Weekly Upgrade: Secure Forms and Purchase Confirmation

After today's upgrade, you'll notice that our secure forms (like our sign-in and payment pages) now prominently display a lock and the word SECURE in the upper right corner. It looks like this:

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Remember, these are the pages that perform encrypted communication between you and our servers over HTTPS.

We've also been working on the last of the payment related pages for subscriptions - like this final confirmation page:

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Just a few more items to go before we open things up to the public in the new year.

Enjoy the holidays!


Weekly Upgrade: HTTPS Deployed, Twitter Facelift, Wish List How-To

We continued working on subscription support last week and most of the stuff is pretty under-the-hood or still in the early design-phase.

But here are a few visible items:

HTTPS on our Production Site

We deployed the HTTPS work that we talked about last week on our production site today. The most obvious place you can see this is on our sign-in page. Here's what it looks like in the Google Chrome browser when you click on the lock to the right of an https URL:

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Twitter Facelift

Lea gave our Twitter background a nice facelift to match our brand appropriately. Here's what it looks like:

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Come follow us!

Wish List How-To

We posted step-by-step screen shots for creating a Wish list on FamZoo and sharing it with other family members.

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Works great for holidays and birthdays - check it out.


Weekly Upgrade: Secure Payment and 57 FamZoo Fans

We took a little break from our weekly deployments last (Thanksgiving) week, but we're back in action this week and continuing work on our subscription support.

Secure Payment

We'll be supporting two payment methods for subscription billing: PayPal or major credit card. In the first case, we'll redirect you to a secure PayPal page where you'll sign in to make the purchase. In the second case, you can enter your major credit card info directly without having to create a PayPal account. The form looks like this:

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To keep your information safe, we transmit it over the Internet securely using HTTPS (another thing we got working this week). We don't actually store your credit card info on our site either; instead, we pass it along to PayPal for safekeeping. These guys are about as focused on security as you can get, so we're happy to hand over the responsibility to them.

57 FamZoo Fans

Thank you for becoming our fans on Facebook! With the extra fans, Facebook let us upgrade our fan page URL from our original unwieldy one to the short and sweet facebook.com/famzoo

Stop by our fan page and tell us what's on your mind (err, umm, with respect to FamZoo that is ;-)


Quick Family Project: Make Holiday Cards for the Troops

Last Thanksgiving, we started a family tradition that feels really good and is most certainly appreciated by the recipients: making hand-crafted holiday cards for the troops.

At the end of our Thanksgiving festivities, we gather the extended family, sit down together for an hour or so, and make cards by hand with a holiday drawing on the front and an appreciative message inside. This is one of those thoughtful, hands-on exercises that works well for family members of all ages. You can see this year's batch of cards at right.

We send the cards along to an organization like Operation Holiday Card who, in turn, routes them to our troops. Here's a wonderful picture from their site:

Look at those smiles.

There are many such organizations, so you may want to Google around and find one that works for you. Check their deadlines carefully: for example, Operation Holiday Card must receive the cards from you by Dec 2.

Some organizations send along gift boxes as well in which items are selected from a vetted list. That's what we did last year. This can be a great way for kids using FamZoo to deploy the balances they have built up in their charitable accounts. When the kids buy charitable items with their own funds, it makes the experience that much more meaningful for them.


Weekly Upgrade: Cheaper Than A Couple Lattes and Better For You

This week, we started working on the form pages that will be filled in when free trial families convert to a paid subscription. (Remember, our Charter Families don't need to worry about this, but we welcome your feedback on design and pricing - see below.)

Subscribe to FamZoo Form

When a free trial member clicks on the Subscribe Now link, they'll see the following initial form:

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As you can see on the screen shot above, we've settled on a subscription price of $5.99 per month per family. For a family of four, that works out to around $1.50 a month per member. It's cheap, but it isn't free, which is what a lot of folks have come to expect on the Internet. A free approach would require us to plaster the site with a bunch of ads and affiliate links. As we alluded to earlier, encouraging a bunch of impulse buying to fuel our business just isn't consistent with teaching kids how to moderate their spending. We'd rather cater to a smaller audience of paying customers and stay true to our mission. We will be providing a generous free trial period so families can adequately assess the value before committing. And, we'll make it easy to cancel at any time.

We welcome your thoughts and opinions...


One of the minor things we fixed this week was the ability to just hit Enter on your keyboard to add an item to a checklist (instead of having to use the mouse to click on the Add Item button - which you can still do). You can see an example of the dialog we're talking about here:

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Yeah, it's minor, but sometimes it's the little things that make all the difference.

Oh, and now is a great time to create your Holiday Wish list (like the one above) and share it with the family. You can even set it up to send a text message to the rest of the family whenever you add an item - just for that little extra prodding!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

P.S. Do you like FamZoo? Show us some love by becoming a fan on our facebook page.


Weekly Upgrade: Payment History, Angry Mom

We continued to work on our subscription and coupon support over the last week. Here are a couple of the highlights in today's upgrade:

Payment History Page

Parents can now see a list of recent monthly payments under our new "Store" tab (this tab is not shown for children). The upper section of the page shows any coupons you have redeemed and how many free months remain on each. The lower section shows your payments starting with the most recent month. The list of payments includes entries for free months that are "paid for" with a coupon. The page is still a work-in-progress, but this is what the first cut looks like:

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Expired Free Trials and the Angry Mom

Ok, so we had a little fun with the grace period that we support between the end of the free trial and the decommissioning of a family's account. One of Henry's cartoons that always gives me a chuckle is his "Angry Mom Tiger". So, to grab attention and have a little fun, we tossed her into the design of the upper page stripe for parents whose free trial has expired. Here's what it looks like:

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Yeah, we're working on Henry to supply us with an Angry Dad too!


Weekly Upgrade: Subscriptions, Coupons, Facebook

It was another "under-the-hood" week for FamZoo, so you won't (or shouldn't!) see any visible changes after today's upgrade.

Subscription and Coupon Work In Progress

Last week, we made more progress on billing and payment integration with Paypal as well as the mechanics of redeeming coupons and supporting free trial periods for new subscribers.

For example, here's something you should not see as Charter Members when you sign back into FamZoo since you have "magic" unlimited coupons:

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If you do see the subscription stripe across the top of your page, please contact us! (It means that your unlimited coupon has not been automatically redeemed properly and we'll fix it.)

Become a FamZoo Fan on Facebook

Come visit our page on Facebook and become a FamZoo fan to help us spread the word!


Weekly Upgrade: Meet Henry, Tweet Us, Paypal

There aren't many visible changes in the upgrade this afternoon (Monday, November 2nd) because we've been spending much of our time on behind-the-scenes work for supporting subscriptions and coupons.

Here's the quick rundown:

Meet the FamZoo Cartoonist: Henry Payne

You've seen his wonderful drawings all over our site, but we finally got around to adding an entry for Henry Payne on our Team page in the About section. Here it is:

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Some New Product and Charitable Recommendations

You've probably noticed that we show recommendations for family-friendly products as well as charitable organizations in the right hand sidebar of our site's pages. When you buy a product after clicking through one of these links on our site, FamZoo receives a small percentage of the revenue. This is known as affiliate marketing and is one of the revenue models that we're experimenting with. Right now, we just have a few products that Chris and I have recommended for testing purposes. We just added a couple more this week for some favorite books as well as two charitable "ads" for DonorsChoose and NothingButNets.

Ultimately, if we decide to pursue this model, we'll open things up for any member to nominate products that we will display at our discretion. We'll also allow members to comment and vote on products appearing on the site. Unpopular products (as judged by our members) would be dropped from the site.

All that said, we really have no intention of gumming up the site with a bunch of random advertising. That just wouldn't be in keeping with our mission of promoting sensible spending habits. So, our overwhelming preference is to buck the Internet trend and rely on modest subscription fees to build a viable business.

Subscriptions Via Paypal

We've decided to go with Paypal for handling subscription payments and have begun writing the underlying code to integrate with their services. We'll be working on the plumbing first and the screens will follow in the next few weeks.

Follow Us on Twitter

We set up a twitter account for FamZoo last week. We'll "tweet" short updates about the site there. In the near future, we'll also announce coupons and other special offers there too. Feel free to "tweet" us whenever the spirit moves you! Come follow us at: http://twitter.com/famzoo


Weekly Upgrade: More Avatars, Better Descriptions and Memos

Here are the highlights of the upgrade coming this afternoon (Tuesday, October 27):

New Batch of Avatars from Henry

Our artist, Henry Payne, sent us 12 new avatars this week, and we've added them to the gallery. Click on the Family tab and then click on an avatar next to a family member to bring up the avatar gallery. Here's what you'll see:

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Better Descriptions and Memos for FamZoo Generated Credits and Debits

Steve K mentioned that our descriptions for credits and debits created by Checklist items were pretty cryptic (thanks for passing your comments along, Steve). An example:

 Automatic debit for checked off item: "Did not make bed"

The term "automatic debit" just doesn't feel right. It's also easily confused with the Automatic Debits that you can set up for recurring charges like cell phone insurance or World of Warcraft subscriptions.

