WordPress 3.8 RC1 Available

The Release Candidate for WordPress 3.8 is live today.

It has a bunch of new features and over 250 resolved issues from the repository.

  • The new responsive admin design
  • The dashboard homepage has been refreshed
  • Choosing themes under Appearance is completely different
  • There’s a new default theme, Twenty Fourteen.
  • and about 250 other fixes

Details at http://wordpress.org/news/2013/12/3-8-almost/

OpenTickets launches as an alternative to TicketMaster

open-tickets-logoToday we launched OpenTickets, an open-source Event Management and Online Ticket Sales platform, at OpenTickets.com .

“OpenTickets was created to offer small and mid-size organizations and businesses a real solution to level the playing field,” said Michael Cremean, Founder and CEO of Quadshot Software. “Buying tickets online should be simple for the customer, but unfortunately it is often frustrating. By creating OpenTickets using open-source technologies, we’ve made the process easy for the customer and affordable for organizations selling tickets.”

 OpenTickets first helped solve online ticketing issues for Artisan Center Theater, a 200-seat theater located in Hurst, Texas. Since implementing OpenTickets software during the second quarter of 2013, the growing theater in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has experienced a record-breaking year in ticket sales – over 40,000 just in the last 6 months.

With help from OpenTickets, Artisan Center Theater has seen a 30 percent increased revenue growth and a successful donations program.  Due to this success Artisan Theater will be opening a second stage in January 2014 – doubling their capacity after ten years of being in business.

In an open letter to Quadshot Software, Artisan Center Theater Founder and President, Richard Blair wrote, “What you have done for our business is very difficult to express in words, but I will try. OpenTickets has been the most refreshing and exciting professional business relationship I can remember in 35 years of business. Artisan Center Theater recently celebrated our 10th Birthday. We are now one of the top 10 community theaters in America with over 70,000 patrons attending each year. OpenTickets has insured we will have many more to come. Thank you.”

OpenTickets Software was built to leverage two widely used open-source software packages. WordPress, used by about 1/5 of the top 10 million websites, provides constantly updated, powerful, secure web content management tools. WordPress creates a strong, proven backbone for OpenTickets. WooCommerce, an open-source and free e-commerce toolkit, handles a large portion of the E-Commerce component.  Using open-source tools and technologies like PHP, HTML5, JavaScript, and AJAX, we provide a cross-platform, mobile-enabled, user-friendly way to sell online tickets.  For management, we also created an easy interface to manage event-related product and tickets sales and generate reports.

“When we began developing OpenTickets and working with Artisan, we noticed that there were some basic concepts that the available ticketing platforms just did not cover – flexibility, open-source access to code and easy management tools. ” said Chris Webb, Co-founder and CTO for Quadshot software. “Artisan’s online ticketing problems were not unique, but rather industry wide; every theater owner, promoter and venue manager we talked to had the same issues with their current ticketing solution.”

OpenTickets rivals other ticketing platforms by offering an array of features through open-source technologies including:

  • Open-source Code Flexibility

  • Available as a download to run on your server or SaaS

  • Venue Management

  • Event Management  – Single and Recurring

  • Seating Charts – Simple Tools to create GA, Zone or Reserved Seating

  • Ticket and Product Management

  • Reporting system with Audit Trail and Exports

  • Permission-based Roles

  • User Management

  • Coupons and Sale Support

  • Wait List

  • Event Check-in with QR Reader Support

  • System Administration and Custom Settings

OpenTickets customer Rick Blair added “From our very first contact, working with (OpenTickets) has been a pleasure and rewarding experience.  Please feel free to share my hardy endorsement

WordPress 3.7.1 Maintenance Release

A maintenance release was made today. This covers several minor bug fixes.

