Brian Sullivan is vice president of client services at Gigya, where he advises clients on implementing social technology. Gigya offers websites a suite of social technology like social login, comments, game mechanics and a social identity management platform.

No longer does a business wonder whether its site should contain social components and functionality. The utility of social plugins on websites has been established. Now the question is how to implement social technologies correctly — merely adding technologies like social login, sharing, commenting and game mechanics is not enough.

Unfortunately, the web is ripe with sites that offer social implementations that miss the mark. And often, businesses suffer from a “set it and forget” mentality, in which a product manager will slap a Facebook Like button on his sites and declare the business’s website now social. Quite frankly, that is not enough.

Instead, for marketers and IT professionals, it’s critical to ask “why do we have this technology?” and “how do we define success?” For a vast majority of sites, some combination of social plugins is worth the effort. The best way to figure out what works for your site is to test, test and test again. Be it A/B or multivariate testing, here are my thoughts on why testing is so important, and how to get the most from your site’s social technology.


Which Social Login Provider Should I Choose?


Testing your site’s social functionality starts with testing your social login providers. You can go to any number of sites across the web that only offer Facebook Connect for social login. (My company’s CEO, Patrick Salyer, explains why multiple online personas make it imperative that companies offer social logins beyond Facebook Connect.)

When I’m helping clients conduct these tests, I almost always find that a great way to start is by offering user-sets different login options to determine which social network APIs should be implemented. Sure, Facebook will almost always be the dominant player in share-of-logins, but we’ve seen the other players account for up to a combined 60% share of social logins. Are you willing to throw away those users and the insight that comes with them?

There’s huge value in adding a mix of other login options such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and Yahoo. We know from reviewing our client base that one set of social login providers that works for one site doesn’t necessarily work for another. Sure, you don’t need to run a test to realize LinkedIn probably doesn’t work for a site targeting preteens, but do you have a higher than expected number of visitors that prefer to use Google? You won’t know until you test.

Additionally, if your site has a user base in other markets like Europe, South America or Asia, you may also want to offer login through various international social networks like Vkontakte, Orkut, RenRen or Mixi to ensure your site appeals to global users. The only way to accurately find out which of these networks and identity providers should be offered is through testing.


What Is the Best Testing Strategy?


A/B testing is a great place to start finding out what does and doesn’t work for your site. A/B testing means having one control group and one variant group (sites often overlook the need for a second control group, which we’ll call “C”) to establish that the control group has a large enough sample size.

Rather than use a formula used in hypothesis testing, I prefer to use convergence testing. Convergence testing effectively means “A/B/C” testing, where A and C offer the same login options, and B offers a different set of login options. The “convergence” part means that A and C will eventually yield similar conversion rates (conversion in this case being whether users logged in or not). If A and C have no variable other than the being presented to different user sets, they should quickly see the same results. If the result varies it means you haven’t seen enough traffic to reach convergence (the point at which both controls yield the same result), and you should keep the test running until you do. B poses a different set of login options placed in a different order from A and C. That’s the delta you’re looking for.

Keep in mind that a successful A/B test is any test that yields insight into visitor behavior. If the change you introduce from testing yields a 2% decrease in conversion rates, the test was still successful – you learned the lesson quickly and now have confidence that your control is still the best way to go.

In today’s business climate, it’s crucial for sites to integrate with social networks and, with focused testing, to capitalize on that integration to realize a number of benefits. For example, by discovering 30% of your site’s users prefer to share via Twitter versus Facebook, you would likely offer Twitter as a prominent authentication option. While Facebook almost always leads in number of logins, Twitter tends to drive the most referral traffic per share of any social network (data my company has collected shows that shares from Twitter drive five click-backs, on average). Chances are that you probably would want to take advantage of that valuable referral traffic, and the only way to effectively optimize your site for Twitter sharing is through testing.

The above just scratches the surface of ways to better leverage social via testing. The key concept to remember is that in order to ensure successful testing, you need to let the process run until you see convergence. Keep that in mind and you’ll be well on your way toward making the best use of your site’s social technology.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, arakonyunus

More About: contributor, Facebook, facebook connect, features, linkedin, social plugins, Twitter

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Martin Odersky is Chairman and Chief Architect of Typesafe and creator of the open source Scala programming language. This post was co-authored by Chris Conrad, an engineering manager who is part of the Search, Network and Analytics team at LinkedIn.

