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Archive for December, 2010

Laridian Launches All New Website

Posted on: December 31st, 2010 by Craig Rairdin 32 Comments

First, a little history.

Back in 1998 when we founded the company, we knew very little about the technologies that make up the Web. We contracted another company to create an e-commerce site for us and as such projects usually go, they got about 80% there and said they were done. In order to just get our site up and running we had to learn a little bit about Active Server Pages, HTML, SQL Server, and payment processing. We finished their job, which turned out to be a good thing since it forced us to learn how our site worked.

Over the years, we’ve expanded onto multiple platforms and multiplied our product range many times over. The days of being able to concisely list all of our products on a single order form were gone a long time ago, yet our lengthy order form persisted. The pressures of running a company and continuing to develop Bible software for a large number of different platforms took precedence over upgrading the website.

Five Years in the Making

Back in 2004 we hired a person who specialized in Web technologies and tasked him with re-engineering our site. We wanted a “catalog” and a “shopping cart” instead of an “order form”. We wanted it to be easier to roll out a Bible reader for a new platform and have its catalog already populated with our full range of Bibles and books. We wanted marketing people to be able to create catalog pages without knowing (much) HTML. And we wanted to consume fewer processor cycles serving pages so our site would be scalable and perform better.

We did an incremental update to the site that gave it a more contemporary look and handy pull-down menus, but retained the old commerce aspects of the site. Then Web-enabled cell phones came along and we needed a Web-based Bible product. Our new Web guy was the perfect person for this task. And when business started booming and we outgrew our Web server, we needed someone to negotiate the world of load balancing, multiple Web servers, database servers, email servers, firewalls, VPNs, and all manner of other issues. Our website redesign project spent a lot of time on the back burner while we put out the fires burning on the front burner.

The “Web-based Bible product” eventually turned into iPocketBible.com, the first Bible program for what was then the “new” iPhone. Other projects came and went, and eventually our fancy Web technology guy came and went, leaving us with lots of ideas, quite a few pieces of mostly implemented infrastructure, but very little to show other than one or two Web pages that demonstrated the color pallet we had agreed on.

Android: The Unlikely Motivation

When the Android OS had a surprisingly good Christmas in 2009 we knew we were going to have to start thinking about Bible software for that platform. Work began in late summer 2010. As the program came together we started thinking about what it was going to take to duct-tape another platform onto the old website and it was not encouraging. In November, I (Craig) made the mistake of saying, “I think if I just had a week during which I could focus on the new website, I could have it online and it would make releasing the Android version of PocketBible a lot easier.” Jeff (co-founder and VP Development) and Michelle (Marketing Director) looked at each other then at me and said, “Really? You should do that!”

Having “permission” to focus on the website was very motivating. Eight weeks later this site emerged. And that’s why we don’t pre-announce our ship dates. Thirty years in the software business and our estimates are still off by a factor of eight. :-)

Features

  • Login applies to the entire site, not just to your download account. Log in at any time and the site will automatically tell you if you already own the particular book you’re looking at.
  • If a book is part of a series or bundle, the site will point that out to you, allowing you to save money by buying it as part of a larger collection.
  • For each platform (iPhone, Windows, etc.) and each book type (Bibles, dictionaries, commentaries, etc.) the site automatically maintains best-sellers and new-releases lists.
  • A true shopping cart replaces the old order form. Purchase products for two or more platforms in one order (wasn’t possible before).
  • Purchase more than one license for downloadable products. (Again, wasn’t possible before.)
  • Cover images for books
  • Faster download account page.
  • “Programs” and “Books” separated on download page to make it easier to find what you’re looking for.
  • Simplified options on the download page. Show only products you haven’t yet downloaded or only products updated since you last downloaded them.
  • No need to pick a platform before entering the site. Less intimidating.
  • Ability to browse the entire catalog regardless of your platform.
  • Support for Associates Program referrer codes on every page. More detailed Associates Program reports for better tuning of links for maximum revenue. “Copy Link” feature on most pages for easy creation of links containing your referrer code.
  • Easy site navigation and useful information in the footer.

Some Facts About the New Site

  • The old Laridian website had approximately 1600 hand-coded ASP and HTML pages. The new site covers an additional platform and has less than 70 hand-coded pages. The rest are automatically generated from a database of product information.
  • Product information is stored in a structured way with very little HTML tagging (bold, italics, and a limited number of links). This way, non-HTML-experts can create and maintain all the product pages. (Previously, each product required one hand-coded ASP/HTML page for each supported platform.)
  • Adding a new platform (like Android) to our product line used to require the manual creation of hundreds of individual product pages. The new site requires only one new page. The rest are generated automatically from existing data.
  • The old site required us to list every single product available for each platform on a separate order form. The new site automatically builds a catalog and has an integrated shopping cart.
  • The old site had very few product images. Each image had to be manually scaled to the appropriate size and uploaded to the server. The new site takes one product image and automatically creates it in several sizes to use in different contexts. As a result we’ve added cover images for every book and a graphical icon for every program.
  • The bookstore that is built into the iPhone and Android applications uses same technology as the main website to create its catalog. Only about a dozen small pages are required for the entire site. Individual product pages are created from the same data that drives the main website.
  • The method of determining what products a customer owns has been centralized making it faster and easier to use for a variety of purposes. For example, if you are logged in, the site can tell you whether or not you already own a product you are about to purchase.
  • The new site automatically builds best-seller, new-releases, and all other product lists without any intervention so that they’re always up-to-date.
  • The new site makes extensive use of CSS to make it easier to reconfigure and fix problems. It uses just a little JavaScript but is intentionally simple so that it runs on a wide range of browsers with little need to do any detection and special cases in the code.
  • The “big footer” was inspired by sites like Zappos and while it may be cliche and trendy we think it’s really useful. It’s our favorite way to get around the site.

Future Plans

  • There are a few small things “missing”, such as a way for users to modify their own contact information and support for the Associates Program. These will be coming soon.
  • The store built into the iPhone and Android apps has a “search” function. Since the on-device stores are built on the same foundation as the main site, it should be trivial to add this functionality to the main site.
  • This blog still sports the “old look”. We’re moving it to a new server and will be either styling it to look like the main site or going with a more attractive generic style.
  • I’ve always wanted to have a way for you to view your order history and print a receipt for any order.
  • We’d like to make it harder to end up with more than one account by testing your email address against our records before you purchase.

There will undoubtedly be some problems as we shake out the remaining bugs, so we appreciate your patience. We really like the result and hope you do, too.

PocketBible for iPhone/iPad 1.4.6 Available

Posted on: December 21st, 2010 by Craig Rairdin 19 Comments

That was quick.

On Monday morning I uploaded version 1.4.6 to the App Store. On Tuesday night it was approved. Nice.

This version has just a few little bug fixes:

  • Fixed a bug in which the program would crash during synchronization of notes containing certain Unicode characters
  • Sped up wildcard searches (ones with asterisks on the end of the word to match all endings)
  • Fixed a bug in the Toolbox caused by iOS 4.2, in which list selection wasn’t retained
  • Fixed a long-standing and never-reported error in mapping verses from Daniel in the New American Bible to Daniel in the New Revised Standard Version.
  • Did a lot of work under the hood that (hopefully) you can’t see to set us up for some cool new features in version 2.

The wildcard search enhancement is interesting in that it is a direct result of porting the code to Java for Android. As I was going through the code it occurred to me there was a simple and faster way to do it. I implemented it the new way in Java then went back and updated the C++ code for PocketBible so it would have the same enhancement. This particular update also made it into an update of PocketBible for Windows back in October. Just one more way that Android is making the world a better place, I guess. :-)

Don’t get too excited about the mention of version 2. We haven’t said much about it yet and won’t be saying much for a while. I only mention the changes in case we happen to have broken something in the process. That will be our excuse. :-)

What we’ve done is completely re-written the way PocketBible keeps track of what Bibles and books are installed, and how it categorizes those books. For example, we weren’t differentiating between a “Bible” and a “Strong’s-numbered Bible”, nor between a “Dictionary” and a “Strong’s Dictionary”. We are now.

That particular change was needed for these new features I alluded to, but it also will come in handy for Android. I was going to have to do the same thing in the Java code. This way I don’t have to design it; I can just translate Jeff’s work. Thanks, Jeff!

In an unrelated bit of news, look for a new website design coming from us soon. We’re hoping to make it easier to find your way around; easier to buy books; and easier to work with your download account. We’re also making the site easier for us to maintain by reducing the overall number of hand-coded pages from a couple thousand down to a couple dozen. The rest are generated by scripts that run against a database. If you have an iPhone you’ve seen it already but don’t know it; the same technology underlies the “PocketBible Bookstore” that is built into PocketBible for iPhone.

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