Recently I have been making very good use of the tools that have been made available to us on Squidtools.com and following an exchange of emails with Matt Gowdy, from A3Labs who owns the site, I asked him if he would mind doing an interview specially for Squidlog. Matt agreed and this is what he told me:
AJ: What is your training and background?
Matt: My background is in web design and development with a specialty in small application UI/UX design. For formal training I hold an associate’s degree in Computer Science and an almost (2 credits short) bachelors degree in Computer Art.
AJ: When did you first find Squidoo and why did you join?
Matt: I originally found Squidoo a couple weeks after it came out of beta. I joined because it sounded pretty neat and since I was in college at the time, I was looking for extra ways to make some money on the side. A couple months after I joined, I was asked to be a part of the original Citizen Squids program (my original account name is Pandrogas). Since then I’ve been active off and on with the site for the past few years.
I may not always be publishing new stuff, but I try to keep an ear to the ground to see how things are going on the site and in the community.
AJ: Are you active on any other free publishing platforms?
Matt: I’m not terribly active with other publishing sites, at this point I’m mostly working on new project sites and applications, so the best link to see what we’ve got going on is: http://a3labs.net
AJ: What was the motivation for creating Squidtools.com?
Matt: Originally I was looking around at some threads on SquidU and saw some problems that had cropped up. I figured I could put together a site that could address those issues pretty handily and maybe be able to use the tools myself whenever I wanted to go in and do some lens creation.
Additionally, I looked at some of the existing tools out there to see what was available, how well they worked, and if there were ways to improve them.
AJ: How long did it take you to set up Squidtools?
Matt: It only took a couple weeks to build the site initially, but I’ve put in a lot more time in since then adding and tweaking features as well as building new tools.
AJ: What time are you spending on maintaining and updating the site?
Matt: It varies depending on what needs to get done and how much time I have available. At this point I have a full time job in addition to running A3 Labs, so work on the site tends to get pushed back a bit. I might spend a couple hours in a week doing maintenance if an issue gets reported or I might spend several hours and then most of the weekend if I’m building a larger tool like the Item Box Builder.
AJ: Do you mind telling us what future plans you have for Squidtools – or is that hush-hush for the time being?
Matt: The future of the site is still being decided. There are plans for additional tools, though sometimes that list can change based on current circumstances. For example, the recent demise of the Flickr module gave me an idea for a modified box builder that would be a bit more suited to gallery displays than the Item Box Builder. I’m not sure when it will be built, but these are things I think about when I read through the forums.
Down the road I’ve been thinking about the possibility of application development that might be able to take the tools on the site a bit further than where they are now. Not sure if I’ll get the time to build out what I’m envisioning, but it’s always nice to dream.
And at some point I might put in some Amazon builder tools, I just need to work out how I want to handle account management, stats, and display prices.
Then again, I’ve been known to change my mind several times in a week as to what project I’m working on, so everything really is still up in the air.
AJ: You have been very generous in making all the features on Squidtools free. Do you mind being totally honest and telling us if it is paying for itself via Adsense and Donations?
Matt: In total honesty, it’s not quite what I initially thought it would be, though that’s probably due to the amount of traffic the site gets being pretty small. I’ve gotten several donations in the past few weeks (thanks everyone!) and a couple ad clicks once in a great while.
In part I’m considering it an experiment and taking notes and trying to tweak things to monetize better, but it’s always a challenge giving stuff away, so much like the site, monetization is still in the air.
As an interesting note I’ve gotten more donations than ad clicks on the site. I’m wondering if that is because it’s not as visible as the donate button or if people are either using ad-block software or maybe they’re just immune to online advertising after working it so much.
I have no plans to put the existing tools behind a pay wall of any kind, though future tools development does correlate with how much money the site can bring in. While this is a fun project, A3 Labs is a for-profit company and I still need to be able to justify the time I spend on things.
AJ: Are you involved in any other online projects, that you don’t mind sharing?
Matt: I have a few other projects I’m working on, though nothing has been really launched at this point. I mentioned above that the best place to find updates is on our website and beyond that we have a Facebook page , Twitter account (@A3Labs), and occasionally I post stuff up on Google+.
AJ: What do you do in your spare time? Do you actually HAVE any spare time?
Matt: Spare time is a relative concept for me. Technically, running A3 Labs is my spare time, though when I want to unwind I usually end up playing games like World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2, and the Mass Effect series (or whatever looks cool at the time).
Then again, I’m the type of person that if I don’t have anything to do, I tend to get bored very easily and come up with something to build or research. I’m crazy like that.
AJ: Anything else you would like to share?
Matt: I think I had a list somewhere around here… Aha! Here we go:
A couple people have e-mailed me about using the code from SquidTools on sites other than Squidoo. The answer is yes, you are allowed to do that, though be aware that the code is generally geared for Squidoo lenses, so adjustments may be necessary. And while not a requirement, we do always appreciate links back to the site.
If you ever have an idea for a tool you would like to see built or a modification to an existing tool, please feel free to e-mail me through the site or post in the forum thread on SquidU. I can’t promise every idea will make it in or how long it will take if it does, but I’m always looking for feedback that can make the site better.
Likewise with support questions I’ll do the best I can answer them and fix anything on the site that needs to be fixed. For example, a couple weeks ago when I launched the Item Box Builder someone mentioned it didn’t work in Firefox. With that information, I was able to fix up several tools that had compatibility issues, so please don’t hesitate to report a bug.
Thanks again to all the people who have donated so far! We really appreciate the support and it does go a long way toward getting new stuff built for the site.
I have to say I love the featured Lens List Builder and the Item Box Builders on Squidtools. Recently I gave an overhaul to a lens (Best Lap Top Bags) that had never made any sales. I redid my affiliate links using the Item Box Builder and within a week I had a sale.
Coincidence? Maybe, but I know other Lensmasters who are convinced that their CTRs and their sales have improved thanks to that Item Box Builder.
So if you use Squidtools and feel it is benefitting your lenses, how about sending a few $$s to Matt every now and then, to show your appreciation and to make sure he can keep developing Squidtools and keep it as a free site for us to make use of whenever we want?
A couple of Matt’s Lenses: