Posted on

Get An Invite To Our New Locator Service

Go ahead and sign up for our Early Access Program to the My Store Locator Plus service.

My Store Locator Plus is an online subscription service that brings Store Locator Plus to ANY web technology stack.  WordPress, Django, Ruby, ASP.Net.    As long as you are hosting a site that can run JavaScript then My Store Locator Plus will work.

We are currently in the very early stages of development; what we call our “alpha release”.  It is far from being the final product but it IS functional and has been tested on various web technologies to see how well it can bring the Store Locator Plus service to non-WordPress sites.

We are now opening up our private invite to the Alpha Release of My Store Locator Plus.   The select few users that are granted access will help guide us in the features and overall user experience that will make it into our initial public launch coming in early 2017.

MySLP Locations July 2016 Alpha Release
MySLP Locations July 2016 Alpha Release

Continue reading Get An Invite To Our New Locator Service

Posted on

The Future Direction of Store Locator Plus

If you’ve been following the recent changes to the Store Locator Plus website and product offerings you have likely noticed a change in general strategy and direction with respect to the add-on options. The over-arching theme is to have fewer add ons with more features.

In the past the decision was made to keep premium options as affordable as possible and allow an ala-carte approach. As the product has grown the options have become numerous. Having many smaller add-ons allowed people to pick-and-choose what they wanted to keep costs down. That option has come with a number of downsides that have slowly grown to outweigh the benefits. Therefore a new method of providing grouped add-ons with locator-specific features will be the way ahead for the following reasons:

  • For new customers it is a challenge to figure out exactly what combination of a dozen add-on offerings will help them achieve their goal of building the best locator experience for their business or customers.
  • For existing customers it is a chore to keep up with a half-dozen Store Locator Plus add-ons they may have installed and to ensure the add-ons are updated to the latest release. Despite the built-in update notifications they go unnoticed unless they are logged into the WP admin site, which many do not do once they have a site working the way they want it to.
  • For our support team checking for the myriad of combinations of plugins installed and various versions and how they affect each other is a challenge.
  • The R&D overhead of managing dozens of code repositories is an even larger challenge, especially with a new team of developers coming on board.
  • Documenting all the add-on packs and options is a full-time endeavor for a part-time support person.

The New Add Ons

Going forward we need to reduce the footprint of the options if we intend to keep Store Locator Plus current and a viable option for the WordPress community. Therefore, SLP has decided to go in a new direction and offer a few premium plugins that augment the Store Locator Plus product.  This solution will simplify the development process, improve stability, make it easier for customers to pick the one-or-two options they need to build the perfect locator for their business or customer, and make it easier to keep up with the updates for both the developers and customers.

Moving to a few larger plugins will address many of the aforementioned issues.

​At the end of this year there will be 4 plugins that are “mainstream”:

  • Store Locator Plus
  • ​​Experience : User experience options  – replacing Enhanced Map/Enhanced Search/Enhanced Results + Widgets
  • ​​Power : Functionality options that effect Imports, SEO, and categorization – replacing Pro, Tagalong, Pages, Directory Builder, and Contact Extender
  • ​Premier : Advanced features and 3rd party integration features as well as enhancements to all of the above

Benefits Of Fewer Options

Customers can easily find which add-on has the feature set they need. Existing customers will be able to purchase an upgrade and replace several add- ons with a single add-on and reduce WordPress site overhead in the process; new features not found in stand-alone Legacy add-ons.  As the new add ons become the norm our support staff will be more efficient at answering questions, providing solutions, or addressing issues.  The reduction in overhead on documentation, testing, compatibility checks, and update notices will allow our R&D team to focus on code improvements for stability and adding advanced features.

These changes will make it far easier to ensure cross-option compatibility. For example:  Our code logic will know which Pages settings are going to include options for X,Y, and Z while Tagalong has A, B, C and how they work together. This makes the code more efficient; often using less memory and faster execution of processes while contributing to a more stable environment.

As Power, Experience, and Premier mature they will continue to reduce the calls needed to the WordPress database (Experience turned 24+ data requests into 3 for faster startup), reduce the WordPress code stack, and as a result utilize less memory per website visitor.  All these things are minor incremental improvements to the speed at which the locator product works. Faster locator = faster page load times. Faster page load times = less lost visitors & better SEO page ranking.

