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MassLandlords.net Outgrew WildApricot

In late 2013 we switched our membership management system from a Google spreadsheet to WildApricot. It was so good I got giddy. I could search specific fields across all members. It would send automatic renewal reminders. We could have members-only forms, event registration, and a directory. I was over the moon.

Alas, all good things… The same time we chose WildApricot as our back-end, we chose WordPress as our front-end. This, it turns out, meant WildApricot’s days were numbered.

Transition from Google Spreadsheet to WildApricot to WordPress

iFrames as Wild as an Apricot

WildApricot says it integrates with WordPress via iframes. There’s a little web page inside your main web page. They call this a widget. I’m fine with “widget.” But this is not an integration. There is no communication with WordPress whatsoever. And use of iframes causes problems for browsers that block third party cookies. This includes all iThingies and Macs. In our case, that’s 25% of our users. These folks couldn’t log in until they first visited a WildApricot site, received the cookie, and returned to the original page.

WildApricot’s help docs claim you can resize iframes to fit your site. But some developer at WildApricot didn’t get the memo and started using CSS floaters. These notify users about special messages. They are important to see. The one in the image below is trying to say that your membership is overdue for renewal, so “click here!” But the floater has ignored the iframe width and carved out space off-frame, beyond the iframe. It actually looked like this on our site:

WildApricot floater partially eclipsed by iframe.
WildApricot floater partially eclipsed by iframe.

We hacked their floater to wrangle it down into view the way you have to leap onto a stack of helium balloons to squeeze them into your car.

PayPal Integration Guarantees Lowest Possible Conversion Rate

Maybe I picked the wrong version of WildApricot’s plethora of payment options.  I don’t know. All I do know is that we switched to stripe. We used wpstripe without any back-end API connection. Even though we then had to manually add new members to WildApricot, we were FAR better off. Suddenly new members were converting left and right.

In November 2014 I made the following note in my log, “The PayPal integration is awful.”

In general, any time you have to leave a site to pay, or enter too much information, you’re giving your customers a bad experience. It’s like pushing your grocery cart next door to pay. You ask, “Am I in the right place?” And they reply, “Maybe, give me your social security number and I will check.”

Our members tend to be of the generation that’s somewhat distrusting of PayPal. They would rather pay via what they perceive to be a secure paper check. Our simple stripe checkout generated none of these complaints about perceived security.

A Forum for Quiet Meditation

WildApricot members can’t post to the forum via email. This is a huge barrier to adoption with less computer savvy members.

The forum experience for members who are admins is really difficult. They can’t view the forum when logged in as an admin. Not allowed.

We switched to Google Groups. This left us with a lack of connection between our forum and our membership database. But again, even though we had to have someone add people manually to Google Groups, we were far better off. Our Google Groups stayed in sync and participation was robust.

Meanwhile, in the WildApricot forum, I sat quietly and pondered the meaning of life all by myself.

Good Email Reminders

I like the way WildApricot sends email reminders for new members, lapsed members, and other things.

But I have more complaints

I don’t really like the way WildApricot does members-only documents, where the link is public but just hidden. That’s open to brute forcing and sharing.

Their HTML edit windows are awful.  If you paste in rich text from another editor they’ll say, “Cleaning html!” and then delete everything you’ve pasted in. (I wasn’t pasting anything crazy. WordPress handles the same text correctly.)

Their customer support is unfeeling.  The number one answer I received: “try a different browser.” (Okay, so I will email all my customers and tell them to use a different browser.)

Overall Summary

But here’s the thing about WildApricot: it took us three months and almost a dozen WordPress plugins to replace what they were offering.

Back in November 2014 I wrote, “We’re using WildApricot as an integration with a WordPress front-end, which I realize puts us in a class above your target user, in terms of sophistication. As we head down that road, I anticipate outgrowing WildApricot. But in the meantime, you’ve given us a lot of value and we’re not looking to leave just yet.”

Adieu, WildApricot.

Biggest Scientific Discoveries of 2014

Somewhere I read or heard that all economic progress is driven by technological advancement.

I think it behooves us all to stay up-to-date on the latest science. So I thought I’d find a year review of discoveries.

Short Detour: Biggest Discoveries of this Century

I haven’t ever done this before, so I first sought out the biggest discoveries in science since I left high school (year 2000). I figured my knowledge must be that far out of date.

If the Discovery Channel is to be trusted, then I had heard of 7 of their top 10 discoveries except:

  • We’ve taken a direct picture of a planet around another star (instead of detecting it indirectly), 2008.
  • The “missing link” between chimps and people has nearly been found in Africa, 2002.
  • They found T-rex soft tissue in an ancient bone, and yes, it tastes like chicken.

If I learned of these when they happened, then I’d since forgotten them.

The other discoveries since 2000, in case you want to know:

  • Pluto isn’t really a planet, and there’s a bigger Pluto nearby called Eris anyway.
  • Dark matter exists (“Discovery Channel, wait a minute, does it really?”)
  • People can control artificial limbs and things with their minds.
  • Making stem cells no longer requires embryos.
  • Mars had liquid water on it, and still has ice.
  • The human genome was completely mapped.
  • Glaciers are going extinct.

The Discovery Channel list was written before the discovery of the Higgs-Boson, about which I remember hearing. We’ll take the scientists’ word and agree that it’s also a big one. So let’s say there are eleven really big discoveries so far this century.

Biggest Discoveries of 2014

After that list, I googled “2014 in science.”  Wikipedia to the rescue.

Overall, here are the trends I see in that massive list of discoveries in 2014:

  • Many old species are now extinct, including
    • The incredible axolotl (extinct in the wild)axolotl
    • White rhinos (one down, 5 left)
  • Many species were just added to the wait list for extinction
    • lions
    • sharks
    • rays
    • Australian possums
  • Climate change is being variously over and under-predicted, but mostly under.
  • The number of studies saying that climate change is manmade completely dwarf the work to do anything about it.
  • Asteroids are whizzing past our faces ALL THE TIME.
  • 2014 had so many life sciences break-through’s it seems nothing about life sciences will remain a mystery for long.
  • There are still undiscovered places on earth, including
    • A coral reef off the coast of Iraq and Iran
  • There are still undiscovered animals on earth, including dolphins, jellyfish, deep sea fish, and small mammals discovered this year.

Climate dominates the research so let me give one short thought on it:

I wonder why so many climate scientists feel the need to continue research proving that climate change is man-made. If you can’t convince the nay-sayers, it’s time to work around them. Carbon capture or other clean technologies made economically better would be naturally adopted without a single law, and faster than any law. If only a Prius cost what a Corolla did.

Apart from climate, here are some specific breath-takers from the list of 2014 discoveries:

But that’s all.  Most of the rest of the so-called discoveries were incremental refinements to our understanding about stuff. “Coffee might do this to the liver.” “Tea might do that to your brain.”

From the point of view of any single project, science is slow. But in the aggregate over all the projects, the pace is really astonishing.

I think folks would all feel a lot better if technology caught up to the global warming thing. Seems like that’s what was missing from the list of 2014 accomplishments.