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Category Archives: Site Development

I’ve just posted the announcement to the site itself, but in case you’re still following production updates for Thotmarket.com on this blog, be aware that a major update is on its way. I’m calling this ‘Version 3’ rather than beta3 as the ‘beta’ designation for websites is mostly meaningless these days. I can’t get in to any real detail about what will change, but suffice it to say, the site will be fundamentally different in many ways. It will continue to be a stock market simulation where you can buy and sell virtual shares to links, but things will be very different. In some ways, this is an attempt to recapture the simplicity and excitement that surrounded the initial beta release of the site, but it also designed to take advantage of the progression of social media that has occurred during the last year and a half. I think the new model is really cool and can’t wait to se what people think of it. I am well aware that the general consensus about beta 2 was that it was too complex and difficult. That won’t be the case this time. Things are vastly simpler. 

If you want to receive news about this update, or want to participate in the testing process, please follow Thotmarket on Twitter. Invitations to participate will only be issued through direct messages on Twitter.

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What with all the turmoil in the real markets, my thought have drifted back to my original web baby ThotMarket. I’ve mostly kept my hands off of the site for about 6 months, leaving numerous updates and additions partially complete. I’m well aware that the market mechanism introduced in beta 2 was not the resounding success that I had hoped for, even if it did resolve the inflation problems from beta 1. I’m going to take some time to contemplate what a revised market system might look like, but in the mean time, I’m going to make some comparatively minor improvements and additions. I’ll address some annoying bugs, and deploy a modified Custom Index system, as well as the discussion forum. There is also quite a bit of moderation that I want to catch up on, mostly to make sure that exiting thots are correctly categorized. I’m also thinking about making a ThotMarket iphone application, as I’ve been burning up the Bloomberg app on my phone checking the dow’s ups and downs every few hours.

Things have been pretty low key on thotmarket these last couple of weeks as a number of things have been happening behind the scenes. First of all, development continues on some new features that I think will start to address some of the larger problems with the site (more below). Secondly, several projects have commenced that will bear directly on traffic to the site. But most importantly, work has begun on the next phase in the thot-universe. While I can’t discuss exactly what that is, I plan to continue to use this blog to document information about all things thot. the new project builds on much of what thotmarket has done, and will support it in several interesting ways. 

So, my attention has been spread a little wider than in earlier weeks, resulting in a slowdown on thotmarket development. That in combination with some persisting weaknesses in the site model have resulted in a slowdown of traffic, although we seem to have leveled off at a base amount of activity. This is way less activity than is needed to support a really great user experience since it exacerbates the liquidity problems that are the main problem in beta 2. 

So what’s happening now? Well, the discussion forum is going to be launched as soon as it is ready. I’ve been promising this thing for weeks, but it will happen. I’m about 90% done coding the thing. The delay has not been one of development complexity, I just haven’t dedicated the time that I need to get it out the door as quickly as I should. Some have asked, why write a proprietary forum app when there are plenty of off-the-shelf forums out there for the picking. The simple answer is that I want the forum to be fully integrated into the market application. That is, I want a seamless authentication process, I want people tobe able to embed thot tickers into their posts, etc. Most inportantly, I want to do something interesting with the forum that may address some of the problems on the rest of the site as well.

What does that mean? Well, a user sent me a messge a while back that I think describes one of the main problems in beta 2. That is, the site consists of a bunch of unemployed people trading stocks. That is, since the only way to make money is to make a profit on trade, the analogy to the real world markets suffers, and so does the experience. It seems to me that the discussion forum is a perfect mechanism to allow people to ‘earn and income’. So, I’ve designed a system that will reward users for messages that they post to the forum. Hacking one of the off-the-shelf forum apps to do all this didn’t sound any fun, so I started from scratch. Granted the forum interface probably won’t be as feature-filled as those on many other sites, but that sort of polish will come with time. It is beta afterall. 

In many ways I’ve grown to view the forum as a significant component of the thotmarket ecosystem. I’ve even considered spinning it off as a separate sister site that works together with the stock market component. After all, thotmarket is all about using market systems to help distribute ideas and information and that is a bigger than just a stock market game. In any case we will launch the forum modestly and see how it goes.

