It always amazes me how worse a product can become over its life time, Royal Mail appear to have perfected making SmartStamp annoy its customers on a frequent basis.
With home based business increasing thanks to sites like BookSwap.ws and eBay stamp printing applications such as SmartStamp are going to become a crucial tool.
Today all I wanted to do was print a single stamp for a small parcel to the USA.
Naturally I had to alter the printer and label when I started the application, see my previous post about the default label and printer, and then go through more pain to find the postage.
Having finally got the postage I wanted I hit print, enter my password and found out I have to do an update. It waits until Ive spent ages setting it all up to do this. So the update happens, quite a big update, fortunately I have a fast internet connection so not to much of a problem.
Naturally being an important part of the computer I have to restart the PC to get the updates installed. However it did print my stamp for me. Wrongly! Up until today the one thing thats always worked for me is the stamp has been well positioned. Not any more, 99012 label + stamp on a Dymo 320 looks something like this
So next I restart my PC incase the s/w needs to be updated like it asked me for. I wasnt to happy as I was part way through downloading Vista RC1 from MSDN and the download program is a pain to find to get it to continue if you stop it part way. Actually I have no idea how to restart it I always end up back in MSDN and start another download then cancel that, but thats another story of an annoying app.
Well after the restart which took an age (which if you are like me and trying to run an micro-ISV in your free time after work is time wasted you really could do without) the label is still positioned wrongly. Fortunately there are some confusing controls in SmartStamp to position it, so after a bit of guess work the label now shows the price like it used to.
Now for the next issue, I have to find my stamp again, USA, near the bottom of a long list of countries, I expect quite a lot of people post to USA, you would think that like most web sites and software they would have a few at the top that were very popular. But no. Then I find the stamp type, AirMail, then select the weight. Next I realise the one I wanted was actually Small Packet AirMail. Guess what, its decided not to keep my weight, so I have to go select one of them again.
Now I know its not all that easy to make the weight thing correct its self as there are different bands. BUT, this is really annoying every time you change stamp type it changes the weight to the min. Maybe I could just enter the weight in a text box, or use the selector, and if Ive entered it manually then it can choose the best weight band for me. After all the one thing thats not going to change is the weight of my parcel, but stamp choice, now that will change as I try to find the most appropriate one.
Personally Im hoping the cheap postage scales will have a RS232 or USB interface one of these days, that would be really nice.
One day I am going to end up with the wrong stamp because of the resetting to default. Actually I just printed the stamp whilst writing this and if it wasnt for the big SU on the label instead of the A I would have got the wrong one and the wrong weight. Its to easy to do that. The stamp doesnt say what weight its valid for either so thats no help.
Now I have a stamp for Airmail Small Packet , I have to put a Airmail sticker on the packet and a customs declaration. Not to difficult. You can download a CN22 from Royal Mails web site and I can fire you the Dymo printer to print an Airmail sticker I have already made.
Did you make the same mistake I made. Thinking that as a label printing application designed for postage SmartStamp would include labels for Airmail and Customs declarations. Odd really, I have to print out a PDF on my laser and cut it down to size, then with a different labeller application I have to print the Airmail label. 3 Applications to sort out the stuff that has to go onto a parcel. I just dont think anybody at royal mail has actually tried to use SmartStamp for real.
Before you correct me, yes I know that there is an Airmail logo I can use on the stamp, but not as a label by its self, and it wont fit with the postage onto a 99012 label. So someone has clearly put 2 seconds of thought into it and stopped at that. And its not for small packet either. Maybe when you select an airmail stamp that has extra label requirements their could be an option to include these in the list of labels its about to print.
One more thing that really bugs me, and this was common in VB3 days, is the "are you sure?" exit message, thats so old and annoying. If Ive printed my stamp and pressed X then I certainly want to exit, dont annoy me any more! All it tells me is the application development is still thinking VB3 style and it doesnt really know what state its data is in.
Now I know I rant on about this annoying little application (which isnt all that cheap at the end of the day), but as someone who uses it I feel I have to make my views known in a desperate hope someone may take notice one day
Come on Royal Mail sort this product out. Please put a little effort into this, you may have won a best use of technology award for it, but it still needs a lot of attention to make it customer friendly and usable technology.
Update: As I continue to write this Ive just tried a few more things and guess what, its remembered my printer and the label positioning (V188.8.131.52), I selected another label and it looks like that would also print wrong, but at least its remembered my settings, sad how something so basic should now cause me to be happy. Now I dont know if thats because of the update that just happened or because I just saved my label as a template in the hope that it would keep the label positions.
Well Im off to search around the Royal Mail website to try and get a refund for the badly printed label. Guess what, thats not part of the application either. Im also firing up Napster for some music, theirs another application that continues to irritate me immensely, can they make it any more difficult and slow to play some music!
A few days ago LRABooks launched Book Sale Scout, a web based book sale directory.
