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It is known that Server is extremely critical in web application.  Imagine you are a huge business and your server down all of the sudden because of increasing number of users, you are very likely to lose huge money as well as your reputation. Server is becoming a very difficult issue when it comes to social media sites, because these sites are more likely to have a burst of increasing user due to sound viral loop in very short time.

 

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) turns out to be a good solution since it is elastic. It allows us to quickly scale capacity, both up and down, as your computing requirements change.

There are some good parts that I find:

1)       Elastic, we can increase or decrease capacity within minutes.

2)       It works in conjunction with Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon SimpleDB and Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS). It can also use Amazon web services.

3)       It is to some extent secure since it is protected by Amazon firewall

4)       It is not hard to run Drupal or WordPress on EC2.

Drupal :  http://tag1consulting.com/Drupal_and_Amazon_EC2_Quick_Start

WordPress: http://articles.sitepoint.com/article/wordpress-in-the-cloud-with-ec2-and-wpi

5)       Price is good.

 

 

Thomas(Xianglai) Kong

During our first meeting with Gina, she asked us: “What are you guys focused on, building a technological solution, or building a community?”

In our minds, we were focused on building a technological solution. We believed that if we developed a better commenting platform (one with real identities, insight points, multiple conversations, individual profiles, etc.), the community would come.

This is why we discounted Gina’s recommendation: “Why don’t you guys forget about the features and focus on building a community using Ning. Attracting the right community doesn’t require fancy features.”

We ignored Gina’s advice because we were excited about the platform we had in mind (and Ning would not allow us to develop that platform). We believed that if we built the platform, users would come. However, we were wrong.

I believe we should have focused on attracting the right community first (individuals interested in having high-level conversations). We should have picked a specific news topic, and built the “right” community around that news topic. Then we could have focused on the right technology, based on what that community wanted.

Then we could have built other communities around other news topics, and expanded from there.

I believe this project was a tremendous learning experience, one that will likely save me a lot of wasted energy on future ventures.

-Dan

I believe we were focusing on the wrong things this quarter. Two weeks into class, our team had a basic agreement on our minimum viable product (MVP)

  • Users use real identities
  • Users can share news articles
  • Users can discuss news articles on a comment page
  • Users can invite friends into these discussions

We looked at several technologies that could be used to build the MVP

  • Ning: (-) Didn’t support our feature for sharing news articles. (-) It also didn’t allow us to customize the registration process.
  • WordPress: (+) Allowed us to easily build the features for the MVP. (-) Locked us in for future customization
  • Drupal: (+) Had significant experience using Drupal (+) More customizable (-) Takes longer to get to MVP
  • Ruby on Rails: (-) Had little experience (+) More customizable (-) Takes way too long to realize MVP

We picked Drupal, obviously with some bias due to our experiences. From a technology perspective, Drupal was a good choice. However, we were stuck on our MVP. As we agreed from the start, we wanted to provide a platform for having intelligent conversations about news. The features we picked for our MVP were just one way to accomplish these goals.

Our goal should have been to focus on testing the community, not the features we thought were needed for building a community. The features provided by WordPress, Ning, and many other systems were good enough for commenting. The real problem was that the community wasn’t.

If I were to work on this project again, I would have done the following things differently:

  • Install a base installation of WordPress and install the Facebook plugin.
  • Install analytics.
  • Brainstorm different potential niches within news consumers based on topic and persona. Examples could have included suburban parents interested in education, journalists looking to discuss current events, or bloggers who blog about global events.
  • Try to run experiments on these different niches and see which niches gain traction.
  • Talk to these users to get feedback.
  • Iterate!

To summarize what I learned.

  • Don’t obsess over features. Usually, the existing technology is good enough to get the job done.
  • Obsess over your users. Who are they? How can we keep them engaged? You can’t answer these questions with features.

 

Our site is running Google Analytics and is integrated with CrazyEgg, our mentor’s analytics product. We know where users are coming from, where they are clicking, and generally what they are doing. We also know who is inviting who to the site.

Unfortunately, our viral loop is not working. We posted links and invited our friends to the discussion. Each time, only a couple people would join the discussion to post a comment. The conversations seemed one way. People would post a comment and leave. Furthermore, only a few people decided to invite friends into a conversation. Basically, friends joined the conversation but friends of friends didn’t. We have a few theories for why this didn’t happen:

  • Empty-room effect: Users didn’t feel compelled to come back because the conversations didn’t seem active.
  • Facebook notifications are not noticeable: Facebook notifications show up as a small red badge at the top of your Facebook page. Most users didn’t notice this and many didn’t even know notifications existed in Facebook.
  • Invite friends doesn’t target enough users: The invite friends feature allowed users to single out friends that they wanted to share an article to.