Going Forward With The New Add Ons

​​As for  upgrading to the new add ons, we are working hard to ensure the settings from the products (add-ons) it replaces are kept intact.  Most settings appear to come over properly, but again with all the combinations of how plugin X impacts Y it is very challenging to get all combinations to update perfectly without an occasional  glitch. It should be a relatively painless process.  Our goal is for NOTHING to change, but with 15,000+ active installs on a bazillion combinations of WordPress added to some misbehaving themes/plugins/servers that is not always possible without a few hiccups.  The nice thing about the new add ons is that going forward you will only need to worry about keeping 4 SLP plugins updated at any given time.

The Experience add-on is already available and is out “in the wild” on a number of sites.  The Power add on is coming with an anticipated release date of March 31st, 2016. Premier is available to all Premier subscription holders and will continue to get all-new functionality as requested by our Premier members and will automatically receive the Experience and Power replacements (as long as the Premier subscription is active).

If you have purchased one of the ala-carte add-on offerings recently you can obtain a discount if you decide to replace them with either the Experience or Power add-on. Purchases need to have been made within the past 45 days.

If you choose not to replace your add-ons with Experience or Power they will continue to work with Store Locator Plus 4.4.   We plan to keep legacy add- ons compatible with Store Locator Plus for as long as possible, however there are architecture changes planned for Store Locator Plus 4.5 and 4.6 that will remove years-old functions and features from the base plugin in order to improve performance and stability and stay current with the Word Press updates.   Some older legacy add- ons may lose some options or stop working as the base plugin is cleaned up.

A Whole New Offering

You may be wondering why so many changes.  Why the focus on simplifying the code and improving performance?  Why is overhead such a big issue?  The answer is two-fold.

First, we want Store Locator Plus to be a good “citizen” in your WordPress install.   We want to ensure outdated code is removed for security purposes.  We also want to use as little memory as possible and to make the database processing as fast as possible.  This all leads to a better experience.  On websites with tens-of-thousands of visitors viewing their locator pages every day this makes a big difference in the user experience.

Second, we are building a locator service that will be handling tens-of-thousands if not hundreds-of-thousands of visitors per day   We are in the very early stages of building a full SaaS offering built on the WordPress + Store Locator Plus framework.  Our intention is to bring the full feature set of Store Locator Plus to non-WordPress websites.

My Store Locator Plus, our  future SaaS offering, will run a fully managed locator for everyone.   WordPress users included, if they opt for the SaaS service over the “buy it and own it” model we employ today.  Users of the SaaS service no longer need to worry about keeping the locator software updated or ensuring it does not break their custom work or settings.  We’ll be handling the upgrades after full regression testing has been performed.  MySLP will ensure your location data is always backed up and that new locations are quickly goecoded and ready to deploy.

As we work toward a high performance locator offering via the My Store Locator Plus SaaS product, the main plugin will continue to be refined.   The user experience, performance, and feature set will continue to evolve as we work toward building a world-class locator offering at an affordable price.

We hope you are as enthused about our plans for 2016  as we are.   As always, we appreciate your patronage and your support.

Posted on

What’s Wrong With Guru.com

Extortion OK, Chargebacks Not

Last Friday, Guru.com suddenly and without warning shut down our account.

We were a well established vendor on Guru.com.  In fact, we were consistently ranked a top-50 vendor of nearly 50,000 vendors in the Programming & Databases sector, reaching the top 25 at one point.  If we hadn’t opted to take on a major project outside of Guru.com that kept us from doing new business there for most of the past year we’d have reached the top 10 with ease.

Surprise! You’re Done Here.

What was really surprising is that after 5 years of working with Guru.com and being a top ranked vendor,  they terminated our account with no warning.  No email, no phone call, no communication of any kind.  We simply logged into the system in an effort to communicate with a client that we were working with and could not log in.

After ruling out technical issues we emailed Guru.com.  36  hours later they responded “you did a chargeback so we closed your accounts”.

Wait.  What chargeback?!

