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New Report Option: Promoted Tags

When we launched Gimlet, our tagging option was completely free-form. “Power to the people!” we thought, “Let the best cataloging scheme arise spontaneously from each individual’s work!”

Chaos, of course, ensued.

As a salve for the unfettered free-tagging going on in everyone’s Gimlet accounts, we introduced “Promoted” tags: Gimlet administrators can define some “approved” tags, and people using Gimlet are strongly encouraged to stick to that list.

And thus, the chaos decreased.

The problem, though, was: What can people do about the past chaos — especially in reporting data? Even after setting up your list of promoted tags, reports would still show the effects of the previous free-wheeling days. And we really wanted people to be able to leave those days behind them without the work of cleaning up all the original data.

So! As of now, you can limit your tags in the Detail report to only show the promoted tags. Select the “Tags (promoted only)” option for either Rows or Columns and you’re set. It’ll change your reports from looking like this:

Uncontrolled tags screenshot

to this:

Promoted tags screenshot

September 13th, 2016  |  Published in Uncategorized

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Gimlet – Improvements Coming!

Today we’re excited to announce a series of feature improvements coming to Gimlet. I’m thrilled about the future of Gimlet and you should be, too.

We’ve spent a great deal of time analyzing customer service requests and we’ve talked directly with several clients to build a solid vision for how we can add the most value back to the software.  This post is going to provide an overview of the work we’re undertaking, with more posts to follow providing detailed information on each of these major new features.

Okay! Here’s the list of coming improvements:

Improved Search

One of our principal design goals in this round of updates is to give you better access to your data in Gimlet.  To that end, we’re adding a faceting search engine to allow you complete control over how you query your data.

Features

  • Facets for limiting your results to particular category values
  • Full support for complex, nested Boolean queries
  • Improved phrase and proximity searching

Search Results


Improved Reports

Our new search engine will also power our next generation of reporting tools.  Doubling down on this new technology will allow you to query and facet directly within reports, providing you all the means to analyze your data in great detail with rich, ad-hoc control entirely at your command.

Features

  • New downloadable charts and graphs
  • Compare data between date ranges
  • Facet or query directly within reports

Comparison Report


Awesome Mobile Support

We know a lot of Gimlet use occurs at a traditional service desk, using a standard desktop computer. We also know your staff use Gimlet throughout your library on a wide variety of devices.  We’ve designed the next version of Gimlet to be mobile-first, and fully responsive, to create a user experience that’s natural and optimized for any device.

Features

  • Use Gimlet on any device, anywhere.
  • All the power desktop Gimlet on your phone
  • Speech-to-text entry on mobile devices
Mobile question form

Mobile question form


Speed Entry

New clients are always worried about how much time it takes to use Gimlet.  It’s dreadful for them to imagine typing each question verbatim into the question form. PLEASE DON’T.

It’s always been our recommendation that people only write question and answer text into Gimlet if it’s worth searching for again in the future.  Many times (perhaps most even?) it’s not worth adding that text, but you still need to record the transaction.  Enter speed entry.

Here’s how it’ll work:

  1. Choose a question type
  2. Add tags (optional)
  3. Save! 🙂
Speed entry

Speed Entry – Choose a question type, optionally add tags.

That’s as quick as entering data can be.  You’ll be able to switch between Traditional Entry and Speed Entry on-the-fly, so select whichever makes the most sense for you at the time of need.


Okok, that all sounds wonderful! When are these updates coming?

That’s a really good question.  The new search engine is a large and important update for us.  We’ll be moving that tool into production first and before we release any other changes. In fact, when the new search engine upgrade occurs you won’t even see anything different in Gimlet.

All of the user-interface improvements described here are next. These upgrades are significant, so we’re stilling working on the details for how we’ll release them. More information will follow in the coming weeks, but for now, we felt it was high-time we shared a glimpse into the future of Gimlet.

Do you have any thoughts, concerns, or feedback? Please drop a comment below! Thanks.

July 19th, 2016  |  Published in Gimlet, Uncategorized

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Top 10 tags used in Gimlet

  1. printing
  2. holds
  3. books
  4. dvds
  5. computer_help
  6. libcard
  7. renewals
  8. checkout
  9. book
  10. supplies

Okok, this isn’t very interesting, but it’s pretty true of any reference shift I ever had.

January 20th, 2016  |  Published in Uncategorized

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2025

I just set a reminder in my calendar for 2025. Ten years in the future. My oldest daughter just started kindergarten; she’ll be learning to drive when Google emails me about this.

Recently, we took the plunge, spent the money, and registered a trademark for Gimlet. (In retrospect, we probably should have done this sooner, but no harm has come from waiting, either.) With our fancy trademark certificate came a reminder that our registration needs to be renewed after ten years. Into the calendar it went.

It’s a little strange to think that whoever wins the American presidency in 2016, we’re planning to still be around when they’re long out of office.

