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Configure the Support tool, and connect with customers

Posted by Andy Singleton on Sun, Feb 20, 2011
Chat Udell explains why he uses the Assembla Support tool - “We love the power and flexibility of the Assembla Support tool. With the API, we can create custom forms and front ends for the Support system and not even have to train users on how to use a ticketing system. This save us time and money and ultimately gives us better user input as well.” Chad Udell, Iona Group

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With the Assembla support tool you can take bug reports, feature requests, or orders for pizza. It gives your customers a place to post and review their own tickets, or email tickets.  Then your team handles them normal tickets view.  It's a simple concept that can be very powerful IF you can figure out how to configure it.

Finally, we have unlocked the secrets of its configuration.  Go here to discover the five steps to configuring the support tool.

  1. Adding the Support Tool
  2. Configuring the Tickets tool fields and default values
  3. Configuring the message and fields that you want your customers to see
  4. Setting Permissions
  5. Receiving email, and sending email responses

Run the video below to see the Support tool in action.

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Today's release - Google docs, improved start page, more coming

Posted by Andy Singleton on Wed, Jan 05, 2011

Today's zero-downtime release is the beginning of a flood of improvements that we will unveil during the next six weeks.  This first post describes some obvious changes that you see today, including the new Google Docs integration.

The user start page has a new layout with the Stream of events from your spaces on the right side.  We took out my random blog notes and replaced them with the activity that you care about.

new start layout

You will notice that the Stream does not appear instantly.  It takes a while to sort through millions of events and get your stream view.  So, we display the start page quickly, and then display the Stream panel later with an ajax call.

Google Docs

Google docs integration was our third most requested feature, with 300 votes.  People like to write requirements in Google docs and see them evolve in real time, or keep a real-time list in a Google spreadsheet.  However, they get frustrated because new team members cannot see their work  In this release, you can add Google docs to the Files list for a project, or as a ticket attachments, and they will be available for all present and future team members.

Here is a picture of the Files tab, with the Google Docs button.  You can also find this button on the Attachments bar for tickets.
Assembla Page Google docs

How it works:

The first time you add a Google Doc, you will need to log in with a Google account, and Google will ask for permission to share your docs.  Then, you can select one of your Docs and attach it to the Assembla project.

When a team member goes to view the Doc, they will click on a link in our app.  We will send them to login to Google (if they have not logged in).  Then, we will do "on demand" permissioning.  If they do not already share the document, we will add them to the share list, and then make them wait 8 seconds while the change propagates through Google's vast server farm.

Why this is cool:

1) We are responsible for making sure that current and future team members have access to all of the information that they need.  They get this with on-demand permissions.

2) Google docs are fun to use.

3) This architecture is the beginning of a powerful cloud filesystem.  In the future we can add plugins to attach Windows Live files or Creately diagrams.  Or, you could upload a local file and then edit it with Pixlr or comment on it with Crocodoc.  You can send us your ideas.

Faster Ticket Edits

You can edit tickets directly from the ticket list with a right-click on the ticket.  Sometimes people do not know this, and if they use a Macintosh, they don't have right-click.  So, we added an icon to pop up the in-place editing menu, after the Summary field.  See it below:



Coming attractions

In the screen shot on top, you will see "Portfolios you collaborate with."  This will be our new packaging for private, on-demand portals with branding, management reporting and centralized user management.  If you are in the private beta, you can now get this directly on the production servers.

We are also testing new code review and code contribution workflows, ticket workflows, and localization.  Thanks for your patience.

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Hidden feature - email to messages

Posted by Andy Singleton on Tue, Dec 28, 2010
Yesterday I got an email from a customer, with an attachment, containing various improvement suggestions.  I was trying to figure out the easiest way to post it for the team.  One of our developers reminded me that I can just email to <url_name>, and it will appear in the project workspace, as a message, with the attachment.

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Skype down, switching our teams to Assembla chat

Posted by Andy Singleton on Wed, Dec 22, 2010

Skype is having problems today.  Clients are crashing, or logging out, or refusing to log in.  We use Skype chat a lot.  The persistent chat streams are great for running multiple conversations at one time.  For today, we switched our teams to the Assembla chat tool.  This is better for keeping the team focused on one task and on project activity, so it has a different effect.  You can add a chat tool from the space Admin tab.

