1. The user is always right (curse them)

    An oft discussed but infrequently implemented feature of good web design is what we call conversion tracking. This is where you randomly offer users one of two or more versions of the same page, and then compare their relative merits at getting the users to do whatever your page is there to help them do.

    A couple of weeks ago we finally started to test our first working version of conversion tracking on the homepage of HearFromYourMP. We provided two versions – the super elegent, minimalist version that had a simple, bold heading and almost nothing else, and a more verbose, text heavy version explaining what the site did.

    As congenital advocate of super-simple sites, I was really hoping the public would go for the less wordy version. Did they? No, of course not – the conversion rate from visitor to subscriber was 16.5% for the simple version, and 23% for the more text filled version. Slightly gallingly, this means we might have forfeited thousands of signers since our launch in November.

    So, as painful as it was, we’ve now abandoned the minimalist version, and we’re comparing two more text heavy versions. You can see the process in action if you go to HearFromYourMP and hit refresh a few times.

    Over time we’ll role this out to all of our sites and a never ending ‘winner stays on’ competition will start between different versions of important pages. Maybe we could even start taking bets? 🙂

  2. Two milestones

    Yesterday we passed our 10,000th subscriber to HearFromYourMP.com and a few weeks back we passed our 200th successful pledge on PledgeBank.com. Well done all!

  3. Ongoing gnuplot tutorial

    Next version, following more comments from Chris:

    I had a couple of problems with this. Firstly I couldn’t make the ytics have “lt 1” – they came out as black, whereas the plot line comes out as red. So I changed them to use “lt 2” and “lt 3” instead (green and blue).

    Secondly, the marker for “official launch” looks a bit nasty. The ilne gets jammed up against the vertical spike of the event. I think it might look better if it was layered on top of the spike on the section where they overlap exactly, but I’m not sure.

    Thirdly, what was the spike in late June? I completely can’t remember.

  4. A prettier graph

    After following nearly all of Chris’s advice, I’ve ended up with a much prettier graph.

    Ah gnuplot! Love of my life. Scourge of Excel. Well, OK, maybe I don’t feel exactly like that, but if you’re comfortable with the shell it’s much easier to make a graph than in Excel.

  5. And a graph…

    Since no day is complete without a graph.

    HearFromYourMP signups

    (As you can see I’ve been learning gnuplot, although I’m not as good as Chris yet. gnuplot is actually quite good.)

  6. Phew!

    It’s very quiet today. I’ve been updating the projects page now that HearFromYourMP is truly launched. This means we’ve built all the original launch projects, except GiveItAway (more about what is happening with that another time). And it’s over a year since mySociety began. I feel exhausted, and definitely need to take some holiday – I was going to go to Egypt last month, but moved house instead.

    This week was usability week. Or was that last week, I’ve got confused. Anyway, Tom made about a million tickets with little usability tweaks to all the sites. Most of these have been put in now, but there’s still lots to do. Good software is about polish polish polish polish, and more polish. I could spend another few years just polishing these sites without making any more.

    I’ve also been doing a bit of work on “cobranding”. An ugly marketing term, but there you go. We’ve had a Cheltenham version of WriteToThem for some time. As well as local government, we’re also looking at campaigns groups. So we’ve done a version for AnimalAid, which they’ll be using from their website soon. Apart from the logo and colours, cobranding has some benefits for the user. It’ll make them think they haven’t changed website, and be less disconcerting. In particular, it’ll take them back to other campaigns actions when they’re done.

  7. We launched HearFromYourMP.com

    Best comment so far:

    “Those terribly terribly clever mySociety chaps have been drinking their fortifyingly strong tea again. They’ve cogitated and coded, and come up with HearFromYourMP.com. Read the page – it’s so simple, one wonders how it can possibly be a new thing.

    Dashed clever. Bravo!”

    Thanks Jonathan! such things make us happy. And when we are happy, we build more cool stuff.

  8. HearFromYourMP.com

    Please give a warm welcome to our last major project of 2005 – HearFromYourMP.com. This one’s all about improving long term relationships between MPs and constituents by giving both an easy, trusted way of discussing local issues. For more info on how it works, see this explanation on the site, then stick down your details and get involved. Thanks must go not just to the ever hard-working developers, but also to the 8MPs who used the system whilst it was in testing.

    Next up: HearFromYour Other Representatives!

  9. Well, I’ve got a bit of time…

    …and I think I’ve ignored the last two or three “hassle”s I’ve received. 🙂

    Over the last few weeks, I have been working on improving PledgeBank’s translations – Welsh has gone live, Russian is coming along very well, and German and Spanish too – and using feedback from the translators to help make the translation .po files complete (making sure they even include strings used in our JavaScript, and adding any strings accidentally missed out). I’ve also been working on HearFromYourMP, which though currently live and with initial MP messages, is having its “launch” on Monday in the Houses of Parliament – quite exciting. So today I’m watching out for anything going wrong (we moved the site to a brand new server yesterday), tweaking the text and emails, adding some more features, and making sure everything is generally ship-shape.

  10. Working in Cambridge cafe CB2

    Lots of stuff happening here.

    Earlier in the week, I’ve been getting WriteToThem to update more of its data automaticaly. Two volunteers contributed useful screen scrapers. Richard George’s gathers data from the Welsh assembly, and Jonathan Hogg’s screen scrapes the Scottish Parliament. They both spit out CSV files with representatives, constituencies and contact emails/faxes. I’ve now updated the script that can load in those CSV files, and set it all running once a week on cron. Along with another London Assembly scraper Chris wrote earlier in the year, and some code to get MPs from parlpase.

    Today I’ve been doing other bits, including improving the link from WriteToThem to HearFromYourMP. When somebody has confirmed a message to be sent with WriteToThem, we know their email address is valid. So, why if they follow the link to HearFromYourMP do they have to confirm again? It’s bad user interface, and is probably reducing our signups to HearFromYourMP a bit.

    The fix is to pass a signed email address through from WTT, and check the signature on HFYMP. The magic of hashes and shared secrets does the job.