  • images with captions no longer appear broken in the visual editor.
  • Allow some sites running on old or poorly configured servers to continue to check for updates from WordPress.org.
  • Avoid fatal errors with certain plugins that were incorrectly calling some WordPress functions too early.
  • Fix hierarchical sorting in get_pages(), exclusions in wp_list_categories(), and in_category() when called with empty values.
  • Fix a warning that may occur in certain setups while performing a search, and a few other notices.

For a full writeup, check out WordPress.org

The (Re) Making Of Maine Today

…and how passion and identity inspired me to push beyond our own limitations.

Maine Today ScreenAs a developer for Quadshot I can say I am proud of our successes in revitalizing some great, classic sites and we have become well known for our ability to “manage old content.” As a team we’ve brought older, yet still relevant content back to life with a fresh new look and feel.

Because of this reputation Quadshot has acquired, I have had the unique opportunity as a well-versed modern developer to compare old and new web technology. I imagine it to be the same way an engineer will look at the old buildings in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy is done and say, “Well this doesn’t work anymore.”

These “survivor sites” as I like to call them, harken back to a time when the kinks were still being worked out of the technology and the rules were rigid. So, now they might have content that no longer fits, spilling out of “old-school” tables and divs. Content that battles with outdated css that had to comply to Internet Explorer 6 or graphic files that have been re-sized so many times their pixels look “worn out.” Luckily many of these layouts have managed to survive multiple experiments to make the content wider, but then suffered when everything had to be shrunk fit a mobile display.

Maine Today did not exactly fall into the desperate state as described above, but it did have a look that it was “out growing its cage.” It desperately needed breathing room and it was my task to do the preliminary analysis of their code which should have been a pretty straight-forward task. They are a simple variety news/life style site, right? Right, kind of.

At first, the project didn’t appear as complex on the surface as the kind of enterprise level conversion Quadshot regularly does, but it was a complex project and I didn’t realize that it was as complex as it was until I started to read their content. I mean, I really read their content. I know this might sound like an obvious step to some, but we live in a world with “spinner” articles, scraped and reused content, RSS feeds form “authority” sites and well, just plain ol’ bad writing. A quick digestion of the material would be my norm.

A fast read wouldn’t do in the case of Maine Today’s content, however. It couldn’t do because I saw that the actual writing holds value. And when I say that, I do not mean, good grammar or fancy prose. What I mean is that it has that thing that makes a difference in art, journalism, song writing, visual media or your cousin’s band. That thing you can’t just go out and buy. The writing at Maine Today has “VIBE”. Check it out- within restaurant reviews and the Top 10 Places to Pumpkin Pick is a distinct voice that reflects the unique character of Mainers, as the residents of Maine have lovingly been dubbed.

Maine Today PreviewDuring the discovery, or planning phase, we met via phone conferencing, created conversations in Basecamp, a project management software, then met in person. Although Maine Today used the expression “blog” during conversations, I could see they were really taking on much more of a unique vision. It was more like a hybrid editorial site, mixed with the features of a “listings” site, like a Zagats and Yelp, but without the nonsense or complication of either.

The Maine Today team had adapted to creating for whatever they needed, in spite of their old sites limitations. If they had an idea on how a page should look nothing stopped them. They created content as-needed and were not afraid to learn and experiment.

This too resonated with me as a characteristic of I now associate with Mainers. They are not afraid to try new things, in fact they seemed to put all their weight into the learning curve and have fun at the same time.

This lead me to rethink about how content is presented and created. How could we have Freedom + Flexibility + Stability existing in the same place?

Usually I insist “people must do it right”. The way the software intended to be used. I am kinda a “stick-in-the-mud” when it comes to that stuff. However, the Maine Today team inspired me to push beyond everything I knew about WordPress and look for opportunities for freedom uncover core features that would allow flexibility and leverage WordPress’s simple, built in database and layout structure to to provide stability. We could maintain practical standards, but create some great user experiences for their editors. And ultimately, their readers benefit.