While interacting with social media and other consumer websites has become routine for many of us, ensuring a seamless, positive user experience is still the Holy Grail for web developers. The volume of queries and messaging on websites increases every day, as does the challenge of keeping the underlying infrastructure running smoothly for millions of users.

Below, we’ll highlight key challenges facing web developers of high volume sites, provide examples of how to address these hurdles, and discuss the role of emerging open source platforms as a modern approach to overcoming them.


Three Key Challenges


  • Performance: While web application developers of high volume sites face many challenges, performance tops the list. With consumers now demanding blazing computing speeds and uninterrupted service, a wait time of 250 milliseconds can mean the difference between a successful service and a failed one. For key user operations, such as interactive, real-time slicing and dicing of large data sets, performance is essential. The application needs to perform flawlessly and logically in order to attract and keep consumers.
  • Efficiency: When operating services on a massive scale, it’s essential to make the most efficient use of hardware assets. For example, optimize the use of memory and available processing resources. In practice, this often means using event-driven and distributed architectures like node.js, versus previous generation thread-based models like traditional Java Servlets. Developer productivity programming languages are further facets of efficiency. Fewer lines of code, made possible by concise languages like Scala and Ruby, generally translates to higher productivity for application developers.
  • Reliability: Systems need to remain resilient against component failures, including hardware, software and network crashes. An ever-expanding ecosystem of applications depends on reliable access to user-generated content, like LinkedIn’s, for instance. As such, the network needs to target “five nines” availability goals that have previously been benchmarks for the telecommunications and electrical power industries.

  • Real-World Applications


    LinkedIn faces these challenges every day and is always looking to incorporate the most advanced technology to keep its services running smoothly, reliably and efficiently. For example, to support the Signal product introduced last year, LinkedIn created a high performance web service written in Scala. This service is accessed through a REST/JSON-RPC model that enables quick ad hoc data manipulation and fast iteration from the web-based user interface.

    For its real-time people search service (with a peak demand exceeding the hundreds of queries per second), LinkedIn uses a scatter-gather approach that distributes search queries in parallel across a large server farm. This approach balances quick response time with efficient use of server resources.

    To support reliability, LinkedIn created a cluster management and workload distribution library called Norbert, which it implemented in the open source Scala programming language. It then incorporated open source technologies from the Apache ZooKeeper, Netty and Protocol Buffers projects. Norbert is a key component of several mission-critical applications at LinkedIn, most notably its social graph engine, which fields a high volume of requests per day.


    Open Source – Solving Today’s Modern Programming Challenges


    In the last few years, many new open source technologies have emerged to help web application developers. Open source projects such as Norbert, now available under the open source Apache license at sna-projects.com, are readily available to web developers charged with tackling such challenges.

    Open source programming languages and frameworks that enable parallel and distributed computing can be especially helpful in keeping today’s most trafficked websites running steadily and smoothly. Below are key considerations to keep in mind when programming for today’s multicore paradigm:

    • For applications that benefit from highly interactive user experiences, like LinkedIn Signal, developers should consider breaking data-intensive functionality into asynchronous web services that can be integrated into the web-based user interface using REST-style APIs.
    • To encourage “efficiency by default” for today’s web-scale applications, developers should look to modern frameworks like Akka and Norbert that incorporate capabilities like event-driven processing, asynchronous I/O and cluster-aware fault tolerance.
    • For applications that can truly scale up and scale out, developers should favor languages like Scala that provide first class support for functional programming, which discourages the use of mutable state. This allows applications to more easily scale hundreds of cores on a single server, and thousands of servers on a network.

    In summary, web applications and their supporting infrastructure need to be robust and efficient as more of society shifts its everyday interactions online. Fundamental advances in technology, many driven by the open source community, are making it possible for today’s web application developers to stay ahead of the scalable computing needs of consumers.

    Image courtesy of Flickr, Fon-tina

    More About: apps, linkedin, programming, Web Development

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A new app called Vizualize.me will instantly turn your LinkedIn profile into a stunning infographic, all through the power of code — no graphic design skills required.

Pulling all your career information from your LinkedIn profile via LinkedIn’s API, Vizualize.me creates clean graphical representations of your skills, work history and even your connections in an easy-to-scan format that hiring managers and other gatekeepers love.

To get the data from text to graphics, Vizualize.me scrapes your positions, education, interests, skills, recommendations and number of connections from your LinkedIn profile, assuming all that data has been entered already. Then, attributes such as skills are weighted by the level of expertise you’ve attained and how many years you’ve been using it.

