Making Your Users Happy: The Business Tools We Use

Every company has its own processes, numerous little cogs that work together to give a more or less smooth user experience. When one little cog doesn’t work, it’s like having a stone in your shoe; only tiny but incredibly annoying. Over the past two years, we have tried to refine the processes we use to keep Alfred users as happy as possible, whether they use the core version or the Powerpack.

When a few fellow small business founders asked me what tools we used when we were at South by Southwest Interactive earlier this month, I thought I should share more widely some of our favourite ones, in the hope that they can help others keep a happy community.

Cachefly

While we also use the Mac App Store for distribution, a large number of users choose to get Alfred directly from our website. With hundreds of thousands of downloads for every release, we needed a fast, solid delivery network we could trust to always be available when you needed your Alfred fix. This is where Cachefly came in.

The download comes in lightning fast so don’t blink or you’ll miss it! :D

Campaign Monitor

There are a few tools that, once discovered, stay with you for a lifetime. Campaign Monitor is one of those; it’s an email marketing platform that allows you to send newsletters to your ever-so-precious list of customers. Their templates system make your life easy from one send to the next, and the support is friendly and second-to-none.

It’s super simple to add a signup box to your site (like the Alfred newsletter one here) and the process of sending a newsletter couldn’t be more straightforward.

Campaign Monitor have recently launched the Worldview feature, which allows you to see in real-time when your emails are opened. Inevitably, it makes me look like a complete lunatic as I say “Hi Stig! Oh hello Paul!” to my screen as I see Alfred users opening our newsletters. (Just think of me next time an Alfred newsletter lands in your inbox!) Every time, it’s a pleasure to use and pretty affordable for small businesses.

FoxyCart

Those who bought the Powerpack in the early days will remember that we used Google Checkout as our payment process. It was straightforward to set up but the user experience was… not brilliant. Google Checkout customer service was non-existent so if we or a user had issue, Google wasn’t there to help us resolve it as quickly as we like to.

A few months ago, we switched to FoxyCart, an e-commerce platform that was recommended to us by a few Alfred users. With a little bit of customisation, the Powerpack purchase process was fully branded in lovely Alfred colours and ready to be rolled out. We could now offer credit card and PayPal options to make buying the Powerpack a pleasant experience. The platform has been rock solid from day one so, conversion has increased and we’ve received many compliments on the friendlier process.

Twitter app

Every day, we receive dozens of tweets from you and we love reading each and every one. Andrew also tries to reply to as many of you chatty tweeters as possible.

Originally, we used Cotweet, a very useful if slightly hiccupy platform for responding to and archiving tweets. Unfortunately, a few months ago, Cotweet became a paid-only product with a high price tag, so we looked for alternatives. After experimenting with various apps, believe it or not, Andrew settled for the official Twitter app for Mac. This wouldn’t be suitable for larger teams where many people tweet, or for fancy tasks like setting posts to publish automatically later, but we use Twitter to talk to you so the simplicity suits us just fine!

On iOS, we both use Tweetbot for iPhone and iPad, which has the most pleasant UI out of the flurry of iOS Twitter apps out there.

WordPress

WordPress needs no introduction these days, but we fly their flag high and proud. It’s nice and simple to use, the WordPress.com hosted platform is stable and fast, and it’s a tried and tested solution. Through the highest peaks of traffic we’ve had, it’s never let us down so we can sleep easy.

Tumblr

Andrew picked Tumblr for his Alfred development blog, and so did Anna for the Alfred tips one. Tumblr is quick to publish to, and a lightweight solution when you just want to get those tips out there!

Wikidot

One of the most important assets for an app as flexible and complex as Alfred is a good knowledge base and FAQ. Around a year ago, we moved to Wikidot, a wiki platform, for our help site. The objective was to make it as easy as possible to add new knowledge base items and edit them, to keep them up to date.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be 100% satisfied with the way we handle FAQs. I’ll keep adding and refining content every day, but this platform makes it easier!

Get Satisfaction

One thing we’ve learned in the past two years is that Alfred users are tinkerers with a lot of ideas. From creating custom themes to sharing their own extensions, it made sense to have a user-to-user forum for swapping those ideas and tweaking extensions to make them just perfect.

Get Satisfaction is a quirky little support forum, which allows us to see the level of interest for certain features, and publicly help groups of users. Of course, it’s no guarantee that a feature will be implemented, but it’s a nice way to gauge interest and a great place for users to share their own extensions.

