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I first met Peter Harkins in person at Barcamp Chicago in the Summer of 2006. As I’ve gotten to know him, he knows far more than just coding, as he appreciates and participates constructively in conversations about business strategy and monetization. It’s a winning combination.
The response has been incredible to the Sociable plugin, so you’ve been slammed with inquiries…
Peter: I’ve gotten dozens of mails about Sociable in the last week, from sites wanting to be included, users testing it out in unusual situations and last-minute feature requests. I’ve promised to get 2.0 out by Midnight February 1, so it’s been a race to the wire to get in new features.
Peter: I’ve added 26 sites at last count in this version. Just this morning a Hungarian programmer sent me at least a few more, so I may have as many as 60 sites in the next version.
You’ve add new language translations with this version, that is exciting…
Peter: Yes. It looks like this version will have support for Spanish, Czech, Italian, German and French with more to come. Before 2.0, interested users were just picking it up, translating it, and offering it for download on their blogs. It was a bit frustrating to track bug fixes between different branches of Sociable. Now we’ll have a unified project to share resources and drive development faster, I want to have releases at least every other month in 2007.
You keep the installation and interface pretty simple…
Peter: Deliberately, so, yes. As a programmer, it’s really easy to think of the UI as “that last bit I have to add so people can use my beautiful code” instead of what it truly is: the most important part of the application. So I spent a lot of time making sure that you can install Sociable just by unzipping and uploading it, rather than try to provide complicated install instructions. I spent time on a feature most people never see: when you install Sociable, it checks a manifest of files to make sure it was uploaded right, and it tells you what files go where if it’s not perfect. It provides help right when you need it most, and plainly enough that you understand it.
Peter: The drag-and-drop in the admin interface is just a delight to use, and deliberately so. I want blog owners to feel safe playing around with the different options to see what works on their site. So I’ve spent most of my time on making the UI really nice as well as fixing up the insides.
So you also reprogrammed the internals of the Sociable application for future development and expansion beyond WordPress?
Peter: I want to start porting Sociable over to work on other blog engines like TypePad, Movable Type, Mephisto, and more. So I’ve cleaned up the internals of 2.0, laying the groundwork for 2.1 or 2.2 to support more engines. It’s also going to start doing a little stat reporting when it checks for updates. I know there are roughly 10,000 blogs out there using it, but I’d like to know more exactly and maybe cross-reference to traffic rating services to find out what kind of positive effect it has.
You have an alert system for updating?
Peter: Yes, Sociable checks for new versions when folks view the admin console and notifies the blog owner to go download it. Without it there’d still be people using Sociable 1.2 in five years, hopefully with it everyone will be upgraded in a month or two.
In the past you mentioned that there are three different types of users of Sociable…
Peter: First up, there’s beginning bloggers. They’ve just started a blog, and they’ve got stars in their eyes of being the next BoingBoing or something. Sociable is a tool they’ll use to get the word out about their new blogs, and I’m really glad to help out. As much trouble as some have had spelling “Sociable”, it’s been most rewarding to talk to them because they’re new to blogging and are so happy to be able to easily drop in Sociable.
Peter: Then there are the established bloggers. They’ve got an audience and they want to start leveraging it. Sociable makes it easy for their audience to start getting the word out and growing the blog. I get most of my feature requests from this group, and they’re the people who send me the code to add their favorite bookmarking site.
Peter: I get a lot of links from the SEO crowd, who really put the word out about Sociable. They’ve found Sociable to be a useful tool, so they turn around and install it for their clients. Oddly they’re group I hear the least from, they almost never mail me. But they’ll be the most unusual mails sometimes.
So how are the SEO emails unusual?
Peter: I’ve gotten a really bizarre feature requests like – “You should make Sociable automatically submit each blog post to every bookmarking site! And then vote it up!” – or other crazy schemes! It’s frustrating, Sociable is a tool to help blog owners by reminding readers to bookmark good content. “Sociable should make other blogs using Sociable link to mine with the link text I fill in!” Ugh! I should mention that this is a tiny minority of the SEO folks, I’ve only gotten a half-dozen “Help me spam!” mails.
Sounds like we could monetize a Sociable SEO Pro version together?
Peter: There are definitely a few customers waiting, but I’ve got plenty of other projects ahead of it.
Peter: I just recently launched NearbyGamers, a social site for tabletop gamers to find other folks to play card, board, and role-playing games with. It’s been a real blast, but my to do list is as long as my arm so it’s eating up my free time. And I’ve been trying to keep updating my own blog with web coding tips but it’s easy to slip out of the habit.
Sociable has created great networking for you. What are some of the better stories?
Peter: I ended up doing CrunchBoard for TechCrunch because I met a guy via a guy via a guy who used Sociable, and that was a real fun project.
What are some of the underused or misunderstood features of the tool?
Peter: One minor frustration has been writing CSS for Sociable that can deal with all the odd things different blog themes do. I’ve had dozens of people mail me asking (sometimes quite forcefully) why Sociable doesn’t look right on their blog, and so far none have thought it’s their own site doing it.
What else should the people know about Peter Harkins?
Peter: You should never ask him to sing anything…
Good luck with the release Peter!