My Gallup StrengthsFinder Themes

As many of you may know, Rackspace is a strengths based company. At Rackspace, all employees take the Gallup StrengthsFinder® Assessment to find out what your top strengths and then they get printed on your badge and on your desk card. The purpose of these strengths is to have balanced teams that where each team member brings something to the table and complement each other. It is an integral tool Rackspace uses to identify a Racker’s most powerful talents and build a career path that taps and leverages those strengths. After testing, employees are provided with resources to understand how to put their strengths to work. Teams are encouraged to discuss team strengths to help employees understand each Racker’s unique strengths-set. By letting the team member with high Input chew on research all day, keeping the high Restoratives busy solving problems, and focusing the Maximizers on stimulating excellence; everyone reaps more job satisfaction.

I’ve taken the assessment twice and will take it again in the very near future. I don’t have the results for the first assessment, which was taken in June 2013, but below are my January 2015 results. They are pretty spot on with what I see myself as and that is a little bit scary; especially when you read the descriptions of each theme. It really does fit me, how I am and what how I would describe myself. I will include the September 2016 results when I have them and compare them to the 2015 results to see how I’ve changed in the past 18 months.

I’d love to hear what you think about it, drop me an email, tweet or down in the comments if you prefer.

TLDR; my top 5 strengths are Empathy, Analytical, Input, Learner, Discipline.
Keep on reading for the detailed descriptions

Rackspace Badge - Strengths
How Rackspace prints your StrenghtsFinder results on the badge



Empathy
You can sense the emotions of those around you. You can feel what they are feeling as though their feelings are your own. Intuitively, you are able to see the world through their eyes and share their perspective. You do not necessarily agree with each person’s perspective. You do not necessarily feel pity for each person’s predicament—this would be sympathy, not Empathy. You do not necessarily condone the choices each person makes, but you do understand. This instinctive ability to understand is powerful. You hear the unvoiced questions. You anticipate the need. Where others grapple for words, you seem to find the right words and the right tone. You help people find the right phrases to express their feelings—to themselves as well as to others. You help them give voice to their emotional life. For all these reasons other people are drawn to you.

Analytical
Your Analytical theme challenges other people: “Prove it. Show me why what you are claiming is true.” In the face of this kind of questioning some will find that their brilliant theories wither and die. For you, this is precisely the point. You do not necessarily want to destroy other people’s ideas, but you do insist that their theories be sound. You see yourself as objective and dispassionate. You like data because they are value free. They have no agenda. Armed with these data, you search for patterns and connections. You want to understand how certain patterns affect one another. How do they combine? What is their outcome? Does this outcome fit with the theory being offered or the situation being confronted? These are your questions. You peel the layers back until, gradually, the root cause or causes are revealed. Others see you as logical and rigorous. Over time they will come to you in order to expose someone’s “wishful thinking” or “clumsy thinking” to your refining mind. It is hoped that your analysis is never delivered too harshly. Otherwise, others may avoid you when that “wishful thinking” is their own.

Learner
You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered—this is the process that entices you. Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences—yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there.”

Input
You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books, and quotations—or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.

Discipline
Your world needs to be predictable. It needs to be ordered and planned. So you instinctively impose structure on your world. You set up routines. You focus on timelines and deadlines. You break long-term projects into a series of specific short-term plans, and you work through each plan diligently. You are not necessarily neat and clean, but you do need precision. Faced with the inherent messiness of life, you want to feel in control. The routines, the timelines, the structure, all of these help create this feeling of control. Lacking this theme of Discipline, others may sometimes resent your need for order, but there need not be conflict. You must understand that not everyone feels your urge for predictability; they have other ways of getting things done. Likewise, you can help them understand and even appreciate your need for structure. Your dislike of surprises, your impatience with errors, your routines, and your detail orientation don’t need to be misinterpreted as controlling behaviors that box people in. Rather, these behaviors can be understood as your instinctive method for maintaining your progress and your productivity in the face of life’s many distractions.

 

Note: Clifton StrengthsFinder, and the Clifton StrengthsFinder Theme Names are all trademarks of Gallup, Inc.