Ultimately, it’s about more than the tools…

You can have the best running shoes in the world, but if you don’t put them on, the miles won’t run themselves.

It takes motivation, passion and a whole lot of stamina to give your users a good experience . No matter how good the tools are, you’ve got to wake up in the morning with a smile on your face and a willingness to do everything you do as well as it can possibly be done.

Use the tools wisely and get to know what matters to your users. Welcome feedback, listen hard and carry on creating great software!

Giveaway: Five Powerpacks & Alfred Goodies

It’s our final giveaway for this year’s Christmas calendar: Five Powerpacks and ten envelopes of Alfred goodies (stickers and keyboard brushes) will be sent to commenters at random.

We don’t want to cut into your last minute shopping time so we’ve kept it simple once again. As 2011 has been a really amazing year for us, and hopefully for you too, tell us what was the highlight of your year – This can be anything from getting a new job to winning the lottery, or maybe even getting engaged to your loved one! We’ll pick the winners at random and post them before Christmas day!

The few simple rules:

  • The Powerpack can be for you or for a friend (aren’t you a generous one!) and will be a single user license or an upgrade from single to mega supporter (for existing Powerpack owners);
  • If you’re not interested in the stickers and brushes, say so in your comment as it will give those who want goodies mailed to them more chances of winning;
  • We’ll ship the Alfred goodies anywhere the postman goes, so there are no geographical restrictions;
  • We’ll send all the goodies in early January so provide a valid email address here and, if you win, get back to us with your postal address by then.

You have until the end of the day on 22nd December to participate (Giveaway closed! See winners list below) so close your eyes, think of what made 2011 most awesome for you, then post your entry. Feel free to use a glass of rum eggnog as a form of creative inspiration. :)

The winners are:

Powerpacks:

  • Paul
  • Tim D
  • Yohannes Wijaya
  • Juan Carlos Orozco
  • Andrew MB

Alfred goodies:

  • Naoko
  • Kevin W
  • Mike Earley
  • Pavel G
  • Tim Jennings
  • Farthen
  • Jeff J
  • ‘Ley Missailidis
  • Adam B
  • James G

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who participated!

Giveaway: Dropbox accounts up for grabs today!

DropboxIn the spirit of Christmas and our Alfred calendar, Dropbox have given us three 10GB lifetime upgrades.

Dropbox is an incredibly useful cloud-based file synching service, which we love and highly recommend for Powerpack users who want to sync their Alfred settings.

To participate, leave a comment below and tell us how you use Dropbox today. Tomorrow, we’ll randomly pick three winners, who will be contacted by email. (Make sure you use a valid email address so that we can get in touch.)

Winners:

Thank you to the 555 commenters (yes, that’s five hundred and fifty five!) who participated in this giveaway. We closed our eyes, took a spin and picked three winners at random. They are:

  • Mark B
  • Brad
  • HankBott
If you’re a winner, you’ll receive your code by email. If you haven’t won, thank you for participating and sharing how you use Dropbox! Don’t forget to keep an eye on the future entries on our Alfred Christmas Calendar.

Dropbox

Delight in Christmas shopping with Alfred

We can’t get away from it any longer – there’s under a month left until Christmas. *gasp* Lights and decorations are going up, and so is our blood pressure, thinking of all the presents that still need to be picked up.

Fear not, Alfred’s here to help. Set up a few custom searches for your favourite shopping sites or just use the handy built-in Amazon web search to find gifts quickly. Let Alfred help you get your shopping done quickly, so that you can start relaxing early with a glass of mulled wine.

Custom searches for shopping

We know you have your favourite stores. So why not set up a few custom searches to get quick search results?

Click on any of the custom searches below to import them to Alfred on your own Mac:

Need to create your own? Here’s how you can create your own custom search for Alfred.

A quick way to search Amazon

Let’s face it – all of these custom searches are superfluous. When inspiration (or panic) hits, odds are you’ll turn to Alfred’s default Amazon web search for a quick purchase. The quickest way to do this is to pop up Alfred and type “amazon black socks”. And that’s dad’s sorted for another year!

Your favourite shopping sites

Please share your favourite shopping sites in the comments of this blog post. Note that we have found the old-school http://tinyurl.com/ a reliable way of shortening custom search links exported from Alfred.

Happy shopping – and don’t forget the wrapping paper!

