The story of ConceptCodify from its founder


ConceptCodify's data has now transitioned into OptimalSort (Optimal Workshop's card sorting platform) and has shut up shop for good.

To the users of ConceptCodify, I am thankful that you shared your experiences with me, and grateful I got to learn so much from all of you. This post will give a little bit of the story behind ConceptCodify.

Why I built ConceptCodify

I started ConceptCodify in 2012 from my passion for user research. I strongly believe every organization should be conducting their own research to improve their products and services. Methods like usability testing, surveys, and card sorting can all help.

For card sorting, I found that my clients didn't know what was out there and available to them. Many weren't willing to pay for tools they didn't understand, and some balked at paying a monthly fee for a product they didn't know if they would continue to use. Using the traditional paper model or a free desktop application didn't appealing to them either.

At the time, there were options for surveys and usability studies my clients could run whole studies on with no risk, but I felt that card sorting didn't have the same. So I wrote a few Python scripts. And ConceptCodify was born.

How ConceptCodify grew

Originally, ConceptCodify was only accessible to my clients. I made the site intentionally minimal on features to keep it easy for my clients to use. A few months later, a friend of mine found a free host to put them on (Google App Engine), and helped me a little to make ConceptCodify available to the general web.

ConceptCodify stayed a side project while I continued to work full-time as well as freelance. I did get some assistance with marketing and support for a little while. I ran a ConceptCodify blog about user research that got some decent traffic. I was good at finding ways to do things for free or for little cost, which went a long way towards keeping the project running.

The user base continued to grow organically, even without a big marketing plan. Clearly the need for a free online card sorting tool was there.

About a year in, Google App Engine didn't support the features I needed, and I came up against many problems with OpenID, Google App Engine's login system. So I moved ConceptCodify to a DigitalOcean server. I rewrote and reorganized most of the application, keeping the design stayed in tact. The transfer was seamless.

My experience with ConceptCodify users

I was surprised at some of the users who came to me. I would get people from all over the world, including many native Spanish speakers. Several professors would have an entire class of students sign up to try it out. Little government offices who didn't want to go through the bureaucracy of funding approval would sign up. And many, many nonprofits and small businesses.

I suspect that the majority of my users had never conducted a card sort before. I was so honored that I could help and support these people and projects. And almost every user was kind, understanding, and passionate about their project. I couldn't have asked for a better audience to work for.

The studies conducted in the system were enlightening. I loved helping people out with using the tool, and learning about their projects. There were many website navigation projects, as you’d likely expect. But people kept coming up with unique ways to use the tool.

Some people used ConceptCodify to set priorities. Others used ConceptCodify to do entire site architectures. I saw quite a few academic studies, some of which ended up being published. I was so excited, getting to see all these different use cases. The combined power of design, programming, and making technology available is truly overwhelming, and every day ConceptCodify reminded me of that.

ConceptCodify continued to grow. By August 2015, I was getting over 100 sign ups every week. There have now been over 8500 studies conducted with ConceptCodify.

A few challenges along the way

It wasn't all roses. Starting around a year ago, there were some features ConceptCodify clearly needed based on user enquiries and the feedback board on UserVoice.

Some of the biggest feature requests were things like mobile support, sharing study permissions, filtering analysis results, and better language support. At first I had time to develop some of the requested features, such as the ordering analysis and random subsets, but as the demands of the project grew, my time tightened. I no longer had the time to keep up with the marketing efforts. I also had some new commitments in my life, and balancing ConceptCodify with everything else all became increasingly challenging.

Each week the number of support tickets continued to grow. By the end, I was spending about 5 hours each week answering support tickets. I enjoyed helping people, but the quantity prevented me from developing the site in other areas.

I evaluated starting to charge for ConceptCodify in order to keep the project going. I did the math in several different ways. I thought about a monthly model, or a pay-per-study model, or a freemium model. But regardless of method, the site would need about 100 hours of development time setting up payment systems, finding someone to help with support, getting the marketing efforts going again, etc. Turning ConceptCodify into something sustainable would mean making a full time commitment.

No matter how I did the math, the math just didn't add up.

Why ConceptCodify is shutting down, and all surveys moving to OptimalSort

As saddened as I was, I had no option but to shut ConceptCodify down. I could no longer sustain even the most basic things I needed to keep the project going. Between my full time employment and other projects I'm working on ... I would rather the project not exist than for it to not get the support it needed.

Since I made the announcement, several users asked about open-sourcing the project's code. I love open source projects. I contribute to several, and even have a few (small ones) of my own. But I would not have the resources to support ConceptCodify as an open source project either. There have been many startups that have dumped their code on Github, only to abandon it. I didn't want ConceptCodify to have that fate.

My top priority is to the people who conducted their studies in ConceptCodify, and I felt the best option was for them to maintain access to their studies.

So when Optimal Workshop offered to transition Concept Codify's users and studies, I knew it'd be the best way to go. OptimalSort is a card sorting tool with great results analysis capabilities, and is available on a per survey basis in the same way ConceptCodify was. Plus you can keep and access your ConceptCodify surveys for free, forever — a big win. I feel we've made the best decision, and I hope you all feel the same.

Thanks again.

— Kevin

ps. Check out the ConceptCodify FAQs to find out more.

Published on Aug 26, 2015
  • Kevin
  • Kevin is a web designer, developer, and researcher in Portland, Oregon. He founded and built ConceptCodify, a card sorting app.

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