HelpSpot’s new Free License lets small groups run a cost-effective help desk

Last week, HelpSpot introduced a new Free License offering. I first ran into HelpSpot back in May 2009, when I was in my help desk software investigation phase. Since then, I’ve been keeping an eye on their product and constantly re-evaluating it. I never really become a customer per se, but I’ve always liked their product and developed a certain affection for it and what it could be capable of; plus at that time I preferred a hosted help-desk as I did not want to handle server maintenance and what not. While the core product has kept pretty much the same, they’ve been making improvements and additions over the years.

This new license is aimed at small help desk environments that are looking for a self-hosted platform they can keep behind their firewalls and also, that can easily scale in the future. By having it locally hosted, you can ensure data compliance and keep the legal team happy knowing all the data is stored in house and not with a third party. HelpSpot is ideal for both internal and external facing teams; HR can use it to track employee requests and queries or Legal can use it to track abuse reports and other cases. It can also be used by clubs, schools, or any other low-budget environment that would benefit from a centralized, request tracking system.

Version 4.5, which will be out soon, will include a Zapier integration which will let you pipe HelpSpot into a variety of other services such as “Post to Slack when a new request is opened” or “On Category Change In HelpSpot to “Bug” -> Create Github Issue” which would be really useful for development teams. The Zapier integration will unlock a whole new level of things you can trigger your help desk to do, very much like a IFTTT recipe. HelpSpot also includes an API you can plug into and features a Live Lookup feature that you can connect to your CRM or Database and perform automatic lookups of customer information so you can have a holistic view of your customer to assist them better. Their triggers and automations are also pretty powerful and you can create powerful routing rules and escalations to serve all your needs. It really is a very powerful tool with a very robust feature set.

The new HelpSpot Free License will allow small groups to manage requests with ease and have the benefit of being backed by a full-featured, robust app that can scale easily with their needs as they grow that they didn’t have before; and moving to a paid license is as easy as uploading the new license file. I’m really excited for this new license option as it will allow me to use a powerful tool for my small projects without any extra cost, as well as recommending it to small teams & projects that may need a request tracking system. One thing to keep in mind is that the support is community only, but I’ve found it to be pretty responsive and I look forward to seeing where the community grows from here!

You can sign up for a free license and learn more about it here

Twitter now lets anyone add a DM link to a tweet

Yesterday, Twitter announced a series of improvements for doing social customer care over Twitter. I was obviously excited about this, given my passion for social customer care and desire to help people. One of the most important and exciting parts of their announcement is the ability to include a ‘call to action’ button in the tweet to take the conversation private over direct message (DM). I still see a good amount of people who don’t know how to initiate a DM and this new feature make it much easier for brands to carry the conversation over as the customer will just need to tap the “Send a private message” button.

This feature is now embedded in a few customer care platforms such as SparkCentral, Sprout Social, Hootsuite, Respond, among others, and I’ve already seen @DeltaAssist include it in several of their replies to passengers; but you don’t need to use those systems, or even be a company to take advantage of this new feature. In fact, I’ve already tried it on a tweet today. To use it, you just need to add the following link at the end of a tweet, and it will automatically create the CTA button.

https://twitter.com/messages/compose?recipient_id={your account’s numeric user ID}

(Do not include the account number brackets on the link, they’re just there as a placeholder) 

To find your twitter ID, go to http://tweeterid.com/ and type in your username, your ID will be displayed on the right. According to Twitter, you need to make sure that you have “Accept DM’s from anyone” enabled for it to work; I have not yet tried it with the option disabled.

 

New DM 'call to action'

You can also pre-fill a certain text into the DM, for example, to request an order number. Just append &text={default text} to the end of the URL and replace {default text} with the text you’d like to pre-fill.

Like this: https://twitter.com/messages/compose?recipient_id={your account’s numeric user ID}&text=Order%20Number

For example, in the link above, the text “Order Number” will be appended to the DM so that the customer only needs to put in the order number in (as well as any other information you’ve requested or a description of the problem) and send the DM

Note: If when you tweet, Twitter is not converting the link into a button, make sure you have DM’s enabled from anyone. Various people have mentioned that fixes it.

You can try this new feature out using my test tweet, or feel free to create your own!

I’m curious to hear how you & your business will implement this feature, so drop me a line or a comment on how its being used when you implement it – would love to hear your use case!

h/t @TimHaines for letting me know this is open to anyone

 

 

Optimizing WordPress file permissions

This article is mainly geared towards WordPress self-hosted on a server where you have root ssh access. If you installed it on a shared host like DreamHost, you may not need to, or be able to run this script.

