December 15, 2004
Free Online Registration?
Sue posted about ExpressPlanner late yesterday. The beta was launched last week (Dec. 9th). Express Planner is - as of now - 100% free to use. Unless you need tech support, in which case you can pay anywhere from $95/hour to $10,000/year. But if their claims are right, you may not need help. But bet the farm you will.
Since Sue didn't, I decided I'd try it out. Registering for a free account was easy enough. I was going to start doing a simple survey which I'd post on the blog. Couldn't figure it out. The page for doing the survey offers all the familiar MSWord commands, but it was a strange design. Huge amounts of white space between forms.
At first I couldn't even figure out where to add my questions. Then I realized I had to scroll down the page - waaaaaay down the page - which seemed counterintuitive. I tried to grab my template from the blog for formatting. It worked. But it grabbed everything, including the last 10 posts... so that wasn't going to work for me. I looked for help, but this was all that was on the help page. No help.
So I backtracked. Figured I'd built myself an event. I fill out all the information on the event, then hit "save". I get back a message that my date format is incorrect. There was no key to follow for the format and I made the mistake of using the word "December". But instead of just having me correct that one blank, ExpressPlanner wiped out the entire form.
I start all over again. This time I save it without a problem. But now I don't know what I'm supposed to do next. I take a guess and click on "Manage Web Site". I'm taken to a page with four very undistinguished templates to choose from. I pick the only one with color in it. I note that every time I click something I generate a new window.
I complete the home page for the event, go to save it and am brought to a screen asking me to log in again. Now I feel I've lost all the work I just did. But I sign in anyway and am taken to a page showing that I did indeed save my work. It asks me to choose my entry (home) page. I realize I have to give that page an easy-to-remember name, so I choose "Merry Christmas". It immediately changes that to read: 36IGWTA4LOP0GZ38PW2HVM71R8CLO1EP. I make a note to remember that should I ever need it.
Now we move onto the fun part, building the reg page. I build a web page. I test it. It works. It's not pretty, but it works.
Next I go to integrate the registration with the home page. At least I think that's what I'm supposed to do. Hard to tell given the limited information available. I click on a link to integrate, I get a message that I MUST add another page. I have no idea why when one page would do the trick. But I go to add another page because they want me to and I get a system error for my effort. I go back and try to look at my entry page - another system error. More tries, more system errors.
That was two hours of my life I won't be getting back.
Sorry to report it seems there's a lot of work to do for ExpressPlanner. Too bad for you guys because the event I was going to launch was Christmas Dinner at my house. And had you registered, I would've taken you in. All in the name of science. But now you'll have to settle for your own shabby dinner instead of filet mignon and a cellarful of Aussie shiraz.
Maybe that's a good thing, since I didn't tell my wife about this experiment.
Seems ExpressPlanners roots are with MicroStrategy, which also supplied backing for Cvent. And that might explain the "from the team who brought you Reggie" headline. Although I think Reggie would've had this working better.
One thing ExpressPlanner does have is their own blog. I expect you'll see me there in the near future.
Our official version is 188.8.131.52 beta – we simply use 2.0 beta for display purposes. Our version system for this current release is not standard but will be standardized after the 2.0 production release.
Also we have not formally announced who we are and what we are trying to do – we weren’t planning on doing so until the ERM component of the portal was ready for production, the site is there more for our open source team we have put together , which I am very excited about. I am a firm supporter of open source and feel that following the open-source path will provide the greatest benefit to users of the portal in many ways.
You can find more about open source at http://www.opensource.org/ - we have not released the portal open source just yet – but that is our plan!
(You’ll find more about that later.)
Our main goal for making it available early is simply to help get more people to help in usability and functionality testing. Load testing, etc can be done without the need of beta testers. So far we’ve got over 250 beta testers which are really giving us valuable feedback. Not opening it would have delayed our release by possibly months.
We appreciate and want more feedback such as yours because it helps us get towards our release. 2.0 is slated to be the first version which is open source. We are still not sure if we are going to host it on java.net or sourceforge.net (Check them out if you aren’t familiar with open-source)
I am confident that our production version will run with the big dogs, and with the new team we put together as well as the support of different organizations and companies we are gaining - it’s only going to get better with each release!
Also – if you have features you would like to see – let me know – since you are in this business those ideas/ comments are extremely valuable to us.
Posted by: johnmark | Dec 18, 2004 6:23:16 PM
John... it also says version 2.0, not 0.9. Gmail still says beta. Firefox 0.9 was a better browser than Netscape7 or whatever number they're on now. Beta doesn't mean the product should be raw. EP was more like an alpha when I tested it.
Tim... I made an offer to Andy Powers earlier today that I'd try to help out (for free) after Christmas. I'm very interested in the model you're trying to pursue. Which is why I was very disappointed in what I saw. It simply wasn't ready to be made public, even if you slapped BETA all over it. Andy can tell you more about my comments.
Posted by: Rich | Dec 17, 2004 12:53:00 AM
Hello everyone. I am part of the expressplanner team. One of our developers showed me your blog and I wanted to comment on the review, also we hope that more people can give us feedback such as what I found here - it really helps us make the portal better.
The portal is beta just as it says – meaning it shouldn’t be used in production! We decided to make the beta version available online so that we could get feedback and apply the feedback to the production release. The beta release has not been worked on by our designers as of yet – so it’s look is rough. Design is our last goal as we finish bug fixes, etc.
We agree that it is hard to use right now – we are actually focusing on making it easier to use and expect to have a new beta release ready this coming week. (All the problems you mentioned in the review were fixed at the beginning of the week – and will be in this next release.)
ExpressPlanner will remain free – even after it’s production release. Support options are there for people who need help with their events – they are simply consulting support options which were part of our event consulting business we had before building expressplanner portal. Our overall goal is to make expressplanner so easy to use anyone can sign in – and manage their event without any problems. We will get it to that point – and your feedback speeds us along to that goal.
As for mentioning Reggie – we have no affiliation with Reggie from cvent – one of the partners simply had a company named reggiesoftware – reggie stood for Reg(g)istration.
We have a surprise in store for event planners – ExpressPlanner portal was the last piece of a project we have been working on all year. As soon as it’s production quality – we will be releasing something I am sure every event planner will love. Upon it’s release – the website will be changed and you will see what we’ve been up to!
Please send us any feedback you have on the portal. We need people to sign up and play with it so we can make the portal easier for everyone to use. If you think something needs to be different or you run into bugs – send me an email so we can get them resolved.
Also - if you have feature ideas or comments - let us know - we are going to be looking to add as many useful features as possible after our production release!
Posted by: Tim Brown | Dec 17, 2004 12:08:25 AM
That's why it says beta :)
Posted by: johnmark | Dec 16, 2004 10:59:34 PM
So it really is true that there's no such thing as a free lunch? Bummer--I really like Aussie shiraz! Thanks, Rich, for making the sacrifice so the rest of us don't have to.
Posted by: Sue P | Dec 15, 2004 9:27:24 AM
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