help desk talk relaunch

So a few months back I started a forum site called, it was supposed to be a place to discuss help desk issues. There’s really no forums on the web dedicated to only help desks. Well the site was a failure. It’s entirely my fault, I simply didn’t have the time to dedicate to growing a community and it showed.

I still hope to have a forum there someday, but I’ve decided to take a different approach. Help Desk Talk is being relaunched as a blog. I’m also not doing it alone, in fact I’m not going to be doing much writing at all. Instead I’m working in partnership with my father, who’s an excellent writer, to run the site. He’s already at it and doing a great job. The site will be original writing, but will also link to ongoings in the help desk world as well as relevant articles which appear in the mainstream IT press.

If you have a chance please check it out and refer others who may be interested.

simplicity in software

Simplicity and the backlash against it seems to be a big theme over the past week or two on the blogs. The one that captured my sense of simplicity the best though is this post by Nick Bradbury. See I’m not a believer in making software simple just to be simple. Even at the 1.0 stage a product still needs to accomplish it’s objectives and often that isn’t something that can be done with 3 screens and 2 forms.

For example during HelpSpot development I considered not adding the portal features. Instead I would just launch with the email management and assignment. Luckily I decided against that though as it just didn’t accommodate everything that needed to be done on a modern help desk. It would have been a huge mistake and could have cost me a large percentage of my current customer base.

Now what Nick is getting at though is something I definitely believe in. He’s talking about smart feature selection and knowing when to leave features out and doing so to make your product a better product. In his case it’s to reduce support and perceived bugs with the software, but in my case it’s all about reducing complexity smartly.

HelpSpot is a pretty complex tool and one of the big challenges I face is getting new users up to speed. Both new potential customers and just as importantly training issues for new employees of existing clients. I also need to keep things as efficient as possible for staff as they go through answering support requests. Part of doing this was leaving out a very large feature, which is CRMish functionality. Almost all help desk solutions contain some type of customer database system. Some have full blown CRM, others just store your customer database and have some limited functions.

The problem with this from my perspective is two fold. A) You have all this extra customer data stuff in the interface making things way more complex. B) Most companies already have a customer information solution. This leads to having to merge data between that system and the help desk customer database.

So what I decided to do was leave out those features. By doing so I was able to devote more complexity to actually handling customer requests while still keeping overall complexity low. In my case I also added a very simple API which allows customers to hook HelpSpot with their existing CRM so they can still access all the customer data in one button push. But to me the big take away for other software vendors is that you should be using simplicity in one area to increase complexity in another. Think of your simplicity savings as credits that then allow you to devote more complexity credits to areas which are more core to your software and make for a more powerful customer experience.

jquery wow

The new product is using the jQuery javascript library and all I can say is wow. It’s the most amazing library I’ve ever used, especially considering how messy javascript is to deal with in general. One of my goals for the new product is really to limit the amount of code throughout the system. I’m trying to be a lot cleaner and more condensed then I ever have been. So far it’s really working out well between CodeIgnitor and jQuery I’m writing practically no code at all. Just kind of hooking things together. It’s still very early though and I’m really just laying out some basic UI components and admin areas.

Anyway, what really helped me get started with jQuery is the visual docs. It’s a much better interface then the alphabetical list. The way you select elements is so powerful and ingenious that it truly blows my mind. In fact if everything tests out as well as it seems to be working I’m going to seriously consider moving from prototype/ in HelpSpot to jQuery.

Another interesting anecdote is that I was able the to meet the jQuery creator at BarCamp 1 in NYC. I don’t remember if I even spoke directly with him, but I did hear him speaking about what he was up to with jQuery and see him use it a bit. I got a really good impression from him and had a good feeling that he knew what he was doing. It’s funny how those personal interactions make such a difference.

PS. before I get loads of comments on it, I will be announcing the new product shortly. The only reason I’m really waiting is I really wanted to have both the logo and the new UserScape site up before announcing. The logo is done, but we’re still a little ways off on the website. I’m going to see how far we get with that this week and make a decision after that.