Dallas Lawrence is the chief global digital strategist for Burson-Marsteller, one of the world’s leading public relations and communications firms. He is a Mashable contributor on emerging media trends, online reputation management and digital issue advocacy. You can connect with him on Twitter @dallaslawrence.

If an individual or activist group broke into an organization’s office, raided confidential materials and then burned the building to the ground, local, state and federal officials would have swarmed the crime scene in an all out effort to bring the perpetrators to justice for an act of terrorism. Meanwhile, savvy online audiences and members of the media almost dismissively refer to the online versions of these raiders as “hacktivists,” conjuring up images of harmless school kids having fun pushing the boundaries of online security.

As we saw this morning with the Susan G. Komen Foundation website hack -– and again as “Anonymous Brazil” signaled they had successfully “taken down” the website of Brazil’s largest state bank — these groups are anything but harmless. One study from 2011 identified the average financial impact of these types of breaches to be just north of $7 million per incident.

SEE ALSO: 6 Tips for Handling Breaking Crises on Twitter

Whether you are a respected non-profit with a decades-long track record, or a state-owned financial institution in Latin America, organizations must diligently prepare for inevitable online intrusions and the challenging communications demands that result. There are four key considerations for organizations seeking to retain credibility and confidence as trusted stewards of information before and after a breach.


1. Think Ahead and Anticipate


The best offense is often the best defense — and this is certainly true in the online security game. Every organization involved in any form of data (online contributions, email petitions, online sales, social gaming, employee data, etc) is vulnerable to attack. Smart organizations are using their pre-hack peacetime wisely to invest in a forensics security assessment and to address identified weaknesses. In addition to the technical diligence, organizations must ensure their corporate communications, IT and legal teams understand who will be responsible for managing breaches and have a well planned rapid response crisis program in place.


2. Say Something


In the immediate aftermath of an attack, the lack of information can cause severe organizational paralysis. This paralysis hampers communications efforts, ultimately allowing external forces to shape the lens through which a response is viewed.

Identifying immediately what you know for certain and what you don’t know is critical. For example, organizations need to be prepared to address questions and concerns about the security of the system. Even though an activist may hijack a site to make a political point, it highlights a deeper potential for vulnerability that must be addressed.

Importantly, saying something does not mean saying everything. The rush to respond can have equally devastating consequences for the ill-informed and unprepared. Communicating what you know for certain and what you are doing to investigate — and even what you are still trying to determine — demonstrates responsiveness and transparency to stakeholders that rightly feel equally violated by the breach. Creating a direct response channel for those exposed — via an online registration system or a 24/7 call center — is another important sign of responsiveness. Total silence creates a vacuum of frustration that antagonists are only too happy to fill.


3. Know the Law


Every single state in the Union has separate reporting rules and regulations for what constitutes personally identifiable information (PII). These rules also govern when organizations that have been the victim of a breach must notify the public. Attempting to unravel this multi-state patchwork for the first time with your stakeholders, the media and law enforcement officials all demanding answers can be crippling.

Ensure that your team understands the regulations in each state — and country — you operate in, and make sure your compliance team is fully integrated with your communications team. Often, you will not be the arbiter of when to go public with news of your breach. The worst thing an organization can do from a reputational standpoint is to allow the narrative to shift from being the victim of an attack to the villain who failed to notify and protect those individuals whose data may have been compromised.


4. Remember, You’re Not Alone


In almost every case of online breaches, the “victims” number in the thousands — if not millions. It is not just the organization that has been violated, it is every employee whose social security number may have been exposed, every charitable donor who supported a cause, every business partner that shared data and every consumer who purchased a product. Keep these important groups informed and at the forefront of your communications efforts. They can be powerful advocates. Engaging quickly with local and federal law enforcement officials shows transparency and responsiveness — don’t be afraid to tell that story of cooperation.


In 2012, data will continue to emerge as the new form of global currency, and hacking will continue its evolution as the new face of popular protest. The fundamental reality for every business or organization is that everyone is now in the business of data — and its protection.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, tomhoryn

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James Phillips is co-founder and senior vice president of products for Couchbase, a leading NoSQL database company.

Online gaming has steadily grown over the past decade, now generating billions of dollars in annual revenue and representing one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. In the last couple of years, social games have taken center stage, producing the vast majority of growth in the online gaming market.

