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.
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,