This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

UK retailers are losing more than £8 billion ($12.6 million USD) per year due to website inefficiencies, according to research by data and analytics firm QuBit.

Using its Exit Feedback technology, QuBit collected more than 18,000 comments about a range of UK retail websites and analyzed the data to discover the major issues that these sites face.

Mashable spoke with QuBit CEO Graham Cooke about the company’s research, and what it means for businesses. We looked at the top 10 reasons website visitors don’t convert to paying customers on retail websites and offer a few tips for businesses that face these problems.


Top 10 Problem Areas for Conversion


Here are the top 10 website issues that hinder retail website visitors from converting to customers, according to QuBit’s research:

  • Pricing: Pricing was the leading issue for consumers in their online purchase decisions. Transparency and accessibility are key for the online retail world, since comparative shopping is drastically easier on the Internet as compared with shopping in the real world. QuBit recommends crossing out previous prices or focusing on a “deal of the week” to satisfy price-conscious consumers.
  • Product descriptions: More than 12% of feedback was related to the lack of clear and complete product descriptions. Descriptions must be thorough enough to replace the knowledge of a sales associate. This is especially important for fashion retailers, as “the vast proportion of feedback found on fashion retail sites blames lack of sizing information as a primary reason for exiting the site,” the report reads. Materials used, origin of goods and sizing information are just a few details that retailers should consider listing.
  • Stock information: It is important that availability of products be communicated to website visitors early on in the purchasing process. If a product is out of stock, timely information about when it will be available is also important. Otherwise, users should be given the option to be notified once the product becomes available, or the site should recommend related goods that are in stock.
  • Site functionality: Users are frustrated when they enter a site with expectations of how it should function and are utterly disappointed. Key missing functionalities cited in this research included wish lists, in-store pick-up, personalized recommendations, guest checkout and product filters.
  • Shipping information: Shipping prices and times should be readily available. Lack of this information is likely to cause checkout drop-offs and complete abandonment of the site, the report explained. Offering international shipping and displaying shipping prices in destination currencies are two features likely to improve this problem area.
  • Images: People like to see what they’re buying before they make a purchase. High quality photography from multiple angles and with zoom capabilities is important for converting shoppers into buyers.
  • Discounts: Commenters point to not being able to find where to enter discount codes as a big problem when shopping online. Likewise, consumers seemed confused as to whether offline discounts could be applied online, and if so, whether the discounts applied to their demographic or purchase. We’ve all been there — exclusion lists are lengthy and can include details on countries, states, brands and even particular items.
  • Navigation: Consumers are accustomed to visiting large commerce websites, such as Amazon, that feature clear navigation — and they expect that same level of quality across all retail websites. Broken links within the shopping cart, lack of category pages in the main navigation and broken browser functionalities (such as the back button) were key issues cited by consumers.
  • Video: Product videos can add flare to a product page, and apparently consumers expect them, as the lack of videos was expressed as a major problem area on retail websites. QuBit pointed to Burberry as being a trendsetter in this area, as the retailer’s website presents a seamless experience of videos and photos.
  • Website speed: Slow loading times are of huge concern to retailers, as consumers simply hate waiting around for a website to finally show up. Retailers should benchmark their load times against those of their competitors and act accordingly.

Tips for Improvement


QuBit CEO and ex-Googler Graham Cooke told us that there are three main things that a retail website owner needs to look at in order to improve conversions:

  • Product information: “Are the descriptions on your site clear, concise and engaging? Do they tell the user what they need to know about a product? Have you got great images on the site and do you let people zoom in so they can really get the detail? The product information on a website plays the role of the store assistant in an offline store, so you want to make sure its performing at its best.”
  • Payment processes: “The checkout is one of the most likely areas where you’re going to lose customers, and there are some really simple things you can do to make this work better. Lots of retailers ignore really simple things, like enabling the display of payment information in multiple currencies or making sure that people have clear information about shipping costs.”
  • User experience: “We’ve all known for years that user experience is key to successful online retail, but it still pops up all the time as a major issue. Again, this can be [narrowed] down to relatively simple issues such as slow page loading speeds or site search, but they’re all costing you valuable sales.”

