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The Balsamiq Blog is my third blog.
I started in 2003 with Peldi's Little Blog in which I shared sample applications and things that I learned at work about Flash Communication Server, and ran it for about 3 years.
In 2004 I started PatataMonkey, a pregnancy/daddy blog, which also ran for about 3 years.
In september 2007, long before telling anyone about my startup idea, I started this blog.
Each blog is different, but the motivation to start each of them was the same: I was entering a new phase of my life, jumping into the unknown, "having a new baby" if you will.
It was a stressful time, a time when I felt the need to process my thoughts by writing them down. I needed a diary.
Looking for advice on each new phase of my life, I googled and googled for a blog just like the one I wanted to read, one of someone who had gone through my same path before me or who was going through it at the same time as I was.
Each time I was looking for an established community, a support group: one about FCS development, one about "parenting in San Francisco in 2005" or one about a "programmer-turned-entrepreneur launching a bootstrapped micro-ISV in 2007".
After many years of using the World Wide Internet Webs I know now that no matter how small, the community you're looking for is already out there, hanging out in some corner of the Internet somewhere. You just have to find it.
Problem is, the Internet is a vast place, small communities are really hard to find. Each time I tried, my googling fell short.
So I decided to try and "get found" instead. Each time I decided to pinch my nose, jump in and publish my rants, in the hope that someone would google for my same kind of content one day and find me.
For PatataMonkey, I was desperate to find a new group of friends quickly: none of our "offline friends" at the time were even married, let alone expecting a child at that time. So as soon as I started the blog, I immediately put Google Adsense ads on it. The hope was that Google's all-powerful algorithms would be able to index and understand my content, returning me advertisements that would lead me to the people I was looking for. Oh mighty Google Spiders, what stores should I be going to? Which sites should I be reading? Is there a blog or forum I should look at?
Well, my nerdy scheme didn't really work out, but the blogging was a very effective therapy for me, so I kept at it.
Then, with time, as if by magic, a community started to emerge, organically, on its own. Someone would post a comment pointing me to a blog I should read, someone else would suggest a book.
All of a sudden blogging wasn't a lonely endeavor any more, I wasn't just speaking to the wind like a crazy person...I had...friends! People just like me, going through the same issues as I was! :) Slowly but surely, a little community gathered around my blog, and I started hanging out at other blogs as well, starting to recognize the names of frequent commenters like me.
I realized then that the Internet is a galaxy of warm little communities held together by blogs, mailing lists and now Facebook and LinkedIn groups, Ning networks, Twitter cliques and StackExchange-powered sites.
I guess people call it social media...I call it life in 2010 and beyond.
I read maybe a dozen different blog posts every day, and most of them teach me something new. My favorite posts to read are those written from the heart, those where you can clearly see that the authors needed to get something off their chest.
That's how I want to write as well: it's therapy that helps me and helps others in the process. Talk about a win-win!
At this point I cannot imagine my life without blogging.
Blogs are essential for business. Largely because of this blog we got written up in the New York Times and Inc. Magazine (twice!), I get to travel the world speaking at conferences and our software went from zero to leader in just 18 months.
As Paul Hawken says in his awesome "Growing a Business" - one of my all-time favorite business books - in order to be successful you need to get permission of the market first.
I define "the market" as the community of people who are passionate about the problem your company or product is trying to solve. It includes customers, competitors, complementary products, free-loaders. Asking for permission means earning their respect...ideally you need to become a thought-leader in your community.
As you start your blog, ask yourself: which community do I want to try and become a leader of?
Choosing your target should be easy because it should be "people just like me", or rather "people just like the one I hope to become". If you succeed in your quest, great things will happen. If you don't, the high goal you set for yourself will have pushed you to do your best work, teaching you a ton and making you a better person in the process.
It doesn't have to be related to your product, you're not doing this to generate more sales. You're doing this for yourself: to vent, to grow as a person and to be a good citizen.
Sure, if you do a good job your company will benefit from the higher exposure and stuff...but that's a side-effect, not the end-goal!
Becoming a leader in an online community is done by providing value to its members, continuously, over time. It means listening carefully and genuinely caring for the success of your fellow community members, without ever talking down to them - you're no better than them, you're just trying to help. It's hard work, but very fulfilling work. Share what's relevant, but don't spam. Try to keep it short, everyone's busy. Retweet! Make a Twitter list! Make two! Help others find your community, help it grow! Support it by sponsoring the best blogs and events!