In any case, I’m so grateful for all the feedback folks have been sending, and I’m excited to start rolling out the next phases of my plan for world domination. More on that later.

 

Today marks the one-month mark, since beta 2 launched, and what nicer way to celebrate it than to reveal a big nasty bug. If you visited the site today, you may have noticed that the order of the thots on the main list was a little strange. Things had largely revered to the way they were a month ago. Without going into detail, the month rollover caused a problem with the time element of the ranking algorithm. I’ve corrected it, but there are other bugs lurking about as some of you have reported. Thank you. This is the main purpose of the beta period, to shake out issues like this before we go big time.  

I am working on the discussion forum. It will be posted within the next couple of days. I could have gotten one up sooner if I just used something like phpbb, but I want an application that will integrate more seamlessly with the overall app. For example, I don’t want to require a separate log-in for the forum. Thanks for all the feedback!

Well, the second beta has been up for a couple of weeks, long enough to begin to draw some conclusions about what is working and what isn’t. The most positive thing is that the new system does in fact prevent the rampant inflation that so plagued the first beta. The biggest problem, however, may be a direct result of that new system. There seems to be less interest in the trading experience this time around, and I think that it is a result of the the fact that the game aspect of the site is harder than it was before. In general, it’s hard to make money, and not terribly difficult to blow all of your thollars in one high spirited user session. I have numerous email from people complaining that they have money wrapped up in thots that are not selling, and are therefore stuck. My default response, is that people need to be careful about where they put their money, and they need to market their thots both on the site and off using the comments, ad auction, and embeddable stock tickers that are available for every thot. Of course, I recognize that the system and it currently stands is heavily dependant on a critical mass of trading occurring each day, in order to ensure a good experience for the largest percentage of users as possible. If there aren’t enough people buying, then there isn’t enough money being acquired allowing reinvestment. It a vicious cycle that turns frustrated users away from the site worsening the situation. My main strategy to deal with this, so far, is to drive as many people to the site as possible, hoping to cross that threshold, achieve whatever that critical mass of users is to get this economy pumping. As it stands two weeks in, that strategy is failing. The engine is still turning over, and has not started yet.

 

Another tactic that I’ve taken is to try to make the content on the site more compelling. That is why I am introducing new thot types. This started this week with the introduction of YouTube videos, but will continue as we introduce two new types this weekend: RSS newsfeed thots and Twitter Thots. Hopefully this will spur traffic as well.

 

As I look at the numbers however, I concerned that more drastic changes might be needed, changes that involve tinkering with the market mechanism again. I believe that one of the biggest frustrations for user sis the lack of instantaneous gratification that users received when they could just hit the ‘sell’ button in beta 1. The reason that there is no sell button in beta 2 is that sellers need to match up with a buyer, before they can make a sale. I’m not going to get into detail in this post, about why this posed a problem in beta 1, but it pretty clear that many users are frustrated that they can’t just hit sell anymore. I’m working on a compromise that might satisfy both needs. That is, everything remains as it is now, but you have the ability to place a sell ‘order’ on any of your shares and sell them back to the thot (rather than another trader). In order for this to work, the thots would have to pay for them somehow.  This money could come out of the thot’s income, which could of course have an impact on any pending dividends. This is not  a perfect solution since only some thots have enough income to buy back shares (and many do not). I’m also looking into alternative revenue sources for thots, such as changing (something small) to each user you click through a thot. This would be analogous to customers buying a product from a company.

The biggest technical problem that has occurred so far since relaunch is due to the massive increase in traffic that we’ve experienced in a very short time. Its occurred much faster than I expected, so the site has been caught a little off-guard. Yesterday there were numerous times when the database requests exceeded the limit for a given period of time, resulting in slow no no page renders. The solution is to employ a caching strategy which reduce the database calls significantly. I’m in the process of testing the new system and hope to deploy it ASAP. I guess this is the kind of problem that it is good to have. The only bummer is that it delays the development of the next round of features a bit. There will be some changes to indices and something very cool will come of that new ‘ad’ in the right column, just under the login module. 