September 24th, 2015  |  Published in Uncategorized

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Fifteen Million

Just a little shy of our sixth birthday, our database has crossed the “fifteen million questions” mark. 15,000,000. That’s a 15 followed by six zeros. A bit more than the population of Istanbul. At the rate we’re going, we’ll pass the population of Shanghai in less than two years. It’s a big number and it keeps getting bigger.

I thought I would have something big — something profound — to say about this, and how it feels, but I don’t. More than anything, it’s a reminder that libraries are vital, living places with librarians helping thousands and thousands of people every day.

Here’s to another fifteen million.

Also! As a small reminder, next week we’re headed out to ALA. We’re set up at booth 3243. We’d love to see you.

June 18th, 2015  |  Published in Gimlet

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Come see us at ALA!

That’s right: After missing out on Las Vegas, we’re headed to San Francisco for ALA 2015. Come visit us at booth 3243.

If you’d like to set up a time to talk in a more in-depth way about how you’re using Gimlet and how we could make it work better for you, send a note to support@gimlet.us and we’ll set up a time with you.

May 14th, 2015  |  Published in Gimlet

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Running a Startup: Myths and Realities

It’s hard to get straight talk on what it’s like to run an independent software shop. The media focuses on extremes: Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion. Snapchat raises $468 million in venture capital. Everpix goes out of business despite raising $2.3 million and having $254,000 in annual revenue. And that’s just photo apps. It looks like there are two paths to walk: one of immeasurable wealth and one of bankruptcy and failure. Both paths are paved with endless 80-hour weeks, burnout, and broken families.

Part of the reason it’s hard to see a different path is that small software shops don’t talk about money very often. Money is a often taboo conversation topic in the United States (especially the Midwest), and it’s easy to sound like a jerk — either boastful or whiny. As a business, talking about revenue might make people think we’re taking advantage of our clients and living too well, or we’re not making enough money and are unsustainable. Or give competitors some kind of advantage. It’s all downside, no upside. Right?

But prospective business owners would be well-served with better information. And over the last few months, the developers of some really fantastic apps have shared their experiences… and revenue data. Some of these are quite positive and some are downright depressing. In one case, it’s simply beautiful.

We’re a different sort of business to the ones linked above: Our first product, Gimlet, is aimed at solving a specific set of problems in a limited niche. In particular, it’s designed to help libraries quantify the value of their public services (for example, reference) for their sponsors (for example, university deans and city councils). Our target market is smaller, and we’re selling something designed to provide business value rather than pleasure. Though our experiences aren’t directly comparable, I hope our perspective is useful, too. So: Here are some perceptions of running a startup, and our experiences:

Myth: You need to work a million hours right away.

Gimlet started as a side project for Eric and I. We both had (and still have!) jobs with universities that provide stable income and health insurance. Looking around, having an alternate source of income is incredibly common for independent creators. As Gimlet has grown, we’ve been able to switch from full-time to part-time day jobs. This hasn’t been trivial; it’s taken negotiation and influenced our career choices. And it’s meant spending some nights and weekends and vacation time working on software, rather than doing something more fun. And, honestly, taking a lot longer to launch than we hoped.

But, having stable income has meant we can work a sustainable number of hours on Gimlet and still spend time with our wives and kids. We built and launched Gimlet on our schedule, while we gradually learned the ropes of running a business.

Myth: You need fast, exponential growth to survive.

We’re a subscription-based service, charging based on the number of library branches using our software. Here’s our growth curve:

Gimlet: Billed Branches Over Time

It’s pretty much a straight line. It has its fast and slow times, but in general, it’s been pretty steady and predictable. This growth rate is something we can sustain and plan around; it’s a lot easier to make decisions about our steady jobs when we have a fair idea what the year’s income will be.

One thing that’s helped us thrive through our slow growth has been keeping expenses low. Not collecting much money from a business is one thing; continuing to pour money in would be hard. About half of our total expenses are in server hosting, which is $160 per month. And we launched on a server that cost us $20 per month. We were breaking even within months of launch, and made back our initial investment within a year. We’ve never taken on debt or looked for venture capital.

Myth: You need to be perfect right away.

When we launched Gimlet, there was a lot of stuff we didn’t know. How much time would tech support take? How about billing? What bugs hadn’t we found? Would they be big deals? And the biggest: How much should we charge? Because we didn’t know the answers, it was pretty unlikely that we would do everything perfectly even with infinite time, which no one has.

So: We launched small, and decided to learn on the way and be flexible. As it turns out, tech support takes about as much time as we imagined. Billing support takes way more. And because of that, we realized weren’t charging enough for Gimlet. So we decided to raise our prices, leading to the jump in our annual subscription rate:

gimlet_subscription_time

Was raising our prices a hard decision? You bet. Does the added time give us more flexibility to to work on Gimlet while keeping on top of billing? Absolutely. Do we have a ton ideas about how to make Gimlet better? Of course. Do we have a better idea of where to direct our work now that we’ve been in business for a while? Totally.

