Timing Is Everything

Please Benj, tell me more about how Charitocracy will be ready to go live in June 2016

Okay, beta testers new and old, we're at the end of another month.

I recently added the end-of-month code that actually does something at the end of the month. At the stroke of midnight (NYC time) it counts votes, records a winner, cancels all votes donors had cast for it, makes voting for the cause impossible for the next 11 months, adds it to the Celebrate page of past winners, and emails everyone about the winner (unless you've opted-out in your notification preferences).

So let's test it, shall we?!  Usual fake credit card: 4242 4242 4242 4242

Jessica and I have discovered a bit of an administrative obstacle to going live, accepting real donations: the requirement to register for solicitation of donations with nearly every state in This Great Nation of Ours, each with its own set of forms, fee, renewal cycle, etc. So what this means is we have one more month to do a full test of the new (not yet coded!) monthly cycle:

  • At midnight, start of new month: name last month's winner, open up for new nominations, voting begins on full field of nominees
  • At midnight end of week 1: end new nominations, email out digest of newly nominated causes, voting continues
  • At midnight end of week 2: narrow down the field to top 10 causes, email donors the list and encourage re-vote
  • At midnight end of week 3: narrow down to top 3 causes, email donors the list and encourage re-vote
  • Name winner, lather, rinse, repeat!

This new cycle, led by your recent Facebook poll responses, is intended to make Charitocracy more fun and engaging by providing several "touch points" during the month: news updates on progress and motivation to get back on there and take action. A donor can continue to take a hands-off approach and let Charitocracy be their crowd-curated charity-of-the-month club. But I like having something to actually go on there and do more than once a month. I hope you agree?

So let's close July out with a new winner under the old "anything goes" approach, and meanwhile I'll code up the new world order and have it ready for August 1! Feedback appreciated, as always. (You'll find us slaving over the mimeograph machine in the back office, filling out our TPS reports solicitation registration forms.)

If I don't get my red stapler back...

Great Outdoors and Open Houses

Wow, they must be all out beta-testing Charitocracy

I'm back from a week of camping with the kids, and happy to see Charitocracy's beta test server is still humming along with no signs of missing me. I would be lying if I said the reverse were true. I'd have pulled all-nighters in the tent if I had (A) power, (B) Internet, (C) Hodor to carry me around the next day on the hiking trail with the kids.

As I get back to work here, I've decided that keeping the test server online as I make further progress will be a good way to build my discipline as a fledgling sysadmin. I'll use maintenance mode (shutting down the site with a "back in 5!" message) sparingly and do most of the new work on a separate staging server before merging the databases back together and putting the new code online. It will slow me down a bit at first, but once we go live this is how I'll need to operate anyway, so best get used to it now!

All of this is to say: the Charitocracy beta test open house is permanent. Jump on whenever you feel inspired to test the latest and greatest. I'll post here on the blog when there's something new to try out. This post has instructions and caveats that I'll try to keep current. Happy beta-testing!  Hopefully the open house will be short-lived, and I can instead start taking actual sign ups...

Charitocracy's open house shall remain open!


Everyone’s a Critic

Never mind using Charitocracy, they can't even say or spell it right! Ha ha ha

I spend a lot of time under the illusion that I'm my own worst critic. While I try to hold myself to a high standard, and don't often live up to it, I at least aim high before I fall short. I'm extremely detail-oriented... especially when looking over someone else's shoulder. It's only when I invite other critics to the party that I realize how easy I've been on myself, how many corners I've cut, mistakes I've made, and how much better I can do.

With fresh eyes, desire to help, and the necessary distance from the nuts and bolts of this endeavor to question everything, you beta testers have provided me a wealth of ideas, big and small, on how to improve Charitocracy. I still have some big ideas to digest, but at least most of the smaller ones have been tackled embraced and are now visible on the test site.  Consider this a Charitocracy open house for critics!

If you missed the last beta test, feel free to jump on now. Fake credit card: 4242 4242 4242 4242 with any future expiration date and any 3-digit CVC. It is certainly not too late for any and all feedback. See the beta test announcement for caveats/known issues.

For those of you who already beta tested, feel free to jump back on, see what's changed, which of your reported bugs have been addressed, and then please try out the new WYSIWYG comment editor to make sure it works well enough. I've left your accounts exactly as they were, though of course you're welcome to sign up again with another email account. (If you've forgotten your password, go ahead and try to recover like you would in real life!)