Thanks to everyone who has sent supportive feedback in response to the announcement that ThotMarket will be making a return to the public in February. It’s really gratifying to see that there is still interest in this thing and that we won’t have to start from scratch (trying to build up a user base). That last point is especially important, given the new market mechanism (more on that later). Suffice it to say, I believe that the new system has eliminated all the major sources of inflation that kept causing the economy to go nuts in the first public beta. The only way to know for sure is to release it into the wild and see what a large group can make of it. 

So, some things have changed, some things are gone, and there’s some new stuff as well. The story behind what has transpired since the site went away is one that will be told as the year progresses. If thotmarket takes off again, there is some extremely cool stuff on the horizon.When I pulled the site down, I stated that I believed there was no point in having the site at all, if it didn’t work. ThotMarket was down much longer than I anticipated because it took that long to build something I that think will work. But, things are looking good, and we are probably days away from the launch of Public Beta 2.  The site will turn on and shortly afterward a blast email will go out notifying everyone who opted in. If you had a user account in Beta 1, you can still use it to log in. There is a mechanism to reset a forgotten password if you entered an email into the system originally. Otherwise you are welcome to create a new account. 

 

Beta 2 is a clean start. That means none of the thots and none of the thollars from beta 1 will be carried over. I think you will find that it is a lot harder to make money this time. Of course, if I learned one thing from the first round, it was to never underestimate the general public when they are motivated.  The fundamental change is that the site no longer uses a market simulation to set stock prices. Those prices are now determined directly by the shareholders. It’s actually a real market now, although with fake money. What this looks like and how it works will be the topic of much discussion in upcoming posts. 

 See you soon!

I hate bugs.

As stated earlier, almost all development time over the past few days has been monopolized by my ongoing war with a bug. The bug was miscalculating shares, causing all sorts of awful things like: allowing sale of shares shat don’t, negative numbers of shares, and so on. It’s been a long, weary battle. Being neither an economist nor an application developer, I’ve perhaps needed more time than I should have. But, today, I’ve seen the first sign that the bug may be dead. I don;t want to be presumptuous here, but the numbers are looking good this morning. There have been a few anomalies, but nothing like the problems encountered on previous days. In my last post, I questioned whether it was a code problem or legacy problems in the data. If the bug is indeed dead, the best I can say is that it was a combination of the two. In any case, if this is behind us (fingers crossed), I can proceed to start improving the site again. There are some other more minor bugs that I’m aware of, having to do with dividends and some other things, so those will be attended to soon.

I find the current discussion about the effect of taxation fascinating, and I’m currently contemplating the strategy for opening things up. I appreciate everyone’s patience and enthusiasm.

There’s been a lot of feedback lately and I’m going to address some specific questions/concerns in an upcoming post as time allows. Until then, here’s an update on the site along with a preview of some upcoming stuff.

Improvements and additions to functionality have been on hold until I can sort out the bugs associated with the changeover. There has been one particularly confounding bug that’s at the root of 80% of the feedback this weekend. Basically whatever it is, it’s caused some thots to allow purchase of shares that don’t exist. This has a ripple effect that causes all sorts of strangeness as things get progressively more and more out of whack. For example, people have been getting incorrect reports of what percentage of a thot they own. That caused some unexpected thot acquisitions, among other problems. What is so annoying about this one is that it’s not occurring consistently. Given the number of transactions now happening, it’s actually quite rare. But nothing can work unless fundamentals like this are solid. My current theory is that it’s not an error in the code (although there were plenty of those earlier), but an after effect of earlier bugs that have since been corrected. As I mentioned earlier, there were a number of problems right after the changeover. I think this pushed things off balance and things have continued to tip further over since. While investigating this, I found widespread inconsistencies in the record, in terms of numbers of shares assigned to thots, public ownership, etc.

Tonight, I’ve manipulated share numbers for the thots a bit to normalize these inconsistencies. No changes were made to the ownership records, so no one should have lost shares in any way. If my theory is correct, things should proceed normally from here on out. If that doesn’t happen, then there must be a problem in the code.

Some of things that are going to be added, once all this is settled include: Improved navigation, event reporting, many different list views (like: biggest gainers/losers, acquisition targets, etc.), user profile pages, more commenting (possibly including a discussion forum), more integration of user lists, email notifications, placing buy and sell orders, and possibly redeeming thollars for items other than shares (both virtual and real).

UPDATE: Things are still screwy. It’s a code thing. Grrrr.