To solve the hard-to-notice Facebook notifications issue, I added a post to wall feature that lets users post their voci.us comment to their wall. To combat the empty room effect, we will try to create conversations that appear active.

Over a week ago, we had a minimum viable product. You could share articles, create discussions, and invite friends into these discussions. You could use your Facebook identity. Users stumbled through the site not sure what to do. No one invited his friends into a conversation. There were some issues with Facebook connect and not all users were able to properly login. Some people didn’t notice the comment link. Even more didn’t notice the link for replying to comments. I had put all my efforts into creating the features and no thought into the usability.

We tried to test virality but got caught on usability. In order for a website to be viral, it has to be very simple to use. It should flow from one step to the next and users should know what to do. This is why we have been focusing on usability this past week. We polished the interface and prompt users to perform the next step. Prior to this usability overhaul, some users weren’t even able to create a discussion, post a comment, or invite friends–even when asked to.

This week we will actually be able to test virality. When a user doesn’t invite friends to join a conversation, we will be more certain that it’s because he doesn’t care to, not because he doesn’t know how; or even because he doesn’t know about the feature.

-Venkat

Today we met with Zach Zimmerman, the editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily. He seemed very excited about the product we are developing.

Here are some points he made:

-The Stanford Daily has been planning on getting rid of anonymity of comments. Anonymity definitely reduces the quality of comments.

-He believes the viral elements on our site will increase eyeballs to the Daily. “Stanford students would definitely invite their friends to join a conversation.”

Voci.us have 2 key viral elements:
1) When someone starts or joins a conversation, they can invite their friends. And those friends can invite their friends.
2) When someone makes a comment, they have the option of including that comment on their facebook wall.

He pointed out that not all users who arrive at a comment page through viral means would necessarily visit the Daily article before
commenting. So he made the following suggestion: “Whenever someone is prompted to enter a comment page (through viral means), the
corresponding news article page should open up simultaneously with the comment page. This will increase the chance that the article is
read, and will also require less effort by the user.” This was a great piece of advice.

-He said that although the Daily has a good sense of the age of their users (since most are college students), he would love to get more specific demographic data.

-Shared ad revenue was like icing on the cake for him. I made it clear that we want to share a significant portion of ad revenue with our news partners. When I emphasized ‘significant’ (I always emphasize the word so that news partners don’t think I’m taking about 5 percent. I want them to know we mean business), his response was “I don’t even think you need to give away that much. 15-20 percent would be plenty.”

-Towards the end of the meeting he asked me, “Would this cost anything for news sites?”, to which I responded that it would be 100 percent free. He said The Daily would like to be involved once our product was completely developed, and asked me to keep him updated.

-I also asked him how the paper was funded. They have 3 main funding sources:
1) Stanford gives them some money
2) Significant revenue comes from print advertising. Unlike the rest of news industry, print ads remain strong (due to students reading them on campus).
3) Small portion of revenue comes from web ads. They are looking for ways to expand this.

-This meeting was very promising. Clearly The Stanford Daily is different in many ways from non-school based news sites. However, many of his points apply to the news industry as a whole.

-Dan

Several days ago we got in touch with Allen Funk, the President and Publisher of the Daily Herald. Here are some main takeaways and quotes from his email:

-Comments on news site generate additional page views and make site more sticky (keeps visitors on the site longer).

-Not all of the smaller news sites have commenting systems. This is due either to technical reasons or because the news sites do not want to review/monitor the comments.

-“I don’t think many of us are collecting much demographic data. Your ability to provide at least a partial view of that would be very helpful.”

-Social media is the next big area for news organizations in terms of getting the news out. “If you provided an improved method for viral distribution of stories, that might be really good for us.”

-“Shared ad revenue is obviously a nice benefit. That would be great to offer as an additional outcome of the partnership. Besides the dollars, it might go a long ways towards defusing suspicion of your efforts among news organization executives.”

-“In conclusion, if you are trying to create a nationwide clearinghouse for news discussion and comments, it could be a really good idea.”

Yesterday I emailed him back to give him a more elaborate description of the product we are developing (including attachments of the mockups), and we are looking forward to his response.

This past Saturday our team met with the editor-in-chief of the Stanford Review (we also met with the former editor-in-chief and the web development editor earlier in the week). The meetings went well, and they are currently evaluating the possibility of a partnership with us. We will know their decision on Tuesday.

