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Transparency Reports

Transparency Report of July 2020

This month the Facebook group was launched, there are more options for how to place print buttons, and I almost have a prototype of PMB Pro.

This is the 16th monthly report for Print My Blog (PMB) WordPress plugin.

What Happened in This Month

Again, a couple spikes in downloads this month corresponding to small releases.
Growth certainly waned this month while I’ve been trying to focus on the Pro version.

Business Stats

  • Hours:
    • 68.75 (+3.5) support
    • 90.25 (+4) marketing
    • 177.5 (+14.5) development
    • 32.5 (+1.4) management
  • Expenses: $12,975.41 (+906.15)
  • Donations: $472.03 USD (+85)

Plugin Stats

Overview of What’s New

The Details

Facebook Group Launched…

There have been 50 survey respondents (and about 100 email list subscribers) so it was time to create the private Facebook group.

Facebook let me pre-approve members by uploaded a CSV file with their email addresses in it. This saved me from needing to manually approve everyone, although I lost a bit of time because they had a bug that Facebook required the file to use extension .txt, even though their sample CSV file used the standard extension .csv. Also, getting a CSV list of the emails from MailChimp required a bit of custom coding with their export API. I also used MailChimp to email an invitation to the first 50 survey respondents, of which 26 joined.

I wasn’t sure what value the Facebook group would add beyond a mailing list, but it was recommended to me and felt right.

I asked new members to introduce themselves, and try to be active at least once a week, and they were very receptive.

About 15 members introduced themselves, which turned out to be enlightening and energizing for me. Among our ranks are professors, experienced book publishers, travel bloggers and other types of bloggers, a doctor (who’s in the throws of dealing with COVID-19), web developers and one organologist. Most want to take existing content and turn it into a book or magazine for their readers, and some just for their own records. Some of them seem to have gotten quite excited at the prospects of being so involved, as was expressed in this post by one of our members.

I do think we’re getting to know each other better than we would through just email. And because this group represents my target audience, it’s also makes business sense to get to know them and try my best to make them happy with PMB Pro.

Unfortunately, because I haven’t managed to make as much time for development of the Pro version as I’d like, there hasn’t been too much opportunity to discuss its development, which is where I’m especially hoping the group will be helpful.

…But Facebook’s Not For Everyone

Despite the great energy from the Facebook group, I got a few emails from survey respondents saying they weren’t interested in joining the Facebook group, but were happy to participate in other ways. In my original plan that meant they wouldn’t qualify for the free lifetime license, but I’m a bit softy, and totally understand that people have legitimate complaints against using Facebook (I’ve thought about removing my account too.)

So, I decided that the first 50 survey respondents could instead just be put on a separate email list, where I’d send me emails requesting feedback, so they could still participate in development.

Place Print Buttons Above, Below, in-Between, or Somewhere Totally Different

PMB 2.8.0 and 2.9.0 give you more control over placement of print buttons. There is a new setting to automatically place print buttons below post content, and a shortcode ['pmb_print_buttons] to place them anywhere inside the content, or even in a theme’s template for somewhere completely different.

For example, here I’m using the shortcode to place print buttons next:

Likewise, with a bit of coding, it’s pretty easy to add print buttons elsewhere on your page. Eg, here I added the print buttons next the “twentytwenty” theme’s menu.

I customized my theme to show print buttons in the very top-right, next to the search button.

How did I do that? I customized twentytwenty/header.php on line 166, just before the </div><!-- .header-toggles -->

echo do_shortcode('[pmb_print_buttons]');

and then I tidied up the look a bit with this custom CSS:

.header-navigation-wrapper .wp-block-button{
    margin:inherit;
}

Before this, you could only automatically place print buttons above the post content, which I thought would be the best spot for them, but there were quite a few requests to place them elsewhere. I had thought this might be a Pro feature, or that I might delay doing it until Pro was released, but I kinda gave in: it might be easier to just add the feature now, than keep disappointing people with explanations for why I hadn’t added it yet.

Smarter (and working) Image Resizing

PMB 2.9.0 attempted to improve how images are displayed, yet again.

PMB lets you automatically make images smaller in printouts, otherwise they usually take up the full page width, which can turn them ink-guzzling juggernauts. But it turns out there are so many different ways to add images (eg in Classic Editor with or without a caption; in Gutenberg with or without a caption; in galleries; in galleries from various plugins, etc) and they all produce different HTML markup, that this ended up being a bit difficult.

Sometime earlier I made a change that prevented PMB’s image resizing code from correctly resizing some images (thanks to user Maureen for pointing this out.) So it needed fixing.

I was previously trying to decide which images to resize based on their CSS classes. This ended up being pretty unruly, given all the variation.

So PMB 2.9.0 does is it instead by briefly rendering the image full-size, measures it (because browsers can’t figure out the image’s displayed size until it’s actually visible on the page), decides if it’s larger than the maximum size specified in the print settings, and, if so, resizes it to the maximum size. So if you specify you want “medium”-sized images (the default), any images larger than about a third of the page height get shrunken, whereas all smaller images get left alone.