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SAP continuous integration, with Assembla Webhooks

Posted by Andy Singleton on Mon, Dec 20, 2010

Gregor Wolf, a hyper-active SAP developer and community member, reports that "The concept of a ABAP Continuous Inegration Server powered by ZAKE from SAP Innovation Weekend Berlin 2010 is now reality. I've extended ZAKE's functionality to be triggered from the Assembla Webhooks. The whole process is shown in a Screencast:"

Systems that are built with SAP's ABAP programming language usually do code management and builds inside the SAP application.  They store code in the database, and they have rules and "transports" for moving code changes into deployed versions of the software.  This usually works inside one enterprise SAP system.  Gregor has started several projects to open up ABAP code sharing between enterprises, using XML export/import (SAPlink) and subversion (ZAKE - "the ABAP make").

zake continous integration

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Learn to Work Across Time Zones

Posted by Andy Singleton on Fri, Dec 17, 2010

Some people demand that their workers be in a narrow time band like North America, or Europe. They feel that it is important to be able to communicate with colleagues during working hours. However, time waits for no man. You might not have a choice. The same forces that are spreading people out into distributed teams are also spreading them out across time zones. And, your time zone will limit the talent that you can bring to your team. You might want someone outstanding from an alien time zone. When people in America and Asia work together, the time difference is often at the worst case of 10 to 12 hours. So, it's important to understand how to work together across time zones.

I don't recommend that you ask people to work abnormal hours – for example, a night shift in India to match the American day, or early morning for a hard-core night owl. Sometimes this works in reverse and the manager gets up at 4:00am to talk to workers. It's bad for health and family life, and it's going to hurt productivity and retention. If you follow my recommendations below, it's not necessary. You should set specific requirements for communication, with minimal rules for working time overlap, availability to respond to calls, and working hours per day. If someone meets those requirements, they should be free to schedule the rest of their life.

Here is the easy recommendation: Use a team workspace like Assembla that helps you track everything in writing. Write your tasks and comments in tickets, not email. Watch the activity stream of edits and commits.

You will want to do a chat. Use a persistent chat like Skype conference chat, or Assembla chat, so that team members can see what is happening at any time. You will need to decide if you want a scheduled daily chat, or an unscheduled conversation that people join when they are available. Typically, we start a project with a scheduled chat, and optionally move to an unscheduled conversation if the team members are having trouble meeting at the same time, and have experience working together.

Do NOT change the time of the chat. Set one time that approximately works for most team members, and stick with it, and people will adapt to that time. At various presentations I have heard Johanna Rothman and Scott Ambler recommend moving the time of the chat or daily meeting to “share the pain” of times that are inconvenient for one side or the other. They are supposed to be experts in distributed agile, but I suspect that they have never actually worked on a fully distributed team. If you move the time, you will lose people, and people will not be able to adapt.

I recommend that you do NOT schedule daily conference calls. People hate them. It's difficult to get everyone on the call. And, for some reason, conference calls are associated with low productivity. I have yet to hear anyone say “I worked on a project with a lot of conference calls, and it was great!” When I see a project that is scheduling daily calls, it is almost always a project that is in trouble. Typically, a project manager asks for these calls in order to share his problems, rather than to solve problems for the team.

When you make an appointment or schedule a chat, specify all times in UTC, 24 hour time. So, 9:00 AM in my US Eastern time zone would be “14:00 UTC”, since my time zone is UTC-5. Each person will only need to know his own local time, and the UTC translation.

Set your servers to UTC time also, so everyone can read the logs.

Use a tool that correctly displays activity in your local time. The Assembla app will display all times in the preferred time zone that you set in your user profile. So, if I see that someone wrote a ticket at 9:30, I know that was 9:30 eastern time, even if it was 16:30 where he did the work. Skype and many calendaring tools also do this correctly.

If you have more than four people working together, use the Assembla standup reporting tool. It's the easiest way to figure out who is working on what. I recommend that you ask people to submit their reports when they start work each day. However, if you have a scheduled chat, you can ask them to write the standup report before the chat. This gives you a traditional standup meeting – a short report, followed by a chat about priorities and obstacles.

If you have any other management tips, please share them.

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Video chat and real-time collaboration

Posted by Andy Singleton on Mon, Nov 29, 2010

Assembla Chat now includes video chat, thanks to a mashup with Tokbox OpenTok.  Just click on "Show my video in the upper right, like this:

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And, you pop up live and in color on top of the chat, like this:

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I love it because I can get up in your face and exhort you to work even harder.  Go Team!  It's great for more collaborative team building, too.  The first time we used it with our team, I could see that it was dark in Moldova, that sunlight was streaming through the window in Buenos Aires, and that two guys were sitting together and laughing.  That changed how we work together in some permanent way.

