A Progress Report on our Product Roadmap (Feb 2020)

A Progress Report on our Product Roadmap (Feb 2020)

If you’ve been curious about what we’ve been up to, and what’s coming next, this blog post should answer all of your questions. It has been 6 months since we opened our new office (and hired our first team member) in Guadalajara, and a lot has happened in that time.

Building a new product team from scratch is no small task, but it has been an exciting challenge for me. Everything, including locating the office space, getting through the lease process (in Spanish!), renovating the space, buying desks and computers, and getting a solid internet connection all had to come before we hired our first person.

Once hired, it takes a while (usually about 3 months) for developers to understand the PhotoShelter codebase, the details of the product, our customer needs, and the processes in place throughout the company. We planned for this, but the team in Mexico started showing results right away.

I must admit, I was nervous when we started looking for developers here in Mexico. My brain would run wild with potential disaster scenarios, keeping me up at night. It was important that the team members be smart, dedicated, and easy to work with.

Thankfully, the team in New York played a key role in interviewing all of the candidates, and together we were able to select an impressive roster of talented developers. I couldn’t be happier with how it all worked out.

We currently have 6 members on the Mexico dev team, with a seventh member starting next week. In April we are on track for hiring our 8th team member. Each member of the team spends time in our New York City office, where they receive training and establish personal relationships with the NYC teams. There is great synergy between them.

What have we accomplished already?

1) Anonymous Downloads: Your clients no longer need an account or a password to download images, creating a truly frictionless image delivery experience for you and your clients.

2) SEO Improvements: There have been several rounds of updates designed to make PhotoShelter websites rank higher in search engines. These updates are continuing for the next few months, including how images are indexed in Google Image search. This behind-the-scenes work is necessary for us to keep up with the way search engines like Google change and evolve over time.

3) Mobile-friendly Shopping Cart: We modified the cart so that it would function perfectly on every type of device. This one took a while because we needed to test the cart on as many different mobile devices as possible before releasing. The end result was the first really big accomplishment for the team.

4) FileFlow for iPhone and iPad: With this app, your clients can now search, browse, and download images to mobile devices with ease. (The Android version is in beta testing now, and will be released within a few weeks.)

5) Mobile App Updates: It wasn’t just FileFlow that got some attention. The PhotoShelter iOS and Android apps got an update as well. They now work faster with current mobile operating systems. For example, the iOS version now supports large iPhones in full-screen mode.

6) Updated Lightroom Plugin: We’ve made significant improvements to the PhotoShelter Lightroom plugin. It is currently going through our QA process, and we expect it to be available for download within the next 2 weeks. If you’d like to be a beta tester, please let us know!

This is an impressive list for a team that’s only been on the job for an average of 3.5 months collectively.

What’s coming next?

As previously shared in our roadmap from late last year, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. The team here is excited and up for the challenge.

One often-requested change is the removal of the switch to the photoshelter.com domain name in photographer websites. The work to make this happen is currently in progress and will be released soon. This means you will retain your own domain name on every page of your site.

The biggest project of the year, however, is the creation of new website templates. We have been in the planning and design phase for months already, and I believe that when we’re done it will be the single most powerful photography website solution ever created.

In order to do this, we’re going to need to start over with the templates. This means rebuilding and updating the existing ones on top of a super modern framework and launching a variety of new templates as well. PhotoShelter has been around for nearly 15 years, and the current responsive templates were launched in 2013, before “responsive” was a common term. Back then we had to create our own technology to make templates work on any type of device.

Today, there are more efficient ways to handle all the challenges that responsive site design requires. In order to bring to life all of the advanced features and functions that our members are asking for, we made the decision to start from a clean slate with all new tools. In doing so we will be able to increase overall site speed while making it easier for us to add new features in the future.