How does your business optimize its website for conversions? Let us know your strategies in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Flickr, turtlemom4bacon & Images of Money

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Tim Yeaton is the President and CEO of Black Duck Software. He has more 30 years experience working in the software community. Contact him at tyeaton@blackducksoftware.com.

Most people do not think of software developers as being high on the “social” scale. In fact, the (misinformed) stereotype for a typical developer is that of the introverted geek. But in many ways, particularly with open source developers, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Contributing to open source software is a profoundly social activity. Some of open source’s main tenets are collaboration, transparency and meritocracy, which require developers to collaborate and share at a highly productive level. And with over 500,000 open source projects on the Internet, there’s a lot of collaboration going on. It’s clear that by participating in open source communities, developers are engaging in productive social behavior.

While some people may picture open source developers as working quietly and in isolation, the reality is they may work on large projects with a wide community of collaborators. For example, Linux has nearly 10,000 contributors. Others may focus on small, personal projects, which may or may not draw the attention of the larger development community.

But even developers working on small projects are still working with other people. And virtually all new open source projects derive from those projects and the developers that preceded them, creating a vast body of work that accelerates innovation and fuels further collaboration.

Today’s open source developers are contributing to projects in very different ways than just a few years ago. What has changed?


Search + Social Media = Social Development


Two developments — search and social media — have changed the way coders work to create “social development,” a new style of software collaboration. Let’s look first at social media’s influence on it.

Social media’s impact has forced change (some good and some bad) in nearly every sector of the economy — including open source development. While communities such as Slashdot and Stack Overflow provided an early glimpse of social media’s impact on development in the FOSS community and encouraged developers to become more active within these and other communities, the effect took some time to achieve.

Today, it’s not unusual to see enterprise software developers more active in social media circles, even as enterprises themselves are evolving socially. According to a recent study by Forrester, developers are engaging socially; they’re joining communities to connect with experts, seeking answers to business problems and, like many people, networking for career advancement. The figure above shows the leading reasons developers join communities: to connect with thought leaders, gain expertise and engage in high quality discussions.

Web search has also enhanced the importance of social media among open source developers, affecting this new style of development. My company recently commissioned a study with Forrester to investigate the social habits of developers. As shown above, contributors to open source projects turn to online search first for information about development technologies, followed by social sites like networks, forums and other online communities.

Developers also share search results via open source or project forums, communities and more general social media tools like Twitter.

As a result, today’s “social developer,” even if not an employee of a large enterprise, is participating more than ever with enterprises – or more specifically, with developers in those enterprises who are increasingly involved with FOSS communities of various types.

Social development arms corporate developers with a new toolset for producing innovative and high quality software at enterprise scale faster than ever before. This style of development wasn’t possible just a few years ago before search, social media tools and online collaboration tools made it possible to create software using social development techniques. Nevertheless, the evolution has been crucial to the success of businesses and individual developers.

Another pivotal change is the fact that enterprise IT organizations are now discovering the need to “go social” and join communities as a strategy for leveraging and using more open source software, especially mission-critical components. This significant trend reflects the reality that open source use is becoming a competitive requirement. Even within the firewall of an enterprise, the trend toward collaborative development to share best practices, facilitate code reuse, and enhance developer productivity is escalating rapidly.

Other environmental and technical changes have supported the emergence of social development. Communications between project committers — which until recently were conducted through IRC channels and wikis — have expanded with the increased number of social communities. And today more than ever, FOSS developers are actively seeking enterprise adoption of their code.

Another change is the emergence of sites like Github and Ohloh, a free community resource, which was specifically designed to support and encourage social development and to allow developers to give each other kudos (literally). The figure above also lists the contributors for a project called Restlet, a Java REST framework for web developers. Shown on the page are the developer profiles, kudos and code commitments to the project.