This looks like a great service to locate book sales, unfortunately for me it appears to be USA specific at this time, but then if you could see the books piled around me in my flat you might say its for the best!.
Check out more details on the Book Selling Online blog post and the follow up article reviewing the launch.
I have to say, being a programmer, developer, software engineer (or what ever other name you wish to use) I was a little disappointed to see their programmer getting some flack for a few of the early bugs.
No software application is without bugs (OK, maybe NASA have a couple of bug free apps, but most commercial stuff will have a few thrown in for free). Whilst us developers do our best to keep them out I personally believe it is ultimately the job of the tester to make sure the application is fit for purpose and operates in an acceptable manner.
Many small companies go without software testers, especially one person micro-ISVs, but where ever possible someone other than the programmer should test the application before it gets released, us developers are too close to the code to be able to test properly.
So whilst Im not surprised Book Sale Scout had a couple of bugs I am disappointed that the poor programmer got the blame so freely and not the tester or who ever decided to release the application.
Anyway, rant over and done with, check out Book Sale Scout it looks to be a promising resource for books and I wish them all the best success.
Also if your into selling books I can highly recommend Steve Webbers Selling Books blog.
I have update the SSL certificates on BookSwap.ws, CDSwap.ws and DVDSwap.ws today.
These come from a different certificate provider this time.
The certificates are used during login, sale transactions and where personal identifiable data is being transferred to us. Please check the secure padlock on your browser to ensure these are OK when you are using https pages on the secure.BookSwap.ws, secure.CDSwap.ws and secure.DVDSwap.ws servers.
These changes should not cause any problems or be noticeable (other than by inspecting the certificate details).
A few weeks ago Joel Spolsky blogged that he wanted a way to manage his company library.
One of the requirements was to be able to print out a label for his books. This struck a cord with me and I looked into the possibility of including this as part of BookSwap.ws.
Now I should add that I own a Dymo LabelWriter 320, its a great label printer, easy to use, versatile, the labels are great, clear text and they stick really well to the packages.
Heres what a 99012 address label with book data looks like:
I purchased the printer to print the address and stamp labels when I ship a book. Previously Id been using 14 labels/ A4 sheet on an inkjet printer, this was really rather painful and I wont tell you how many times I printed on a label that Id already used, put the sheet in upside down and even put the sheet in, switched the printer on and found another document in the queue printing onto my labels I did that a few times!.
I found only one commercial component package on Component Source that I thought would do the trick and I was all ready to write a .NET app to use that. However I realised that Dymo do add-ins for Word etc for the printer so I decided to search their website for a SDK.
The developers section wasnt to hard to find and the SDK was quickly downloaded.
Dymo provide a very wide range of examples and good documentation for the SDK, even samples for Internet Explorer and FireFox.
So the result of all this is that earlier today (actually yesterday as its 2am now) I uploaded Item labeller for BookSwap.ws, CDSwap.ws and DVDSwap.ws. You can see how to use the Item Labeller in a posting on the community forum of BookSwap.ws.
The labeller allows fields from your book, CD or DVD entry to be printed out, you can define different label definitions and store these in your BookSwap.ws (CDSwap.ws and DVDSwap.ws) account.
I have to take my hat off to Dymo, I love the printer. The SDK and resources they provide for developers is great. Thank you Dymo! I will be buying another Dymo LabelWriter one day soon! (So I don't have to change labels and so I can test the Item Labeller better).
If you want to read the very lengthy thread of replies Joel got to his request it can be found here - some where about half way down is a post from me plugging BookSwap.ws
BTW: Check out the Im Reading and My BookSwap.ws Wish List in the sidebar on the right here, these come from RSS feeds generated from my BookSwap.ws account more on that in a post soon.
After my other post talking about wishful improvements to SmartStamp, I realised I have one little hack that I should share.
If like me you sell your books (CDs, DVDs etc) in the evening after youve completed your day job printing a stamp only really gives you the option of sending the parcel the next day, where as if you use SmartStamp during the day (9-5 style) you can post the item that day or the next.
The simple work around for this is to print your stamps after midnight, I appreciate not everyone is a night owl like my self so maybe print them the next morning, but ideally dont print them between getting home from work and midnight.
This gives you an extra day in which your stamp will be valid. Ideally we all want to post our parcels the next day so the buyer gets them as soon as possible, but on the odd occasion we dont get to put them in the post that day, when this happens your stamp is invalid and you have to do a new one, and apply for a refund. By printing after midnight you get an extra bit of grace to get your parcel in the post.
Hopefully one day RM may update SmartStamp so you get an extra day after 6pm or so, but for now wait till midnight +1 min before stamping!.
It came to my attention that a number of members have listed their items for sale and left the national postage as Ask. Whilst I have no objection to this the one thing it results in is a poor sell through rate.