Of the many unique solutions/features we developed, a Post-to-Post style relationship process standouts as my favorite. On their old site writers would create entries that would mention the names and addresses for local landmarks or businesses. An example being, The 10 Most Beautiful Places in Maine. That post would list the location information of 10 places. The problem I saw was, if a later entry like “The 14 Greatest Places To Picnic” was written that might mention 5 out of the 10 Beautiful Places, the editor would be faced with finding the locations again, taking the chance that it could be copied incorrectly, info had changed, etc. There was no “normalization” or “on-board” reference.

To resolve this, we began by leveraging the core features of WordPress Custom Post Types to create a “Places” post type that acts as a repository of reusable information about local businesses, geographical locations and landmarks. This would include, street address, web site, a reservation service link, latitude and longitude, web link, etc. The editors could add as little or as much info as they wanted. Then, via the admin search feature, the editors can find the information for a “place”, then use a “Pulldown Menu” to show as much or as little related information. So, in say a post called, “8 Outstanding Beer Only Bars”, Joe’s Bar and Grill may only display the name and address of the location, but in other another post, as long as other info was entered, they could show a “Directions Link” or a “Call For Reservations Button” and more.

I was pretty stoked with the solution, but then I would speak to Shannon Bryan, editor and blogger of Maine Today and she would ask something practical like:

SHANNON: “What if we create an Apple Picking Guide and we need to list 10 farms that may have different locations each year or what if I have a page on the site, and I need to create a unique post, but it is in a different category… .”

ME: “hmmmm… you are really blowing my high, I will have to think about that.”

MY CURIOSITY: Do you just write about Apple Picking or do you actually go Apple Picking?*

NOTE: * I am from Los Angeles – I have never even heard of apple picking.

SHANNON: “Sure, it is fun, you should try it, come with next time we go.”

That is when I started to push the limits of how to handle a variety of situations regarding content, how it is displayed and what flexibility means to a creative person, but particularly when stability would be the normal requirement. Also, because I can chew gum and do Sudoku at the same time, I thought about how fun it might be to go Apple Picking.

Although looking like a standard Post-to-Post relationship feature, our Places concept grew and became better for it. It made story topics like: 10 Must Attend Summer Concerts, 5 Amazing Places To View The Sunset and 12 Great Places To Play Pub Quiz much easier to handle, as well as a story topic that might shine light on a single, up coming event like the North Atlantic Jazz Festival. Also, another reality- Google is smart, and if a post contains an outdated address for a location, it will drop from the rankings. This way, even older reviews, posts and editorial lists will always have the latest location information. Sweet!

The above is an example of using WordPress Meta Fields to create Post-to-Post relationships. It simply is saying, you will create a new post, then find a set number of other posts that will be associated with it. This then brought up another challenge- thanks Peter and Shannon! Could the reverse happen to create a category or river page or a listings style page. Again, another time-saving way to create some consistent content, but having the flexibility to display it in different ways on the site. Genius!

The answer was resolved by Quadshot’s own Dino Termini- who by the way, is always a true rockstar at every step. Dino went to work and created some stellar conditional statements and created some pretty amazing custom “Post-to-Page” templates. We even slipped in the ability to have two distinct custom formats: a Grid version and a “single column stacked” layout.

So there are two “solutions” that grew out of inspiration, and yes, the entire process was a brain teaser, and yes, it was a fun brain teaser. And I am grateful for the opportunity to meet and read about Maine, Maine history, and especially the residents of Maine. I discovered “Mainers” think so far “out-of-the-box”, there isn’t even really a box and it was an honor to help support that kind of ingenious spirit.

Although I am speaking in the first person in this article, these solutions were truly a team effort and many thanks some of the other Quadshot Team: Dino Termini, Mike Cremean, Chris Webb and Tom Smith who contributed ideas to the solutions for this client.

And of course to WordPress, giving voice to all kinds of ingenious spirits.


Platform: WordPress

Framework: Bootstraps

Grid Animation: jquery “Masonry”.