If you are planning to build and launch a social game, growth is what you should be concerned with and prepared for. In large part due to their tie to Facebook, these games can accelerate from zero to millions of users literally overnight — Zynga’s CityVille game reached 100 million monthly active users within 40 days of its launch. Cost-effectively supporting that kind of growth, while sustaining a snappy and compelling gaming experience, presents an enormous challenge at every layer of the game’s technology stack.

On the flipside, many games tend to peak and then wane over time. As important as it is to be able to absorb new users during the growth phase of a game, it is equally important to be able to dial back resources (and therefore cost) as the game’s popularity declines.


Managing Social Game Data


The database layer presents a particular challenge for these games, as traditional approaches to data management tend to fall short in these environments. This is a new and vibrant area of technology innovation. Three key attributes characterize the data layer of a social game that is prepared for success:

  • Elasticity: Matching infrastructure costs to demand optimizes a game’s profitability. The ability to easily dial up (and dial down) database resources is a critical part of that equation. One should be able to make these capacity changes to a live game so there is never a need to take a game offline, maintaining continuous revenue generation.
  • Low latency: Interactive games must be responsive. Making a player wait for feedback leads to abandonment. If the experience is not quick and predictable, users leave … and take their entertainment budget with them. Database technologies must be able to consistently deliver sub-millisecond random reads and writes of data, across the entire scaling spectrum.
  • Data format flexibility: The best social games adapt, delaying or preventing boredom and the resulting decline in active user count. The data tier must be flexible enough (even at very large scale, and without downtime) to support the changing data management requirements of a game in transition.

These are hard problems to solve at social gaming scale. To meet these needs, a new class of database — the NoSQL database — has garnered a lot of attention in the last couple of years. New open source, NoSQL databases provide the kind of performance and flexibility required of a social game database. If you are preparing for social gaming success, they are worthy of consideration.


Choosing the Right NoSQL Database


Selecting the right NoSQL database can be difficult. It seems like a new NoSQL database project appears every week. Sorting through the options can be daunting. There are various classes of NoSQL database: key-value, document, graph, columnar. Each data model has pros and cons.

Which is right for a social game? There is a lot of talk about “Big Data” in addition to NoSQL. Are these the same thing?

Let’s sort through these questions, in reverse order:

Big Data vs. Big Audience

There are two fundamental problems being addressed at the data layer today.

  • Big Data. Data is being generated at an unprecedented rate. How can you efficiently analyze these extremely large datasets and identify patterns, trends and opportunities? This is the “Big Data” problem. Technologies like Hadoop, Map-Reduce and Cassandra are solutions built for analyzing very large datasets. They are generally batch-oriented and focused on analysis.
  • Big Audience. Social games have user counts measured in the millions. Millions of users put tremendous pressure on a database — regardless of the size of the dataset. Even with only a few bytes per user (and thus a fairly small aggregate dataset size), keeping up with a non-stop stream of random reads and writes from a large number of concurrent users is incredibly hard. This is the Big Audience problem and what NoSQL databases are designed to address.

Of course, if you have a Big Audience, you are probably going to generate Big Data. And most social games deploy both a transactional NoSQL database for real-time data serving to the application and a Big Data solution for data analysis.

Classes of NoSQL Database

The term “NoSQL” database is an unfortunate choice. More accurate would be “non-relational,” transactional database. This is the consistent characteristic across these “NoSQL” databases (some of which, confusingly, do support at least a subset of SQL). So if these solutions are not relational, what are they?

There are a number of data models: key-value, document, column-oriented and graph to name the most common. Each model has pros and cons making them more or less appropriate for a given application. Document-oriented databases power the majority of NoSQL deployments behind social games, largely due to their balance of four key criteria:
 