I have a 1GB Rackspace Cloud Server that houses my website, blog and well as my side projects. Recently, my WordPress installation that powers my blog started encountering errors with the self-updater; upon further inspection, noticed that it did not have certain permissions to write (add, modify, remove) files that were going to be updated. Not knowing what the optimal permissions were without compromising security with a wide 777, I researched into what is the optimal permission setting to keep WordPress secure, but allowing auto update to work.

I recently rebuilt my front page with a new flat file CMS called Grav (which I’ve fallen in love with), and its updater was having issues too. So I did a little digging into Grav and turns out someone had already documented this exact same issue. They wrote a script that will set the optimal permissions that balance security and convenience.

What this script basically does, is:

  1. Changes the user and group of the current directory to faisal and apache
  2. Changes all files and subfolder to faisal and apache ownership
  3. Finds all the files from the current directory down and sets the permissions to 664 so they are RW for User & Group and R for Others.
  4. Finds all the folders from the current directory down and sets the permissions to 775 so they are RWX for User & Group and RX for Others.
  5. Sets the ownership of all directories to ensure that User and Group changes are maintained
  6. Sets the umask so that all new files are created with the correct 664 and 775 permissions.
This script is not only for WordPress or Grav. It could potentially be used with any CMS that requires file permissions to work, and it’s a good way to clean up the overall permissions.

Using Google Apps SAML SSO to do one-click login to AWS

I never thought I’d be doing a blog post on AWS, but given the process documentation on Google’s side was missing a few crucial information, I saw a great opportunity.

I recently discovered that the Google Apps Admin Console lets you configure custom SAML apps to do one-click login to third party apps that support SAML SSO Authentication. One of the examples was AWS and I was curious to give it a shot. Once you understand it, it’s quite simple and I’m currently working on Active Directory Federation for a work project, but that’s a whole other animal for another blog post.

To start the setup, head over to the Google Apps Admin Console. Once you’re there navigate to the ‘Apps’ tab

Google Apps Admin Console

and then SAML apps.

Apps Tab

Once inside SAML Apps, go ahead and add a new app by clicking on the + icon and selecting Amazon Web Services.

On the next screen, make sure to select Option 2: Download IDP metadata and save the file on an easily accesible location

Google IDP Info

Once you have the IDP Metadata file saved, we’re going to create an IAM Identity Provider and an IAM Role in AWS. The role will designate what permissions will the SAML Federated user have within AWS.

To start, fire up the AWS Admin Console on a new tab and head to the IAM module. Once in the IAM Module, select Identity Providers from the left sidebar and then Create Provider. Select SAML from Provider Type and give it a name such as ‘GoogleApps’ (Note there are no spaces). When it asks you for the metadata document, go ahead and select from your hard drive the IDP Metadata file you downloaded from Google in the previous step. Verify the information, and finish off the wizard.

IAM Add Provider

With the provider configured, we’re now going to create a Role which will define the permissions. Click on the Roles tab on the left sidebar and Create a New Role. Whatever you name the Role will be what will be displayed next to the login name on the AWS Console, I went with GoogleSAML, but you can use Google or GoogleSSO or just SSO, or what ever you’d like. In Step 2, select ‘Role for Identity Provider Access’ and then ‘Grant Web Single Sign-On (WebSSO) access to SAML providers’ 

Create Role - Step 2

Once you select the WebSSO option, on Step 3 select the previously created Identity Provider and go ahead to the next step, you can leave the Establish Trust Relationship intact and advance to the next step. In Step 4 is where you define the policies your Federated Users will have. If you want to give Federated users specific permissions, create a Policy and then apply it to the Role. Creating a Policy is outside the scope of this blog, but you can read the AWS Documentation on it. To make things simple, I chose the AdministratorAccess policy, which grants Administrator Access to anyone logged in with a Google Federated credential inside my domain. Once you select the policy you’d like to apply, review your settings and Create the Role.

With the Role Created, it’s now time to get our hands a bit deeper. We’re going to use the Google Admin SDK APIs and the API Explorer to create a custom field in the Google Apps profile that will have the Role ARN and the Identity Provider ARN that will be passed on to AWS when doing the SAML Handshake.

The following scenario only applies if you have a few users (up to five) since you’ll be manually adding the Schema to each user, if you have more users, use the real API’s to bulk update the users.

