Last year, a friend (and fellow alumnus of OOTB) came to me only days before Valentine's Day with the idea for "LoveNotes," a little webapp for sending notes accompanied by OOTB's a cappella music. For some crazy reason I said "yes," and we managed to get something out the door just in time. The service was moderately successful among friends & family and helped promote OOTB to a wider audience, so we came away feeling pretty satisfied.
Who knew how easy it could be to set‑up a simple e‑card service, right?
Well, last week I booted-up LoveNotes to see if I could tweak it a bit for 2012 and was floored by how uninviting I found the site's design. Only a year had passed since its release, and already I found myself wondering how I could have put together such an awkward layout. That's not to say it was entirely bad—there are parts of the site that I thought came out pretty well—but I guess you can take a look and judge for yourself:
I'm probably being too harsh on myself, but this was a big letdown for me. I remembered putting a lot of detail-work into the site, and now I was considering cutting the 2012 release entirely. I simply wasn't satisfied with the work I had done.
So I ended up scrapping most of it and starting from scratch. Once again, my deadline was only days away, so to keep matters simple I settled on the visual theme of a postcard. Most of the redesign came together on Sunday, and then the evening before Valentine's Day was spent polishing the details and responding to feedback. Before I knew it, the new version was complete:
And thus, LoveNotes 2.0 was born.
And how did it do? On Valentine's Day, LoveNotes saw 761 unique visitors from 10 countries and 40 states, for a total of 2,030 page views. We're not talking gone-viral traffic, but for a short period there were 10-15 hits coming in per minute, which was exciting to watch. At one point Deke Sharon, a well-known figure in the contemporary a cappella community, tweeted about the app. For a group of 17 college students, being able to connect to such a large audience in a single day is pretty impressive. In all, not too shabby, especially given the short couple of days it took to put it all together.
A Few Takeaways
Begin with a clear concept
The difference between this year and the previous—aside from my own web design skills hopefully having improved a bit—was the fact that I had a clear concept to go on. Last year's product was a complete jumble of mismatched ideas, despite the amount of time I spent on the details. This year's postcard concept helped unify everything and led to some fun embellishments.
Email is a harsh mistress
Even if you do everything right, you'll never see every email go through. I have no idea what percentage of the app's emails were automatically flagged as spam last year, but I suspect that it was above 25%, given the number of questions people asked. This year I made the long-overdue switch to SendGrid, which brought the rate of successful delivery to 92.5%. Not bad for only 15 minutes of setup work, but the site still got rejected by a couple of email providers.
Anticipate common user mistakes
One easy step I overlooked (both this year and last) was to make sure that emails look valid before accepting them. A valid-looking email might still bounce, but at least I could have asked visitors to correct simple mistakes like forgetting the dot in '.com'.
Although I probably won't rework LoveNotes a third time, I definitely see no reason to take it offline anytime soon. It may even see some new song options in the future. For now, feel free to send LoveNotes to your heart's content, and let me know how it goes!