Just the simple act of being yourself, but "in public", can make a big difference in someone else's life. You'll be surprised.
One of my goals for the year is to encourage everyone at Balsamiq to blog, to try to become a leader of their chosen niche.
My dream is for each Balsamiq employee to be better known within their community for their blog rather than the company they work for.
I want Balsamiq to benefit from the "halo effect" of these blogs, not the other way around.
All of us are first-time members of a tech startup. We are all going through a new phase of our lives, learning a ton every day. What better time than this to share what we learn and find our communities in the process?
Starting today, everyone at Balsamiq blogs:
This will be challenging at first, this is a new experience for both Val and Marco. I am thrilled at how enthusiastically they both accepted the challenge, and wish them luck. You can read Val's first post here and Marco's first post here (in Italian).
This will also be a significant time-commitment for our little team. Blogging takes time. For instance, it's incredibly 2:15am already as I write this.
I believe the benefits of us all blogging are more than worth it: if you're hesitant, just consider each blog post to be like a product release, only one that doesn't involve coding. It's that important.
Peldi for the Balsamiq team
I bet there are great resources out there by now to help people find communities online. I've sent people to this old Marshall Kirkpatrick post before, but I'd love to collect a few more links like it. Which do you recommend?
Another question: I am tempted to splinter off my posts into a new blog (/blogs/peldi perhaps), so that this blog could focus only on product-related news. What do you think? I like the idea of giving people more focused RSS feeds, but I fear that it would effectively mean "starting over" a bit. I don't know. What are your thoughts?
Thanks for reading this far! :)
Today I'd like to share a little Del.icio.us trick that might be useful for your company. It's something I saw used at Atlassian and that I've been using extensively ever since starting Balsamiq.
Most everyone knows what delicious (or del.icio.us) is by now (Wikipedia entry). The bookmark-in-the-cloud service was revolutionary in many ways, it was one of the first social web applications, before "social media" was even a term.
Here's a screenshot of a user's page (click to enlarge):
In essence, delicious lets you save your bookmarks on an account on the delicious (now Yahoo) servers, and "tag them" with keywords for easier searching later on.
This alone is very useful, as it lets you access your same bookmarks from any computer, or even just different browsers on the same computer. The tag system helps you find old links quickly, which is extremely useful as we collect more and more bookmarks over the years.
I suspect the vast majority of delicious users only use the service this way, blissfully ignorant of how their own personal use contributes to the larger, social aspect of the tool.
The thing is, by default everyone's bookmark lists and associated tags are publicly accessible by anyone. Ha! :)
So for instance you can go to delicious.com/garyvee to see all of the bookmarks Gary Vaynerchuck has ever saved there, or delicious.com/joshua to see what the creator of del.icio.us is bookmarking these days.
You can even "refine your search" by going to delicious.com/joshua/food to see every bookmark related to food bookmarked by Joshua Schachter.
This automatic-sharing and easy-filtering is pretty powerful, especially if you consider that those pages have RSS feeds associated with them. Want to be notified whenever Joshua finds another food-related link? Just subscribe to the RSS feed for the page above - an easy way to follow what your heroes deem worthy of bookmarking.
Another page you can go on is delicious.com/popular, to see what people are bookmarking today. A great way to find what the world thinks "the best of the Internet" is today...I suspect many journalists watch this page. But I digress...
Just like you can search a user's bookmarks, you can also search bookmarks by tag. So for instance if you go to delicious.com/tag/scuba, you'll see a list of links that people find interesting about it, sortable by "most recent" and "most popular", each sorted view with an RSS feed for it.
Say your team created a product, or a web app, or what-have-you. Obviously you'll want to keep tabs on when your product is mentioned on the web. Using RSS coupled with search results is a great way to do it, which I describe in this old blog post.
Now the problem is: as you collect new mentions of your product on your feed reader, how do you categorize them, save them for posterity and share the categorized list with your colleagues and the world? Also, if there are a few of you in charge of keeping track of these mentions, how do you make sure the categorized list doesn't have duplicates? Doing it manually, even on a wiki page, is enormously time-consuming. Believe me, I tried it.
This is where del.icio.us can step in to help.