This means you’ll have:

  •  A new (mobile-friendly) site builder
  •   “Preview mode” that lets you set up the site in private before it is launched to the world
  •  Pro accounts will be able to have more than one website/domain name attached to their account
  •  Customization options for galleries (make each gallery look different!)
  •  Advanced CSS controls, so you can go even further with your custom look/feel
  •  Marketing prompt options (popups for newsletter signups and live chat boxes)
  •  The ability to insert a video cover image on your website
  •  Enhanced controls over SEO, with guidelines for best practices you can follow
  •  Expanded file download options geared toward different types of clients
  •  10 updated & modernized templates. East, Element, Marquee, Shuffle, Horizon, Downtown, and Promenade get updated, plus 3 new ones.
Photo by Grover Sanschagrin

When will the new templates be available?

The first 3 (Element, East, and Marquee) have been updated and the designs are currently going through user testing. This is where we show the designs to real members to get their feedback. It’s the first step in product validation, and it is where our designers can make sure they are on the right track.

Feedback provided during this stage is then incorporated back into the design, and a prototype is then created. At this point the designs come to life, and testing enters a new phase. This is where we begin the usability tests necessary prior to final development. Navigation, page flow, and ease-of-use are some of the items that get checked in this step.

The next step is to create real working responsive websites in HTML/CSS that we (and you!) can test. In this stage, you will be able to see how the sites work by interacting directly with them in any type of device. The images within the site will be static, and its purpose is strictly for demonstrations. Our front-end developers take over at this point and will begin the work of connecting everything to the database, which is what you’ll need before you can start using it for real.

You should expect to see the demo versions of the new templates in April of this year. We’ll also be following up soon with a blog post showing off some of the new designs based on feedback we gathered during user testing.

Our goal is to begin releasing the first usable versions of the new templates, with version 1.0 of the new site builder in August. (Of course, as with any development initiative, this could change. If that date shows signs of slipping, I’ll be keeping you updated here with regular status reports.)

But don’t worry, we won’t force you to change. If you’re happy with your current website, you can keep it, or wait and update when you’re ready. You will have the opportunity to build your website in a private area, and make it public when you’re ready.

What’s different about the new site builder?

The main difference between the current site builder and the new version is that it will work on mobile devices. We are removing the direct on-screen editing features (which are impossible to design for mobile) in favor of a modular menu-based system. All of the options and controls will be available to you in a menu of choices that will work perfectly on any type of device.

Another difference is that you won’t be restricted to having only one website within your account. The site builder will allow support for multiple domain names (CNAMES), each showing different images. This way you can create a different website for each type of photography you specialize in, all coming from the same collection of images within your PhotoShelter archive.

Adjustments to the roadmap

Roadmaps aren’t ever set in stone and are generally expected to evolve slightly with time. We published ours in late October of last year as a way of letting you know what our priorities are, and in which order you should expect to see the updated features. This part hasn’t changed, and our priorities remain the same.

Although the team has accomplished a lot in such a short time, our initial roadmap was admittedly a little too optimistic when it came to timing.

Some of the hires we made happened a few weeks later than we planned. Some work that we estimated as easy quick wins ended up taking much longer than expected. For example, the mobile-friendly shopping cart required a much longer QA period than we originally estimated.

Today, I am happy to say that the shopping cart works great on mobile devices. We are achieving our objectives, but it is taking us a bit longer than expected. This is the nature of development work, especially when you’re working on code that has been around for a while. Looking back, I should have added more padding around each of the assignments just to be safe.

The good news is that the team is now set to begin focusing entirely on the new website templates, and the foundation has been set for some truly innovative and inspiring work. I’ll be keeping you updated regularly with progress reports like this one.

Thanks for your patience and candid feedback. Our product is continuously improving because of the support of our members, and we are grateful for that and always listening. I am hugely excited about all of the exciting improvements we are building this year, and I know you will be too.

Until next time,
Grover

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PhotoShelter co-founder and GM

There are 56 comments for this article
  1. André Chung at 5:10 pm

    Glad to hear about all this. I was literally having a conversation about this an hour ago. Really looking forward to the new site builder and templates. What is the timetable for multiple domains with one account?

    • Grover Sanschagrin Author at 5:47 pm

      It will be part of the new site builder. Other than that, we don’t have an exact date. But don’t worry, I’ll be doing this updates via the blog regularly!