While social development isn’t a challenge for Gen Y developers, it still presents management challenges for enterprises, especially larger ones. Moving at web speed and using social tools still requires some adjustment. For example, new college hires expect to be community participants, yet large enterprises may not be comfortable with this level of transparency. Although open source projects are based on the notion of transparency, collaboration and meritocracy, some corporate policies may prohibit or limit this philosophy, just like some corporate cultures may resist the trend toward openness in development.

Social interaction and social development offer tremendous new opportunities for developers and enterprises. The advent of social media tools has changed the nature of community participation as much as search. If you and your organization have not joined the growing number of “social developers,” now is the time to start.

Disclosure: Ohloh is owned by the author’s company.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Goldmund

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The Web Design Usability Series is supported by join.me, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. join.me lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off.

Designing a great user interface can be a challenge, even for the most seasoned designer. Countless factors need to be taken into consideration and the difference between a good UI and a great one often boils down to paying close attention to the smallest details.

SEE ALSO: 7 Best Practices for Improving Your Website’s Usability

When undertaking such an important and often complex task, it’s helpful to have some handy resources for both education and inspiration. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorites below. Since we can only scratch the surface of the wide variety of UI design resources available, we invite you to share yours in the comments.


Design Inspiration


Let’s start off by taking a look at three great galleries for UI design inspiration.


1. MephoBox


MephoBox is a design showcase that catalogs sites with beautiful interfaces and also collections of common site elements, such as login forms, headers, pagination, and so on. If you’re looking for ideas or approaches to designing specific page elements, MephoBox collections can be a great source of inspiration.


2. UI Patterns


UI Patterns showcases user interface design patterns – com-only recurring trends and best practices in UI design for a variety of elements. Providing more detail than a basic gallery, UI Patterns showcases design patterns, discusses their usage, and the problems each pattern aims to solve, and in what way.


3. Pattern Tap


Pattern Tap is one of the more well-known UI design showcases and is similar to MephoBox in its design pattern collections. Unlike MephoBox, though, the collections are a bit more varied (the site currently baosts 45 collection catagories to MephoBox’s 16), including a showcase of elements like modal windows, slideshows, comments, adevertising design and placement, and more.


Reading up on UI Design


Sometimes it’s not enough to simply look at a design showcase. Often, you’ll want to read about a particular design pattern or approaches to a problem, as well. So here are three great educational resources for boning up on UI design.


4. Inspire UX


Inspire UX is a user experience design blog that features articles, quotes, case studies and explorations into the world of user experience and interface design. A great resource, Inspire UX articles cover a broad range of topics from book reviews to helpful tips and well-thought explorations into existing design patterns and implementations.


5. UX Magazine


UX Magazine is a user experience and design publication dedicated to “elevating user experience, one article at a time.” With plenty of original content as well as technical and inspirational design roundups from around the web, UX Magazine explores the details that make a great user experience. If you’re looking for information on best practices, creative problem solving resources or a better understanding of those problems, UX Magazine is chock full of great articles to assist you.


6. UI Scraps


This blog by designer Jason Robb showcases interesting and insightful user interfaces. The great thing about UI Scraps is that the site isn’t simply a showcase of great work. Robb brings you the bad along with the good, making it a great resource for learning what not to do. The tone of the blog is conversational and casual, but Mr. Robb’s remarks are spot-on and UI scraps is a fun, interesting resource for UI design practices.


Down the Rabbit Hole


Still what more? Looking for something a little more technical? UI design isn’t just about making a pretty picture. There’s a lot of science behind the methodologies and patterns we use every day. Here are a few sites that delve even further into the technical and scientific aspects of UI design.


7. Web Design Practices


If statistics are what you’re after, Web Design Practices is the place to be. The site showcases and describes several common web design elements, practices, and patterns and discusses frequency of use and effectiveness of each. Many examples are also provided and, wherever possible, links are provided to relevant research data, so you can take a first-hand look at the study yourself.


8. User Interface Engineering


UIE is a professional organization for user interface designers and UI experts. UIE provides education and training to its members and the public at large through conferences, articles, virtual siminars, and other publications. On the UIE site, you’ll find a plethora of great articles covering a variety of UI and UX design topics, many of which have plenty of scientific and research data to back them up.