When a buyer looks to buy a item they will either not buy the item if they have to ask the seller what the postage would be, or they will just go else where and buy the book, CD or DVD, possible after requesting to buy from the seller, never returning to actually pay for it when the postage price has been clarified.
If the seller does accept payment through PayPal the buyer is unable to immediately pay for the item as it isnt possible to include postage.
I appreciate some sites have a fixed postage rate which helps avoid this situation, but BookSwap.ws, CDSwap.ws and DVDSwap.ws are intended to be more flexible to sellers and allow them to set a more appropriate rate if they wish, or to setup their own default rate.
With this in mind I have removed the option of setting "Ask" and "Not Available" postage amounts for national postage. All items currently listed with this will still be valid but when you come to edit them you will not be able to save the values until you correct the postage options.
Note that this is only for items that are listed for sale.
Please take the time to set up your preferences (MyAccount->Preferences) and set a default postage rate as this will help you when listing your stuff for sale.
Isnt this typical, I dont post for ages then I post twice in one day!
This is a call out to all SmartStamp users who like me are disappointed with the application and feel a few simple improvements would make a massive difference and reduce a lot of frustration.
Royal Mail are conducting a survey to get feedback on the product and on the SmartStamp web site. Please take the time to visit the SmartStamp Website and fill in the questionnaire (you should get a pop up asking if you wish to take part in the questionnaire if its still running).
Dont let me put you off SmartStamp though, if you are selling books, CDs, DVDs etc then it is a great way to avoid the queue at your local post office which can be a huge time saver, just launch the application, after some fiddling hit print and you have a little stamp all ready to put on your package then drop it in the post (or skip the queue at the post office and drop it at the counter or in the bag).
The SmartStamp application has some great potential with the ever increasing eCommerce market and the increase in home based businesses. Being able to print a little stamp is a huge benefit, even if it does require me to alter a multitude of settings every time I launch the application just to be able to do the same thing I do every time and create a simple stamp.
I have to say Im still hugely disappointed that Royal Mail choice to charge so much to rent the application, I believe its cheaper than franking but then at least you get some discount on the postage with franking. This is after all just another way to allow you to purchase Royal Mails main product, postage.
You also have to watch out when you post your package as the stamp has a short life and if you miss the post your stamp may not be valid the next day.
SmartStamp is a registered trademark of Royal Mail. All views expressed in my blog entries are personal views and do not represent the views of Analysis UK Ltd or anybody/business related to Analysis UK Ltd other than my self.
Im sure most sellers in the UK know by now, but in case you have been hiding under the mound of books that you are selling please be aware that the postage rates and the method of calculating the postage is changing.
The new method uses size (volume) and weight to calculate the postage. Royal Mail have been sending out guides left right and centre with an easy to use guide to parcel/letter classification.
For me when I sell books I think the new postage prices will cut my postage costs massively which will be more then welcome and I should imagine this would be the same for a lot of book sellers across the UK.
Interestingly second class post will also be available up to 1Kg where it was limited to 750g before, typically most of the books I sell are in the 700g-1.2Kg range so this does give me the opportunity to make a little extra saving if I need to.
Generally I prefer first class post as I think the little extra it costs is worth the customer getting it faster and the perceived impression a first class stamp on the package makes over a second class stamp. If Ive sold a book through Amazon market place then the buyer has to pay a fixed postage price which is not reflected by the item they are buying, if the book is light to post then sellers can make money on the postage, however from a customer point of view paying about £3 and receiving a book in the post with a 60p second class stamp creates a bad first impression in my eyes anyway!.
The 2006 European Shareware Conference is being held up the road from me here in Cambridge, UK on the 4th and 5th of November. I naturally signed up as soon as I found out. It looks like quite an interesting schedule even if it does start way to early on a weekend morning for my liking!
Anyway, Im very excited as this will be the first shareware conference Ive been to and Im looking forward to meeting lots of other ISVs in the same boat as my self and learning lots of new skills (fingers crossed for marketing and sales!).
Hope to see lots of you there,
Sincere apologies to all trying to access BookSwap.ws, CDSwap.ws or DVDSwap.ws.
Something appears to have gone badly wrong with the .ws dns system. Sites such as visitsamoa.ws and somoa.ws have been effected as well.
Its not a good thing when an entire domain name extension disappears from the internet!
When I try and run a DNSReport on them some DNS servers return empty name servers and others are reporting nothing at all (ns1.dns.ws).
It appears over the last 2-3 hours things are starting to return to normal. Hopefully I can stop pulling my hair out now. Ns1.dns.ws still returns nothing for BookSwap.ws but the other servers are returning the correct nameservers.
Ive always wondered why I was able to get some really good domain names easily with the .ws extension, Guess I know one of the reasons now!
The good news is that I updated BookSwap.ws et al over the last few nights with a new code base that Ive been working on for ages, this sees some background improvements to the sale transaction handling which was needed for future plans, improved pages for sale transactions management and some other smaller updates. More updates to come soon.