Archive for July, 2008

Our first user contest: Tell us what you think!

(Here’s a link to take you directly to the survey, if you don’t want to read about the contest)

Well, Able Grape just launched its second beta, and it’s high time we had our first user contest. I have two goals for the contest:

There, that’s it, nothing complicated. I need your help, and I thought a contest would make it fun. Since Able Grape started as a labor of love, and remains a modest, self-funded endeavor, we don’t have a huge budget for fancy contest prizes. But I thought I’d dig into my own personal cellar for a few wines — hopefully there’s something for everyone on this list: Continue reading ‘Our first user contest: Tell us what you think!’

Welcome to Able Grape Beta 2!

Welcome to Able Grape beta 2. It’s been six months since we launched our first beta release, and though we’ve been improving Able Grape almost weekly since then, beta 2 represents a huge step forward in terms of functionality. Here’s a quick overview of what’s new:

  • New UI. We’ve redesigned the page to be easier to read, and so that we can help you get the best results, we’ve created a space in which Able Grape can have a dialogue with you.
  • Query Tips. We dug into thousands of user queries to understand what kinds of mistakes people make — and what kinds of mistakes we make. Beta 2 bears the first fruits of that work. Able Grape now freqently suggests alternative queries to help you get the best results. This is just a start — now that we’ve laid the groundwork for query suggestions in both the UI and our software architecture, we plan to aggressively develop additional “query tips” in the coming months (suggestions welcome, as always).
  • Improved home page. We’ve tightened up the home page a bit, and now give you suggestions for a few things to make your Able Grape experience better (if you want to make the suggestions go away, just join the Able Grape community).
  • Larger database and improved relevance. We’re constantly growing the database and improving the quality of our results, and beta 2 is no exception: we’ve reached well over 13 million pages across 38,313 sites, and the quality of search results has never been better.
  • Improved architecture. Yeah, we software types always like to talk about improving things under the hood, but there are concrete benefits for you, the user. Beta 2 has new, more powerful concept database that is allowing us to rapidly build out features based on article dates — soon to come, by popular request — and eventually will let us do fun things with concepts like yields, vineyard areas, percentages, production volumes, and even wine scores.

Here are a handful of query examples to try: Continue reading ‘Welcome to Able Grape Beta 2!’

Four Fallacies of Wine Website design

In building Able Grape I’ve run tens of thousands of wine-related searches, and looked at some 15,000 of the 38,000 sites in our database. Though there are many mistakes that wine producers, wine organizations, and wine publications make while designing sites, there seem to be just a handful of fallacious beliefs behind the vast majority of problems. This post is my first cut at a list of them.

First, to highlight the importance of good website design, let’s start with a little story. It may be fictitious, but to those of us who frequently search for wine information, it rings all too familiar.

Imagine you’re a retailer. Or a sommelier. Or just a wine lover. One day you’re looking for information to put in your customer newsletter, or your winelist, or perhaps you’re just curious. You love the latest vintage of Producer X’s Muckleberry Vineyard blend. But what were the percentages of Saperavi and Nero d’Avola again? Continue reading ‘Four Fallacies of Wine Website design’

Lava e lucertole

Greetings from the temporary world headquarters of Able Grape, which, thanks to the wonders of 3G wireless technology, is a little cottage not far from Mount Etna. Etna, as we discovered to our delight, has been giving a little show lately, spewing a constant plume of smoke, with lava flows visible at night on the slopes. Every few minutes the sound of birds in the citrus groves is punctuated by a few boati — low booms. And when we arrived yesterday, there were lightning storms (temporali) around its peak. The picture, taken from our little terrace, was the best I could do at night with my hand-held digital camera, but it doesn’t do justice to the mountain’s beauty.

We arrived tired and hot from the long trip, and just managed to find a nearby supermercato where we nabbed some basic supplies and a handful of inexpensive wines. Then we two tired, sweaty little lumps sat on our terrazza with a little wine, bread, and cheese. Nothing fancy, though the 2007 Miceli “Fiammato” was enjoyable (and the name, which means “flamed,” seemed somehow appropriate given the volcanic spectacle). Spent this morning reading a recent Andrea Camilleri novel, Il Campo del Vasaio, which was fantastic, and then worked on the new version of Able Grape’s UI, while a fearless lizard came and nibbled on my foot. Yep, can’t quite escape from work — that’s life in a tiny startup — but the change of scenery has been relaxing. Look for the new UI soon after my return…

Able Grape, a wine information search engine