To get the customerId:

If you only have one account in your Google Apps account and it’s the one you’re currently logged into, your customerId will be displayed in Step 2 of the SAML App Creation, where you downloaded the IDP Metadata. It is the string of characters in the SSO URL that follow idpid= (eg. https://accounts.google.com/o/saml2/idp?idpid=Ab1cde23f)

If you have more users, you’ll need to use the API or API Explorer and have Super Administrator privileges to extract their customerId.

On the API Explorer list, use the ‘directory.users.get‘ API to input the user’s email address under userKey, then Authorize and Execute. If you get a ‘Insufficient Permissions’ error. Click on the OAuth 2.0 toggle on the top right corner off and on again, that should fix the permissions. Make sure to grant access if prompted.

Customer ID Get

You’ll find the “customerId”: parameter towards the bottom half of the response.

 

Customer ID Get Response

Once you have the customerId, get back to the list of API’s and select the directory.schemas.insert API.
Insert the customerId of the Google Apps account, and then in the body put SAML as the SchemaName, then click the green + above to add a new array and put AWSAccountID as the fieldName, and STRING as the field type. I’ve included a video below that describes this process. Once you’re done, hit Execute.
(Note: If the request fails, make sure you’re authenticated and authorized – to make sure, click on the OAuth 2.0 toggle on the top right to ‘off’ and the back to ‘on’ and make sure to allow the API to make changes)

 

The response should look similar to this

Google API Explorer - Insert Schema

 

Now we need to populate the newly created fields with the AWS info. For that we’ll use the directory.users.update API
Input in the user’s email as the userKey, then select ‘customSchemas’ as a property, click Add, enter the name of the Schema (which should be SAML) on the first blank and then click the Add inside the parenthesis to add a field. Specify the Field Name (which should be AWSAccountID), and for the Text of the field you’re going to go back to AWS, grab the Role ARN followed by a ‘,’ and then the Identity Provider ARN. It should look something like this

arn:aws:iam::012345678:role/GoogleSAMLDemo,arn:aws:iam::012345678:saml-provider/GoogleAppsDemo

The video below shows describes the process in a visual way

Once you’re done, hit Execute.
(Note: If the request fails, make sure you’re authenticated and authorized – to make sure, click on the OAuth 2.0 toggle on the top right to ‘off’ and the back to ‘on’ and make sure to allow the API to make changes)

If your request was successful, you should see the newly added customSchema at the bottom of the response

Google APIs Explorer - User Update, Custom Schema

Repeat this step for every user you’d like to be able to login to AWS via the SAML SSO.

(Optional) If you’d like to really verify your customSchema was added to the profile; head back to the API Explorer list, use the ‘directory.users.get‘ API to input the user’s email address under userKey. This time use SAML as the customFieldMask and ‘custom’ as the projection. If your request was successful, the customSchema should be listed at the bottom of the request.

Now we’re ready for the final steps!

Head back to the Google Admin Page, Close the current New SAML App pop-up, refresh the page and click the + button to initiate the Wizard again. Select Amazon Web Services and you can skip Step 2. On Step 3, you can rename your module however you’d like. The Application Name is what will be shown to your users, so you can either keep it the same or change it to your liking. Leave Step 4 intact, and make sure the ACS URL and Entity ID are set to https://signin.aws.amazon.com/saml

Lastly, on Step 5 we’re going to map the field we just created to the SAML Request.

For the first row, choose Basic Information – Primary Email. On the Second Field, find the SAML option we created and on the next field select AWSAccountID

SAML Attribute Mapping

 

Go ahead and click finish. You now have your SAML App created! We now need to enable it. You can enable it for everyone on your organization or just a specific OU.

SAML App Page - Enable

 

Once your app is enabled, it’s time to test it! Go ahead and click on the External Launch icon.

SAML App Page - Launch

You should be redirected to the AWS Management Console and you should see that you’re authenticated with SAML credentials.

AWS Management Console with SAML Login

Great! Your SAML App now works. But how do your users get to it? At the top of every Google page there’s the app switcher. If you open it, and scroll down to the very bottom, you should see your newly created SAML App. If you click on it, it should take you to AWS with one click login.

App Switcher

You can also login using the new Google Apps User Hub (found at https://apps.google.com/user/hub) and you will see custom deployed apps the end of the list.

Google Apps User Hub

…and there you have it. One click login to AWS from anywhere in the Google ecosystem. You can hook any app that accepts SAML into Google, the setup will vary by app, but it should all be similar in a nutshell.

