Peppermint Tea

The Shaun Inman (M)interview

Posted 9 January 2008 in by Sam Brown - 7 Comments

Being one of Mint’s biggest fans there are constantly things I am bugging Shaun about for answers to, so instead of a constant barrage of emails I decided to set up a little Q&A session over the holiday period with our favorite developer regarding Mint, what is in Mint’s pipeline and what Shaun has planned for 2008! Enjoy.

Sam Brown: Tell us a little bit about your Mint installs, which Styles are you using, which Pepper do you have installed and how often do you check your Mint stats?

Shaun Inman: I’m using the new Leaves plugin that displays multiple Mint installations on a single page. I have it set to display 3 Mints at a time, haveamint.com, ShaunInman.com and Designologue.com. I also have few additional sites available from the Leaves drop-downs. All of my Mint installations use the default Vanilla Mint style and the default settings—Mint is the result of my dissatisfaction with other stats packages, it follows that the defaults are my preferred settings.

On the surface, Designologue.com is running “Thin Mint” (just Mint with the Default and Backup/Restore Pepper) plus the iPhone Pepper. But since this installation serves as a Mint demo I also have an additional custom paneless Pepper called Cleaner installed that automatically removes any unsavory search terms (it’s amazing how much search traffic a single word taken out of context can drive to your site).

The rest of my installs are considerably heftier, often running all of the publicly available first-party Pepper plus a couple of custom Pepper. On ShaunInman.com I have the iPhone Pepper, Local Searches, User Agent 007, Secret Crush, Bird Feeder, Real Estate, Outbound and Visits Diff. I also use a custom download counting Pepper called Dropped that displays data collected by the custom framework used on ShaunInman.com and haveamint.com (it’s nowhere near as full-featured as Till or Steve’s offerings). I also keep the Doorbell and Growl Pepper on the server and available under the Install tab for when I really want to be distracted.

Mint on haveamint.com is set up just like ShaunInman.com plus one additional custom Pepper called Cashew. This Pepper was originally a hack of Kyle Rove’s Fresh View Pepper but instead of graphing visits Cashew graphs the number of licenses/upgrades. It has since been ported to the graphing system used by other Mint 2 Pepper but the name stuck.

I only check my Mint Leaves once a day (part of my New Year’s Resolutions) unless I’m checking in to see how sales are doing. Of course, as soon as I post something that resolution is likely to go out the window. (Already broken!)

The sale of your 10,000th Mint license must not be far away, do you plan on celebrating this milestone?

Mint sold its ten-thousandth license a while ago actually. In my Year Two in Review I mentioned more than eight-thousand customers—many of which have more than one Mint license. The week or so before the ten-thousandth sale my wife Leslie and I talked about making a Mint logo-shaped cake and even bought the cake mix, frosting, and food coloring. But life happened. We came across the dry ingredients while packing for our move. They were all past their expiration date. So no cake. I probably ended up having a Mint Julep or something.

Is piracy still rife and how much of your time is spent dealing with it?

I still come across the occasional pirated Mint install but the always-effective form letter to the host has long been written so its not the time sink it once was. The new Account Center-integrated Forum on haveamint.com also spares me from mistakenly supporting unlicensed Mint installations.

Have you had any big offers to purchase Mint and how close have you come to moving onto greener pastures?

I’ve been approached a few times but always made it clear that I wasn’t interested before a formal offer could be made. As for greener pastures, most of those would involve relocation, a commute and working towards someone else’s vision—none of which interest me at this point in time.

With a very successful launch of Mint 2, I assume you are not thinking much about Version 3, but are there any significant things that you plan on adding to your Road Map at this early stage?

Not at this point. One of Mint’s greatest strengths is its extensibility. Because of the Pepper API new features don’t have to equal new version. The majority of things I would like to do wouldn’t directly affect or benefit the average user of Mint (eg. revamping the Pepper API) so they become hard to justify. Of course, there will always be those user-beneficial features that do require a significant rewrite (eg. adding support for multiple-users/logins) but I haven’t set any priorities for Mint 3 yet.

Being the stats aficionado that you are, how do you see stat tracking changing in the coming years, if at all? Is JavaScript tracking the new way forward or will we always be checking our other server side stats packages?

JavaScript tracking isn’t really anything new but properly implemented it’s much more computationally expensive to game than traditional log-based or server-side analysis. When designing Mint I decided up front that maintaining a blacklist of known referrer-spammers, spiders and crawlers was not something I wanted the user or myself to have to do. A whitelist didn’t make sense for this application but given the nature of my own site’s audiences and by extension those who would find Mint appealing, JavaScript was the obvious solution.

You are one of the very few designer developers out there that is able to marry your brilliant code with a gorgeous design, this was touched upon by Jon Hicks in his latest episode of The Rissington Podcast (he called you a bastard! (Sorry Jon!)). How have you come to accomplish this feat that is rarely seen elsewhere?

Oh this one’s easy. I just don’t know when to stop. I will bang my head against the proverbial wall until I understand something—to the detriment of everything else. Sleep. Relationships. It’s really not the enviable quality everyone makes it out to be. It’s not a quick process either.

Of course, I am a classically trained graphic designer. As for code and development, I had a couple computer science friends who pointed me in the right direction early on. A collection of dense, occasionally impenetrable O’Reilly books and googling got me the rest of the way.

Where is our Mint swag? Don’t get me wrong, I love my Mint wallpapers but I feel this is an untapped market for you! Is swag in the pipeline?

Swag is in the pipeline. It’s just stuck in the pipeline. I’m not looking to just slap the Mint logo on warm bodies as walking billboards. A Mint tee should stand on its own even if you’re not a Mint junkie. Then it’s that much cooler if you are. I’ll be posting some ideas on my site after the New Year.

What is next for Shaun Inman? With Mint doing so well and you not taking on any new freelance projects (that I am aware of), what do you see yourself doing this time next year? A Mint Year 3 in Review blog post?

Well, there’s the inevitable annual restless refresh of ShaunInman.com. The new version has been designed and some preliminary production is already underway. I really love the current version—especially during the bluer winter months—so I plan on keeping it up until at least February. Will the redesign prompt a return to regular blogging? Probably not, but it certainly won’t hurt any.

I’d love to make sometime to write and record a new ep, maybe even a collaboration—you can do some amazing stuff with Garage Band these days. I’ve been composing some instrumentals lately but I’d love to combine that with the more usual verse-chorus-verse material I’ve always done.

Then there’s the scores of unfinished personal projects left in various stages of completion. A custom pixel portrait business card service, a self-hosted RSS reader, a new Designologue.com, a Japanese-style RPG (think 16-bit generation Final Fantasies—this one seems especially daunting). It will be interesting to see what shakes out of aught-eight.

Sam Brown: A huge thanks to Shaun Inman for taking time out over the holiday period to answer some Mint related questions.


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