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The 3rd party

In Behind the scenes

A week after launching Prevue in 2008, I found myself discussing the app over a beer with fellow Londoner Daniel Howells (owner of SiteInspire). And whilst I can't remember exactly how the conversation went, I clearly remember at one point he suggested I look into Amazon Web Services for image hosting.

Whether you do or don't know what Amazon Web Services are, know that if Daniel hadn't suggested it, and if I didn't go home and code for the next 24 hours straight, Prevue definitely wouldn't exist today+.

What I learned that day, and continue to see the benefits from, is the advantages of a healthy reliance on 3rd party tools to maintain an active and cost-effective product. Outsourcing parts of a system to reputable, and more capable parties is a fundamental part of growing a product from the ground up. It's either that, or suffer the inevitable consequences of going it alone.

So to pay homage, I thought I'd detail the fantastic tools that keep Prevue running smoothly —€“ all of which come with a personal recommendation from me...

Products worth using

Amazon Web Services (link) - This aforementioned product is what's used to store every uploaded image, background, thumbnail and logo... of which there are terabytes. Amazon servers are secure, scalable and cheap - they also hook up nicely with cloud services, which enable lightning fast image loading.

Postmark (link) - This tool is what sends most emails you receive from Prevue; from new annotations notifications through to forgotten password reminders. Postmark makes sure emails get to your inbox and takes all the heavy lifting out of complicated email delivery and compliance.

Campaign Monitor (link) - What's worse than receiving unwanted emails is the matrix of options most apps give you for opting in or out of notifications. I didn't want that for Prevue, so I use Campaign Monitor to safely store your email addresses and manage who the app can and can't send emails to. When you say 'Turn off email notifications' in your account settings, Campaign Monitor is the product behind making sure that your privacy is maintained.

PayPal (link) - Processing payments, storing credit card information and maintaining security is definitely something best left to the professionals. So for all upgrades and transactions, PayPal look after everything — which means that even in the worst case scenario of a hacking; secure information is safely locked away.

Intercom (link) - User happiness and engagement is something that's really important to me, and Intercom is the tool I use to organise and track engagement on a more personal level. For example, if your account is less active than usual, Intercom gives me the tools I need to personally drop you a message and make sure everything is okay. I'm not a fan of faceless tracking and analytics, and Intercom helps me avoid that without being too creepy.

Open Source

Finally, it's worth mentioning the Open Source code that has gone into building some of the more fancy interactions in Prevue. When it comes to Javascript, you could build something completely custom, or alternatively you could use the tried and tested expertise of people who've collaborated to do a far better job. I choose the latter, and utilize jQuery, Twitter Bootstrap, Dropzone.js and Farbtastic to build all the fiddly interaction things like drag-drop uploads, modal windows and colour pickers.

Don't DIY

Without Amazon, I'd be dealing with expensive and overloaded servers. Without Postmark, I'd still be using PHP to send emails that got caught in spam filters. Without Campaign Monitor, Prevue might have a pretty bad reputation for sending unwanted emails. Without PayPal, Prevue could never have started earning money. And without Intercom, I'd have no idea whether any of that was a problem for you.

+ In that first week of being live, Prevue operated by storing uploaded images directly on its own servers. Whilst marginally quicker, and definitely technically easier; that method would have quickly filled up then crashed those servers - essentially taking Prevue offline for good. So acting on better advice, I updated the app to upload images directly to Amazon — which put the pressure on Amazon rather than my own servers to handle the hundreds-of-thousands of images uploaded since. Thanks Dan!

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