An Interview With Hillel Stoler – Creator Of GetSocial

If you’re a WordPress.com user, you know that with the exception of VIP blogs, you cannot add social bookmarking buttons to your blog automatically.  However, there are many third party alternatives, such as my personal favorite, GetSocial.  GetSocial allows you to add social bookmarking buttons to your WordPress.com blog (or any other blog for that matter) by generating a series of image links which utilize social media API in conjunction with your post title and permalink.

The creator of GetSocial, Hillel Stoler, is the founder and manager of Wiz, a business technology consulting firm, and he develops free software that is used worldwide.  He was nice enough to do an email interview with us.  

I asked him a series of questions regarding GetSocial and GetSocial Live, and these are his responses:

What first gave you the idea to write the GetSocial software?

Well, I like to improve things, and software development is typically a good vehicle for improvement. When I started hillelstoler.com I wanted to incorporate social bookmarking buttons in my posts (at the time it was sort of a statement: I’m down with social media and stuff). A quick research revealed that the only way to do so in WordPress.com was to manually generate and add the code.

I’ve decided to make GetSocial because I thought it was a good way to attract visitors to my new website (it was), and because there was an obvious demand for such an application.

What made you want to base your GetSocial income solely on donations when you could have easily put a price on it?

GetSocial wasn’t designed to be a commercial product, so selling it was never really an option. On the other hand, I was always curious about the donationware model, so I’ve decided to take the chance and try for myself, learn about the subject first hand.

Can you briefly describe how GetSocial operates?

WordPress.com blocks scripts and doesn’t allow plugins, so traditional social bookmarking tools can’t be used there. GetSocial generates scriptless HTML based toolbars, specifically designed for WordPress.com. The toolbars are actually image-links to social media APIs.

The title of your post and the permalink are being encoded (to safe characters) and then added to the code template (on some versions of the GetSocial application your information is also processed by an error correction mechanism). The code you get is pure HTML and can be included in your WordPress.com blog.

Our images are hosted on WordPress.com (and not on the GetSocial Live servers) so that theoretically they will remain available for as long as WordPress exists. In order to ensure the quality of the service, all images are mirrored (that means that each image is hosted on separate and identical files on the server). When you generate a new toolbar a random mirror is selected, and embedded in the code.

All GetSocial links are marked with ‘nofollow’ for SEO considerations, and the toolbar has its own class to allow for CSS customization.

What was the difference in coding time between the GetSocial desktop software and the GetSocial Live web-based client?

GetSocial was made (from early design to deployment) in about three weeks using Visual Basic. It was done on my spare time – mostly during the nighttime.

The first version of GetSocial Live was made in just one weekend. Most of the code was simply pasted from the GetSocial application and translated into JavaScript. The web version lacks some of the internal complexity of the application (like self-encryption) and the getsocialserver infrastructure and toolbars were already in place so that saved some time too.

Do a lot of people donate to GetSocial?

When I got my first donation, I was pleasantly surprised. Since then I’ve received many donations, and I’m glad for each and every one of them. I receive about one donation for every 180 downloads, is that a lot? I actually get more donations per download than AdSense clicks per visit to GetSocial Live, so that’s some food for thought right there.

How much money, on average, do people donate?

In the beginning I only allowed 5 USD donations – the smallest amount for which the PayPal commission will not exceed 10%. I wanted to make the donation process as smooth as possible, and deciding on the amount would have required the potential contributor to make an additional decision.

When I enabled donations in multiple currencies and variable amounts there was an increase in the sum of the average donation, which is currently about 9 USD. I think that all of the donations I received were in multiplies of five, and although I’ve received some donations of over 20 USD, no one had ever donated anything less than 5 USD.

Do you think you would have a greater income from GetSocial if you had required that people purchase a license?

Maybe, but income is a complex term. I might squeeze out more cash out of GetSocial, but I would also need to protect it from piracy, provide customer support and invest in marketing, these are all additional expanses. I’ve seen people donate more than 20 bucks for GetSocial, and I think that’s more than I would have probably charged for it.

I’ve seen the GetSocial bar on quite a few very popular blogs.  How did you go about promoting the service?

I’ve posted about GetSocial in my blog and wrote about it in the WordPress technical support forums, but it was mostly a word of mouth thing (no ads or anything like that). I have deep respect for my users and I try to personally answer each and every email and provide new and useful services regularly. That’s more than I can say about many commercial software vendors.

A fellow WordPress.com blogger told me early on that there is no need to push GetSocial too much, if it’s a superior solution – people will naturally gravitate to it. She was absolutely right!

As a developer (not as a blogger), what would be your first thought if WordPress.com announced today that they would start providing social bookmarking buttons to all users?

On a long enough timescale, it’s inevitable I guess, and I’m not very concerned about it. This is one of the advantages of publishing free software – you don’t depend on it financially so you don’t have to live in constant fear of being pushed out of the market.

When I was in the middle of the development process it was another story though. I constantly worried that while I’m still working on GetSocial someone else (or even the WordPress team itself) will roll-out a competing tool of his own. This caused me to speed up the development process, but once I’ve launched all my concerns immediately evaporated – I was there first.

Software development is a competitive and unpredictable field, I love it!

Have you written or do you plan to write any other nifty programs like GetSocial?

I develop software for a long time now (I started with GWBasic and Turbo Pascal in the early-mid nineties) so yes, I’ve written a lot of software.

If you’re looking for something similar to GetSocial, you might want to check out Dr. Tray – it’s a small program for controlling your CD/DVD/Blu-ray disc tray using predefined keyboard shortcuts. Dr. Tray is designed for media centers and it’s free!

Now when I think about it, Doctor Tray is a good example of the situation discussed in the previous question. There are several commercial (shareware) software products for controlling your disc tray with the keyboard. They’re generally (what I refer to as) low quality applications, and sell for about 10 USD.

One day, without any warning I go out and offer the same functionality for free (with a much higher-end design and execution). Are they out of business? Did they stop offering their services?

Are you planning anything new for the future of GetSocial?

Yes! I’ve just added the new Facebook ‘Like’ button to GetSocial Live and I intend to add additional services and features – stay tuned!

If you’re interested in what’s next, onecoolsitebloggingtips recently published a guest post I wrote about the future of GetSocial.

Do you have anything else you’d like to mention to the readers of UnitedTechGuys.com?

Rock on!

Thanks to Hillel Stoler for taking the time to answer these questions!

I was really interested by some of his answers, such as the one that said he’s making more money from donations than Google Adsense.  I’ve always known Adsense isn’t the absolute best route for making money online, but it just surprises me that donations outweighed it.

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2 Responses to An Interview With Hillel Stoler – Creator Of GetSocial

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention An Interview With Hillel Stoler – Creator Of GetSocial « United Tech Guys -- Topsy.com

  2. Thanks for it.

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