Plugins that made this solution more obvious: Advanced Custom Fields, Custom Post UI and CPTaxonomies.

Feature Creep – The Death Of Any Project

So your project is going along well. You’ve worked with a developer to establish the feature list of each page of a site. (With Quadshot, if you’re lucky.)

Then just as you are about ready to launch the site, suddenly it strikes…

[cue scary and intense music now]

baby_92_92FEATURE CREEP! Run!!! 

Ok, so imagine you have been contracted to build a house. The project is almost done, and the home owner says, “Oh, I’d like a circular staircase in the back corner of the house instead of the straight near the front door. I’d also like Central Air Conditioning installed. That’s not too hard, right?”

At these moments it is often beneficial if there are no power tools present.

Feature Creep kills more project timelines than anything else, except perhaps bad Quality Assurance. (that’s for another post)

There are a few ways we at Quadshot have learned to avoid these circumstances that devour time and money and we’ll share them with you right here.


 How To Avoid Feature CreepsID-10017255

1. Have a formal specification and design sign-off 

If the customer has a chance to be involved in the specifications, wireframes and design of a site we often consider that a good thing and welcome the input. To further that, having signatures on a paper or boxes checked on an electronic document themselves forces accountability.

Verbally saying yes is one thing. When someone has to sign, they really pay attention to what they are agreeing to.

By this simple action, extra attention and involvement is given by the stakeholders to the forthcoming procedures and developments. By adding your personal mark to a document the mind is focused on what is important, both for the present and the future.


2. Complete transparency to the development process

Customers that see a development site and have access to each day’s tasks are able to see things along the way and request adjustments. This helps the contractor ensure that the customer’s expectations are exactly met by reality.

This also puts a shared responsibility between the developer and the customer for the outcome.


3. Make change a formal process

We want the best for our customers and that means allowing the customer to be able to make good financial decisions. If a change will cost $180 or $2500, that’s a big difference and the customer has the right to know how much a change to their website will change their budget.

What we do is we have a Change Request Process and during our daily or weekly meetings on a project you simply review those Change Requests with how much that impacts project cost and timeline.

While customers have every right to change their mind, it isn’t fair to have that be the burden or cost put on the developer when this occurs. This is why an open line of communication is needed for every change and a happy transaction.


4. Decide what is Required and ‘Nice to have’

Henry Ford used to say, “People can have the Model T in any color – so long as it’s black.” We often say, “You can have any website you want, so long as you have the time and money”.

Anything that deviates from the original contract and project description also deviates the original estimate. During a project it is not uncommon for a customer to come up with several ideas to add to a site.

That tends to clarify what is important and what is a ‘nice to have’ for initial site launch. Unlike Henry Ford’s Model T, we live in the digital age and you can always add on to your website in the future.


5. Communicate Regularly (and don’t be afraid to Ask Questions)

Whether through a project tool (we use Basecamp) , Skype, screen sharing (we use join.me) or the good old telephone, communicating regularly throughout a project can stave off feature creep.

We have regular, set meetings with clients. The frequency of the meeting depends on the complexity of the project.

On this point, there is NO shame in asking questions from either side of the fence. It is a shame when a question isn’t asked.


By following these simple rules above you’ll probably find that your project stress will be much lower and success rate much higher.

Celebrity Celebration

media-buzzWe have been working for some time on a Celebrity Publishing Platform (“Platform”, for confidentiality project naming is changed) project for one of our clients, BuzzMedia and I am happy to announce that it is finally seeing the light of … well, the LCD screens around the internet. Last week, we finalized its release and we couldn’t be more proud.

We created this Platform from the ground up, along with other useful tools for BuzzMedia over the past three years. To see this creature finally released into the wild was a proud day.

This time around, BuzzMedia needed a tool that could expedite publishing of new content that could handle the sheer number of celebrities they deal with on a daily basis.