Here's a summary of the bigger ticket items I've addressed since the first beta that started 2 weeks ago:

  • Support retina displays (high-dpi avatars, logos, icons, etc.)
  • Use simple WYSIWYG editor for discussion posts
  • Add vote summary to donor account widget
  • Big reminder to hit Submit button after entering CC #
  • Improve layout for small screens
  • Fix momentary flash of menu during page load on small screens
  • Donor map can go full-screen
  • Make discussion comments editable forever
  • Add alphabetical sort of causes
  • Use display name (vs. username) if set in profile
  • Limit length of display names shown
  • Change donation page now shows all 4 plans, defaults to current plan
  • Make one-time donations adjustable on its page, not just in widget
  • Add 'apply' button when changing split vote percentages
  • Detect when in iOS Facebook browser, provide instructions
  • Add note about checking spam folder if password reset email not received
  • Make social share pop-up less obtrusive on large screens

I'll be traveling non-stop for the coming week, but will check in on the Charitocracy open house from time to time, and look forward to your criticism. Bring it on!

Charitocracy #fail list? It's already been broughton.

The Aftermath

The morning after Charitocracy's beta test

It's been a week since our first 2-day beta test, and I've been busy! I received a lot of useful feedback from so many of you, and wanted to give shout-outs to those who took time to type up a laundry list for me: Lionel Lemarié, Kim Belli Andews, Brian & Julie Miller, and Alistair Bell. I've nearly worked through all of your suggestions!

Thanks also to those who IM'd me your quick observations and thumbs ups. And extra special thanks to Stephanie LaFond, Lisa Nicholson, Andrew Whitaker, and Amy Cayer who each created multiple accounts to test more features and device compatibility. You and everyone who helped beta test are amazing for pitching in on this critical effort!

The vital stats

  • Length: 2 days
  • Number of beta test accounts created: 39
  • Number of causes nominated: 16
  • Number of votes cast: 31
  • Number of likes: 63
  • Number of comments: 22
  • Breakdown of Bronze/Silver/Gold/Platinum memberships: 26/4/5/4
  • Most generous one-time donation: $2500 (the max!) by Amy Cayer
  • Funniest one-time donations: $314 (π) by Alistair Bell, $167.12 (no idea!) by Mary Bartlett
  • Most popular: Project Shakespeare with 9 likes nominated by... me (as KennyBranagh)
  • drumroll, please?
  • Total pot size for June: $8691.12
  • Most votes: Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Inc. with 2.6 votes nominated by... me (as Vonnegut).

And that's why Charitocracy won't be in the business of nominating causes.  Clearly I'm way too persuasive?

Stay tuned for the next round, where I'll open it up for folks to test all the improvements and bug fixes, and perhaps focus on another aspect of the site that needs attention.  Onward!

Keep calm and beta test

Once More unto the Breach, Dear Friends

Blood & guts, maming & dismembering, fine, but Benj wants us to test Charitocracy?!

The day has come for you to help in a very real way. I want you to do a quick beta test! I've given you a test credit card # to use below, so it's only your time I need right now, about 15-20 minutes? But it has to be before the clock strikes midnight (EDT) on Thursday night June 30! Yeah, that means today or tomorrow, the sooner the better!

10-Step Test Script (or as many as you can!)

  1. Go here! (Thanks, and stay tuned for next round of testing!)
  2. Sign up, which includes choosing a recurring donation plan. Use credit card # 4242-4242-4242-4242, any future expiration date, and any 3 digits for CVC code. Feel free to use a fun fictional username, but email address has to be real for account creation. And please use your real full name in the signup form so I'll know who it is if you have issues!
  3. Choose one of these two options (or sign up twice with two different email addresses and do both for double the fun):
    • Nominate a cause, especially if you're one of the earliest testers. Nomination will lock in your full vote for the month. Or...
    • Vote for one or more causes that have already been nominated. You can split your vote amongst up to 5 causes. You can even adjust the split.
  4. Add to the discussion of as many causes as you want, but please comment on at least one. Don't worry, it's 90% friends and family in here and I'll be deleting all of this beta test content before we go live. Say whatever you like! Feel free to experiment with fancy formatting, video links, etc.
  5. Like some other nominated causes, after all, they're free! You get one vote (split up to 5-ways) but as many Likes as you... like.
  6. Sweeten the pot by adding a one-time donation. Be generous, it's only play money for now!
  7. Get on the map by entering your rough location (or a fictional one) into your profile, if you didn't do it during sign-up. You can fine-tune or remove your rough location at any time.
  8. Give yourself a profile pic if you like. It'll make beta testing more fun this way, I promise!
  9. Change your donation by increasing or decreasing your recurring donation plan or cancelling future donations. You could also try changing your credit card #, though you'd just change it to the same pretend one above, so it's a bit silly.
  10. Report bugs that you encounter, or things you're not sure about. If it wasn't easy enough to self-discover how to achieve the objectives above, let me know! I'd much rather hear it from you while I can fix it than from strangers after we go live. Post your feedback as a reply to this blog or on Facebook or in a private message or email. Equally valuable would be a message saying "I ran through your script on my <details of your PC/phone/tablet, browser> and it all just worked!"


