Archive for May, 2006

Cork’d Update #2

I’m going to try not to post general Cork’d news here, instead saving it for the Cork’d Blog, but we’ve just rolled out some new features that are too big and exciting not to talk about. I’m looking forward to sharing more design-specific stuff here at SimpleBits, but I’m not looking to bore those that aren’t interested in wine (and/or wine web sites).

We’re (Still) Listening

Member feedback has been enormously valuable since we popped Cork’d (now just 2 weeks ago). We’ve been listening to what you guys want to see implemented, evaluating what makes sense, and acting on it. So far, every new feature we’ve added has been a direct response to member feedback. Dan B. has been working feverishly on turning “it would be really cool if…” into reality. And that’s been really fun. A true wine community has been born.

There’s a real difference between being a hired hand on a project for a specific amount of time and someone who has ownership as well as passion for what they’re working on (ownership and passion can be exclusive as well, but combined, they pack quite a punch). The short-term, part-time attention of a freelance designer or developer can often lead to clunky, duct-taped solutions after the contract is over and the site is actually being used by real people. Cork’d has been the complete opposite situation, where we’ve been able to launch a product that would be considered “done” under most circumstances and then react to member feedback using the same attention to detail that went into the initial construction.

Now, on to the brand-new features that we’ve just rolled out to help make Cork’d even better.

Browsing and Advanced Search

Many members requested an easier way to browse wine on Cork’d. Now you can find wine by category, varietal, region, winery, year, price and more. If you want to look under the hood to see all the great wines being added and reviewed on Cork’d, here’s the place to start.

Speaking of finding wine, there’s now a brand new advanced search that allows searching a term in addition to refining by any of the categories mentioned above, and sorting the results as well.

Buddy Messaging

messages tabAnother frequent request was the ability for members to communicate with each other. Now they can with the new buddy messaging, built right into the site. Send messages to your buddies or other Cork’d members. Tell them you love them. Tell them often.

Bottle Quantities

Own more than one bottle of the same wine? Then you’ll probably want to denote and keep track of that in your Wine Cellar (a list of wines that you own). Now you can add and edit quantities for wines both in your Wine Cellar and Shopping List (a list of wines you want to buy). Managing your wine collection just got a whole lot easier.

Etc.

As with our first update, there was also more than a handful of other tweaks and improvements, like showing more information in wine lists, suggesting related wines on wine review pages and more.

A sustained “thank you” to all the members for continued feedback and suggestions. You’re helping us make Cork’d better and we think that’s pretty cool (plus, we like making Cork’d better). Stay tuned here for more nuts-and-bolts thoughts on the design of the site, and be sure to subscribe to the Cork’d Blog RSS feed for future updates and other cool news.

Introducing Cork’d

I like wine. I’ve even touted it’s ability to act as a design enhancer. The problem with wine (for me, and for many) is knowing what’s good. There are infinite choices out there. It’s overwhelming. Oftentimes, I lean on the suggestions from friends — people that probably know more about wine than I do.

When I finally find a wine that I like, it’s always impossible to remember it for the next trip to the store. Some people keep a journal, writing down what they thought about the wine in a notebook. But wouldn’t it be great if you could do this online? And wouldn’t it be also great if we could share those lists with our friends through a simple, free interface? And while we’re at it, wouldn’t it be the bomb.com if this same interface allowed you to review the wine, tag it, and set up lists for wines that you want to buy or that you own in your cellar?

Cork'dIntroducing Cork’d. A brand-spanking new site devoted to reviewing and sharing wine created by Dan Benjamin and myself. We’ve been working on this for quite some time. Just the two of us. Call us the Bartles & Jaymes of the wine web world (wait, no, don’t do that).

What is Cork’d?