  2. Bill Moree at 5:38 pm

    I too find the transparency and new fresh attitude about the platform to be exciting.

    I had switched away a long time ago. Now I’ve gone from “entertaining the notion of switching back” to Photoshelter to thinking that it’s probably inevitable that I’m going to switch back.

    The thing that I need to see are these new templates…

  3. Claus Birch at 6:08 am

    Really interesting news – looking forward to continue with your great platform – having been a user since 2013. One big wish from a non-american: I dream of a possibility that allows me to translate a bigger part of the site to my own language (Danish). Maybe similar to the word string translation principle in WordPress plugins (using f.ex. Poedit)…..

  4. Chris Violette at 11:06 am

    Urgently need help making downloading files easy and bullet proof for clients! It used to happen only occasionally, now 75%+ of my clients either have issues with downloading (the files simply won’t download) or they aren’t able to figure it out and I have to deliver by other means. Every time I call for support the advice is usually about what the client may be doing wrong rather than what Photoshelter can do to help. I’ve spent a lot of money on Photoshelter over the years, this is not a new problem, and it’s directly hurting my business. Waiting until August for a solution isn’t tenable. Please address this ASAP. If I have to continue using Dropbox for delivery instead of Photoshelter it’s not worth staying with you.

    • Grover Sanschagrin Author at 7:15 pm

      Lucinda – good news – we are already working on this right now. It’s the top priority at this moment. We will have more details about it soon.

  5. AG at 5:01 pm

    Thanks for the detailed update. One improvement I hope you’ll add to the new templates is the ability to create custom URLs for the various galleries within a website. I have a Shuffle website, and my gallery URLs are distinguished from each other with names like “G0000rAnZoKeTGrU” and “G0000aRUDafyMPfo” instead of the actual names of the galleries.

  6. Erica at 8:35 pm

    Thanks for the update! This reminded me to check the play store to check for the Android app update. This new version fixed the constant crashes. Thank you.

  7. Patrick Cunningham at 9:04 am

    Re: Lightroom plugin.

    Yes! Thank you.

    I would be happy – sooooo happy!! – to be a beta tester.

    My Photoshelter-Lightroom archives are now a mess, since the plugin stopped working entirely and I have been doing things on a completely ad-hoc basis, having given up hope of the plugin ever being fixed.

    I am happy to work with you to help get it fixed. If you need a messed-up, broken archive where the synchronisation has been lost and will not now re-synchronise, I have just the job.

  8. Christy at 12:30 pm

    Thank you Grover! The updates are exciting and I’m looking forward to all the new creative ways we can customize and update our sites to keep the look fresh and forward!
    I do have one request, I get so many PS emails for offers and savings for new members…is there any way to offer something of a savings or incentives for all of us that have been on board for years? I appreciate your consideration in advance!

  9. Mark Joseph Tassoni at 4:23 pm

    So, am I reading this correctly? no updates to the antiquated client gallery platform? Only website building?
    I am desperately in need of a new platform for commercial proofing? Tired of using a combo of Smugmug, Pixieset, Format, Photodeck.

    • Grover Sanschagrin Author at 4:51 pm

      Are you talking about the client proofing tool? If so, we are hoping that we can resolve those issues with the way we are constructing the new galleries, which is all part of the new websites.

  10. Sam Kittner at 4:53 pm

    All sounds good.
    I have depended on the Marquee template for many years and overall love it.
    I would hope it could give the option of images in galleries first appearing as a large thumbnails page…then go to the larger single images as opposed to the opposite now…I hope that can be an option we users can decide on how it first appears for each gallery (either thumbnails or large single images). I’d be very happy to be involved as the template is developed further.
    I also hope that the client proofing tool will be improved…so that our clients who work in teams can see everyone’s selections to narrow down final selections. Ideally also with a way to communicate notes or retouching requests on specific images.

    Thanks,
    Sam

  11. Bill Miles at 8:03 pm

    Excellent to finally see movement from Photoshelter! Looking forward to the new East (my current theme). In addition to these wonderful improvements…I’d love to see beautiful galleries for showing/delivering images to clients. I now use Pass Gallery for that, because it’s a great experience when a client views their images. Is that in the works?? Please??

