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Thinking About ProPhoto 5

ProPhoto version 4 was released to the public a little over a year ago, in September of 2011. It’s been a phenomenal success, with tons of well-received new features like mobile sites, non-flash slideshows, grids, custom fonts, Facebook comments, a new menu system, and much more. Maybe the most important new feature of P4 was automatic updating, which allowed us to seamlessly push bug fixes, enhancements, and loads of free new features to our users throughout the year, with no complicated update process.

Internally, as of last month (September 2012), we have officially stopped putting new features into ProPhoto4 and are beginning to work on the next major release of ProPhoto, version 5 (P5). ProPhoto4 will still be supported for a long time to come, and we’ll keep pushing auto-updates as needed to fix bugs or ensure compatibility with newly released versions of WordPress, but there will be no major new functionality added to ProPhoto4. New features will be going into P5 instead, which, when it is ready, will be a paid upgrade, as usual.

Why do we charge for major upgrades?

You might be asking why you should pay to upgrade ProPhoto — why we don’t release all upgrades for free? The reason is pretty simple. In a nutshell, our business model would very quickly become unsustainable if we never charged for upgrades. And that’s because of how fanatically we do support. We spend a ton of time, resources, energy, and money supporting our users. We figured out early on if we kept adding new customers and continuing to support all of our old customers without ever requiring them to upgrade, we’d probably have to either go out of business or drastically reduce support quality. So, we instituted our long-standing policy of releasing large, paid upgrades about every 12-18 months, and only actively supporting users on the two most recent releases. That means, for instance, that we currently only support P3 and P4 users (although we’re softies and still help out the occasional, rare P2 user). That also means that if you choose not to upgrade at all (which, of course, you’re completely welcome to do) you’ll still get about 3 years of fanatical service from us at the minimum.

All in all, our upgrade policy has worked well. A few people always complain about having to pay for major upgrades, but it’s allowed us to steadily grow and add awesome employees, always maintaining the same level of customer service you’ve come to expect from us. We’ve never tried to compete on price anyway — we’re not interested in racing to the bottom. There are other services and products out there that are cheaper. At the end of the day, we’d rather have fewer customers that pay us a little bit more so we can give them our full attention and enjoy our lives while we do it.

The problem with our upgrade cycle

All that said, I’ve grown a bit frustrated with some aspects of our current model of releasing major upgrades. My main frustration is that our current model causes us to go through a 6-9 month period where no new major features are released to our users. This is because we branch off and start working on the new version, putting all the new features we’re working on into the unreleased development version. We feel we need to do this in order to store up a bunch of cool new features in the unreleased new version so that when we eventually do release it, it has a lot of “wow” factor and presents a pretty compelling value proposition to our users for purchasing the upgrade.

Again, this has worked pretty well for us, but it does have it’s drawbacks. The main drawback is our users don’t get the new features immediately as soon as they’re completed. There might be a great feature you’d like to use, and it might be the first feature we complete for the next version, but since we save it for the upgrade, you don’t get that feature for a number of months. This drawback is even more pronounced now that we have the ability to push out new features so easily using our auto-updater. It frustrates us to think that from the outside, ProPhoto development seemingly stagnates for a lengthy period while we finish enough new features to justify releasing a paid upgrade.

What we’re considering

Because of the above-stated problem, this time around we’re at least considering making a change to our basic release cycle. After a lengthy internal meeting to discuss the issue where we discussed pros and cons of several possible scenarios, we thought we would solicit your opinion. In the sections below I’ll describe the three main options we’re currently considering. We would love it if you would take a few minutes to carefully and thoughtfully read and consider these options, and then vote in the poll widget below. You can also add any further feedback or discussion into the comments area on the bottom of the post.

Option 1: Normal release cycle

In this scenario, we stick with what we’ve always done. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Taking this approach, we would spend probably the next 6-9 months putting in a bunch of cool new features and capabilities into P5 and plan on a release date of late Spring or Summer 2013. When the release is ready, we’d stop selling P4 and only sell P5, and we would contact all P4 users letting them know that a major upgrade was ready for them to purchase.

