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MindMyHouse News 25 January 2008

by Susan Holtham, 27th January 2008

Tune into edition 22 of MindMyHouse News for all the following: our email alerts system goes down then comes up again five weeks later; we ask you to re-subscribe to this humble community e-newsletter and re-create your alerts; our back-end is now much more highly developed; you’ve got mail! We roll out a new Message Centre facility for your enjoyment; beautiful words – you can now format your listings using our new WYSIWYG text editor; why do some of our sitter wanted listings contain no dates at all?; and finally, after three beautiful years as a free service we will be charging a small fee for annual house sitter memberships.

Posted in: MindMyHouse News2008

Dear MindMyHousies,
welcome back to the New Year and to the new improved MindMyHouse!

We hope you read the latest broadcast email that we sent to all 8000+ of our cherished members (if you are trying to find it in your inbox, look for ‘Please read this important message from MindMyHouse’). So much had been happening here behind the scenes of our little community website that we realised we had to write to all of our members to tell you all about it. This edition number 22 of our e-newsletter is something of a recap on all of those important issues, so you may want to read it a little less thoroughly than usual!

Tune into edition 22 of MindMyHouse News for all the following: our email alerts system goes down then comes up again five weeks later; we ask you to re-subscribe to this humble community e-newsletter and re-create your alerts; our back-end is now much more highly developed; you’ve got mail! We roll out a new Message Centre facility for your enjoyment; beautiful words – you can now format your listings using our new WYSIWYG text editor; why do some of our sitter wanted listings contain no dates at all?; and finally, after three beautiful years as a free service we will be charging a small fee for annual house sitter memberships

We hope that you survived the silly season and your family weren’t as badly behaved as ours. We did manage a walk on the beach on Christmas day as per the tradition of the summer festive season down here in the Southern hemisphere. All was good except for the gale force winds whipping the sand into our eyes!

Many of our house sitter members have packed up and handed the keys back at the end of their Christmas assignments. While Christmas is a peak time for house sitting, luckily home owners need the services of our house sitters all the year long!

Happy New Year to all of our members! (That’s 8209 of you at the time of writing.) The turn of the year found our little family asleep in a huge tent on the coast just north of here. The rowdy group of older folk in the next campsite to ours seemed to be going wild, stomping out a shouting version of Auld Lang Syne and smooching each other, so there is hope for us yet! Our house sitter (a member of MindMyHouse of course) did an excellent job of relaxing here, gazing out of our windows and ignoring our little mouse friend while we were away. Thanks Jackie!

Our email alerts system goes down then comes up again five weeks later

MindMyHouse had a bumpy ride in November and December of 2007. We realised we had outgrown our current web hosting arrangement and needed to evolve as a business. Part of our new plan for service excellence was to restructure our bulk mail system to become demonstrably up with the latest in ‘best practice’ when sending out solicited bulk mail to our members.

While we were putting all of these new modes of work into practice, we had to temporarily suspend our email alerts system (from 21 November to 29 December). This was not fun for us as around 30 house sitting assignments were published on our site during the five-week outage and we had no way to tell you about them! We did however, write personally to all of the relevant home owners to tell them that until our alerts system was restored they needed to write to our house sitter members directly.

We ask you to re-subscribe to our humble community e-newsletter and re-create your alerts

As part of our recent overhaul of the way we handle all of our system mail we had to delete all of your existing email alerts and your subscriptions to our humble community e-newsletter. In effect, we wiped our slate clean and asked you to re-create your alerts and re-subscribe to our regular e-newsletter. Sorry about that! I am still smarting as my list of e-newsletter subscribers has gone from a healthy 5000 to a much reduced 500. Sob! Oh well, at least I can hope that my remaining readers are actually reading my words.

If you are among the 1500 of our house sitter members who have successfully jumped through our new two-step alerts creation and activation process, well done! Once you have re-created your email alerts you will receive a ‘catch-up’ email featuring all of those remaining relevant listings that you missed out on at the end of 2007.

You may be asking why it is now so much harder to create an email alert on our site. The short answer is that we need confirmation that you are able to receive our system generated mail at your current email address. Plus it is helpful for us to know that you are actually rather keen to receive it. Because there are now fewer of our members receiving our email alerts, there is less competition to respond to our sitter wanted listings. A good thing for our keener, more organised members!

For help with any of these changes to our service please email support@mindmyhouse.com. We are only too pleased to help!

Our back-end is now much more highly developed

No jokes about J-Lo please, this is serious back-end developer techie talk! We have upgraded the back-end facilities that we need to keep our service ticking along. We won’t bore you with the IT jargon but just wanted to let you know that we are in this business for the long haul (as they say) and needed to have a strong, ultra-reliable foundation upon which to provide our service to you. We now have our own dedicated server upon which to run our online service. If that sounds expensive that is because it is!

You’ve got mail! We roll out a new Message Centre facility for your enjoyment

More than a few of our members have written to us over the years telling us how much they would like to have a record on our site of all of the mail they have sent to and received from other members. Well, now you do! Your MindMyHouse message centre contains your personal records of all mail sent and received by you through our system since December 2006. We recommend that you log into your account right away and click on ‘Message centre’ in the left-hand menu to see how it works.

For more information read the following FAQ:
http://www.mindmyhouse.com/faqs/view_faq.php?id=219

Please note that only mail sent to you through our system will be in your Message centre. If a home owner has written to your email address directly and bypassed our system then there will be no record of that correspondence in your message centre. Do save these ‘off-site’ messages in your personal email browser for your future reference won’t you!