  • Not yet Mac retina-friendly! Doh!
  • When held in standard portrait orientation on iPhone (and probably other small devices), text is cramped and wraps funny sometimes. The commenter's avatar floats in a weird spot! But everything should work.
  • Social aspects of site (friending, display name, notifications, privacy) aren't totally complete yet, but some parts are there.
  • Pitch video and other pre-signup materials are not in place yet.
  • Celebrate page, which will have leader boards and info on winning causes is not complete (or even started yet).
  • It all needs to be a bit faster and prettier, agreed. But do report to me if things were unusably slow or unbearably ugly. I need to know!
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

An Object in Motion

Pie in the Sky painting by Doug Rugh
painting by Doug Rugh

We've been on the move since the kids finished school, first taking them to western North Carolina for overnight camp, then Washington, New York City, and finally Massachusetts. It has been extremely difficult to get in "the zone" when the zone for me is usually 12+ hours of uninterrupted Charitocracy code warfare. This northerly migration has been great for family time, but terrible for productivity!

That all changed yesterday. I sat myself down outside Pie in the Sky in Woods Hole, and only left my "desk" to order breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, and to feed the meter. At around 7pm open mic night started, so the last 2 or 3 hours of my 10-hour stint included fantastic live entertainment. After returning to Dad's house in Cataumet, I completed my 16-hour work day, decimating my Charitocracy ToDo list just as the birds outside starting their own open mic.

I'll post again real soon since I want you all to start testing before the end of this month, probably TOMORROW! In the meantime, speaking of Dad, here he is modeling his Father's Day present (cliché-alert: while working the grill). I found it appropriate that a running shirt be Charitocracy's first swag. We are non-stop!

Running Billboard Back

Running Billboard Front

Jefferson Has My Vote

It's all about the Hamiltons baby

This has been an amazingly productive week. Less sleep, more dark chocolate, you know the drill. But I've also been propelled by all the Hamilton stuck in my head. Maybe you've heard of it? I hadn't when I was introduced to Kurt Crowley, Hamilton’s associate music director, conductor, and keyboardist on the set of our mutual friend's indie film last summer. "Never heard of it," I proclaimed. Glad to hear it's finally just starting to catch on now.

After first tackling registration and donation, then cause nominations, and most recently the discussion forum, I've finally now moved on to perhaps the site's most important component: voting! With "The Election of 1800" ringing in my ears, I embed democracy inside Charitocracy. No matter how much you donate, each donor gets one vote. You can, however, spread your 1 vote across up to 5 causes if you like, each getting a fraction which you can adjust. And then in addition to voting, you can also "like" as many causes as you want, giving them greater visibility to other donors. (Our founding fathers would have added a Like button, too, but they were still using paper ballots back then. How archaic!)

I hope to complete this last major component within a few weeks so I can open up the site to beta testers in time for a mock election at the end of June. If that goes well then I'll push to go live for real paying donors as early as July!

Rise up, time to take a shot: of espresso

Soup’s On!

No soup for you! OK, 1 TechSoup for Charitocracy!

I want to give a shout out to another nonprofit this week, TechSoup.

"TechSoup equips changemakers with transformative technology solutions and skills they need to improve lives globally and locally."

Jessica and I met with our accountant recently who advised us to use QuickBooks to manage Charitocracy's accounts. No big surprise there. Jessica thought we could get the cheapest version of QuickBooks Online for $120/year by having them extend their introductory $10/month rate beyond the initial 6 month period. But then I discovered TechSoup's offering.