9. Boxes and Arrows


Boxes and Arrows is another great online publication dedicated to exploring the art and science of UI design. It has articles and research materials on best practices, techniques, and user behavior and expectations. There are also a number of case studies, interviews and product reviews, as well as a podcats. If you want to truly understand UI design, Boxes and Arrows is an invaluable resource.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, violetkaipa


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The Web Design Usability Series is supported by join.me, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. join.me lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off. The possibilities are endless. How will you use join.me? Try it today.

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Samsung hopes it can entice developers to create apps that can connect televisions, phones, tablets and laptops. For the second year in a row, Samsung is hosting what it calls the Free the TV Challenge.

The challenge tasks app developers to create applications and solutions using the Samsung TV App SDK. Last year, the focus was on getting third-party app content for the company’s line of Smart TV and Blu-ray players. This year, the company wants developers to focus on creating “converged apps”: Ones that will offer interaction between a Samsung Smart TV and at least one other screen, like a phone or tablet.

Samsung is asking developers to look into three categories:

  • Controller Apps – Ones that let a phone, tablet or PC control an app running on a TV.
  • Companion Apps – Think second screen apps, with a focus on synchronized, supplemented content.
  • Interactive Apps — Apps that let the user use a device as a secondary display. That means you could start using an app on one device and pick up where you left off on another gadget.

The winning developer will get $100,000, plus a 65″ LED TV and a Galaxy Tab 10.1. The winning app will also be featured in the “Recommended” section of the Samsung Apps store for two months. Second and third place winners will receive $75,000 and $50,000 respectively, plus a 55″ TV and a Galaxy Tab 10.1. The contest is open until November 29, 2011 at 5:00pm EST. Judging will take place between December 2 and December 16, 2011. The winners will be announced on January 13, 2012, and Samsung’s website has a complete list of rules and eligibility requirements.

MOVL, the startup that won first place in the 2010 Free the TV Challenge, is making its MOVL Connect Platform available to developers free of charge during the contest period.

It makes sense that Samsung is asking developers to innovate and build cross-device applications. Connected devices are more common than not, and we access content in increasingly fluid ways. That said, we do wonder how much utility developers will be able to provide within the context of the Samsung TV SDK. And we hope devs will be able to incorporate technologies such as DLNA, which are supported by devices other than just Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players, when building their apps.

The only real problem we see in the burgeoning connected app space is the high level of fragmentation. Almost every TV vendor has its own platform, and those platforms are often incompatible with one another. So developers have to build apps for multiple TV makers, not to mention set-top boxes like the Boxee Box, Roku and Google TV. We would really like to see TV makers align on some sort of base platform for connected applications.

What do you think of companies sponsoring developer contests to enhance their product ecosystems? Let us know in the comments.

More About: connected devices, connected tv, samsung, second screen, second screen apps





The Web Design Usability Series is supported by join.me, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. join.me lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off.

Writing content for web users has its challenges. Chief among them is the ease with which your content is read and understood by your visitors (i.e. its readability).

When your content is highly readable, your audience is able to quickly digest the information you share with them — a worthy goal to have for your website, whether you run a blog, an e-store or your company’s domain.

Below are a handful of dead-simple tips and techniques for enhancing the usability and readability of your website’s content.

These tips are based on research findings and suggestions by well-regarded usability experts such as Jakob Nielsen.

This list is not exhaustive, and is meant merely to arm you with a few ideas that you can implement right away. If you have additional tips to add, please share them in the comments.


General Goals of User-Friendly Web Content


Usable, readable web content is a marriage of efforts between web designers and web content writers.

Web pages must be designed to facilitate the ease of reading content through the effective use of colors, typography, spacing, etc.

In turn, the content writer must be aware of writing strategies that enable readers to quickly identify, read and internalize information.

As we go through the seven tips below, keep these three general guidelines in mind:

  • Text and typography have to be easy and pleasant to read (i.e. they must legible).
  • Content should be easy to understand.
  • Content should be skimmable because web users don’t read a lot. Studies show that in a best-case scenario, we only read 28% of the text on a web page.

What simple things can we do to achieve these goals? Read on to see.