We called Guru.com and got in touch with Julie, the customer service representative for freelancers. She said there was a chargeback of $690 on a Guru account for XYZ.com (we changed the name for the privacy of our client).   As we pointed out to Julie;   XYZ.com was a company we knew quite well, we had just finished an 18 month stint there as interim CTO, but we are not XYZ.com.

While working as CTO, we setup a Guru.com employer account to assist in locating additional vendors to work on their project.  When setting up the Guru.com account, we used the corporate American Express card that XYZ.com put in our name to facilitate purchases.   It was that very card, with our name on it as “CTO, XYZ.com LLC” that was the source of our problems.

Three months after  we finished our contract with XYZ.com, they had a problem with a transaction at Guru. THEY had requested a chargeback on their account, not us. We brought this to Julie’s attention but she either didn’t understand or didn’t care.

Extortion OK

It turns out another Guru vendor had extorted money from XYZ.com via the SafePay Escrow System.  Even though the money was in Escrow and it is against the Terms of Service, the vendor insisted that NO WORK would be released under any circumstances unless XYZ.com released $690 of a $2000 project.

Vendor Extortion Letter
Private DB Message:
– From: ABC Vendor (name changed) (Pro ID: 1063060)

– Project: Create Flash Homepage For New Website (Project ID: 568291)
————————————————–
Hello,
How do you expect us to send you files without pre payment.

You know thats our only protection.

Here is the updated presentation, please download here (note: a demo file, not the work due).
https://rcpt.yousendit.com/831201611/a0f698302ab4517d5ac132a0af438

Best,
Ray

The work  that was finally released turned out to be incomplete, sub-par, and not even close to the deliverables requested.   When XYZ.com asked for a refund from the vendor they basically said “too bad”.   XYZ.com brought the complaint to Guru.com and even had written extortion letters from the vendor.  Guru also said “too bad, you released the money, we won’t help you”.

XYZ.com, rightfully so, initiated a charge back through American Express.  Guru did NOT serve their best interest and after months of discussion refused to help, even though clear violations of the vendor and SafePay Escrow policy were evident.   Guru.com refused to assist in the matter so XYZ.com requested a chargeback as suggested by American Express.

The truly amazing part of all this is not only did Guru.com refuse to assist XYZ.com with a clear case of extortion and violations of the Terms of Service, they allowed the other vendor to remain online as an active vendor in their system!  We know this because XYZ.com came to us for assistance after we had finished serving in the CTO role.    We researched the claim and lo-and-behold, the vendor was still online and now requesting funds up front to start projects from other potential clients.   Even more amazing was just a month ago the very same vendor bid on one of Cyber Sprocket’s projects we had posted through our Guru.com employer account, bad feedback from other problem projects intact in their profile!

Chargebacks Are Not OK

So what happened next?  Guru.com got the chargeback for $690 from XYZ.com and immediately shut down ALL accounts associated in any way, shape or form with XYZ.com.  This included Cyber Sprocket Labs, simply because our name appeared in both places.

Nevermind that XYZ.com is a separate entity owned by a different individual.  Nevermind that the credit card was an XYZ.com corporate card.   Who cares that the tax ID on file, the address, the company name, and the primary contacts had nothing to do with Cyber Sprocket.  Forget the fact that Cyber Sprocket Labs had perfect 5-of-5 star ratings in all categories on Guru.com for the more than 5 years we were there.  We never had a chargeback, never a complaint, and brought more than $10,000 in revenue into Guru.com.   Guru made up their mind, they were kicking us off the site.

They also could not grasp the fact that XYZ.com was a client of Cyber Sprocket Labs, NOT part of Cyber Sprocket Labs.   We brought XYZ.com to Guru.com because we told them how great we thought Guru.com was.  Maybe we were wrong, but that was our thought at the time. In 5+ years we NEVER had a problem with Guru.com, often worked with good vendors, and rarely with bad clients.

No Explanation Good Enough

No matter how we tried to explain the situation, or offered to send evidence that the companies are truly separate, Guru.com didn’t want to hear it.    We even spoke with XYZ.com and their CEO agreed to talk to Guru.com about the situation.