Along the way, we also cleaned up the descriptions and memos for allowance payments, interest payments, and automatic debits. Here's a screenshot that highlights the new wording:

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Doh! Cryptic Message When Try to Create First Checklist

If you tried to create your first Checklist from the "click here" message in the Checklists summary section, you may have been rudely greeted by an error page like this:

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Sorry about that! We've fixed this now (thank you for the bug report Paul E).

Miscellaneous Stuff

This week's miscellaneous items in the upgrade include:

  • Backdating of allowance, interest, and auto debit payments when first creating them (or when editing them prior to first issuance). This can get a little confusing, so I'm not sure I'd recommend it, but it's at least possible now.
  • More top secret security work behind the scenes. We could tell you about it, but we'd have to kill you...
Other stuff we're working on that will be apparent over time:
  • Decision making and design work for our subscription model including support for coupons and gift certificates for "N months free". Not to worry, Charter Families will be automatically credited with a coupon for an "infinite" number of months free. We appreciate your ongoing help.
  • Production hosting planning. Before we open the doors to the general public, we'll be beefing up our site's servers to help insure consistent performance as the number of families increases.


Weekly Upgrade Details: Behind the Design, See It Your Way, Top Secret Stuff

Here's a list of the key items in our weekly upgrade coming this afternoon Monday, October 19th:

Meet the FamZoo Visual Designer: Lea Alcantara

When we first posted about the release of our new UI, we mentioned that the driving talent behind our clean, friendly new look was designer Lea Alcantara. This week, we formalized the giving of credit-where-credit-is-due with a new entry to our Team page in our About section. Here's what it looks like:

How Do I Change the Number of Transactions Displayed on Each Page?

Steve K told us that he would like to see a lot more transactions at a time when reviewing the credit and debit history in an account on the "Transactions" page. Moving 10 at a time though a large number of transactions is just too darn tedious (thanks for the feedback Steve). On the flip side, when demo'ing FamZoo on my tiny laptop, I needed to display fewer transactions on each page so that our pagination controls would be clearly visible without having to scoll down in my browser.

So, to address both ends of the spectrum, we have added a slider control in the left hand sidebar beneath the ACTIONS section that lets you change the number of transactions displayed at a time. You can pick any value between 5 and 100 by dragging the little arrow indicator with your mouse. We remember the last setting you pick, so it will stay that way the next time you sign in. To see what it looks like, check out the lower left corner of this screenshot:

Keeping Your Family's Info Private

We did some more behind-the-scenes testing work to verify that nobody but members of your own family can see your FamZoo web pages. This involves nerdy stuff like making sure we prevent URL hacking by malicious geeks out there. Yeah, not that exciting, but really, really important. You can hit the snooze button now...

Miscellaneous Stuff

A couple of other little items:

  • Kids without an email address can now send us bug reports and feedback using the CONTACT US link at the top of the page. Yes, kids opinions matter too! We'll respond to the email address of the registering parent of the child's family.
  • You can now unset a family member's email address by setting it to a blank value (caveat: the registering parent must maintain a valid email address). See the SETTINGS link on the "Family" tab to edit member settings like email address, member name, password, etc.

As always, feel free to contact us with your feedback, suggestions, bug reports and what-not any time via our Contact Us page.


FamZoo Upgrade Details for Monday, October 12

We just performed a minor upgrade on FamZoo today which includes a few bug fixes, some changes based on Charter Family feedback (thank you and keep it coming!), and a little behind-the-curtain stuff that only engineers could love and appreciate.

We plan to do this weekly leading up to our public debut.

Here are some of the details of the changes:

A Little More "Pop" on The Overview Page

The original colors on the Overview page made the section titles difficult to read when not hovering over them with the mouse and gave the whole page a bit of a "washed out" look (thanks for the feedback Selina).

