistake is in the original.  Sigh.  Just noticed it as I was grabbing this screen shot.  I’ll fix it tomorrow.  Anyhow, the idea here is that while nagging first time users of the application would be a little gauche, someone who has used the application for 15, 30, 45, etc days is clearly happy with it and just needs a bit of a nudge over the finish line.  So I offer them an incentive for registration.  

The nice thing about this one is it sounds like “getting something extra” rather than “getting something which was taken away from you”, like the ability to print 16+ cards or the ability to save, both of which are disabled in the free trial.  The upsell screens that pop up when those are triggered still account for the lion’s share of sales from the app, though.

Alright, that’s enough writing for one day.  I’ll keep you aprised as the month moves on.

Big Writeup About The New Cart

Posted February 11, 2009 by Patrick
Categories: Uncategorized

I wrote up approximately everything I know about shopping carts, plus everything I learned from my recent experience rewriting one, and made a proper article about it.  It ginormous.  It is also probably one of the best things I have ever written regarding my uISV, so if the topic interests you, go have a gander.

It includes a bunch of high level theorizing, some stats from BCC, and more code than you can shake a stick at.  (I released the whole cart into the public domain.)

Why put it on my site rather than the blog?  Well, it uses live data and integrates directly into the site, for one thing.  For another, I’m kind of hoping folks will say “Ooh, that is some wonderful stuff” and link to it.