  12. Josh Levine at 7:39 pm

    The ability to create pages (outside the “portfolio” format) that look something like the existing “client galleries,” but branded and could perform as static portfolio pages, would be earth shattering. Add the option to choose style–universe shattering, for sure!
    Presently I’m cobbling together several services and still don’t have what I need, between presentation/marketing, client comms. incl. delivery, and commercial + fine art.
    Great comments & attitudes on this page.

  13. Dan Donovan at 4:26 am

    This is fantastic news. So much so that I just signed-up! I tried PhotoShelter a while back, but it just wasn’t right for me then. Now I am planning to sell my stock photos with PhotoShelter and possibly fine art prints. Looking forward to getting started!

  14. Christopher Free at 4:06 pm

    Love Love Love! So excited for these updates, Ive had Photoshelter since 2010 or 2011, And I am so happy to hear about these updates, thanks for all the hard work.

      • Grover Sanschagrin Author at 5:12 pm

        The new website system is so much more advanced than the current one, you’ll need to “start over”, but it should be just a few steps to take. (Such as selecting your galleries, which have already been set up, and uploading your logo.)

        There will also be new website options to enable.

        The good news is that you can get the new site together while the current one is still live, and switch it over only when you’re ready.

    • Grover Sanschagrin Author at 5:09 pm

      Video support has to come after the new website templates and the site builder. It doesn’t have an exact date yet, but we should be able to figure this out as we get further along with the new website system.

    • Grover Sanschagrin Author at 5:18 pm

      The designs are final, after going through several rounds of user testing. We tested the new concepts on photographers and photo buyers to make sure it was easily understandable for everyone.

      The front end developers are now in the process of bringing those designs to life. We know that people are anxious to get access to the new stuff, so we’re going to take an intermediate step in showing you what they’ll look (and behave) like by releasing demo versions.

      This is more useful than just showing static images because you can actually play with them and give us feedback.

      At this point my estimate is that we’re about 2 months away from having that ready. Then we’ll need to connect the new site builder to the new website templates and you’ll be ready to try them out for real using your own images.

        • Grover Sanschagrin Author at 4:04 pm

          Hi Allen. We just looked through the most recent templates and they are working on our dev servers. Next step is for us to put them through design review, make whatever tweaks are needed, and then we will be able to share them with our members. Running a few weeks behind schedule at this point but definitely making great progress.

  15. Ian Murray at 5:10 am

    I see my SEO as invisible, almost none of my images are being found. This used not to the case with exactly the same set up my images were well placed by Google. Now, nothing at all when I am told there should be a spike in visitors due to the development work that has been done.

    I’ve been told that one thing I need to do is to populate my Headline area in IPTC for Google searches. Basically this needs the caption field copied into Headline. Photoshelter does not provide a way of changing this on a spreadsheet so it has to be done either one at a time, or you by use a generic headline for large batches of different images and neither alternative is ideal. I have over 60,000 images.

    I would imagine that this task would take a technical person minutes but such a service is not offered – any chance I could request this as a one time favour or in return for a one time payment?

    SEO is a MAJOR problem and concern to me right now.

    Thanks

  16. John B. at 5:32 pm

    Grover,
    Can you post an update on the road map? It looks like this post hasn’t been updated since February. It would be great to hear how the pandemic has impacted the road map, for example.

    Thanks!

  17. Ian Murray at 4:35 am

    I really hope that the new templates allow for some text. My understanding is that my SEO fell dramatically with the switch from the old Classic template to the Custom one I was encouraged to move too. I am certainly no expert but neither are the small businesses currently beating me in Google Image searches – camp site, small accommodation provider, local pub etc. The difference is that those sites have some text which gives context. Page and pages just of pictures do not deliver that context. Google bots seems to find my pages okay but only index very few.

    • Grover Sanschagrin Author at 9:36 am

      Hi Ian. Yes, you’ll have the ability to add text when and where you want it. You’ll also be able to choose from a variety of gallery templates on a gallery-by-gallery basis.