1. Keep Content as Concise as Possible


It’s pretty well known that web users have very short attention spans and that we don’t read articles thoroughly and in their entirety. A study investigating the changes in our reading habits behaviors in the digital age concluded that we tend to skim webpages to find the information we want.

We search for keywords, read in a non-linear fashion (i.e. we skip around a webpage instead of reading it from top to bottom) and have lowered attention spans.

This idea that we’re frugal when it comes to reading stuff on the web is reinforced by a usability study conducted by Jakob Nielsen. The study claims a that a 58% increase in usability can be achieved simply by cutting roughly half the words on the webpages being studied.

Shorter articles enhance readability, so much so that many popular readability measurement formulas use the length of sentences and words as factors that influence ease of reading and comprehension.

What you can do:

  • Get to the point as quickly as possible.
  • Cut out unnecessary information.
  • Use easy-to-understand, shorter, common words and phrases.
  • Avoid long paragraphs and sentences.
  • Use time-saving and attention-grabbing writing techniques, such using numbers instead of spelling them out. Use “1,000″ as opposed to “one thousand,” which facilitates scanning and skimming.
  • Test your writing style using readability formulas that gauge how easy it is to get through your prose. The Readability Test Tool allows you to plug in a URL, then gives you scores based on popular readability formulas such as the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease.


2. Use Headings to Break Up Long Articles


A usability study described in an article by web content management expert Gerry McGovern led him to the conclusion that Internet readers inspect webpages in blocks and sections, or what he calls “block reading.”

That is, when we look at a webpage, we tend to see it not as a whole, but rather as compartmentalized chunks of information. We tend to read in blocks, going directly to items that seem to match what we’re actively looking for.

An eye-tracking study conducted by Nielsen revealed an eye-movement pattern that could further support this idea that web users do indeed read in chunks: We swipe our eyes from left to right, then continue on down the page in an F-shaped pattern, skipping a lot of text in between.

We can do several things to accommodate these reading patterns. One strategy is to break up long articles into sections so that users can easily skim down the page. This applies to block reading (because blocks of text are denoted by headings) as well as the F-shaped pattern, because we’re attracted to the headings as we move down the page.

Below, you’ll see the same set of text formatted without headings (version 1) and with headings (version 2). See which one helps readers quickly skip to the sections that interest them the most.

What you can do:

  • Before writing a post, consider organizing your thoughts in logical chunks by first outlining what you’ll write.
  • Use simple and concise headings.
  • Use keyword-rich headings to aid skimming, as well as those that use their browser’s search feature (Ctrl + F on Windows, Command + F on Mac).

3. Help Readers Scan Your Webpages Quickly


As indicated in the usability study by Nielsen referenced earlier, as well as the other supporting evidence that web users tend to skim content, designing and structuring your webpages with skimming in mind can improve usability (as much as 47% according to the research mentioned above).

What you can do:

  • Make the first two words count, because users tend to read the first few words of headings, titles and links when they’re scanning a webpage.
  • Front-load keywords in webpage titles, headings and links by using the passive voice as an effective writing device.
  • Use the inverted pyramid writing style to place important information at the top of your articles.


4. Use Bulleted Lists and Text Formatting


According to an eye-tracking study by ClickTale, users fixate longer on bulleted lists and text formatting (such as bolding and italics).

These text-styling tools can garner attention because of their distinctive appearance as well as help speed up reading by way of breaking down information into discrete parts and highlighting important keywords and phrases.

What you can do:

  • Consider breaking up a paragraph into bulleted points.
  • Highlight important information in bold and italics.

5. Give Text Blocks Sufficient Spacing


The spacing between characters, words, lines and paragraphs is important. How type is set on your webpages can drastically affect the legibility (and thus, reading speeds) of readers.

In a study called “Reading Online Text: A Comparison of Four White Space Layouts,” the researchers discovered that manipulating the amount of margins of a passage affected reading comprehension and speed.