Final Thoughts

We couldn’t be happier about how building and running Gimlet has turned out so far. We aren’t going revenue gangbusters, but we’re steadily climbing towards decent full-time developer salaries while building a product we love for clients we love. Even more importantly, we’re helping keep our families fed and healthy and loved while we do it.

If you’re an aspiring developer, I can’t guarantee this path will work for you. It’s worked great for us, though.

If this isn’t success, I don’t know what is.

February 9th, 2015  |  Published in business, Gimlet

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Our New Server, and Internet Services

Last Sunday, we migrated Gimlet to a big(!) shiny new server. All of the associated hiccups seem to have been solved. We always think the new server is so huge, and then outgrow it surprisingly fast.

In this migration, we moved from our own dedicated server at Rimuhosting to a cloud host at Digital Ocean. We were very happy with Rimuhosting’s service, but the flexibility of the cloud servers is a huge advantage for us. It’ll be a lot easier for us to grow here. The price is rather lower, too, which doesn’t hurt.

Doing the migration was a bunch of work, but since the service is a better fit for us, it was worth the time spent.

Of course, as a service provider ourselves, this is a somewhat sobering realization — but a valuable one to keep in our minds.

December 12th, 2014  |  Published in Gimlet

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New Prices and Terms of Use

More than six months ago, we announced Gimlet’s new pricing: $20 per month for your first branch, and $10 per month for each additional. As of September 1, those prices have been in effect. If you’re billed on a monthly cycle, you’ll see the increase in this month’s receipt; if you’re billed annually, you’ll see it on your next invoice.

With this change, we needed to update our Terms of Use document, as it mentions prices. Among some legan and readability tweaks (no more all caps paragraphs!), there are a few other changes of note in there:

  • You’re now formally allowed to be billed annually and pay by check.
  • We clarify our right to talk publicly about aggregated statistics on Gimlet data — trends and the like.

We’ve actually done both of these things since early on in Gimlet’s life (see, for example, the question count on our homepage), but it’s nice to make this more formal.

As always, if you have questions about any of this, please let us know.

September 5th, 2014  |  Published in Uncategorized

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Gimlet Turns Five

For years, I’ve been a huge fan of Pinboard. Like Gimlet, Pinboard has stayed simple, rather than adding every feature in the book. Like Gimlet, Pinboard has stayed small and profitable without chasing venture capital or seeking to be acquired for heaps of money. Like Gimlet, Pinboard is responsible for sobering amounts of people’s treasured data — a stable, durable island in the quicksand of internet businesses. And as I found out recently, like Gimlet, Pinboard recently turned five years old. The owner’s post is one of the best posts I’ve read on running an internet business. Seriously, read it. I’ll wait.

Still here? Well, in that vein: Here’s what the last five years have been like for me.

The biggest surprise in running a software startup has been the amount of non-code stuff I’ve done. Don’t get me wrong; I write a bunch of code, but when first dreaming about Gimlet, I imagined my time spent polishing a shining, flawless beacon of programming. Not so. Mostly, this is because Gimlet works and we don’t want to change things just for the sake of changing them. Partly, it’s because there’s a lot more pressing stuff that needs to get done: questions to answer, vendor forms to fill out (hoo boy do I hate vendor forms), books to balance, servers to update, the occasional retrospective blog post to write. And partly, it’s because our day jobs (yes, we have day jobs with health insurance and everything) still command a substantial slice of our attention.

(Also partly, it’s because Eric and I each had kids in the past few years. It turns out that kids are a crazy huge amount of work. But more on them in another post.)

Growth-wise, our clients are recording somewhere in the neighborhood of 22,000 questions on an average day. In some ways, that doesn’t seem like a huge number (it’s not even one per second!), but it means we’re on pace to add about six to seven million questions a year to the database, which isn’t nothing. We’ll cross the 10,000,000 mark sometime in the next month or so. It feels like just a few months ago that we were inching up on the 1,000,000 mark, and a few months before that we hit 100,000. For our library clients (which is basically all of you), it turns out that reference is by no means dead. Honestly, it isn’t even looking sick.

In another vague parallel to Pinboard, we’ve found that people will indeed pay for a good service, and that getting enough revenue to keep a business going is quite possible, as long as we don’t have illusions about gold-plated Ferraris or anything. Pricing is still something of a dark art for us (as is the case for most businesses like ours), but we’re pretty happy with our new pricing plan.

To avoid making promises we may not keep, I’m not going to talk about future feature plans. One recurring discovery for me has been that ideas that look good in my head and on paper are often terrible when I see them on the screen and get to click on them and try to explain them to people. Fortunately, there are enough ideas that seem good in our heads that some of them will hopefully look good on screen, too.

This has gotten rather long, so I’ll end with a final parallel to Pinboard’s post. We’re grateful — so grateful — to all of you who have joined us, stuck with us, and sent words of encouragement and feedback for the last five years. We’re both looking forward to serving Gimlet up to you for the next… five? Ten? Fifty? Well, many years.

July 16th, 2014  |  Published in Gimlet