  • Performance. The document data model keeps related data in a single physical location in memory and on disk (a document). This allows consistently low-latency access to the data — reads and writes happen with very little delay. Database latency can result in perceived “lag” by the player of a game and avoiding it is a key success criterion.
  • Dynamic elasticity. Because the document approach keeps records “in one place” (a single document in a contiguous physical location), it is much easier to move the data from one server to another while maintaining consistency — and without requiring any game downtime. Moving data between servers is required to add and remove cluster capacity to cost-effectively match the aggregate performance needs of the application to the performance capability of the database. Doing this at any time without stopping the revenue flow of the game can make a material difference in game profitability.
  • Schema flexibility. While all NoSQL databases provide schema flexibility, key-value and document-oriented databases enjoy the most flexibility. Column-oriented databases still require maintenance to add new columns and to group them. A key-value or document-oriented database requires no database maintenance to change the database schema (to add and remove “fields” or data elements from a given record).
  • Query flexibility. Balancing schema flexibility with query expressiveness (the ability to ask the database questions, for example, “return me a list of all the farms in which a player purchased a black sheep last month”) is important. While a key-value database is completely flexible, allowing a user to put any desired value in the “value” part of the key-value pair, it doesn’t provide the ability to ask questions. It only permits accessing the data record associated with a given key. I can ask for the farm data for user A, B and C to see if they have a black sheep, but I can’t ask the database to do that work on my behalf. Document-databases provide the best balance of schema flexibility without giving up the ability to do sophisticated queries.

 

Which Option Is Right for Your Game?

If you agree that a document-oriented approach is correct, then you’ve already substantially reduced the number of contenders. If you were previously considering Big Data and NoSQL as synonymous, you’ve further reduced the set. From there, you should consider the important attributes we previously identified: elasticity, concurrent random read latency and throughput, and data format flexibility.

Additionally, one must consider the ease with which developers can build applications that interact with the database. Are there well-maintained and documented SDKs/client libraries? Is there a community of users to provide support and guidance? Is the technology being actively developed, enhanced and improved? Can you get commercial support if desired?

If you are considering building a social game, you must consider the infrastructure requirements to support growth. Your choice of database technology is arguably the most important infrastructure component decision you will make.

More About: contributor, Entertainment, features, Gaming, Tech, Web Development

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Rachael Gerson spearheads the Analytics division at SEER Interactive. Follow her on Twitter @rachaelgerson.

In my last Google Analytics post, I talked about the 10 new Google Analytics features you need to start using. Now that you already know what these new features are, let’s focus on how you can find them, and get started.

Basic Navigation




There are two main navigation methods for Google Analytics. The top navigation is used to view the Home section, Standard Reporting and Custom Reporting. Most of the reports from the previous article use the Standard Reporting tab.

The second navigation is the side navigation. Use this navigation to select the profile, search for a specific report or access the report you need. Each item in the side navigation can be clicked on to expand the full menu.

Click here to view this gallery.

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Brett Miller is the president of Custom Software by Preston (CSP). For more than 10 years, CSP has impressed clients with highly effective software solutions and teams of multi-talented software engineers.

A software development client should complete a thorough “due diligence” before selecting a developer for his critical project. Then, he must complete the finalization process by drafting and executing the legal contract/agreement.

Contracts attempt to define the responsibilities and duties of each party; however, people often overlook whether a contract covers certain risks associated with non-performance.

Take a look at the eight scenarios below. These tips can help your company cover its legal bases when contracting a software developer, or vice versa.


1. Time & Material (T&M) or Fixed-Price Contracts


In a “time and materials” contract, the client assumes the burden of cost overruns, whereas in a “fixed-price” scenario, the developer assumes this risk. Weighing the two, many clients assume they are ahead of the game by passing the potential for cost overruns to the developer. However, they but fail to consider that the developer must add that cost-potential into their fixed-bid up front. So in a fixed-price contract, the client pays the extra cost, even if it proves to be unnecessary.

Fixed-price contracts also have the potential to create disputes. Often, deliverables that were implicitly intended might not be included in the original project scope. Both parties should be very aware of what exactly is included in the project. Fixed-price means there is a fixed scope of work, unless additional moneys are paid.

In a time and materials contract, the developer gets paid on an hourly basis. The motivation to finish quickly may be diminished by the opportunity to bill more hours. In this case, the client takes the risk that the developer will prioritize his own desire to profit on the project.


2. General Note on Contracts and Non-Disclosures (NDAs)


Contracts and NDAs are legal instruments which establish the rights, duties and privileges of those who are a party to the agreement. These instruments protect both parties to the extent that they are willing to pursue them in a court of law.