Those “weights” are then used to create a visual representation of your professional experience to date, where each of your abilities is accurately portrayed relative to your other talents.

Best of all, the resulting infographic-like resumes are customizable, too. While Vizualize.me is in beta, users will be able to choose from a variety of different themes and templates, both free and premium. Eventually, users will also be able to specify their own colors and typefaces, too. Think of the app as a Flavors.me for your professional life.


How Vizualize.me Works


Being able to accomplish this task programmatically was a problem that intrigued Vizualize.me creator Eugene Woo. In an interview with Mashable, Woo said, “We are developing something that intersects software with design in a very big way.”

Woo, who has a background in electrical and computer engineering, pulled the idea out for a recent Startup Weekend event in Toronto. He said the app uses SVG — that’s “scalable vector graphics,” an XML family of specs for static and animated vector graphics — and will continue to do so until HTML5 Canvas becomes more widely adopted.

“I think our biggest challenge isn’t so much the technology but making sure that what we create enough flexibility and options so that the generated inforgraphics don’t all look alike.”

In addition to getting a lot of positive feedback from early users, Woo said he’s also “had a lot of interest from hiring managers and business owners. In the near future, we’ll take it to the B2B segment.”

Vizualize.me will be available as a public beta August 1, 2011. You can sign up early to get early access and free-of-charge premium features when the private beta launches July 25.

For now, here are some sneak peaks at how Vizualize.me can transform textual resume data into easy-to-parse graphics:

Vizualize.Me

Vizualize.Me

Vizualize.Me

Vizualize.Me

Vizualize.Me


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More About: eugene woo, linkedin, startup weekend, vizualize, vizualize.me, web development series

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Looking for a “This Is Your Life” type experience when it comes to your professional career? Well, LinkedIn has released a tool that visualizes your connections in a handy timeline.

The LinkedIn Connection Timeline, created by LinkedIn web developer Gordon Koo, was designed to highlight a “unique characteristic [of Linkedin] which others lack — it is three-dimensional,” Koo said in a blog post.

“The first dimension is the actual connection. The second is the implicit grouping of connections which tie the social graph together. Many social networks have these first two dimensions, but what makes LinkedIn’s network special is its third dimension: time,” he said.

Simply log into the app with your LinkedIn information for your own, personalized timeline, which you can see unfold either slowly or rapidly.

More About: linkedin, LinkedIn Connection Timeline

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LinkedIn has announced that it’s opening its developer platform, including its faster JavaScript APIs and customizable plugins, to all developers.

LinkedIn first released its original developer platform in 2009, complete with a set of APIs for letting third-party applications integrate aspects of LinkedIn in their apps. Still, its platform lacked certain features like OAuth 2.0 and advanced Javascript API support, something the company has been testing for the past few months.

The new LinkedIn Developer Platform and website make these APIs available to anyone who wants to use them. LinkedIn also opens its new platform for plug-ins, including the “Sign in with LinkedIn” button and the LinkedIn Share buttons you see on Mashable’s business and marketing stories. There are also plug-ins for member profiles, company profiles and a Recommend button that lets users recommend your products through their LinkedIn network.

The developer platform has also been overhauled with improvements under the hood. It includes a new Javascript framework that “loads significantly faster,” as well as support for SSL and improved support for OAuth. The website has also been simplified to make it easier to get started with LinkedIn’s APIs and plugins.

More About: api, developer, developers, javascript, linkedin, LinkedIn Developer PLatform, LinkedIn Platform, OAuth 2.0

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LinkedIn has launched InMaps, an experimental project that creates a stunning visualization of the connections within your business network.

InMaps sifts through all of your connections, detects the relationships between them, and groups them into different network clusters. For example, LinkedIn separated my networks into eight clusers, including my technology/social media contacts, my Mashable network and my network of classmates at Northwestern University. It color-codes and clumps these networks together so you can see the depth of your connections in one interface.

InMaps is an insight into who the major connections, bridges and influencers are in your network. People with bigger dots and their names in larger fonts have more connections (and typically more sway) in specific clusters. Perhaps that’s why my friend Neal Sales-Griffin, the former president of Northwestern’s student body, is so prominent in my professional graph.

InMaps also includes a few options for sharing. It creates a landing page with your LinkedIn InMap (you can check mine out as an example) and provides Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn share buttons so you can spread your map to the rest of your network.

What do you think of InMaps? Does anything surprise you about your own business network? Let us know in the comments.

More About: business, InMaps, linkedin, network, networking, visualization