If you have any questions about what I covered in this article, feel free to leave a comment, shoot me an email, or a tweet (@fmisle) – and I’ll try to help as best as I can.

How to switch your Google for Work subscription to Rackspace to take advantage of Fanatical Support

Yesterday, Rackspace announced it has partnered with Google to become a Google for Work Premier SMB Reseller. That means you can get all the awesome goodness of Google Apps and take advantage of all they have to offer while being backed by the award winning Fanatical Support® promise. You will get Rackspace’s 15 years of experience to help you leverage Google Apps to your needs. That also means you will get the same under 30 second phone pickup time you’d come to expect from Rackspace with no annoying phone trees or PIN numbers to enter and remember! They’ll support Gmail, Drive, Hangouts and the rest of the apps in the suite for you so you can focus on building and running a successful business without the pain of worrying about IT.

But Rackspace is not only supporting the platform, but you will have direct access to a Racker anytime to leverage their experience and guidance on best use cases, implementations, how to take advantage of new features – and above all, a contact that will help you with anything you may need. They will be truly at your service for almost anything. (and if you’re coming from another system that it’s not Google Apps, they will perform a full migration as well!).

Bret Piatt, Director of Corporate Strategy commented

“Common issues are pretty common across all of the platforms. As we talked to customers of Google Apps leading up to this launch, we’ve seen things we already have deep expertise on, and we’re applying that expertise to the Google product.  Need help with communication tools such as Gmail and Hangouts? You got it. Want to migrate documents to Google Drive for collaboration? We can help you. Looking to adopt Google productivity suite applications including Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides and Sites? We’ll show you how. It’s truly Fanatical Support of Google Apps for Work.”

Now, how do you actually transfer your account? It’s very, very easy. Takes about 5-10 minutes and absolutely no changes of any kind to your existing setup or DNS and there will be zero interruption or downtime, as the only thing that happens is that Rackspace pulls your subscription over from Google’s Billing System. Even the admin panel remains the same! So, to get the transfer started its only a matter of completing a single step, then your Fanatical team will take care of it!

  1. Log into admin.google.com/TransferToken using your current username and password.
  2. Select Generate transfer token
  3. Contact the Google Apps for Work at Rackspace support team and provide them with your token and they’ll handle the rest!
    The support team can be reached at the following methods:

    1. Toll free: 1-877-416-8373
    2. You can also start a live chat by selecting the chat link in the top right corner of gfw.rackspace.com
    3. or by email support@gapps.rackspace.com

And that’s it! They’ll confirm you want to transfer and voilà you’re now backed by Fanatical Support®!

You can learn more about their new offering on their blog.

First Look at Google Domains – My thoughts and experience

Back at the beginning of August, my friend @solwatts asked me if I wanted his Google Domains invite, as he was trying to move away from Google services. I gladly accepted it and transferred a few spare domains just a short while later. Now, almost two months in, I feel like I can now give my first thoughts about the service.

When you first arrive at the site, it looks like any other Google service. Very clean interface with a search bar at the top to search for new domains, a sidebar with options to see your domains list, transfer in domains and see your Billing settings. In the very center of the screen you see the domains you have with them, when they expire, and a check box to enable or disable auto renew. Pretty simple and straight forward.

Google Domains - Main Screen
Main Screen (click for full size)

Digging into the domain options, you land on a page where you can partner up (for an extra fee) with hosting providers like Squarespace, Wix or Weebly. They’ll also SSO with Google for a seamless experience. You can also forward your domain to another website without any DNS configuration. The next tab is the Email tab. Google Domains offers you 100 email aliases you can create to forward to other mailboxes. Very easy to use, which is the main concept of the site. Simple but powerful.

Email Aliases
Email Aliases

In the Security tab, you’re able to enable or disable the complimentary WHOIS privacy that comes with your domain. Keep in mind some domains (such as .us) don’t allow WHOIS privacy. You can also update the WHOIS contact information from this screen as well as unlock the domain for transfer. Under ‘Settings’ tab you can configure auto-renew, although there is a quick access setting on the main list.