Here is a simple rule of thumb, although I encourage you to also check with legal counsel. Unless the dispute is over $10,000, most attorneys won’t take the case. And even if they do, they usually keep one-third of any money they collect. It can take several years to win in court, and the problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the losing party may no longer be in business or have assets from which to pay. One last note, many contracts call for the losing party to pay the legal costs for the winning party, which can save you money if you win, but cost dearly if you don’t.


3. Advanced Payment – The Industry Standard


Many contracts call for advanced payments or retainers. Essentially that means the developer works on the client’s money, and therefore, the client bears the risk for the developer’s potential lack of performance. This is the norm in the information technology field. Very few developers will take money out of their own pockets to build a client projects (in the hopes that the client will pay).

An improvement to this model would be to limit the retainer to two week’s worth (or less) of development time/labor (weighing the progress of deliverables). Upon client acceptance, the retainer can be replenished for the next cycle. Sending a wire or paying via credit card allows for instantaneous payment. Client risk is bit more limited when using this approach.


4. Phased Payments – The Other Industry Standard


Some projects are divided into three or more segments. The first phase is paid up-front (client risk); the second is paid at some pre-arranged interval (equal risk); and the last payment is made upon project “completion and acceptance” (developer’s risk). In this scenario the last payment can be problematic to collect, as subjective issues can arise regarding quality and scope.

One minor modification to the phased payment method specifies that the developer finish the final deliverable in their own environment, to which the client has access for testing. Upon client acceptance, the final payment is made and the vendor transfers ownership of the application and all code to the client. This is a very solid, technique balancing risk.


5. Warning! Warning! Kill Switches


Some unscrupulous software vendors build a kill switch into their applications. In the event of a dispute (and the client refuses to pay), the vendor can remotely shut down the application. I recommend that your contract include language that prohibits this “extortion like” practice.


6. Disappearing Freelancers


Many IT Professionals have heard this story before: A company finds what appears to be a knowledgeable (and affordable) freelancer on the Internet. Initial contacts with the individual indicate great responsiveness. Payment is made, a few conversations take place, some small progress is shown — then all communication goes dark and the freelancer disappears.

I believe this most often occurs when, with the best of intentions, a freelancer takes on a project and finds out he bit off more than he could chew. He believe his efforts were substantial, but things just didn’t work out (in other words, “not their fault”). Even more important, as a freelancer he is simply not in a position to refund any money. It’s easier to disappear than to deal with the conflict, so he runs.

Freelance software developers do offer expertise, experience and cheaper rates due to lower overhead, but the clear risk is a lack of any substantial backing. Therefore, this model does have more risk for the end client.


7. Payment via PayPal or Credit Card Carriers


Many developers accept payment via PayPal, and some even accept credit cards. These credit carriers offer “dispute” mechanisms that allow the payee to challenge any charge which was not delivered as promised or described. This method should be encouraged by the client (even if they need to pay the credit card processing fees), as it provides additional protection.

Vendors have an opportunity to respond to any dispute. Carriers to a certain degree are arbitrators and if they receive enough complaints, a vendor’s account can be canceled.


8. Risk Assessment


Software development projects carry financial risk factors for both parties. These risk factors need to be considered seriously and should be discussed with an attorney. Clients and developers alike need to know what they are getting into and prepare for scenarios that don’t work out as planned.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, OtmarW, Flickr, quaziefoto, slimmer_jimmer

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Mashable Comics are illustrated by Kiersten Essenpreis, a Chicago-based artist who draws and blogs at YouFail.com.


More Mashable Comics:


1. The Earliest Social Network Ever Discovered

Click here to view this gallery.

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Daniel Alves is the design director for the small business web design division at the digital marketing and web design company 352 Media Group.

The navigation bar is the most important design element on a website. Not only does it guide your users to pages beyond the homepage, but it’s also the singular tool to give users a sense of orientation. With this in mind, it’s important to adhere to time-tested design and usability conventions. Doing so will give your users a comfortable and easy reference point to fully engage with your content.

Despite the necessity of an accessible navigation bar, usability studies on navigation across the web aren’t positive. One study by User Interface Engineering shows that people cannot find the information they seek on a website about 60% of the time. While this failure rate might be acceptable for your average blog, a business website simply cannot afford these stats. Even worse, many users often find navigation usability extremely frustrating, citing annoying hover errors and inconsistencies. Another study by Forrester found that 40% of users do not return to a site when their first visit is negative.