Cheers,
Andrew and Vero

Alfred Extensions: The best scripts (so far!)

[Update: You can find numerous Alfred extensions in our Extensions Gallery. The links in the blog post below may not be kept up to date, while the gallery is maintained more closely. You can also find out there how to contribute your own extensions.]

With Alfred 0.9.9 out for general release, we’re excited to share some of the best Alfred Powerpack extensions that we’ve seen so far.

These scripts have been created by Alfred users and are supported by their respective creators. Where possible, we’ve included a link to their Twitter account or website.

If you’ve created a useful extensions yourself, send us a link on Twitter and we’ll add the best ones to an upcoming Extensions page.

Tip: Don’t forget that once you’ve created an extension, you can right-click it in the sidebar to export it and share with friends!

SHELL SCRIPTS

Create a Symbolic Link [link] by @jdfwarrior
Result action that creates a symbolic link to the selected item

Down For Everyone or Just Me? [link] by @jdfwarrior
Checks downforeveryoneorjustme.com to determine if a site is down

Facebook Status (requires FBCMD) [link] by @jdfwarrior
Updates your Facebook status

eBay Checker [link] by @jdfwarrior
Provides item information from eBay

Flush DNS [link] by @jdfwarrior
Flushes your DNS cache

Lipsum Text [link] by @jdfwarrior
Retrieves lipsum text from Lipsum.com and copies it to your clipboard automatically

Local Weather Conditions [link] by @jdfwarrior
Displays local weather conditions via Growl. Get your weather location ID from weather.com or Gtwthr.com (setup page). Need metric units? In the script, change METRIC=false, to METRIC=true

Create DMG [link] by @jdfwarrior
Result action that creates a DMG image from the selected folder

Package Tracker [link] by @jdfwarrior
Tracks packages via packagetrackr.com and displays information via Growl

Get External IP Address [link] by @jdfwarrior
Retrieves your external ip address, copies it to the clipboard, and displays it via Growl

Zip Folder [link] by @jdfwarrior
Result action that creates a zip file from the selected item and places it on the desktop.
UPDATED: Now has ability to create archives with folders with spaces in the name. Long explanation of why it didn’t work. It’s fixed now.

Fantastical [link] by @jdfwarrior
Applescript that lets you quickly pass new events into Fantastical

Add a task to Remember the Milk
http://ruk.ca/content/alfred-remember-milk

Turn on/off Airport (by Andy Jeffries)
networksetup -setairportpower en1 on
networksetup -setairportpower en1 off
Use the ‘BSD device name’ from the ‘Network’ section of the System Information app instead of en1.

Tweet without a Twitter client
http://blog.daviscabral.com.br/post/5622626401/how-to-tweet-from-alfredapp

Changing network location
http://jamesoff.net/site/2011/06/09/alfred-script-to-change-network-location-in-os-x/

Open URLs in non-default browser window
http://snipt.org/xvmi Credit @f5point6

Get public IP address and copy to clipboard (by Joseph Flasher)
curl —silent http://checkip.dyndns.org | grep -Eo ‘([0-9]{1,3}\.){3}[0-9]{1,3}’ | bcopy

Create and open a new file with your Default text editor (by Roger Byrne)
touch /Users/rogermbyrne/Dropbox/Writer/{query}.txt; open /Users/rogermbyrne/Dropbox/Writer/{query}.txt

Lots more cool scripts by Don Southard:
http://www.dirtdon.com/?p=886

including:

  • Convert image to another format
  • Share your current song from iTunes or Ecoute
  • Create tasks in OmniFocus with Natural Language
  • Set Wallpaper from Alfred action menu
  • Start a screencast from Alfred
  • Use Alfred for Window Management
  • Upload Picture to Picasa
  • Create custom Bit.ly shortened URL
  • Upload file to Amazon S3
  • Convert video to AppleTV format
  • Create a CloudApp bookmark from Clipboard
  • Shorten a URL with Goo.gl and more

Full list of very useful extension scripts created by @jdfwarrior
http://jdfwarrior.tumblr.com/post/7380798414

APPLESCRIPTS

Spotify AppleScripts by Robin Enhorn
http://www.2shared.com/file/lgQFbHdq/Spotify_Applescripts.html

Evernote search
http://www.thoughtasylum.com/blog/2011/7/8/search-evernote-from-alfred-again.html

Adding notes to Evernote
http://www.ryoku.org/2011/07/creating-notes-in-evernote-with-alfred/

Switching VPN (by @johanbakken)
http://chopapp.com/#5sqsf2oe

Set your Adium status by @simonbs
http://bit.ly/nV4K4L

Create a task in Things by @preppeller
Andrew’s Tumblr post on Things

More coming soon

We’ll soon create a page where the best extensions of each type will be available for you to browse. In the meantime, link to your own extensions in the comments and we’ll be happy to include the best ones in our future extensions pages!