After confirming our 501(c)(3) status, we qualified for a donation of QuickBooks Online Plus, which normally costs $40/month and is often discounted to $24/month. We only had to pay TechSoup's administrative fee of $50. And we'll be able to renew for another $50 in future years. This is a big savings if you compare it to the $288 we'd pay for this "plus" edition or $120 for the cheapest one!

Thank you, TechSoup. It was a painless process to register for this donation. And thanks to Intuit, maker of QuickBooks, for donating their software through TechSoup!

TechSoup, here's to your hotness

A Droplet in the Ocean

Charitocracy, I'd like to donate some sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads

This week I pulled my first all-day-all-night-all-dayer for Charitocracy, and probably the first of my entire career! In the past I've always gone home and slept after an all-nighter. Have I mentioned how much I love working on this stuff?

What was I working on that's so engrossing I just couldn't stop? I was migrating Charitocracy's staging server off my laptop onto a virtual private server (VPS) "droplet" at one of DigitalOcean's NYC data centers.

Here's a brief rundown of my long, long day:

  • Signed up using $10 off discount code I saw on Facebook, effectively giving me a nice long free trial. You can support Charitocracy by using our referral URL to sign yourself up. You get $10 off (e.g. 2 months of their cheapest config) and Charitocracy gets $25 off our future bills!
  • After researching Linux distribution options, chose Ubuntu 16.04, the new long-term support (LTS) version.
  • Ran through the checklists for setting up and securing the system, installing Apache, MySQL, and PHP. This gave me a LAMP environment very similar to the MAMP environment I've been using, just on Linux instead of Mac.
  • Installed Let's Encrypt (remember?) along with a cronjob to automatically renew the TLS certificate as needed.
  • Dumped the MySQL database from my MacBook to a file, copied it over to the new server, and imported it to the new database.
  • Moved my git origin repository from iCloud to DropBox so it could be easily accessed not only from my Macs but also from Linux. Cloned the repository into the new server's Apache tree and took it for a spin!
  • Blinked a lot for a good hour or so.
  • Configured postfix email server like I had it on my Mac, using Gmail SMTP servers to send out emails from Charitocracy.
  • Discovered that I was hitting the RAM ceiling on the cheapest ($5/mo 512 MB) DigitalOcean config, leading to some MySQL queries failing, so resized my droplet to the $10/mo 1 GB config. I'm sure I'll quickly outgrow this one, too, but so far so good!

I can still easily sync the latest code and database back onto my Mac and fly it via PageKite if I have a need, but I don't foresee any. I've effectively obsoleted the local environment I set up 6 weeks ago, but really I've leveraged almost all of it, simply on a remote Linux server that's closer to the final production environment.

Progress! And finally, sleep!


Help Me!

First word, sounds like... You want my kelp?

We've been asked by some of you how you can help, and don't always know quite how to answer. Feed me coffee and chocolate from dusk 'til dawn? Don't wake me up before noon? Distract me with trivia and beer and movies once in a while? All pretty obvious stuff.

Our dear friend, Melia, has undertaken an important task: writing a guide for volunteer moderators. A large part of the activity on Charitocracy will be weighing the relative merits of different causes in a discussion forum. We'll need some moderators who can help remind donors that we're all on the same team, and to keep the discourse positive and constructive. Thank you Melia for spearheading this!! And do give us a yell if you don't mind doing some moderating once we go live.

For others who want to help without biting off such a big chunk, here are two easy ways to help today:

  1. Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter. If you already do, then please share/retweet with your friends and encourage them to follow us. If we build momentum now before the site opens, the size of the pot for month #1 will be meaningful instead of simply... cute. Might I suggest something like "My amazing and handsome friends are launching a <insert region-appropriate equivalent to wicked pissah> non-profit soon, please support them by liking their page and following along!"
  2. Ask us a question! We'll need to start fleshing out a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for the site, and could use some ideas. What do you want to know about Charitocracy? Some of it might be obvious once you can actually go in there and look around, but I want the FAQ to be useful to people who haven't signed up yet, so they'll have many of the same questions you do now! Pose questions, broad and narrow alike, here on the blog, Facebook, Twitter, wherever is convenient for you. Maybe we'll even answer your question in a blog post!

Thanks for your continued support. We're getting close!

Help! is on the way!