XYZ.com CEO Email
Can you have them call me?
How can the XYZ.com account have anything to do with you?
– Joe Owner

Guru.com would NOT consider the case saying “we do not see the benefit in talking with Joe Owner” (Joe Owner is our pseudonym for the owner of the company).  Their response was  that we must reverse the chargeback.  Sorry, but we cannot do that.  Only XYZ.com can do that.    We have no authority because it is not our card.  We did not initiate the chargeback. Julie at Guru.com didn’t care.   As with our client and the extortion case, it was not Guru’s problem.

XYZ.com CEO Email

Lance:

Good afternoon. I apologize for the inconvenience. I received your email with Joe Owner’s message. I do not see the benefit in talking with Joe Owner unless he was willing to retract the chargeback; that is the only way we can reconsider reinstating your accounts. A chargeback is a violation of our Terms of Service and anyone and associates taking such action cannot be allowed on our platform.

I have contacted your Employers (Project ID: 604703 and 119413) regarding the outstanding payments. You are free to work with them outside Guru.com. If they decide to pay you via Guru.com for the outstanding Escrow and Invoice, we will forward the payment to you. If not, we will return the payment in Escrow to the Employer.

I will inform you when I hear from your Employer as to what they decide to do with regards to the payments.

Regards,
Julie
Guru.com Team

Guru.com Focuses On Their Profits

One thing is certain, Guru.com has made it very clear where their priorities are these days.  The shift in corporate mentality is obvious. What was once a mission to provide fairly priced high quality consulting services has now become a mission to make more money for Guru.com.

How do we know this?  For starters, they allow a vendor to stay online after documented extortion (that makes money for Guru.com) yet kick us off for being very loosely associated with a chargeback (Guru.com loses money).

Secondly, Guru.com has made a very notable policy change that goes into full effect this July.   They are changing a well-designed and well-liked ranking system based heavily on ratings and past performance to a system based purely on revenue earnings.   That means someone that does poor work but can close $10,000 in deals because they are low priced ranks higher than someone that does great work but only generates $5,000 in income.    Ask any of the top-rated vendors on Guru.com what they think about the system & they’ll tell you its a bad idea.

Guru.com Policy Change Notice

Thus, the very concept of Rank hinders the success of the majority in favor of a select minority – regardless of which factor is used for the primary sort.  In contrast, Guru.com genuinely wants every Freelancer to have an opportunity to be a winner – not just a select few.

So What Will Change on May 8?

Guru Freelancers can expect to see initial adjustments for the removal of Rank beginning in Guru search results and on Freelancer profiles:

  • As a first step, we will begin sorting search results by earnings as a default. A new option will also be provided to allow results to be re-sorted by Reviews. Of the available options, a default sort by earnings provides the best view of the health, vitality and promise of Guru Freelancers due to its natural display of financial success and high quote submission activity.

  • Quality Scores and Rank numbers will no longer be visible to Employers. Both will be removed from your profiles and from the search results. Instead, your reviews and feedback ratings will be better featured to summarize your performance history to prospective Employers in a more familiar format.

Source: Guru.com website June 14th, 2010 (http://answers.guru.com/pro/Announcements/Freelancer-Rank-To-Be-Discontinued.aspx)

It can’t be made any more obvious, Guru.com is putting the emphasis on your ability to make them rich.  They are trying to say this is to give “new consultants just getting started a chance to compete”.  Really?  We had a zero rating and no earnings at one point as well.  We got started just fine and made it to the top 25.   That was with a ranking system based on quality first.

Guru.com, it is clear, you are all about the money.  Quality consultants be damned.

What Next?

So what do we do now?  Nothing with Guru.com it seems.  They flatly refuse to try to resolve the situation.  Regardless of the thousands of dollars in revenue we’ve produced for them, they insist we are somehow responsible for the $690 they lost because they allowed clear and blatant extortion to happen within their system.

Luckily we have a very good client base already and are growing without the help of Guru.com.  There are also plenty of other venues out there that have improved significantly since the days back in 2005 when we started on Guru.com.   New leads and new contracts will come in by word-of-mouth and through sites such as Elance. and oDesk.

Even if Guru.com were to ask us back, we’re not sure we’d go back.   What was once a thriving, well-run community is now quickly sliding down the slope into mediocrity or worse.

Have you had good or bad experiences with Guru.com?  Feel free to share.  We’d love to hear your stories as well.