Here's what it looked like before:

And, here's what it looks like now:

Where Do I Sign Out? How Do I Contact FamZoo?

Several members remarked about not being able to find the Sign Out link. We've put it in the obvious place now (the upper right corner of the page), so you don't have to go hunting for it. We also added a Contact Us link right next to it and made some minor labeling changes in the upper navigation links for clarity.

Here's what it looks like:

What's With the Tab Labels?

Our tab labels would get messed up every once in a while - like this:

Sorry, we fixed that.

A Few More Words of Wisdom

We added a few more classic mottos to our gallery from the likes of Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin.

Note: We'll add some more avatars in the next week or so (thanks for the detailed suggestions there Steve).

How Do I Get At My Family Mottos?

We suggested you add some family mottos from the Family tab in one of our recent emails, but there aren't many clues in the UI about how to do that (thanks for the feedback Selina). We added an entry in our "How Do I...?" popup for that:

Other Stuff

Some other little stuff:

  • Changed terminology when editing/deleting recurring checklist items to use "future" instead of "later" (thanks for the feedback Steve)
  • Fixed a 1 pixel alignment problem with the rightmost tab that was really bugging us
  • Fixed some alignment issues with how checklist item details are displayed
  • Reimplemented the upper logo and top margin graphic to make things look better when images load up slowly. Similar fix for avatars in the right sidebar.
  • Did some behind-the-curtain work to further automate the deployment of our upgrades

Keep Those Suggestions Coming

Thanks for all your suggestions so far. We'll keep inserting them into our development queue and work them into the product as soon as we can.


Big Day for FamZoo

OK, it's been a really, really long time since I've posted a progress report on FamZoo. In fact, the last update was over two years ago (yikes!) when Chris joined the effort.

For that entire time, Chris and I have been in heads-down mode cranking out the the new UI for the product and integrating feedback from our 80+ Charter Family members (thank you all). And, yes, I know that violates all of the conventional Internet wisdom on releasing whatever you've got as soon as you can to the broadest possible audience. Ooopsie.

Well, that's all water under the bridge.

Today (Monday), we released the new UI to our Charter Families.

Thanks to the wonderfully clean design work of Lea Alcantara and the engaging illustrations of Henry Payne, the new face of FamZoo really shines.

You can see screen shots here.

What's next? We're going to let the Charter Families give it a workout, add some revenue related capabilities (umm, yes, you read that correctly), and finally release it to the general public.

Can't wait.


It's As Easy As Riding A Bike...Or Not!

End of summer edit from Taylor Dwight on Vimeo.

My oldest son shows off his riding chops. Nice!


EtherPad: A Neat Tool for Collaborative Writing

I recently stumbled upon a really terrific web-based tool for collaborative writing. It's called EtherPad. I find it to be particularly well suited for cases in which two or more people need to agree on a stretch of text or a small document. Chris and I just started using it for refining the snippets of text that appear throughout the FamZoo user interface. I can see where it would be fantastic for all kinds of writing situations - technical or otherwise.

I love simple, focused, useful tools like this. Kudos to the folks at EtherPad.

Check it out.


Are Your Kids Active Online?

If so, here is a nice short post by Seth Godin that makes for some excellent family dinner table reading and conversation. Kids (and some parents) really need to wrap their heads around the consequences of a permanent digital record...


Getting Personal with 42 Billion Dollars (or lack thereof...)

Thought this was really cool. A buddy (thanks Chris) sent me a link to this little calculator published by the Sacramento Bee. It shows the estimated personal impact of the proposed California budget package. (Those are the default values in there on the right - pop in your own to see your personal story).

OK, the results of the calculation are not cool, but the idea of making the impact of obscure legislation available to the general public in real time in an interactive/personal fashion is a great use of the Internet.

Man, I knew we shouldn't have had all thosee kids - ouch!


Ode to Troublemakers

As part of an extended family project, I have been helping my Uncle Bob, a (semi) retired reverend, put his sermons on-line. In honor of Martin Luther King day and the inauguration tomorrow, he wrote and delivered one this weekend entitled "Ode to Troublemakers". Wonderful food for thought - check it out.

If you are like me (or not!), I suspect you will enjoy reading his other pieces as well. He has a delightful, casual, witty style - not your usual intimidating sermons. His messages are very accessible and relevant even to folks like me who are not, err, ummm, shall we say "regular" church goers...