What you can do:

  • Evaluate your webpages’ typography for spacing issues and then modify your site’s CSS as needed.
  • Get to know CSS properties that affect spacing in your text. The ones that will give you the most bang for your buck are margin, padding, line-height, word-spacing, letter-spacing and text-indent.

6. Make Hyperlinked Text User-Friendly


One big advantage of web-based content is our ability to use hyperlinks. The proper use of hyperlinks can aid readability.

What you can do:


7. Use Visuals Strategically


Photos, charts and graphs are worth a thousand words. Using visuals effectively can enhance readability when they replace or reinforce long blocks of textual content.

In fact, an eye-tracking study conducted by Nielsen suggests that users pay “close attention to photos and other images that contain relevant information.”

Users, however, also ignore certain images, particularly stock photos merely included as decorative artwork. Another eye-tracking study reported a 34% increase in memory retention when unnecessary images were removed in conjunction with other content revisions.

What you can do:

  • Make sure images you use aid or support textual content.
  • Avoid stock photos and meaningless visuals.

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The Web Design Usability Series is supported by join.me, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. join.me lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off. The possibilities are endless. How will you use join.me? Try it today.

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Where were you in 1996? If you were in cyberspace, surfing the World Wide Web, chances are you were waiting a long time for pages to load, laughing at the first Internet meme and suffering through some god-awful graphics.

My, how times have changed! While some of you weren’t even born yet, I was working on the web back then, and it certainly did feel different from today. Most comments came via email, servers were rickety and crash-prone, and even though HTML coding was a lot simpler, it still took a lot of patience to get things done.

SEE ALSO: AOL Eyes Merger With Yahoo [REPORT]

But you know what? We knew this Internet thing was going to be big. Even then, many of us were predicting that the web would soon be the home of every major publication, TV network and retailer, accompanied by services we hadn’t even imagined yet.

Did you see this coming? Let us know in the comments about your experiences in the old days on the web.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Bill Vandermark for pointing out that Go Daddy was in fact founded in 1997, and would not become Go Daddy until 1999. We regret this error and appreciate our community for letting us know when we make a mistake.




Infographic courtesy Online University

More About: 1996 vs. 2011, design, infographic, web





On Wednesday, The New York Times and public radio station WNYC launched SchoolBook, a website to provide news, data and discussion about New York City schools.

The site aims to increase communication and understanding among parents, teachers, administrators and students. As many school websites are rudimentary and infrequently updated, SchoolBook’s creators hope to fill a gaping hole. It creates a page for each of NYC’s 2,500 public, charter and private schools with student population information, community discussion threads and more.

“In conversations with parents, principals and teachers, we kept hearing how fragmented the conversation was,” said Tyson Evans, an assistant editor on The Times‘s interactive news desk who helped develop the project. “We’re hoping they’ll see this as kind of a place to explore.”

If it’s numbers SchoolBook users are looking to explore, they’ll have plenty to discover. The site’s extensive database is comprised of information from thousands of public records from numerous sources, including city and state departments and non-profit organizations, Evans said. Much of the information was already housed in internal search and reporting tools for Times journalists built by Robert Gebeloff, a computer assisted reporter who specializes in education.

The challenge for SchoolBook, like many numbers-driven reports, was how to present the information in a useful and easy-to-understand way. Evans said he and his team wanted the site to provide more overall context than a tool that produces charts and visualizations. They chose to standardize the data and group scores into three categories: performance, satisfaction and diversity.

SchoolBook’s developers created custom software for the site with Ruby on Rails and were ambitious about writing data validators and imports. This will help ease the process of updating the database when schools come out with new information.

Some may argue SchoolBook is ranking schools based on scores. Gebeloff wrote an extensive guide to the site’s methodology, in which he says, “What we have not done, quite purposely, is grade or rate schools.”

The numbers are only part of the story. It’s the site’s ambitions for building community around education as an entity that sets it apart. Users are asked to log in with Facebook, an experiment The Times wanted to try to out with a standalone site. “We’re curious about the next phase of web identity,” Evans said.

It will be interesting to see how this affects conversation, especially as education can be a sensitive topic. With the controversy about how students and teachers should interact on Facebook, the single sign-in method will likely see challenges and complaints.