Alfred Productivity Tips: Tweaking your search results to show just what you want

Lego knight in shining armourWe all use our Macs slightly differently, squirrelling files away in all sorts of obscure locations with, sometimes, less than helpful names or folder organisation.

This is where Alfred comes in, like a knight in shining armour against the mountains of files on your Mac. Below are a few ways to tweak your settings to ensure Alfred is ready to serve YOU.

Setting your default results

If you’re looking at your Default Results preference pane and thinking “What is she on about? Searching couldn’t be simpler!” And you know what? You’d be half-right. The default settings for Alfred will suit a good portion of users straight out of the box, allowing you to find the bulk of the files you need.

However, if you need him to tend to your every need, you can tweak the settings to reflect this. To create as little noise as possible, choose only the file types you really want to see every time you search, e.g. Applications, Folders and Contacts.

Don’t check every box unless you want every document, text file and image for “Spot the dog” every time you start typing “spo…” to launch Spotify.

The default search limits your results to 9 items to be as fast as possible. Want more results? Want a broader search? Keep on reading!

Widening your search scope

By default, the search scope covers the locations where Mac files are usually stored, such as your home folder, Applications folder, etc. However, if you store your files elsewhere, you’ll want to use the + button to add the additional paths you need Alfred to include in default searches.

Searching all file types

Now you really are looking for every file and folder relating to Spot the dog, no matter what the file is. You want all those cute doggy photos, videos and stories and you want them NOW!

Hot tip:

Listen carefully. This is one of the Alfred search gems you’ll never want to forget once you’ve used it…

  • Use “find” to reveal a file in Finder
  • Use “open” (or hit the spacebar) to open a file
  • Use “in” to search for the content of files

Search for Spot the dog

Like so, with a single tap of the spacebar or the “open” keyword, you can expand the scope of your search without cluttering your everyday search results.

Still need to refine the contents of this broad search? Go to the Features > File Search > Exclusions & Scope tab in the preferences to select the file types you want Alfred to show you. I always hide emails, calendar items and browser history, for example, as I have so many unnecessary noisy results in there.

When using any of the 3 file search keywords, Alfred shows 20 results by default but this can be expanded to 40 in the preferences. Handy!

Working with external drives

You’ve probably worked out by now that Alfred’s a rather accommodating chap and that he’ll do everything he can to help you.

He’ll be happy to include external volumes in your searches, on two conditions. First, Spotlight must have the drive indexed for search and, secondly, the scope in File Search > Exclusions & Scope must be set to include Everything.

A few more handy tips for fussy naming

Not happy calling a file by its name? Be Alfred’s guest and give the file a nickname.

Using Spotlight Comments, you can assign short names or nicknames to applications or files.

For example, I use a developer app called “Instruments” to test Alfred for Memory Leaks, but when it’s my own memory that starts leaking, I can’t remember the app’s name. For this reason, it now has a Spotlight Comment for “leaks”, ensuring I find it every time. Go ahead and do the same with your own apps!

Leaks instruments

In the case of apps, you can also turn on fuzzy matching in the Alfred’s Applications preferences, allowing you to use a partial match (e.g. “gc” for Google Chrome) without setting a Spotlight Comment. With Anchored turned on, Alfred will only search from the first character of every word, while turning it off will go more freestyle by showing any fuzzy match.

Hot tip:

Use Spotlight Comments to assign a short name or nickname to a file, or turn on fuzzy matching in the Applications preferences to match on the fly.

What to do if Alfred can’t find what you want

Alfred relies on your OS X metadata being healthy. This metadata is maintained by Spotlight and, on very rare occasions, can get out of date or corrupted. We’ve outlined easy diagnostics steps to follow if this happens.

Want more Alfred tips? Next time, we’ll look at the iTunes Mini Player to add a bit of music to your day!

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out Anna’s Alfred Tips blog, filled with more tricks and tips for using Alfred than you can dream of!

[Image credit: Knight in shining armor by Pascal]