So how do you ensure that your users are able to quickly and easily find the information they need?


The Basics


Employ these basic concepts to help users move more efficiently through your website.

Start with content. Believe it or not, most websites start backward, meaning a designer will suggest navigation items before determining all the content possibilities. This isn’t entirely unusual — often the content isn’t ready before the design process begins. Jeffrey Zeldman, a usability guru, suggests, “Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”

It’s important to properly analyze and organize all your content into a logical and highly usable structure before even considering design choices. Once you accomplish this, only add complexity if absolutely necessary for your users.

Don’t overwhelm. The main role of a navigation bar is to provide your user with a choice. Overwhelming a site visitor with too many options impedes his ability to quickly make a choice. A navigation bar with five to seven channel items is sufficient organization for most websites. Plus, it fits nicely in the width of most website designs. Once you reach eight navigation options, you severely limit readability and usability due to width constraints.

Keep it simple. Use precise and recognizable words in the navigation bar. Refrain from long phrases that consume screen real estate by limiting each navigation item to 12 characters or less. Also, don’t use words that an average user wouldn’t completely understand. People are used to conventions; therefore, err on the side of familiarity. For example, use “Contact Us,” not “Get in Touch” or “Let’s Talk.” Finally, leave out unnecessary words that don’t add anything to the navigation item. Instead of “In the News,” consider simply “News.”

Actions on the right. Because people read from left to right, they naturally expect action links on the right-hand side of the navigation bar because moving right suggests moving forward. Use the left side for more informational links. The exception is the “Home” link, which as a backward action, should be furthest left.

Avoid Flash, for the most part. While Flash is generally frowned upon by usability experts, it presents aesthetic possibility. Flash’s biggest problem is that it typically is not implemented in a way accessible to screen readers and mobile devices. And while you don’t want to implement the actual navigation with Flash, you can get away with embellishing an HTML/CSS Navigation Bar with Flash to add visual interest and retain usability. One great example of this is the Atlanta Botanical Garden website (above).


One-Level Navigation Bars


Now that you know a few basic principles about creating a highly effective navigation, let’s learn from already existing navigation bars, including one-level bars, drop-down multi-level bars and mega drop-down bars. While you’ll ultimately decide which type of navigation works best for your website, we can show you what to do and what not to do depending on the type of navigation bar you eventually choose.

Apple vs. CNN

Experts have often heralded Apple as the gold standard in web design. The company has managed to distill everything it does into seven links, not including the logo and a search bar. It’s the epitome of simplicity and straightforwardness — from one of the largest companies in the world.

To its credit, CNN has to cover an entire planet of news, which makes it somewhat understandable that its site features a whopping 16 navigation bar links. While this navigation structure might work for CNN, it’s highly unreasonable for your average personal or business website. Cramming this many links in the full width of the website hinders readability by forcing a small font size and very little negative space on either side of a link. On a practical level, it’s a huge chore to read through every single link to decide where you need to go.


Drop-Down Multi-Level Navigation Bars


Drop-down menus became very popular at the end of the ‘90s during the dot-com boom because they allowed a user to get to any page on a website with one click. While that may seem like a huge advantage at first, the option presents several usability problems if done incorrectly. Many users find these types of navigation bars frustrating because they require precise cursor movements in order to successfully move through deeper levels. With this in mind, it’s best to reserve ample vertical and horizontal space for each link so that users can navigate without clicking on the wrong page.

Denny’s vs. Sony

Earlier this year, Denny’s new website design that was met with mixed reviews. On one hand, the website featured an innovative and technically complex browsing experience, but for many critics, it was overdone. The navigation bar features gimmicky JavaScript “enhancements” that actually slow the user down. For example, when you hover over a link with the cursor, it takes a fraction of a second for the animation to fully reveal its contents. Even that fraction of a second is slower than our mind’s ability to move forward.

Sony, sticking true to its understated style, provides a no-nonsense drop-down menu that gets the job done efficiently. Sony’s helper icons next to links specify parent and action links. Overall, Sony’s navigation bar responds instantly and manages to stay out of the user’s way with its subtle yet effective design.