The upside of this option is that when the upgrade is ready, it will feel pretty easy for you to justify the upgrade cost — there will be a bunch of shiny new things the new version can do that you probably want. The downside is that from now until then, your P4 site will only get bug-fixes and compatibility patches — there will be no way for you to start using the features that are going into P5 as they become ready.

Option 2: Instant “soft” release

In this scenario, we would do a “soft” release of P5 as soon as the first relatively significant new feature was ready for primetime — probably around December of 2012. Once we hit that point, we would stop selling P4 altogether, and all new purchasers would be getting P5 (which at that moment would be the same as P4 plus one new feature). The release would be “soft” because we wouldn’t make a big fuss about it – we wouldn’t make a new feature video, tell P4 users to upgrade, or really announce it to the world — because at that point it would really only be an incremental improvement over P4. Also, at our “soft” release, any P4 users that knew about the P5 release and wanted to upgrade right then would be allowed to. They could pay the normal price for the upgrade and get the new version right then. It probably wouldn’t be technically worth the cost at that moment (considering there would only be one new feature), but they would know that they’d get every single new feature planned for P5, pushed via an auto-update, as soon as it was ready.

The big “pro” of this scenario is that P4 users who really want one of the first new features in P4 would be able to upgrade right away. Also, long-standing ProPhoto users who have come to know and trust that we put a bunch of good stuff in every paid release would have the ability to upgrade immediately, and get all of the new features as soon as they’re ready. In addition, brand new purchasers after the soft release would always be getting the fullest feature set available at that moment. P4 users that don’t care to upgrade at the time of the soft release would just go on their way, never really realizing (in all likelihood) that P5 was even released. We wouldn’t proposition them to upgrade because at that point, it’s not really worth the money yet, unless they really want the earliest added features specifically, or they trust that we’ll be adding enough new features as the weeks pass to justify the upgrade. Only later on, when 7-10 new features have already been added to P5 would we notify users still using P4 that they might want to purchase the upgrade. This would be the “full” release – the time when we really tell the world (especially P4 users) that P5 is ready for primetime.

The big “con” of ths approach is that early on some users might feel that we are releasing an upgrade that is not worth the price. If they see that they can upgrade to P5 at a time when there are not very many new features, they might feel that we are releasing an upgrade that is lacking in new features.

Option 3: Public Beta

The third thing we could do is release P5 as soon as the first new feature is ready, but release it along side of P4 as an optional, paid, public beta. Under this option, P4 would still be for sale on our site, but users would also have the option to instead purchase the “beta” version of P5. The beta version would be priced the same (or possibly just marginally less expensive until the actual release), and would make the most sense for long-time users who didn’t mind trading a small amount of instability for the privilege of staying on the bleeding edge of new features and capabilities in ProPhoto. There would be no widespread notification of P4 users directing them to upgrade until a number of new features were ready in P5 and it came out of it’s “beta” period.

The “pro” of this approach is similar to option 2 — users can get the new features as soon as possible and long-term users that know they will eventually upgrade anyway can do so in advance and use each new feature as it is developed. It also mitigates a bit the confusion potentially caused by quietly switching to selling P5 before a large number of major improvements are ready.

The “con” of this approach is that it adds a layer of confusion and complexity – we would be selling two versions at once for a number of months. Also, you could make an argument that there is no reason that brand-new purchasers (not ProPhoto users who want to upgrade) should not get the public beta automatically. Finally, some could find it awkward to be charging full (or nearly full) price for a beta version.

Your thoughts?

We’d really like your opinion on this. We don’t guarantee that we’ll go with the most popular option, but your feedback is very important to us. If you’ve taken a moment to read the above options and carefully consider them, would you quickly vote in the poll below? Also, below the poll leave any additional feedback in the comments section. Thanks so much for reading this far! — your input and feedback really is important and we will seriously consider it as we move forward into the next season for ProPhoto.

The Poll:

-GOTCHA- Note: please only vote if you have carefully read the descriptions of the three options above — they may not mean what you think they mean by just reading the poll options. -/-


P4 Auto-update details, build #1255

Today we’re pushing a small free auto-update to ProPhoto4 for users on auto-upgrade-capable web hosts. This particular update is mostly a few bug fixes and minor enhancements. One of the enhancements we made can help ensure that automated Emailsgenerated when someone fills out your contact form get through to you, so we felt it was worth pushing out this auto-update to make sure all of our customers got that change. If you’re interested in all the details, see the changelog below.

-GOTCHA-If your host doesn’t do auto-updates, you can download the latest build from within your admin area under ProPhoto => Customize => Site Settings => Misc => ProPhoto Updates. Tutorial for updating from downloaded zip can be found here.-/-

Changelog

  • prevent clicks on un-linked sides of first or last lightbox images from closing lightbox overlay
  • admin CSS reorganization + minification
  • include retweets when pulling tweets from Twitter, so count is correct
  • fix lightbox image skipping when using keyboard navigation
  • fix problem with post and page-specific background colors and images
  • correctly detect newer BlackBerry phones as mobile devices
  • ensure that lightbox gallery closes on escape key press for all browsers
  • fix problem where post image borders and dropshadows were being wrongly applied to post signature and call-to-action images
  • remove “from” field spoofing in contact form Email sending to prevent Email problems on hosts with spam problems
  • decrease size and improve tiling of included design “Sunny California” background image
  • fix problem where scrollbars didn’t appear when necessary within a menu-item edit screen
  • fix rendering bug with search input in white-themed mobile footers
  • add wider default mobile logo to starter design “Sunny California”
  • fixed a bug upload/import of design exported from design created from paid starter design was being added as a starter design instead of inactive design

P4 Auto-update details, build #1235

Today we’re pushing a fairly big free auto-update to ProPhoto4 for users on auto-upgrade-capable web hosts. This particular update includes a handful of new features, plus a few bug-fixes and minor optimizations. This post explains the most significant new features, and also includes a detailed changelog below.

-GOTCHA-If your host doesn’t do auto-updates, you can download the latest build from within your admin area under ProPhoto => Customize => Site Settings => Misc => ProPhoto Updates. Tutorial for updating from downloaded zip can be found here.-/-

Masthead frames

Probably the biggest new feature in this auto-updates is a new, optional masthead frame image. A masthead frame image is an image that will be used to “frame” your masthead image or masthead image slideshow. Using a masthead frame image drastically simplifies the usability of many masthead designs, allowing static design elements to be incorporated into the frame image rather than be replicated in every masthead image. The end result is that you can have complicated visual effects in your masthead area that don’t require you to do a ton of heavy-lifting in Photoshop for every masthead image. This includes anything from simple solid borders around the masthead to semi-transparent overlay effects.

A good example is the masthead area from the “Emilie” built-in starter design, which looks like this:

This masthead is now actually composed of two parts: 1) a masthead frame image, shown below:

…plus 2) a simple masthead image:

When the masthead image is positioned correctly within the masthead frame, you get the completed look.

Building the masthead this way makes it much easier to add and edit masthead images. All you need to do is upload a simple, properly-sized masthead image like this:

… and the complex border and overlaid “tape” effects remain consistent because they are a part of the frame image, not the masthead itself.

the new image sits “within” the masthead frame

The biggest reason we added this functionality was to make it much easier for users to customize complicated masthead designs. There are a lot more screenshots and examples, plus more “how-to” information on the main tutorial for masthead framing if you’re interested.

Side-by-side custom icon widget images

The next largest feature in this auto-update is a pretty major change we made to the ProPhoto “Custom Icon Widget”. Before this update, there was no good way to line up more than one custom icon horizontally in one of your widget areas. If you wanted several custom icons arranged horizontally, it required lining up multiple widgets in one of the widget areas with several columns (like the bio or footer), or that you use complicated custom CSS.