The trick to make it all work is simple: as you start collecting links about whatever you're tracking, add them all to delicious, using a tagging system you have internally agreed upon.
For instance, look at this page: http://delicious.com/tag/atlassian_press
I saw a browser open to that page with the corner of my eye on my first visit to Atlassian, and it immediately made me realize how awesome they are as a company. :)
See, all they had to do was to tell every employee: "if you see a mention of Atlassian anywhere on the web, add it to delicious with the atlassian_press tag".
Brilliantly simple to explain, to remember and to do.
The cool thing is that as people do that, delicious adds all the links to the page above, automatically collating it into a single list without duplicates - instead, it shows how many people bookmarked that same link, giving you an indication of how popular that particular link was (useful if you want to advertise on that particular blog for instance, or even just thank the blogger/journalist who wrote the piece).
Additionally, you can see the number of bookmarks on the list at any time (including when you add a new tag), which can be useful sometimes (you could even track this over time!).
But wait, there's more! The page above is completely public! Not only non-employees can see it, but can contribute to it as well! For instance, I have been adding links to the delicious.com/tag/napkee_press page as I come across mention of Mockups' perfect companion on the web.
Using a public service to maintain that list also speaks volumes about what kind of company you are: you're telling the world: "here's what the Internet thinks about us, feel free to make your own opinion of our company by reading it."
Open, confident, honest. Brilliant.
Wait, how can you be sure that the list is complete and not censored? A company might decide to only tag good reviews, ignoring the bad press. The short answer is "you can't", but remember that anyone can contribute to the list, and the effort required to police it would far outweigh the benefits of using delicious this way. Plus, a Google, Google Blog, Google News or Twitter search for the same company is just a few clicks away!
In other words, since you can't hide anything on the Internet these days, why even try? I love it love it love it.
Needless to say, I have embraced this practice entirely, and now use a number of tags for each mention of Balsamiq I find on the web.
Here are the tags we use for bookmarking Balsamiq press, and how we use them.
balsamiq_press (3,263 links at time of writing): this is the "catch-all" tag, the comprehensive list. Every time see something about Balsamiq, I bookmark it with this tag, usually along with one of the tags below. I try to tag everything, the good and the bad. The only thing I do not tag is warez sites offering cracked copy of the software. Sorry, but I'm not going to help you find those... :)
balsamiq_reviews (1,554 links): any time I see a review of Mockups, I use this tag. I also use it if the link is not a full-blown review but it contains a sentence or more about the product...as long as the author expresses an opinion on the product.
balsamiq_comments (219 links): if I see a mention of Balsamiq as a comment to a blog, or on Friendfeed, digg, Hacker News or any other "forum-like" website, I use this tag instead of the balsamiq_reviews tag.
balsamiq_love (135 links): I reserve this tag for those mentions that shower us with love. ;) The goal here is to keep a list from which to cull customer quotes to use on this website. These quotes are better than ones received via email, as you don't need to ask permission to use them - it's already public knowledge!
balsamiq_tweets (1,039 links): when we first started, I bookmarked every Tweet about Mockups with this tag. It soon became too time-consuming, so I now only use this tag for those tweets that say very nice things about us, something to add to our Twitter background in the future. Instead of sending people to that list, I now just send people to this Twitter search result page directly. Somewhat related, we also maintain a Twitter list of all the wireframing-tools on the market, so that people can get an unfiltered sense for the whole space we're in.
balsamiq_puzzle (24 links): I'll write about this "puzzle" thing in another post. It's basically articles that are about stuff we do that's not related to our core competency. Just know that we're trying to earn as many as these kind of links as possible. :)
balsamiq_sightings (28 links): I use this one whenever I come across something that was made with Mockups, even if they don't mention it. I love to spot these! If you come across any and have the time, add it to delicious with balsamiq_sightings, ok? Thanks!
balsamiq_videos (9 links): I use this tag for those reviews that include screencasts, or for our own videos.
balsamiq_jobs (10 links): apparently knowing how to use Mockups has become an requirement for some jobs, which I find amusing because Mockups takes about 5 minutes to learn, or so we hear ;) This is a cool list for you to keep tabs on in case you're a Mockups expert and are looking for a job!
The beauty of having the lists above is that they can be used on many different occasions. For instance, we link to the balsamiq_love and balsamiq_press lists straight from our testimonials page. We also show the RSS from the balsamiq_reviews page on the side-bar of our blog.
