Reaching Beta: Feedback and Focus

“And of course they had a christening party. And of course they invited the fairies…”

They say software is never done (and everything will take 4x as long as you’d think). They’re right. So you have to call out milestones and give names to things to get your bearings. And so I hereby knight this small service called chartpart. We’ll call you “beta” and send you off.

Feedback is critical in software development, but it’s not always easy to figure out what the customer is telling you. In the case of chartpart, I got lots of good explicit feedback (thank you). I also got implicit feedback in the form of hits and general interest level.

This feedback led me to realize I was trying to do too much with chartpart. Dealing with the complexities and commitments of hosting images. Serving up flash, and sparklines, and tracking trends (all things for which there is nearly complete code in source control).

The site and the business model behind it need to be far simpler, at least to start. And so you’ll notice some significant changes to chartpart, done in the last week for beta. The site now generates images, but does not provide hosting. And the site aspires only to be a small, useful ad-supported tool. If there will be more, it’ll come later in a separate form.

Complexity builds on itself. Fortuately, simplicity is also reinforcing. For example, more than one request came in to simply allow the pasting of spreadsheet data. And it could have been done. But with a focus on being a free chart generator, not a chart hosting, we’re clearly not trying to compete with spreadsheet charting engines. The guidance would be: “use your spreadsheet if you have one at hand, chartpart if not.” So the feature is less essential with our simplified use cases.

Please use chartpart, if you find it useful. And please mention it if you find it interesting.

For me, chartpart has been a great first project to learn (and re-learn) a ton about web development, and especially Ruby and its libraries. It now needs time to bake and find its niche (or not) — collecting use and feedback over a longer period. And I need to start thinking about a second project.


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