Mega Drop-Down Navigation Bars


Mega menus are the newest design craze for large sites with a lot of depth and categories, such as Zappos and The White House. These menus are usually only two levels deep, but the second level features a large panel complete with images or multiple columns of links. The benefit to these menus is that a site not only provides more links for the user, but also includes context and hierarchy within those links.

Target vs. Lowe’s

A mega menu’s blessing can also be its curse. Sure, these navigation bars give you more room to include links, but without proper hierarchy and context, mega menus can quickly turn into a sea of unnavigable options. Perhaps the best example of this is Target.com. It doesn’t take long to see that the company has crammed way too many links in its mega menu, without the proper hierarchy or context.

While it might seem convenient that a user can get to Target’s “Spice Storage” department directly from the second level of its menu, is that really necessary? Including links like this creates too much noise and doesn’t let the user focus on the important higher-level category items. Another big no-no is the sheer size of Target’s menu. Some of the mega menu panels exceed the height of a standard 13-inch laptop screen size. The last thing you want is to force someone to scroll down to use your navigation menu.

Target could learn a few things from Lowe’s website. Lowe’s has managed to provide a wealth of links with plenty of hierarchy and context. For every panel of links, the company has made the most popular and timely links stand out by elevating them to large blocks of thumbnail images.

By distinguishing the most popular items, Lowe’s makes it easy for users to access the links they’re most likely to click anyway. The thumbnail images also contribute greatly to context. By providing recognizable images for their most popular categories, the user doesn’t even have to read to understand which part of the menu he’s in. It’s akin to walking by Lowe’s brick and mortar store, and scanning the contents of each aisle to zero-in on your desired product.


Conclusion


When choosing a navigation bar type, start simple. Evaluate your content thoroughly and ask yourself what your users need to access quickly. More often than not, a complex navigation system is an indicator you need better content planning and organization. If you absolutely need to give your users so many options directly inside the navigation bar menu, follow the principles mentioned above to create an efficient and enjoyable experience for your users.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, mkurtbas

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Embeddable Tweets

Along with Twitter’s redesign announcement Thursday, the service has rolled out a new way to let website developers and bloggers embed tweets that give visitors the ability to reply, retweet and favorite without leaving the page.

Twitter users now can place embeddable tweets on their websites by simply using one line of code. A single-click action also lets visitors follow the creator of a tweet.

Here’s an example embedded tweet from my Twitter account:

“Try it on your website by clicking ‘Embed this Tweet’ from any permalink page in the newly launched Twitter,” Twitter’s Brian Ellin said in a blog post that provides an example of an embedded tweet. “If you use WordPress or Posterous Spaces, it’s easier than ever to embed Tweets.”

The “Embed this Tweet” link will lead users to these customization options. Users can then copy and paste the markup for use on their websites. I clicked centered for my embedded tweet, which you can play with above.

For full instructions, click here, where you can also learn how to render the tweets using oEmbed.

Twitter also introduced new methods to distribute the recently revamped tweet, follow and hashtags buttons.

“The new #hashtag button tells your visitors there’s an interesting conversation happening on Twitter, and lets them join in with just one click,” Ellin wrote. “The @mention button encourages visitors to Tweet to your account, driving public conversation directly from your website.”

How useful do you think these changes will be for website owners?


Mashable’s Complete Coverage of Twitter’s Redesign


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Brian Casel is the founder of CasJam Media, a web design shop that works with clients worldwide designing custom WordPress CMS sites. Connect with Brian on Twitter @CasJam.

For those of us who work with WordPress every day, it has been exciting to watch our beloved content management system evolve over the years from a blogging tool into a web publishing powerhouse.

Today we take a look at the all new WordPress 3.3, which after months of beta testing, is expected to be released in late November.

SEE ALSO: Top 4 Ecommerce Tools for WordPress

Compared to the milestone WordPress 3.0 release — which introduced important new functionalities, such as custom post types and built-in multisite mode — version 3.3’s improvements may seem less groundbreaking. But, in fact, the impact of this release may be felt by more people than ever.

Most of the improvements are aimed toward improving the user experience for all users, not just those of us building WordPress websites. Your clients will immediately see the changes in 3.3, which are bound to improve their experience too.