I also recently added the RSS feed for balsamiq_press to our OPML file, so if you're interested in keeping track with our own output as well as what the Internet says about us (hi mom!), you can now get it all in one convenient package.
To wrap it up: we've been very happy with this little delicious trick and continue to find new uses and benefits from it all the time. We recommend it!
What do you think? Do you do something similar? How do you track your product's mentions?
Big shout-out to Laura Khalil at Atlassian for inadvertently showing this to me. ;)
Hi all. So we've been travelling quite a bit in the last few months for conferences and such.
Aside from learning a lot and sharing what we know, conferences turned out to be the perfect way to meet some of our customers face to face (so rare for us!).
The result is a new piece of our website, at the top of the Testimonials page. Here's a little taste:
You can also see all of the videos by heading to our new and improved Balsamiq YouTube Channel, which is where we're migrating all of our videos to (we had to say goodbye to Vimeo due to their unexplicable Terms of Service. I'm actually glad we did: YouTube is the standard and its playlist-related features are still unmatched out there IMHO).
Click below to visit our YouTube Channel:
These videos were shot using a cool little Flip Video Camera, which has great usability.
We will be posting more video testimonials in the future as we meet with more customers.I have added the YouTube feed to our OPML so if you want to follow that way, you can.
If you have a webcam, a YouTube account and you would like to create your own home-made testimonials, don't be shy! :) We'll be happy to add it to our playlist - hey, it might bring you some traffic, right? ;)
Thanks SO much for those who agreed to be interviewed by Valerie and Marco and for sharing their success stories using our tool, we simply love to hear we're helping you out, even if it's just a little bit.
Together we can rid the world of bad software! :)
Hi there, just a quick post to let you know that you can now listen to the most popular posts on this blog via the new blog-to-podcast service from the guys at HearABlog.
I like their idea because it's so focused and useful at the same time: they take a blog and have an actor read it aloud, that's it! It's great for accessibility and I have found it a great way to keep up with some of my favorite blogs like A Smart Bear and Seth Godin's blog.
Here's a link: http://www.hearablog.com/site/21/Balsamiq-Blog
The link is also at the top of the sidebar on the right, which I cleaned up for the occasion (notice the new "subscribe via email" link as well).
Thanks so much Daniel and Pablo for providing us with this service!
Hi there, a quick market-y post to let you know about a few things that happened today:
OK this concludes this quick "tooting our own horn" interruption, we're going back to work now. :)
Some members of team Balsamiq are going to be attending the following conferences and events this fall:
If you're attending any of these events, we'd love to meet you there. You know what we look like, so just come up and say hi, we'll give you a little Balsamiq sticker for your laptops! :)
Last week we participated in the Atlassian Summit, Atlassian's first worldwide conference and Balsamiq's first foray in being a conference sponsor.
Below is an account on what happened and what we learned from the experience, in hope it will be useful to some of you!
When Atlassian approached me back in November asking me to sponsor for their first ever user conference I jumped at the opportunity. First of all, it was very affordable ($2,500 for a bronze-level sponsorship if I remember correctly). Second of all, it put something on the 2009 calendar so that we would have an opportunity to come back to San Francisco and see all of our friends, and third of all, it sounded like a great learning opportunity.
Oh, and it might be good for business as well. :)
To help me prepare for the conference I hired my good friend Megara, whose full time job used to be organizing the American Ophtomology Association's yearly conference (about 25,000 attendees) and is now a freelance event planner. The Atlassian summit had 320 attendees, so it was a walk in the park for her.
She helped me ask all the right questions to the Atlassian folks, who BTW did a splendid job at keeping sponsors informed of everything: their "Summit Sponsors" Confluence page was the one place to find all the info, and it was always updated, we got notified of every change...ah, the power of wikis. :)
A great idea on their part was to record the monthly webinars they hosted for sponsors and post the recordings in .m4v format so that we could listen to them on our iPhones. Brilliant! If this seems iPhone-snobbyish to you, know that I am not convinced that EVERYONE in the Bay Area has an iPhone, that's pretty much all you see walking around the city.