The Advanced section is where the juicy bits are. Here you can set the NS servers or default them to the Google ones. Google has also created something called ‘Synthetic records’ these are not real DNS records, but more like a group of DNS records setup to work with Google services. For example to setup Google Apps email, create Google Apps subdomains (email.domain.com, docs.domain.com and so forth) and AppEngine records. You can also create subdomain forwarders. Below that you have the DNS records, this is where you create your custom DNS records if you are using their NS. (A, AAAA, MX, CNAME, TXT, etc). It’s basically the same as other registrars, you input the Name, choose a type, the TTL and the Destination.

That’s pretty much it for domain management. It’s quite simple and straight forward and it should give you most, if not all, the tools you need to manage your domain.

 

Nameserver Screen
Nameserver Screen
Synthetic Records
Synthetic Records

As you can see, the Synthetic Records will then create the needed DNS records for the action. (Setup MX records for Google Apps and the CNAME records for the subdomains)

DNS Setup Screen
DNS Setup Screen

Now, let’s move into how to transfer a domain in from another registrar.

Google made it very easy, like the rest of the product, to transfer domains in; and they guide you through every step of the way.
Google gives you a set of steps to prepare your domain for transfer. If you have you whois setup to Private, you need to make it public, then you need to unlock your domain. Afterwards, you verify the email address in the WHOIS to make sure the domain is yours and lastly you input the Authorization Code. Once you have that done you’re ready to transfer it in. As you complete each of the steps above, Google will check it off the list so you know what’s left to do.
A nice thing they have is a DNS importer. If you were hosting the DNS at your previous registrar; Google will scan the DNS records and try to import them to Google Domains. I’d be in your best interest to double check what Google is importing to see if any records are missing so you can add them. You also have the option of keeping the existing NS records so you don’t have any downtime or use a third-party DNS host. If you do choose Google’s DNS hosting, you will be using the same reliable infrastructure they use for their services and domains.

Transfer In Pt.1
Transfer In (click for full size)
Import DNS settings
Import DNS settings
Revise Imported DNS settings
Revise Imported DNS settings

As you can see above, Google automatically detected I use Google Apps, and that I have CNAME’s for Calendar, Drive, Mail and Sites and will automatically link them to the Synthetic records. It also found the other DNS settings and my website’s IP, among other records. You may also add, edit or delete records as needed. Once you’ve verified the DNS settings, head over to the Payment screen, pay for the transfer and you’re set. While transfers are essentially free, you do need to add another year to your domain. The checkout process for transferring or buying a domain is powered by Google Wallet to make it easier to manage payments.

Google Domains is still very much in beta, and they have admitted they are not feature complete yet. I am excited to see what other features they come up with and release. They are also very proactive in asking for feedback and improvements. They do only support a limited amount of TLD’s for the time being, which I hope gets expanded soon if they really want to fulfill their goal of offering nearly every TLD they can. Also, you may not transfer domains in bulk yet, so if you have a bunch of domains you want to transfer, you’d need to do it one by one. I have not tried or used their support, but they do offer Phone Support from 9am-9pm as well as Email Support. I will update with my experience when I do need to contact them.

Overall it is a simple, minimalist, very easy to use interface – everything is clear and straight forward. They are clearly targeting people who do not have much experience and they simplify domain registration and management for them. There are no up sells when buying or transferring domains making for a very pleasant checkout experience.

If you’ve been lucky enough to get an invite as well, I’d love to hear your experience too, so be sure to join in the comments!  Also if there is something I missed you want me to answer, feel free to ask, I’ll do my best to answer!

What Rackspace’s new changes mean for individual developers/users

Today, Rackspace announced they are now a “Managed Cloud Company”. With this announcement Rackspace actually ceases to provide ‘Unmanaged’ services for servers. Rackspace will now also  break out the infrastructure cost from the support cost, much like all managed providers do which is charge you for the servers and then an extra fee for managing them and the support costs. This is now an inconvenience (pricing wise) for individual developers because there is now a minimum fee of $50 for a “Managed Infrastructure” service level. So for example, my server that used to cost $25/month with Fanatical Support included, now costs $25, plus the $50 Support Level fee, bumping it to $75/mo. This new pricing may only be for new customers, as in my Control Panel I can see I was grandfathered into the old ‘Unmanaged’ level. As you can see, this new pricing does not suit well developers who just want unmanaged servers with great support to back them up if anything goes wrong. 

Rackspace New Service Levels
You can click on the image to enlarge

With this new direction they are heading to, they are making it clear they want to attract companies who don’t want to manage the server, but rather focus on the code and the product. Thus, like I said before, making it not worth it for individual developers and users like me who just want a server where to have a personal site or hobby products.