Here are the major improvements coming to WordPress 3.3.

1. Redesigned Admin Bar

The redesigned admin bar brings a handful of strategic enhancements.

There are less links/elements shown, and the ones that remain are carefully placed for a reason. The search box and appearance menu were removed, and the user menu moved to the right side, similar to Google’s user bar.

By making it a shade darker and bolder, the admin bar is now more prominent in the WordPress back-end.

Click here to view this gallery.


Other Noteworthy Improvements in WordPress 3.3


Now that we’ve covered the most visible improvements, here are some under-the-hood enhancements, particularly of interest to developers.

  • Responsive Layout: This is really just setting the groundwork for a fully responsive layout, which is expected in version 3.4. But in WordPress 3.3, the left side menu automatically collapses on smaller screens.
  • Postname Permalinks: Before you had to set /%postname%/ as your custom permalinks setting, but now it’s a selectable option. More importantly, performance issues have been fixed, so this setting is now usable for sites that have a large number of posts and pages.
  • jQuery 1.7 and jQuery UI 1.8.16: Updated jQuery and now the full jQuery UI toolset are now packaged and ready to be enqueued in WordPress 3.3.
  • WordPress Editor API: Plugin developers can now customize the post editor, including the TinyMCE buttons. You can even add additional editors.

  • Get Updated!


    As always, it’s recommended to get your sites updated to the latest version of WordPress as soon as it’s available, so keep an eye out for the release, and get ready to start digging into these great new features!

    More About: contributor, features, Tech, trending, upgrades, Web Development, WordPress

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The Mobile App Trends Series is sponsored by Sourcebits, a leading product developer for mobile platforms. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iOS, Android, Mobile and Web platforms. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter for recent news and updates.

For mobile app developers, building an app rarely takes place in a vacuum, as most users expect their apps to interface and work with various Internet services.

Building a mobile app increasingly means building an app that can interface with its own server or set of network services.

For mobile app developers, picking and choosing a server or cloud solution for things like storage, push notifications, user information and analytics can be a struggle.

Fortunately, a new wave of companies and services are stepping in to help developers make the best choices.


Yay Cloud


With AWS, Amazon has really led the way toward making cloud services and distributed computing and storage solutions affordable and easily accessible.

Thousands upon thousands of application developers — mobile, web and desktop — use Amazon for storage, to run processes and to store or query data.

Amazon and its competitors have APIs and toolkits designed to make integrating their services with an existing app backend a snap.

AWS SDK — Amazon offers an AWS SDK for Android and an AWS SDK for iOS. These SDKs offer libraries, code samples and documentation to help app developers leverage Amazon’s AWS services, including EC2, S3 and Amazon SimpleDB within their own apps.

Windows Azure — Microsoft is pushing its Windows Azure cloud as mobile-dev friendly. The company has released official SDKs and APIs for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Google offers Android developers the ability to link their apps to Google App Engine, using the Google Plugin for Eclipse.


Cloud Backend Solutions


In addition to self-selecting cloud services from various providers, a number of startup platforms offer easy access to a variety of cloud services and backends, but without a lot of overhead hassle.

This space is often called Backend as a Service [BaaS] or Platform as a Service [PaaS] and it is heating up fast.

Most of these companies will work directly with the major cloud providers, like Amazon, RackSpace and Windows Azure, but will abstract the process so the developer doesn’t need to mess with a lot of settings, accounts or configurations.

Some of the players in this space include:

Parse — Parse recently closed its Series A funding round and is used by Band of the Day, Hipmunk and Yobongo. It works with iOS and Android and can connect with Heroku. You can also use Parse in cross-platform apps like Appcelerator and Sencha.

StackMob — StackMob is currently in private beta and has an SDK for iOS, Android, Java and custom server side code. Like Parse, StackMob can integrate with Heroku. It also offers server-side integration with Facebook and Twitter.

Kinvey — Kinvey was one of the earliest players in the space and it dubs its solution, Backend as a Service. Kinvey uses AWS, RackSpace Cloud and Windows Azure to offer up its backend tools, along with its own APIs that developers can drop into their own apps.

CloudMine — Cloudmine supports Ruby, Python, PHP and Java.

