As of yesterday anyone newly signing up for our hosted beta test is met with a simple walk-through, letting them go from signup to published email-for-download or digital purchase page in under five minutes.
We’re the first to admit that what we’ve built so far can be hard to use. It’s an ambitious idea and the technology is primarily being built by a single person. The current version of the admin app was built to put an interface on much of the code that lies beneath. We’re currently reworking the admin to give a better user experience — all the power in the platform now, but centered around the people using it rather than the code on which it’s built.
This new simple mode walk-through is a bridge from what we’ve got now to where we want to be. It lets anyone quickly set up and customize a new page, with full advanced mode just a click away.
Give it a try by signing up for a beta account today — and current users can try it out just by visiting the system settings page.
PS: Please remember this is part of our beta test. We want to hear about your experiences, so please let us know what you think. The examples in simple mode rely on your Google Drive for file hosting, but switching to advanced mode lets you use Amazon S3 for higher traffic and make further customizations to your page or embeds.
We’re jumping on a plane to SXSW tomorrow, but first I wanted to show a little of what we’ve been working on. Meet “simple mode” — a new way to introduce people to the CASH Music platform. It’s a first step towards making things easier for everyone.
The video above shows someone going from first-time sign-in to fully published email-for-download campaign in under two minutes. We’re polishing a few things, but it should be part of the hosted beta some time next week.
We’re ready to announce the next phase of our mission: EDUCATION.
The long term goal of CASH Music is not just to build open source tools for artists, but also teach them how to use these tools, help them navigate the ever-changing music business, and create a community of like minded thinkers and do-ers.
We’ve been very focused on development of the platform for a long time - our road map is comprehensive and most of it is still being built by a single person. Now that we’ve launched the hosted beta platform we’re especially focused on making everything easier to use, adding more help docs, and finishing up key functionality that artists really need. In light of this transition it seems like the perfect time to announce that we will be launching an educational component to CASH later this year.
We envision our educational curriculum to be in the same spirit as everything we do around here: open, collaborative, ambitious, and hopefully game-changing. We intend to tackle topics like copyright, publishing, digital and physical distribution, online tools (ours and others), publicity, royalty statements, records labels, touring, crowdfunding, radio, policy issues, and so much more. These modules will be in the form of blog posts, video hangouts, white papers, conferences, etc.
So our hosted beta has been up for a few weeks now, and we’ve been collecting feedback, fixing bugs, and shuffling our development plans accordingly. So far the feedback has been really useful, especially one major theme:
“I like where you’re headed with this, but it’s not there yet. It needs to be easier to use.”
We totally agree.
So we’re currently working on three different things to make the experience better, starting with the things the platform currently does well before we transition into new features and connections:
We’re overhauling the writing in the platform itself. This means introducing better general instructions, revamping and adding new help text, and getting it all ready for translation and multiple language support.
We’ve updated the front-end code in the admin so it works nicely on mobile phones — this was step one in a process of reworking the actual pages themselves so they’re based on how people use them more than how the code works.
We’re building an all new “simple mode” for new users so no one feels thrown into the deep end. You can see early mock-ups here.
For the curious, the mobile-friendly changes were pushed live to the beta site this weekend. You can see them just by playing with your admin dashboard. (Sign up here.) For the lazy, here’s a short video showing the differences as we shift the admin from desktop to mobile mode:
We built this using Zurb’s amazing Foundation framework. Foundation is a great front-end tool that standardizes how we deal with layout from desktop to mobile — responsive design means we write the forms once and the framework adapts them to fit the screen they’re on. Foundation has been so flexible and easy to work with that we’re going all-in. We’ll soon be using it for our email templates and even for default page and embed templates.
Moving to Foundation was the first step in all of this. We weren’t going to make a big deal of it all, but to be frank: the responsive phone stuff is just neat. It also serves as a great starting point in a larger conversation about usability. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the simple mode stuff. We’re trying to find the right balance between “easy” and “powerful” and it felt like the right way to go.
Today we’re opening up the hosted version of our platform to public testing. It’s exciting. And terrifying. There are things we’re still working on, changes to be made, and almost no documentation. But the simple truth is that it works really well for some things, so we figured it was better to share early.
Your feedback might bring new ideas to the surface or reflect some of the changes we’re planning to make. Either way, we’d rather have people using it than not, and it’s time for us to build a real community around this effort. What better way than to open it up to people?
In the coming weeks we’ll be writing more, making changes, and adding demos. We’re planning on turning the beta version into the first full version over time — you just get early access. And if you’re wondering: it’s free now, it’ll be free then, and it’ll remain free forever.
Any financial transactions happen in your accounts (Paypal, etc) and we don’t touch a penny. And this version of the platform is the same as the downloadable version — 100% open source so it’s also free in that sense, too. We want to make something lasting.
So sign up for a test account. Join the community. Play around. Help us build something great.
The whole idea for the platform is that you bring your accounts, connect them, and use what you already have to make what you need. So connect your Paypal account and your S3 account and sell a download. Connect your MailChimp and your Google Drive: email for download. We provide the workflow, a page you can publish, and an easy (and customizable) HTML5 embed code so you can make it live anywhere.
Right now the platform does a good job with digital sales, download codes, email collection and email for download promo, downloads via login, and some fun with social networking. We’ll be documenting all that stuff and providing demos in the coming weeks.
As with anything in a testing phase there are caveats:
We’ll be doing a lot of work on the interface and user experience. The current organization is fixed, but there’s a lot of redundancy in the interface, some confusing terminology, and a lot of pointy bits we’d like to smooth out, especially on mobile.
Help docs and walkthrough. You’ll see a help link on every page and an FAQ. Neither of these things is comprehensive, and improving that experience is critical. We’re also working on a quick introduction to the platform for new users. You all are just being thrown in the deep end, but we really want to help you swim.
It’s still a little “you need a friend who knows HTML” heavy. We include default templates, but to really publish a page or customize HTML5 embeds you’ll need a little code. That’s not the long-term vision, just the right-now reality.
Venues. Okay. This is going to sound a little silly. But at the moment we’re all working with a single pool of venues in the calendar. Add a venue and everyone sees it. Edit a venue and it changes for everyone, like Wikipedia. Long-term we’ll change this so everyone gets access to a central source of data and you’ll be able to add venues that are just yours. But for now, it takes a village.
The final caveat is that I’m probably forgetting about a half-dozen caveats. If you run into something you think is trouble just let us know and we’ll look into it. We want your feedback. Drop a line at help.cashmusic.org or check out our github account.
There’s a whole lot more coming soon. Hopefully this test gives you the shape of things to come. If you want to help us, just use it. Tell us what you think. Tell a friend. We feel an open tool like this is vital for artists, and we need you to help us finish it.