I'm thankful that the folks at Tokbox reached out and gave us a preview of OpenTok and got us on board.  It's a nice API that puts your user video streams into web pages with a bit of javascript.  They handle the blizzard of bits on their video servers.

We use both Skype chat and Assembla chat.  Skype chat is great for multitasking. I have about seven conversations going right now, and I feel fine, because I know you are probably doing the same thing.  Assembla chat is great for focusing your team on one project.  You can look at the main chat stream, catch up on history, pop up for video chat or presentation at any time.  And, you can set it to show the activity stream in real time.  You see who's commenting, who's committing, and what people are doing.

Assembla chat is also available to everyone without invitation, accessible as a pure Web HTTP chat that goes through firewalls, and it keeps a searchable record for future reference.  You can use the chat tool in your existing space, or go here for a dedicated real-time chat space.

Tokbox nominated us for "Best use of an API".  If you like it, vote here.

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October 20 release notes: Twitter is back

Posted by Andy Singleton on Thu, Oct 21, 2010

The new release re-activates the Twitter tool and makes some other small changes.  It also has hidden new features which we will reveal next month.

The Twitter tool stopped sending messages a month ago when Twitter started requiring OAuth authentication.  We have added OAuth authentication.  Now Twitter tools will become functional if you go to the Twitter tool and authorize Assembla to post messages. This takes less than 30 seconds. Instructions are on the Twitter tool page.

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Webhook tool now supports both basic and Oauth 1.0 authentication types.

FTP Tool deploy events are more verbose, making it easier to figure out problems.

The release also contains bug fixes and back-end changes.  Most importantly, this release contains a completely new set of (hidden) features that we put on the production servers for alpha testing.  These features will be available for public beta testing within the next month.

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September 16 Release: Improved Notifications, Better Support Tool

Posted by Sergio Romano on Thu, Sep 16, 2010

Today's release contains improvements to the new Ticket email alert subscriptions, a big upgrade for the Support tool, and other useful improvements.

Assembla Responds: Tweaks to Notification System

In the August 24 Release, we unleashed our new system for Ticket email alerts, in which users "follow" a ticket.  It received a lot of great feedback.  That release achieved its goal of making alerts simpler and more useful for 80% of users.  This release includes improvements requested by the other 20%:

Notification Settings
  • Get Real Time email alerts about your own changes:
    Go to the Stream page, and select "change alert settings" from the sidebar.  To receive emails about your own ticket changes, uncheck the default option to "Avoid my own changes".
  • Get real-time email alerts about ALL new tickets:
    Some of our users described themselves as "information hungry".  They have a superhuman ability to follow all of the new tickets, and they want ALL of the emails.  Bring it on. Get real time alerts about every new ticket by checking the option to "Automatically Follow all New Tickets" in the alert settings panel from the Stream page. You will get an email when any new ticket is created, and it will stay on your follow list until you un-follow it.
  • Improved Summary Emails: The hourly/daily emails about tickets have now more and better organized information to quickly see what has changed lately in your Ticket Tool. We encourage you to try them.

A Better Support Tool

The Assembla Support Tool is a way to feed bug reports and support requests from your customers, into our issue and bug tracking Tickets tool).  Normally, you give your customers permission to enter a tickets on the Support tab, where they can follow its progress.  It then appears under the Tickets tab, where your core team can see all of the requests and answer them.  In this release, we fix two important problems.


Any human can post bugs and requests

In the old version of the Support tool, users were required to have Assembla accounts.  We now provide several more options:

  • Your clients can now log in with their Assembla, Google or Yahoo accounts to post a ticket.
  • You can even enable the option to receive emails from any email to your support box.  We do NOT require that the email be from a registered user.
  • Furthermore, you can turn on Anonymous posting (you will find this option in the Settings sub-tab of your Support Tool) and enable anyone to post support tickets without any account. However, keep in mind that users will not be able to get email update about changes this way. But they can always go back to your Support Tool and check their ticket.

Share support tickets with users

The old Support tool required a strict workflow where the user could not see a ticket unless he entered it, and no other user could see it.  We received requests from you asking for public lists of bugs that you can control to avoid multiple requests. That's why we enable a new flexible but simple permission for tickets.