Buddy Platform — Buddy Platform is kind of a hybrid between developer platforms like Appcelerator and backend platforms. It has APIs for access to features like user management, geo-location data, photos and album information and user messaging.


Your Tips


Have you used off-the-shelf or infrastructure as a service tools in your mobile app? What should developers watch for? Let us know.


Series Supported by Sourcebits


The Mobile App Trends Series is sponsored by Sourcebits, a leading developer of applications and games for all major mobile platforms. Sourcebits has engineered over 200 apps to date, with plenty more to come. Sourcebits offers design and development services for iPhone, Android and more. Please feel free to get in touch with us to find out how we can help your app stand apart in a crowded marketplace. Follow Sourcebits on Twitter and Facebook for recent news and updates.

Image courtesy of Flickr, KEXINO

More About: AWS, cloud computing, cloudmine, features, kinvey, mashable, Mobile App Trends Series, mobile developers, mobile development, parse, stackmob, Web Development

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Brian Casel is the founder of CasJam Media, a web design shop that works with clients worldwide designing custom WordPress CMS sites. Connect with Brian on Twitter @CasJam.

Remember when WordPress was used only for blogging?

Even all of the talk about WordPress being a true CMS seems to be old news these days. Therefore, make way for latest phase of WordPress’ evolution: ecommerce.

If you’re selling products online, you need to take a serious look at WordPress as your platform for ecommerce. Third party shopping cart plugins for WordPress are not so new anymore. They’ve been slowly developing and evolving within the WordPress community for years. Today, ecommerce on WordPress is ready for prime time.

Before we get into which WordPress shopping carts you should consider using, let’s talk about why it’s a good idea to integrate your CMS and shopping cart together under one roof (WordPress).


Clean Integration of Your CMS and Your Shopping Cart


Gone are the days of running two separate systems on your website: one for your marketing site/blog and another for your online store. By fully integrating your shopping cart with your WordPress CMS, you have complete control to cross-promote your products with other site content.

For example, your homepage might be used to promote “hot” products as well as your latest blog headlines. You might want to announce a flash sale in your homepage slider and carry that callout through the rest of your site using global WordPress widgets.

From an administration standpoint, you (or your client) only need to use one login for one system to manage everything in the operation. Plus, it’s easier to view and measure your sales funnel when your analytics tool tracks a single website.


Seamless User Experience for Your Customers (and Your Developer)


How many times have you experienced this? You land on the beautiful homepage of some business. They have an appealing design, strategic and friendly marketing copy and an overall positive user experience. So far, you like what you see, so you click the link labeled “Store.”

Suddenly, you’re taken to what seems to be a completely different website, with an outdated design and clunky customer experience. Your impression of the website, and in turn, your opinion of this brand, has taken a turn for the worse. Now you’re not so sure about buying its product.

A fully integrated shopping cart system built into your WordPress site ensures that customers experience the same design and quality from homepage to checkout.

For developers, it means not having to fiddle around with two different systems, “faking” integration by closely matching two stylesheets, or making updates in two places each time. Integration means one codebase, centralized functionality and easy maintenance.


Top 4 Ecommerce Tools for WordPress


The following are just a few of the more popular systems out there, and new ones are popping up all the time, particularly as the WordPress community continues to expand.

As you can see, the ability to sell products on a WordPress site has come a very long way. With all of the amazing plugins and frameworks that have been developed in this space, ecommerce on WordPress certainly deserves real consideration for any new online store project.

1. WooCommerce

Just last month, WooThemes released its ecommerce framework, WooCommerce. This is arguably one of the most comprehensive shopping cart solutions available for WordPress. It originated as a fork of the popular Jigoshop plugin, and offers a host powerful features including multiple product types (simple, configurable, downloadable, etc.), inventory management, comprehensive shipping and tax options, marketing tools and powerful reporting features. The admin user experience is powerful yet easy to use. Like everything from Woo, it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

Click here to view this gallery.


The Bottom Line


As you can see, the possibility of selling products on a WordPress site has come a very long way. With all of the amazing plugins and frameworks that have been developed in this space, ecommerce on WordPress certainly deserves real consideration for any new online store project.

More About: BLOGS, contributor, ecommerce, features, Web Development, WordPress

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