Yesterday I mentioned that I had been hard at work with a bunch of things relating to the future of Plain Black and WebGUI. Well I'd like to share one more of them with you today.
About six months ago we made a decision internally that we should start building sites that can showcase various aspects of WebGUI's prowess. These are sort of side-businesses that can benefit Plain Black perhaps financially, but also can show off the power and flexibility of some of WebGUI's features. Years ago we did this with CMS Matrix, and today that site has become one of the most popular places on the internet to research products like WebGUI. We didn't know it at the time, but we had also created a means by which we could show off one of WebGUI's cool features: the Matrix.
With CMS Matrix as our inspiration, we decided we should investigate building other sites that could be useful to the public, and also would showcase WebGUI's impressive feature set. As we started brainstorming we quickly realized there would be another benefit: we would get to see some of the real world problems that our users may encounter, first-hand, and we'd be able to do something about it.
We came up with an impressive list of ideas; far more than we could ever implement. The first one we decided to build was TheGameCrafter.com. Through this site people can create board games and card games to share with friends and family, or to sell for a profit. They upload the files, and the staff assigned to The Game Crafter will print off copies and ship them out as needed. Obviously the print world isn't our specialty, so TGC has it's own staff for that; Plain Black just created the software that runs the site: WebGUI with some custom assets.
From a WebGUI perspective this site is an interesting showcase of what WebGUI can do. We're using the stock product and shelf assets, and then we created custom assets for game boards and game decks. We noticed right away that there should be a way to add a product to your cart from the shelf, so that feature was added to WebGUI 7.7, but we were able to use most of the shop's functionality unchanged.
Too late for WebGUI 7.7 we decided we were going to need a few more features to really make this site cool, so those features will be added to the next version of WebGUI. The first of these features is a UPS shipping plugin. With it you can tie in to UPS' online shipping rate calculations, and get real-time pricing for shipping via UPS Ground, Next Day, Second Day, and the list goes on. The second feature is vendor payments. This works a little like consignment in a traditional store setting. You can sell other vendor's goods in your online store, and then the system automatically figures out what payments need to be made to the vendors, and sends them out via PayPal.
As you can see building out this site has not only given us a great site we can point people to as an example of what WebGUI Shop is capable of, it has also brought improvement to the Shop that you can use on your own sites.
What feature should we show off on one of these showcase sites next? It's too soon to say what the future holds. As you can imagine we're already very busy with our client projects and with putting out WebGUI releases (we release twice a week!). Due to that, it's likely we'll only be able to do one of these showcase sites once a year, so we'll have to pick carefully. Maybe we should do a convention registration service with the Event Manager; or perhaps the internet needs a news site about a particular topic that can use the Story Manager; or maybe SurveyMonkey could use some competition. Who knows?
Maybe, just maybe, our next showcase site will come from you, our users! Maybe we'll be able to say, "Want to see a really great use of the calendar/gallery/map asset? Check out site X, by company Y!" If you've got one of those sites, make sure it's listed in WebGUI Sightings. There are already a lot of really awesome sites in there that we point people to daily to see the power of WebGUI.
Thanks for sharing this news. It's always good to see a company eating its own dog food. I know you do that with the .com and .org sites already, but those are well-established sites at this point unlike the brand new Game Crafter site you built.
As for ideas for the next site, I'd like to see you build a site around Thingy. It could be a site that can compete with solutions like Quickbase from Intuit. Or it could take information from other online sources, such as data.gov, and munge them into a searchable, useful set of information for a group or industry.
PS: I hit a dead-end on TGC.com. From the homepage, I chose Make your Game. Then I selected Start your game from the right-hand step-by-step box. I then filled out the form but then realized there was no button to move on to the next step. Are you still under development?
No the site is finished, but apparently needs some additional instructions. I've added some "Next Steps" sections to various pages through-out the Publish section. That should point you in the right direction. And thanks for finding a new use case that our other test users didn't!