Megara thought we should have business cards to hand out. I had printed and cut out some lame ones in the past, so I asked her if she could come up with some prettier ones. Being the multi-talented woman she is, she drew some very pretty ones, and came up with a company logo to go with it as well:
I like the bottle and the "We add flavor!" tagline on it, so you might start seeing that around here more in the future.
We also created a flyer to hand out at the booth to talk about the product and our company. Atlassian mentioned that in order to use less paper they were going to print out the conference schedule on a single page and "accordion-fold it", which I thought was a cool idea - yay environment!
So I came up with the following mockup for our own accordion-folded flyer:
One thing to note is the "Balsamiq Restaurant Guide" in the back, which has an interesting genesis: after setting up the 6-columns mockup and starting to fill it in I thought "what the heck am I going to write in all these pages!?." :)
Given that question, I went back to my principle of trying to be useful to others in whatever I produce, so I thought: "the people I am going to give this to are likely from out of town and might stay in San Francisco for the whole week because of JavaOne, so what could be useful to them?" - but of course! A list of our favorite San Francisco restaurants and bars! ;) The added benefit is that because of the restaurant guide people were going to be more likely to hold on to the flyer and look at it more than once. Ha! Marketing! :)
Once the mockup was ready, I made the decision to go low-tech: if Megara or I tried to create a design-y brochure, it would have come out mediocre at best (we're not graphic designers, as this site or Mockups itself makes it very clear, and I didn't want to spend money hiring one). So I asked Megara to use her beautifully legible and fun handwriting instead!
I think the result is more personal, fun and definitely stands out from the other flyers that were given out at the conference. I am really happy with it.
For the booth setup, we continued with our "personal touch" and food theme: I smuggled imported 24 little bottles of 75-year-old balsamic vinegar with me on the plane, to give out as a "conference special" to anyone who bought Mockups while at the conference (this turned out to be wishful thinking, as people needed to go back and get permission to buy from their bosses, which makes sense). Still, the little bottles looked very nice on our desk right next to the looping video demos.
Megara had also prepared a big tray of little caprese tartines, which we drizzled with the vinegar. It sure beat the candy other people were handing out! :) She also brought a big basil plant, which smelled wonderful and looked great.
I had never sponsored a conference or "worked the booth" at one before, so I really didn't know what to expect. In fact, I didn't really have time to think about it until Megara and I started setting up the booth. I told her "I hope no-one comes and talks to us" - I like when other people say nice things about Mockups but I don't like to "pitch" or "sell" it myself, yuck.
So it took me a little while to get used to the thought of it, but Megara once again had the perfect advice: "don't sell it, just talk about why you built it and how it solves the problem for you". I can talk about that all day! :)
Manning the booth means doing a lot of talking...person after person comes up and asks you to describe your product to them, so you have to have a quick elevator-pitch ready to go and be able to repeat it over and over.
It was fun to meet current customers and potential new ones and to hear about their issues, I really recommend it.
The only issue I had was that I almost completely lost my voice on the first night, with 2 full days to go and two conference presentations to give. Sudafed, Emercen-C and Ricolas really saved me.
One last thing I wanted to share with you was my schedule while in San Francisco last week (click for a larger image):
I have to give huge props to Valerie and Marco who kept the company running while I was busy running around town - I only really was able to "work" (which means doing email these days) in little chunks of time in between things...all in all I made 3 visits to the bank, 3 visits to my accountants, spoke at two conference sessions, manned the booth 6 times and went to 8 social events with friends and former colleagues. I was happy to be able to squeeze in some quality father-son time with GJ in the end as well but MAN it was an exhausting week! I'm looking forward to my first vacation since Balsamiq started next week - we rented a big beach house near Charleston, SC with 17 of our best friends...lots of kids, beach...and relax! :)
Be humble, work HARD, hussle, be patient and passionate about what you do. Be so good they can't ignore you, actually genuinely CARE about your customers, be transparent, take the long view...A-men!
I want a "GaryVee speaks For Me" t-shirt :)
(via Todd Warfel)
Hi all. I just finished watching this excellent video of Ryan Carson's FOWA Dublin 2009 talk:
Ryan Carson - FOWA Dublin 2009 from Carsonified on Vimeo.
I was incredibly surprised to hear Balsamiq mentioned at around minute 14: thank you so much for the kind words Ryan, we are really glad Mockups is helping you and can't wait to see Truvay!