New in this update, each custom icon widget can have up to 10 individual images, which will be lined up side-by-side with a custom amount of spacing between them.

the custom icon widget form with two images enabled


both custom images in this area are contained within one widget

We think this is going to be a real time-saver for our users and designers, and allow you all to get more creative with your widget layouts. Full tutorial including lots more screenshots is here.

Custom images for older/newer posts links

Also in this update, you can now upload custom images to be used as clickable links instead of text for the “older” and “newer” posts links at the bottom of page-types where pagination is necessary.

This option is only available if you are not using the numbered pagination style of links. More details in this tutorial.

Uploaded paid add-ons become Starter Designs

We’ve also made a change to the user-interface related to paid “add-on” designs from our Design store. In the past, if you bought a paid add-on starter design from our site and uploaded it in the manage designs screen, it would create a generic “inactive design” in the inactive designs section of the screen.

We’ve now changed the behavior, so that when you upload a paid add-on design, it adds it to a new “Paid starter-designs” section above the standard built-in “Starter-designs” section.

We think the new behavior is a big win for usability. It reinforces what these paid designs really are: starter-designs. It allows them to be used multiple times as a template for creating new custom designs, without the need to re-upload the original zip file. You can also now preview the paid starter-designs like you can with the built-in ones. The change also gives add-ons the emphasis they deserve: showcasing the full description of the design plus a nice, big screenshot.

Contact form bottom border image

Finally, we’ve added another requested customization option: the ability to upload a custom image as the bottom border of your contact form area. Full tutorial here.

Changelog

For those interested in the smaller bug fixes and enhancements, below is a near-exhaustive list of what’s new since the last auto update:

  • add temporary patch for IE7 problem with theft-protected clickable grid images
  • fix problem where empty space saved as slideshow proof URL caused cart button to appear and could not be deleted
  • ensure secondary menu dropdown opacity settings applied
  • fix rare problem with lightbox gallery javascript conflicting with plugins
  • don’t show help icon for individual menu item link image uploads because they don’t work there
  • new feature: masthead frames
  • new feature: contact form bottom border image uploading
  • use the admin Email from “Settings” => “General” as fallback for contact form send-to, as shown in our documentation instead of using Email from user profile of user with id=1
  • add new resource kits for older included starter designs that didn’t have them
  • fix Likebox widget preview fail in widgets admin screen
  • fix rare problem with determining width of certain widget areas
  • allow for weird (mostly Polish) web-servers with “//” as their ABSPATH
  • fix rare logic bug caused by slideshow with all perfectly square images, where controls were not overlaid and were on the side, not top or bottom
  • fix bug where nav menu dropdown opacity when set to 100% was displaying as 1%
  • new feature: custom uploaded images for non-numbered older/newer posts links
  • new feature: uploaded paid add-on designs get added as “Starter designs” instead of “Inactive designs”
  • fix music on gallery slideshows continuing to play on mobile devices even after another page is loaded via ajax
  • make sure ProPhoto gallery/insert all buttons don’t appear on the media add new page, since they don’t work there
  • ensure that html tags can be added to “custom HTML” special link types, duh
  • don’t watermark the masthead frame img
  • fix issue with links around widget menu item images causing extra vertical spacing
  • try to set memory limit to 512M where possible
  • prevent doubling of ProPhoto media buttons on “uploaded” media tab
  • new feature: multiple, side-by-side custom icon images in custom icon widget
  • switch to using WordPress’ bundled Farbtastic color picker, it’s a newer version, and fixes a minor ProPhoto bug
  • ensure that post background color is only applied to posts, not pages
  • fixed a problem with implementation of new contact form bottom border image where it wasn’t showing if in the normal ajax-mode
  • handle both old (legacy) and new twitter.com widget formats

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