This week we will also be meeting with the editor-in-chief and web development editor of the Stanford daily.

-Dan

Although we test out our site and get feedback from users based on our function of site, we are considering to do some design for the site. In fact, web design is critical for the usability of the site along the working flow of the user function. People will have the first impression of our site by web design in less than 5 seconds. Therefore, simple and clean design is needed.

I looked for design theming template for news site and selected four with which the design style may be suitable for our site. The usual key part of web design is always in details including color, fonts and layout.

Design 1 I chose with blue as background and black as menu fonts with the fonts looks not formal. This design is suitable to convey to idea of freedom, easy-communication and relax.

Design 2 with color system in blue ( dark blue, light blue changed in grey scale), with Serif font is suitable to convey the idea of professional and high quality.

Design 3 with black as main color is used to convey the idea of telling truth and being serious.

Design 4 with white as main color is used to convey the idea of wide range, intenational.

Therefore, more discussions are needed in the team to determine which information we’d like to convey to users through web design.

Xianglai Kong

Dan and I met over  lunch with the CEO and the IT head of the Mountain View Voice (http://mv-voice.com/). We showed them our mockups and explained the concept to them. While they were expressed interest in our social network around news, we also learned the following:

  • They take at least 3 months to make a decision for anything. This is because it requires the approval of so many stakeholders. The fastest they ever made a decision was when a competitor launched a commenting feature. They built a similar commenting features in 3 1/2 weeks.
  • The criteria the IT head uses to make a decision is (1) ease of use – how easy is it to incorporate into everything we already have? how much do I have to work to maintain it?, (2) cost – how does this affect the bottom line?, and (3) quality – is this the best product out there?
  • They don’t want to replace their existing comments. They see a link to our site as an additional feature.
  • They prefer to allow anonymous comments but don’t mind that we require identities.

They liked the following about our service:

  • Social integration: We tie in with their Facebook accounts.
  • Control: Because we don’t ask for their content (like Yahoo does), they don’t loose control over the presentation of their content.
  • Sharing: The sharing features would probably bring more page views to their site.

So the overall take away is: They are very interested and intrigued by our product but they are swamped with so many other projects that commenting isn’t on the top of their  list.

At the end of the meeting, we asked the IT head what the company’s top priority projects were. I was astonished to learn that these projects were all IT related. They needed a redesign of their site, they were replacing their ad system, and there were many other changes to the site in the pipeline. The difficulty was, like a lot of other small newspapers, they were running  a home-brew content management system built in an era before WordPress.

We also asked what the company’s largest problem was. To my surprise (sarcasm), they said the bottom line. The transition from print to the internet had crippled their revenue. Most of their print revenue used to be made from local advertising. Today, local businesses have a myriad of options to advertise. Among these is Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Ads. Newspapers are no longer the place for local business to advertise. They’re just an option.

The opportunities I see here are

  • The major IT headaches for small news publishers that can’t afford large IT departments. This seemed like a hair-on-fire problem from the way the IT head described it. There is definitely a market for tools that make their lives easier.
  • Newspapers’ competition with other local advertisement channels. The demographic information from our social network may make local newspapers more attractive to local advertisers.

After we are able to obtain evidence that our social network can improve a newspaper’s biggest problem–their bottom line–we will have a far more compelling product.

-Venkat

Want to post a comment on a site? Looks, like you have to register!  And don’t forget to provide a password that is at least 8 characters with at least one capitalized letter and some punctuation. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to check your e-mail to active your account. Didn’t get the e-mail? Be sure to check your spam folder.

Why are there so many sites that require registration? When I go to a site that asks me for my e-mail, a username, and a password, I usually get put off by the hassle and leave. Registration raises yet another barrier for an already skeptical user.

This is why, with Voci.us, we are doing away with the concept of registrations. Thanks to Facebook Connect, users can use their Facebook credentials to login to our site. We can then pull their e-mail address, full name, and profile picture automatically. Facebook provides the added benefit of providing an identity to our users.

Many sites have begun to use Facebook Connect. After clicking “Connect with Facebook” on these sites, you can provide a username , click the register button, and you are registered.

Voci.us makes it even simpler. If you have a Facebook account, you are already registered. No need to make a username or anything. The button that normally says “Connect with Facebook” instead reads “Login with Facebook”. If you don’t have a Voci.us account when you first login with Facebook, one is silently created and linked to your Facebook account.

No more thoughts like “oh man, I have to register?”

-Venkat