Participants can contribute on individual school pages in three ways: ask a question, post content (photos, student newspaper articles, etc.) or suggest an idea. This could be particularly useful for parents considering a new school for their student. If the school has an active community page where the user feels comfortable contributing, it may shed light on whether it’s a good fit.

The Times and WNYC worked with a handful of schools when brainstorming for the site. Evans expects those communities will lead the charge on SchoolBook and it will grow from there.

“We have ideas for how conversations will work but we’ll ultimately be learning from how the community uses it,” Evans said. “The more activity we can see at individual schools, the more we’ll be convinced it was the right project.”

Times and WNYC education reporters will be regularly updating the site with original articles, discussion threads and aggregated news posts from local sources GothamSchools and Inside Schools. Mary Ann Giordano, the site’s editor, will manage content from contributing writers, which may include teacher diaries, Evans said. The news and community aspects of the site were built on WordPress.

Overall, SchoolBook is leading the way in building community around the topic of education. Though projects like The Opportunity Gap from ProPublica and The Washington Post‘s D.C. Schools Scorecard were pioneers in data collection and presentation, they do little to bring readers together to share content and engage in debate. As Evans said, the purpose SchoolBook provides is up to its users — but it’s the site’s empowerment of its community members that will give people a reason to visit.

More About: education, new york city, the new york times





Google will discontinue news-reading tool Fast Flip, to shift resources to its more widely used products. It will be removed from Google News and Labs in the coming days, though its approach to web content display will be integrated into other tools, Google announced on its blog.

Fast Flip, which celebrates its second birthday this month, is at the top of the list when sorting Google Labs projects by popularity. The tool aims to replicate the print-reading experience online by allowing users to browse stories more quickly. It came at a time when more news organizations were willing to experiment with web content distribution and boasted it had an impressive list of launch partners, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fast Company. These media companies share ad revenue generated through Fast Flip with Google.

Though the product didn’t show much promise from the start, it may have seen success if it had been reworked as a tablet app. As evidenced by CNN’s acquisition of Zite and AOL’s release of Editions, news organizations are shifting focus to optimize mobile reader experiences in a big way.

News aggregation apps Flipboard and Pulse are seeing growing audiences as tablets continue to prove themselves as great content consumption devices. Google may have been better off creating a feature to simplify browsing news on a tablet rather than the conventional web.

Fast Flip is one of nine in a batch of products to be discontinued from Google Labs. The company announced it would shutter Labs experiments shortly after releasing its second-quarter earnings results in mid-July.

Other Labs products Google will shut down:

  • Aardvark: Social search product that helps people answer each others’ questions.
  • Desktop: Gives instant access to data while online or offline.
  • Fast Flip: Provides a faster, richer news content browsing and reading experience.
  • Google Maps API for Flash: Allows ActionScript developers to integrate Google Maps into their applications.
  • Google Pack: Makes it easy to download and install a package of Google and third-party applications.
  • Google Web Security: Protects against web malware attacks.
  • Image Labeler: Helps people explore and label images on the web.
  • Notebook: Helps people combine clipped URLs from the web and free-form notes into documents they can share and publish.
  • Sidewiki: A browser sidebar that lets people contribute and read information alongside any web page.
  • Subscribed Links: Enables developers to create specialized search results that were added to the normal Google search results on relevant queries for subscribed users.

Would you have used Google Fast Flip on a tablet? Tell us in the comments below.

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After months of speculation, Facebook has finally announced the date of its annual developer conference, f8.

The fourth edition of the conference will take place Sept. 22 in San Francisco. “This all day event with Facebook engineers and product teams will feature keynotes and session tracks that highlight our new tools along with best practices for developers and partners building the next generation of social experiences,” the company said in its email invitation.

The all-day conference is where Facebook typically launches its biggest products and initiatives. It launched the Facebook Platform at its first f8 in 2007, unveiled Facebook Connect in 2008 and launched the Like button and the Facebook Open Graph in 2010.

What will Facebook announce at this year’s f8? Mashable will be there to cover the major news from the world’s largest social network.

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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

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