Ok, time to go put those tips in practice for the Mockups web app! :)
Hi there, I thought I'd celebrate my 999th Twitter follower with a little blog post I've wanted to write for a while.
Back when I first started using Twitter, I treated it mostly as an extension of my blog, a marketing channel for announcements and customer service in case someone wanted to contact me that way.
Then I discovered Summize (now search.twitter.com) and the fact that you could get RSS feeds of the search results, and was amazed by its great marketing potential.
I started scanning Twitter for mentions of keywords related to my product and sent @-messages to people who I thought would benefit from using it. To make it clear I was trying to sell them something, I would start my Tweets with $$, a convention I came up with (and that I've seen a few others pick up, but it never really spread). Here's the full blog post about it: "$$ tag for Twitter ads? I want to pay for Twitter!", in which I declare that I'd be willing to pay Twitter $1 for each of these $$-tweets, thus solving Twitter's elusive business plan in the bargain. ;)
The best idea to came out of that whole post came in a comment by guruz from p300.eu, who suggested that 50 cents of that dollar could go to Twitter but that the remaining 50 cents should go to the receiver of the unsolicited Twitter message. Now that would be nice: getting paid to be advertised to? I want to live in such a World! :)
I have to say I felt like I was threading a fine line with the $$-tweets, so I was as cautious as I could be with them - I think I sent maybe a dozen total, and from a separate @balsamiqads account, as you can see for yourself. Nonetheless, my idea made some waves and I was even interviewed by Bob Walsh about it for his "Twitter Survival Guide" e-book.
As a way to be able to get to read the book for free ;) I also did an editorial review of it for Bob, and that's where my Twittering really turned a corner.
The best part of Bob's book, IMHO, are the interviews (minus mine, I guess, sorry about that). Specifically the one to Ben Metcalfe (@dotben) made me realize that I really wasn't getting Twitter at all. Buy the book just for that interview, it's worth it.
My use completely missed the social and collaborative nature of Twitter. In other words, why should anyone follow me when everything I do is pimp my product or spam people with unsolicited tweets?
At the same time, I started following @timoreilly, and noticing how much I was getting out of it. Most of his messages are Re-Tweets (RTs) of news that are interesting to me, he is acting as a human filter for his followers. What was I doing for my followers? Not much.
So I started slowly retweeting UX-related Tweets and others that I thought my be helpful. At some point someone pointed out the excellent TwitterSheep, which generates a tag cloud based on the Twitter bios of the people that follow you. Here's mine:
Now that I know that most of my followers are web developers and software entrepreneurs I can cater my retweets to them and provide a better service.
Another aspect of Twitter that I was completely neglecting is the fact that Twitter can be so much better than Google sometimes. For instance, I once vented on Twitter about having spent hours setting up a mail server on my server. Within minutes I received a bunch of tips and links which would have saved me an afternoon of pain had I asked beforehand.
Asking for the Twittersphere's help is still not second-nature to me, but I'll try to remember to do it more in the future. I believe people generally like to help others, and I know I've answered a few questions in the past.
I have also started to have very interesting conversations about my product via Twitter, but I suspect FriendFeed might be a better venue for those (I have to admit I still don't "get" Friendfeed yet, no matter how much I listen to @scobleizer rave about it).
Last but not least, just today I searched Twitter for Freshbooks before deciding whether to subscribe to their service or not, to see what people thought about them. I was pleasantly surprised to find @freshbooks had an active account, and impressed that they responded to one my tweets, and with a sense of humor, too! I am now a happy Freshbooks customer.
In case you're wondering about the $$-tweets, I have completely stopped with those, for three reasons:
In a way this is very conforting, it means I can go back to focusing on making the best product possible (a product worth suggesting to your friends and followers), leaving the marketing to take care of itself.
I'll leave you with a screenshot of my second monitor...Snackr at the top, TweetDeck is the left half, then Twhirl (for my @peldi account), then Skype and Adium.
...all applications I can't seem to live without but that I love to QUIT, as it means I'm getting ready to get productive for a while.
All in all, Twitter rocks. Thanks for changing the World for the better @jack! :)
Update: the fine folks at TwitterCounter.com were kind enough to send me a csv with my Twitter followers history over time, here it is with annotations:
The Mockups Blog is where we announce new releases and share what we're working on. Everything about Balsamiq Mockups.
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