Cork'd screenshotThe basic gist of Cork’d is this: after painlessly creating a free account, you’re able to keep track of wines you’ve tried in your Wine Jounal. You can rate, review and tag wines (more on that below), and these “tasting notes” end up attatched as comments to each wine in our database. You can also build a Shopping List of wines you’d like to buy (think of this like you would a Netflix queue), and a Wine Cellar for wines that you own. Keeping track of what your friends are tasting is as easy as adding them as a Drinking Buddy. You can also recommend wines to your buddies after you’ve rated and reviewed a bottle.

We have a partnership set up through wine.com, where a selection of their bottles have seeded the Cork’d database with about 1200 wines (which will grow as members add their own bottles), each with a link to buy that wine right away. But we can also see other cross-promotional opportunities by getting involved in the meat-space wine community. There are endless ideas flowing about connecting with wineries and vineyards, other wine blogs and podcasts. We’re really looking forward to watching it all grow.

Tasting Tags

The idea of tagging a wine may sound absurd — but when we started to realize the benefits, it became a must-have. We call them tasting tags, and by applying keywords like “oak, pepper, vanilla, berry” to a wine, we’re then making it easy to find similar wines based on those flavors. If you like oaky wines, for instance, then it should be easy to find them.

Why and How

What’s funny about Cork’d when looking at it for the first time, is that it’s pulling in many of the current technologies that have been brewing out there, and applies them to… wine. And why not? This is something Dan B. and I built quite simply because we wanted to use it. We’d been trading favorite bottles, realizing there would be an incredible benefit to keep track of things through a web interface, building a community around it, and making it easy to subscribe to buddies and wine lists. It had to be.

It’ll also be interesting to continue to talk about what we learned by building a web application with a team of 2. Working with Dan B. is a natural fit, as our areas of expertise overlap only slightly (design/ui/development), and where they do overlap actually made things run all the smoother. I was continually amazed by the way Dan approached building the app in Ruby on Rails, the speed, the structure, the way he thinks about a problem for a while, then takes all of about 3 minutes to write the working code — he’s a developer who designs in code. And I’m sure he’ll have much to write about regarding the process, including his already-published thoughts on the launch over at Hivelogic (far more thorough than mine).

This was a giant learning experience for me in terms of dipping my toes in Rails, becoming more familiar with Subversion (more on this later), and in using these tools as a collaborative and iterative way of building a web application. It’s a gratifying way for a designer to work on a large project, chipping away at things in real time, using real data — it’s a bit like sculpting. An evolution.

Go Forth and Uncork

I’m excited to share much more about the site over the coming weeks and months, and we’ll be rolling out some additional features and tweaks. But until then, if you dig wine (or want to start digging wine), then head on over and, um … uncorkCork’d.

The Only Song You’ll Need to Learn on the Ukulele

Esteemed readers that haven’t left while I’ve found little to write about lately, may remember the time that I listed out the Reasons I’ve Purchased a Ukulele. I can report that it’s still the best $39.99 I’ve ever spent. Little Jack goes into a hypnotic trance whenever I bust it out, and it’s so light and portable, it’s easy to juggle it with whatever else you’re doing.
But the main reason I return to this fascinating topic, is that I’ve found the one and only song you need to learn in order to sound like a soprano ukulele pro. One song only: I’ll Follow the Sun by the Beatles (perhaps you’ve heard of them).
Once you learn C – C7, D7 – G7, and F – Fm transitions. You can start mixing and matching these to instantly sound like a Hawaiian ragtime virtuoso. Seriously! Also, by learning this one song, you can play others, like Proud Mary, Ring of Fire or Puff the Magic Dragon (I know, I know… but Jack loves ‘em).
So that’s it. If you’re a recent or future ukulele owner, learn this one song, and off you go into 4-string stardom.
My Odeo PodcastUpdate: I’ve recorded a little tune I like to call “Jackulele” over at Odeo. My first podcast, and hopefully not my last. The song uses all the chords from the aforementioned Beatles selection, with a few other experimentations. It’s a bit rough, but is always a crowd pleaser (to a crowd of one. One that is 5 months old).