If you use the Support Tool, you will now see a new field in the header for "Permission type".  It has three options:

  1. Development Tickets: Only accessible to users of the Ticket Tool
  2. Private Support Tickets: Accessible to users of the Ticket Tool and people in the notification list.
  3. Public Support Tickets: Accessible to users of the Ticket Tool and users of the Support Tool

You can change the permission of a ticket whenever you want to move tickets in/out of public eye.

Create tickets for your clients

Sometimes customers email us with their request and we create the tickets for them. With this new option your team members can create a Private Support Ticket, add your customer login name to the notification list to give him permission to track the issue, or add his email address to the notification list, in order to keep him updated on the ticket, and responding by email, without an account.

Release files

Milestones now support Release files.  When you finish a release, you might want to post a zip file or an installer that contains the finished product.  You can now attach filles and .

Other Upgrades

  • Edit Custom fields from emails. Just add a line with My Field Name: New Value - Complete instructions can be found at our Email To Tickets wiki 
  • Changes to Custom Fields in Ticket Rest API. You can now use the name (as well as the old id) to edit a custom field.

Important note: We have deprecated the tag <CustomFields> and replace it with <custom-fields>. We will keep the old <CustomFields> for 3 months and later remove it completely.

  • Smaller margins.  You probably noticed that something looks a little different.  We reduced the size of the margins, and we will make more tweaks to get more information on the screen without scrolling.
  • Improved user Profile form: We have made it simpler (and better looking) for you to see what information you are sharing with your team. This is a good time to update your profile.

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August 24 Release: New ticket email notifications, and more

Posted by Andy Singleton on Tue, Aug 24, 2010

We released a new version of today, with the following changes and improvements.


Ticket Notifications: We changed the way that users get email alerts about tickets.  These alerts are important for a team that works together in real time.  However, an active project can generate so many of these emails that many users start ignoring them. The optional hourly report did not have enough information.  The optional "subscribe" strategy in ticket settings was confusing.  We have replaced all of these email options with "Follow a ticket." 

  • If you follow a ticket, you get instant emails about it.
  • Tickets that you follow have a red star star big assigned (assigned to you) or yellow star star big on (followed by you) before the summary.
  • Tickets that you do not follow have a gray star star big off.  Click on the star to follow or unfollow.
  • If you create a ticket, or are the assigned-to user, you follow the ticket.
  • You can add followers to a ticket using the "Subscribe" form in the notification panel.  This is useful if you want to show clients or bosses what you are doing.  You can also add an email address, even if it does not match a team member.
  • You can see the tickets that you follow by selecting the filter for "My Followed Tickets".
  • You will no longer get alerts about all tickets in real time with the default stream page "email me when an event happens" setting.  Instead, you get an hourly report with the subject "Summary for <project>" listing activity in the past hour.
  • The stream page shows more detailed activity reports, including changes in ticket status and assignment.

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Ticket export options: You will see RSS, CSV, XML and Print options on top of any ticket list.  This makes the export features much easier to find.

Email Tickets and Messages: Many users do not know that they can email Tickets and Messages  Now you will see a "Post via email" button on the top of the Tickets and Messages tools.  This uses a mailto: link to pop up an email, making the feature easier to understand.

 Google and Yahoo login accounts

Login with the Google or Yahoo accounts (via OpenID).    We think that the Google login option will be popular because of a remarkable statistic about our user base.  Almost 50% of them use gmail addresses.  This also starts us down the road to better integration with Google Docs.

google yahoo buttons

You can register in seconds by selecting the Google or Yahoo login buttons.  This will create a new account and ask you for a bit of optional information.  We recommend that you enter an Assembla password, because you will need it to use a subversion client.

If you have an existing account, you can login with Google or Yahoo, and it will match your account by email address.  You must enter the matching email address in your user profile, and for security reasons, you must have a "verified" email address.  The address is verified if you responded to an email invitation, or if you registered and responded to a verification email by clicking the included link.  You will see a "Confirm email" panel on your start page if your address is not verified.

Code Browser Styles

 Code repositories in the Source/svn and Source/git tools have a new style that is easier to read.

codebrowser nostar


Unseen but Important: We moved our message queue to RabbitMQ for increased speed and capacity.  The message queue is important for scaling.  It handles all of the Stream events, including their email alerts, webhooks, build triggers, etc., and also handles long-running requests such as repository create requests.  We made about 50 other fixes and improvements, which we hope will improve usability and reliability.

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