It was a long series of fitting square pegs into round holes. The task of this project was to create a new software tool that could handle the load of BuzzMedia – which is far from your everyday publishing norm that platforms like WordPress are used to.

In the past, we have created new features from the ground up and which had later been implemented in core WordPress. There are features that were required for this project , that are still not part of the core platform, but we were able to create these features.

One of the most complicated features of this platform was allowing users to automatically be shared across all celebrity blogs using WordPress Network Mode and the main site. The main site is NOT on WordPress Network Mode, and is actually a completely separate install of regular WordPress.

This obstacle was difficult to overcome because of the way that site access is stored in the database. The short and long of this is we had to trick WordPress Network Mode into automatically copying all the permissions from the main site and use them for every site in Network Mode. It would be lengthy and complicated to explain in detail, but that is the basic idea.

Now, because every celebrity can’t be a brilliant developer and I can’t be a celebrity, we developed another feature into the Celebrity Publishing Platform that adds speed and ease to creating a new celebrity blog. We developed a custom WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) style editor which will be used to quickly customize many aspects of the theme itself.

celebuzzThe goal was to reduce publishing time and automate as much of the deployment as possible. Think of it as a complete custom layer on top of WordPress that saves non-technical people a lot of time.

This Platform also includes all the features we have created for BuzzMedia over the past several years. Many of these features are administrative and editorial features. Some however are forward facing, like the unique endless gallery experience. These features were included because they are part of the BuzzMedia standard now.

All in all, this new product helps our valued customer achieve its goals and makes their editors lives easier. The first Celebrity Blog launch on this platform went smoothly. This product is a powerful new tool that will streamline professional Celebrity Blog site creation and management.

Why You Are Not Apple

appleIn almost every conversation with a customer about theme selection or design, someone on the call mentions “we’d like it to look more like Apple”.

Well, this usually means that they’d like a clean site with lots of white space and a focus on their product.

Apple does this VERY well, and your product probably not as much. Why? Because you are not Apple. It also turns out that once a person’s website depends on a bunch of white space and great product shots they don’t actually like their website anymore.

What makes Apple’s site so great anyways? First of all, Apple’s brand is recognizable wherever you go in the world because of the products. Everyone has or has seen an iPod, iPhone, iPad, Macbook, or some other various product they have put out and everyone has adopted. The younger generation has been lovingly termed the iGeneration for a reason, and not just because ‘i’ can stand for internet. The recognition is what customers are really asking for.

Secondly, Apple’s brand is not recognizable from their website look and feel, but rather the look and feel of the website reflects the recognizable design of their product.

While browsing through the Apple website, you’ll note similarities between Apple products and their website. Note the clean layout and the rectangular rounded edges of the buttons – looks a lot like the iPhone, iPad or iPod, right? Notice the similarity of font usage from the products and the site itself?

Last of all, to bring even more of a focus on the Apple product line, a large product shot is found on almost every page. You are seeing these products that you use on a daily basis and you like using that so feelings of attachment and emotion are brought your user experience with the site. So, really all you are seeing is a company site that reflects the products that they produce and not only are they doing it well, but most users are already engaged because of a positive prior experience.

Now, imagine you are selling garden hoses, t-shirts, TVs or some other highly competitive product. Apple dominates their product categories so while you can just drop in any product into the look and feel of the Apple site, it probably won’t make sense to the eye. Not to mention the customer definitely won’t be getting the brand recognition you are striving for unless you are at the top of your forward-thinking product category.

The bottom line is this: companies spend millions of dollars creating a recognizable brand. When you develop your site, it should look like your site with your branding. It should not feel like some other brand, but should look like and enhance YOUR brand, product or service.

I would suggest that this practice is actually detrimental to the growth of a new site to have it look too much like a famous and world-recognized brand and any developer who agrees to this is probably not looking out for the customer’s best interests.

Don’t try to be Apple. They’re good at being Apple. You are probably not, because you are not Apple. You are good at being you so, BE YOU.

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