Their CTO, John Engates told VentureBeat

“If you show up at Rackspace and say, ‘I want infrastructure as a service, but I don’t want any managed cloud stuff,’ then you really can’t sign up for Rackspace, you won’t be a customer of Rackspace,” 

Sadly, this also means I won’t be recommending Rackspace anymore to individual developers looking for a hosting company as it is no longer viable to do so, and most individual developers do not need a managed solution.

gapingvoid's support drawing
gapingvoid’s drawing of Rackspace’s former vision about Fanatical Support

Hugh MacLeod (@gapingvoid) drew this cartoon(?) a while ago on what made Rackspace so unique and so damn good. The fact they included, on the price of the server, their Award Winning Fanatical Support (and criticized AWS for it) and it’s now sad to see them take the same route by separating the cost of the server and support.

In closing, Rackspace is now catering to companies that don’t want to manage the server and focus on their product while having top notch, world class support and that have the big pockets to afford a managed solution; and the individual peeps who just want a simple server with that great, world class support included will have to look elsewhere.

If you have any comments or thoughts on this new direction they are taking, feel free to comment below.

 

It’s all about the experience

WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver.

-Zappos Core Value #1

 

I’ve had this topic on my mind for a few weeks already and people are constantly asking me why I’m I so nice and generous. Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking to myself why do I do this; and why I am the such generous and helpful person I am. It’s really hard to express it in words why, and how I feel, but I’ll do my best.

The core of it is in my DNA. It’s a family thing that goes back to my grandfather. He is the most kind and generous person I know and he always wants to see people happy, always. He’s also extremely hard-working which allows him to be able to be so generous and create these fantastic experiences for others to experience. There’s a very recent anecdote I want to share that was the spark to all this thought process I’ve had this past few weeks. Recently, one of his best friends was being treated at Cleveland Clinic where his friend was near to losing his sight and my grandfather wanted him to relax and don’t worry about his health state much. So my grandfather called the hotel where his friend was staying and asked to speak to the manager; he then told the manager the story and asked if he could pay for access to the Executive Floor for his friend for the length of his stay, but at the same time telling his friend that the hotel had granted him a free upgrade. The manager of course helped him and then proceeded to tell his friend that he had spoken to the hotel and that they had given him a free upgrade to the executive floor. My grandfather’s friend was of course delighted and extremely thankful with my grandpa. It’s a story that made me realize that I inherited all my passion for helping people and just being the kind of human he is from him. That generosity was also passed along to my father. My father, like my grandfather, enjoys being with people; treating them to dinner, hosting occasional dinners and BBQ’s at home as well as being an extremely generous soul. He will most of the times pick up the check when dining out with people because to him, like to my grandfather, is not about showing off but actually caring about the experience his friends had that night with him and crafting a moment around it. My dad always says “It’s all about the moment and the people you are with”, so it’s about the moment it creates. Both my grandpa and my father want people that are with them to have a great experience and a great time; and that is something I’ve experienced myself and I’ve grown up with. Since I was a little kid, I’ve always enjoyed helping out with anything that could be done; whether it was in the kitchen helping prep dinner or helping grandpa cook and craft the after-lunch espressos at our farm in the outskirts of the city, or with practically anything I could get my hands on and give a hand. It goes beyond helping at home too; for example when I see some visitors having trouble buying tickets for the T, I’ll stop and give them a hand, or if they need directions I’ll show them or walk them or miss my station and go a station or two further to direct them. It’s a feeling I can’t really explain when I help out people. Now that I’m old enough to take my own path, I’ve been following my grandfather’s and father’s footsteps and also inheriting that passion for being nice, helpful, generous, courteous and give others experiences I want them to experience that people or my friends wouldn’t otherwise experience. It’s a great feeling seeing people smile and enjoy these experiences and gifts. That’s actually what I like the most; seeing my friends enjoy those experiences and enjoy the gifts. That’s just a priceless feeling that can’t be easily described.

That Zappos quote at the beginning of the article pretty much summarizes it all.

Hugh MacLeod (also known as @gapingvoid), who is Rackspace’s cartoonist, drew a piece for them that said “Want to change the world? Be helpful” and I think it’s a really great quote and it really hits home with all I do. It’s all about the moment and the experience.

 

This article was revised and updated on November 4, 2014.