  18. JB at 11:12 am

    I’m glad Photoshelter are so pleased with their shiny new logo.
    Meanwhile, I have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last few weeks apologising to my clients for problems that have been entirely caused by recent Photoshelter updates.
    First there was the Image Unavailable bug and now there is a much worse issue preventing clients logging on and accessing their private galleries properly.
    At least during the years when Photoshelter neglected all product development, the basic platform remained mostly stable and reliable.
    If this is the start of a period of more frequent updates then I really hope some seriously stringent testing and quality control is put in place before ‘improvements’ are released.

    I have also repeatedly suggested that it would be good for customer sevice if they added a section (e.g on the PS status page) where they could keep us informed of any major known bugs and reassure us that they are working on a fix – but so far it’s fallen on deaf ears.

    Sorry for the negativity. I’ve been with Photoshelter for 10 years, wish them well and want this to succeed, but right now I’m mostly just worried about what other mess the next few months is going to bring.

    • Grover Sanschagrin Author at 12:18 pm

      Hi Jonathan. No problem with the negativity, we’re urgently working on resolve the issues (and have been doing so). PhotoShelter is a large and complex product, built to serve just about any type of photographer. The updates we’ve been making have been based on member requests. The update with the most number of requests, believe it or not, was to never show “photoshelter.com” in the URL. We’ve been working on a solution for months to make this happen, and tested it for weeks before final release.

      Shortly afterward, Apple released an update to Safari that blocked “third party tracking”, which broke our domain name support solution. Although we aren’t tracking anything, the changes Apple (and now others) have made are in response to companies like Facebook who have been following a user’s every move across the internet by inserting their tracking pixel. So while it was a win for privacy in that situation, it prevented us from being able to serve images from our content delivery network (CDN) because although your website was your domain name, the images in the page were still coming from a photoshelter.com URL.

      So that meant we needed to roll-back some of those changes.

      Every issue you’re experiencing now is related to this. Yes, we are working on them, and they’ll be released this week.

      Going forward, I asked the team to stop working on new features within the current website templates, and instead focus their time and effort on the new templates we are also building. This means you shouldn’t see any more surprises with your current website.

  19. JB at 1:07 pm

    Hi Grover,

    Thanks for the swift reply.
    This is probably not the right place for specifics but, just for the record, Support thought this recent login problem was separate from the Image Unavailable issue and might be related to one of two bug fixes pushed out on 2nd July, one of which was “related to the login dialog”. And yes, either way it now seems to be cross browser.

    I do appreciate that PhotoShelter is a ‘large and complex product’ and that the variety of users and Apple etc changing the goalposts makes testing extremely tricky. Trouble is that doesn’t help me when dealing with my frustrated clients. They are really not interested in all that – they just want it to work.

    I still think it would be a good idea to have a page dedicated to keeping us up to speed with any issues, reassuring us that you are on the case, and offering the sort of detailed explanation you’ve just given. It would save time and stress both for us and your support desk.

    But fingers crossed, if there are indeed no more surprises, then it won’t be needed!

    • Grover Sanschagrin Author at 7:28 pm

      Hi Allen. A lot has changed the deeper we get into the project. Right now the team is spending 83% of their time on the new templates. We have 3 of them built and in QA, and work is about to shift to the new Site Builder we need to power them all. It’s pretty advanced and cool stuff, but it’s not as simple as just creating new templates for the current site builder. If we built the new templates on top of the old site builder, we would be limited in what we could do with the websites.

      Right now the team is preparing a document that we can then use to give everyone an update on where we are. I hope to have a blog post ready with details for next week (including visual samples of the new templates and a glimpse of the new Site Builder.)

  20. Allen Russell at 7:58 pm

    I appreciate the depth of the project and do understand much of what you face. My problem is that I have been patient and loyal to PhotoShelter for a year now regarding new templets. I have been a PhotoShelter client for 10 yrs plus. I have received nothing solid to date. I need to see data/info/examples to enable me to determine if the new templets will satisfy my needs or if I must cobble together my current system. I look forward to seeing next week’s details (including visual samples of the new templates and a glimpse of the new Site Builder.) Thanks

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