From my testing it has quite good results. But if you have other suggestions, I’m open to hear about it!

Almost at Pro Version Prototype

I admit I haven’t made nearly as much progress on the Pro version as I’d like. I’m finding that by the time I’ve finished my currently-paying work for the day, the time is pretty well out (I say this as I’m typing this at 10:10pm).

But here’s what I have working so far:

  • under “Print My Blog” menu-item, added a sub-menu item “Projects”…
  • where you can add a new project or edit existing ones.
  • You can edit the project’s name, and choose which posts/pages/custom post types to include in it, and in what order.
  • When you click to generate the PDF, you’re taken to a loading page…
  • where the HTML file starts getting generated server-side
Most of what I have working for PMB Pro so far. And just to make the point that it’s totally a work-in-progress: this GIF ends with me getting a fatal error! (Don’t worry, I’ll get that fixed soon.)

So right now it’s not even usable. But it’s getting close to that. Granted, having it be “useful” is much further away!

Next up:

  • when the file is done generating server-side, you’ll be given the option to send it to DocRaptor for conversion into a PDF, or view the generated PDF directly (this will probably mostly be useful for debugging, of which I’m confident there will be lots!)
  • adding filters onto the project page, so you could select all posts from a specific category, date range, author, etc.
  • adding a table of contents

And then I think it will be ready for an initial test, and me and the “Founding Members” will talk about what we need next.

Thinking Out Loud

Slowdown in Growth

There were 110 new active installs this month, which is around half of the recent average. Why would that be? I have some theories:

  • Usually I publish a post explaining how to use a new feature or how to apply PMB in some new way during the month, which attracts a few readers and probably a few new users. This month I just had a small mid-month update on development which didn’t do as much for marketing.
  • Over the 6 previous months I was pretty involved on Reddit and Quora, answering questions, especially ones that related to PMB. That certainly did bring in a few new users (my site’s analytics showed their referral source, and a few support users specifically mentioned my Quora answer). But these past two months I haven’t been on it as much, which reduced new users from that source.
  • I haven’t been very focused on building the user-base of the free version until the Pro version is for sale. If this is becoming a business, there’s not much point in having the sales funnel lead nowhere!

Once the Pro version is launched, I have quite a few ideas for marketing. So I hope to turn that around, but currently, fewer new users of the free version is almost helpful as it reduces the time spent in support.

Launching a Product In Your Spare Time is Hard

I’ve been finding it hard to find the time to get going on the Pro version, which is a bit frustrating. I’m doing contract work for Shareaholic and Pacific Rim Early Childhood Institute, then helping take care of the pigs and plants on our hobby farm, then help take care of our little family, and by the time that’s up there’s not much time, or mental energy, left. It’s been about enough to add the odd feature to the free version of PMB, but launching the Pro version (which has basically become a version 3.0) is much more of a struggle.

I can better understand now why folks who want to launch a new business often quit their day jobs to start their new business, rather than just quitting later once their new business is doing well. It feels like the time and energy required to get started is greater than what’s needed to just maintain it.

Better Get Back at It!

That’s it for this month’s update. I haven’t forgotten my original plan and schedule for release of PMB Pro, but so far I haven’t managed to keep up with it. I was hoping to have a workable beta version of it by now, but all I really have is some experimental code. Ah well.

My life has been rich because it has been filled with problems to solve and associations to savor.

Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing for Something

Got any thoughts on the above? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

4 replies on “Transparency Report of July 2020”

As always, very thoughtful transparency report. Thanks for the indirect acknowledgement of my enthusiastic endorsement of your efforts.
Don’t get unnecessarily discouraged in these unpredictable times. I think you are doing an excellent job, at a realistic pace, on a potentially very impactful major plugin improvement.

Sorry I have not been holding ip my end of “the bargain” lately. My best canine friend got hit by a train and I am still working through his absence.
DS

Still alive, but not sure how long. I’m interested in being a founding member of the pro version, I don’t want to die before it’s done. Americans are playing Russian Roulette with this virus and if I get it, I’m gone. You are in an adult society, and if I had my druthers I be in Canada too. I’m stuck here. Let me know when you get the Pro version. In the meantime I’m consolidating posts and writing new ones. I just updated your plugin, so I’ll try to see what you added. Keep healthy Mike, and may God bless you and your family.

Hi Don! I’m glad to hear you’re doing ok… I admit I was a little worried to ask with all this COVID going around.

I’m right about to do a monthly update, including progress on the pro version. But the gist is this: it’s at a proof-of-concept stage where parts of it look useful (eg you can add posts and pages, have a table of contents, and replace hyperlinks with footnotes and page references) but it’s missing quite a lot of essential features and is likely to change significantly, so I wouldn’t recommend using it on a live site. I’ll share some videos in the upcoming post.

And I think you already signed up for the pro list, but I don’t think you filled out the survey (which isn’t as important now, I’ve gotten enough responses to see some patterns). So you’re on the list to be notified when it’s ready for early release and to get a discount (actually I’ll probably have a friends-and-early-contributors discount too). I hope to have it at a “BETA” level in the coming month… Take care for now Don.

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