Beautiful words – you can now format your listings using our new text editor

We have also given you a handy new WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editing and formatting tool to help you make your listings on our site even more beautiful. To have a go at formatting your listing yourself first choose ‘Edit my listing’ from the left-hand menu in your account area. Unfortunately for Safari users such as myself, this formatting tool doesn’t work in the Mac browser Safari. To enjoy this new site feature you will need to use one of the other well-supported browsers, such as Firefox. Go wild if you want to and dazzle your audience with italic, bold, left paragraph indentation, bullet lists. Wow!

For more information, read the following FAQ:
http://www.mindmyhouse.com/faqs/view_faq.php?id=218

Why do some of our sitter wanted listings contain no dates at all?

You may have noticed that we have recently allowed our home owners to advertise for house sitters on our site without committing to a fixed set of dates. We did this in response to feedback from our members – home owners and house sitters alike. Many of our home owners wanted a template for their listings that was flexible enough to accurately reflect their requirements.

You may have read some of these sitter wanted listings that went along the lines of: ‘ignore the dates in this listing – I need you for three weeks out of every month’ or even ‘start date flexible – this is an unusual assignment as I often work away from home’, then there was: ‘we need your services for only short periods out of the advertised period, not the whole year as per the dates in this listing!’.

Then there were the fifteen house sitters who also wrote to us asking us to remove sitter wanted listings from our site that had in their opinion, expired.

There are house sitting assignments which are quite out of date. Does this mean that they have not been filled and therefore still advertising or are they no longer available? A bit misleading don’t you think?

As our home owners have always had complete control over their listings, our official site policy has been to continue to host sitter wanted listings until the final day of the advertised assignment. We figured that if home owners are happy to continue to receive inquiries from house sitters at their email address, then we were happy to continue to host their listing.

But we agree that something had to change. Ideally, we would like home owners to really be micro-managing their listings on our site: adjusting dates, editing text and hiding and showing their listing as required. Unfortunately, human nature is not this…erm organised. But we can be!

We think that life can be a complicated business and that the template for our sitter wanted listings needed to be flexible enough to accommodate this fact! We hope that this new site feature will help to keep vital lines of communication open between our home owner and house sitter members. After all, MindMyHouse’s mandate is to ‘bring home owners and house sitters together’. And by crikey that’s what we are going to do!

Home owners who make use of this site feature need to include some information in their listing about the sorts of occasions and time periods they may need the services of a house sitter. Home owners please note, without a final fixed date for your assignment, your listing will not be automatically hidden by our system. The onus is on you to manage your listing. You are, however, welcome to ask us to manage it for you.

House sitters, you may need to work a bit harder too when responding to these new listings with no fixed dates. You now need to ask when and for how long your services may be required and tell these home owners when and for how long you can be available to house sit. It’s all in the details!

Variable dates

After three beautiful years as a free service we will be charging a small fee for annual house sitter memberships

We know that house sitters worldwide have enjoyed using our service for free since February 2005. However, MindMyHouse was not intended to be our time-consuming and expensive hobby forever! We have decided to begin charging house sitters a small fee for their annual membership from early 2008. Thus, if you joined us on 1 June (of any previous year) for example, your membership will come up for renewal on 1 June 2008. We hope you will choose to spend the fee of around US$20 to stay with us for another year! Our service will still be around half the price of our cheapest competitors. We will also be spending lots of our own money on an online marketing campaign to drive more home owners to our site. Plus, we have recently upgraded all the back-end facilities that we need to provide this service. All of this activity needs an income source!

A few of you wrote to us in response to this news. Most of your replies sat somewhere between the two following quotes:

Thanks for all the work you put into this wonderful site, Susan!!! What a gift for us!! About the $20 donation for all your efforts to keep this site working…NO WORRIES!!!!! Sheila and I will be the first to pay this insanely FAIR fee!! I still don’t know how you find the time and energy to keep this site going. Good on you, Susan!! I think everyone else will feel the same way we do!

Thanks must go to our friends from Tasmania, Sheila and Ken Erger, for their kind words. It’s nice to be appreciated!

If you are going to start charging for membership then there are some things that I feel are important that you might consider…I don’t feel your site has enough features or housesitting opportunities to warrant a $20 fee…I think you have a good idea here but I also think some refinements are NECESSARY.

I must say that I think our site has so many features now it is lit up like a metaphorical Christmas tree. We don’t want to overwhelm you with any more site features! We do, however, agree that we need to drive more home owners to our service – hence our marketing plan!

Having considered the ‘free site with advertising’ model versus the ‘fee for memberships’ model of online service we are convinced that we are doing the right thing by choosing the latter. By charging a small fee for house sitter memberships we will lose all of those uncommitted people from our database who joined our free service on a whim. We are sure that both home owners and house sitters alike will benefit from our smaller, pared-down database of house sitter members. Fewer house sitters will be competing for more house sitting assignments (a good thing!) and those house sitters who choose to become paid-up members of our service will be more committed, reliable and organised (we hope!). Displaying flashing banner adverts and lists of Google adwords advertising from every page of our site to a rapidly growing membership of free house sitters is not where we want to take MindMyHouse in the future.

Happy house sitting (or best of luck with your sitters!)

Susan Holtham, Wellington 2007.

Susan Holtham
aka the team at MindMyHouse

About the author: Susan Holtham

Susan Holtham

The editor at MindMyHouse is a fun gal, intrepid traveller (in a former life), holder of three passports and enthusiastic house sitter. A book editor by trade, she did a three-year stint with Lonely Planet Publications at the start of her career. During her time at LP she shepherded many titles through the production process. Baaaa-aaaa-aaaaaa! Now that two gorgeous little girls call her mummy she's a very busy woman tending to their needs and to the occasional cries for help from among our 5000+ membership. No really, she's always keen to help!