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February 21 2014

January 21 2014

10 Programming Languages You Should Learn in 2014
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The tech sector is booming. If you've used a smartphone or logged on to a computer at least once in the last few years, you've probably noticed this.

As a result, coding skills are in high demand, with programming jobs paying significantly more than the average position. Even beyond the tech world, an understanding of at least one programming language makes an impressive addition to any resumé.

The in-vogue languages vary by employment sector. Financial and enterprise systems need to perform complicated functions and remain highly organized, requiring languages like Java and C#. Media- and design-related webpages and software will require dynamic, versatile and functional languages with minimal code, such as Ruby, PHP, JavaScript and Objective-C Read more...

More about Apps, Software, Web Development, Features, and Learning
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November 22 2013

Ask a Dev: Can I Turn a Responsive Website Into an App?
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The latest installment in our Ask a Dev series explains some methods that developers can use to translate their responsive websites into independent apps.

Clay Benson, a web director at Mutual Mobile, says that developers can use Apache Cordova or PhoneGap to package web code and deploy it to the app stores.

However, while these tools are simple, they do require sites to be in HTML, CSS or Javascript. That means that websites that use other web protocols will have to be re-architected before they can be deployed to the app store.

In the video above, Benson also discusses how cross-platform frameworks can be a substitute for media- or content-heavy applications. He says that the effectiveness of the frameworks will depend on how the applications are architected and suggests testing performance with an emulator. Read more...

More about Web Development, Responsive Web Design, Tech, Apps Software, and Dev Design

November 08 2013

Ask a Dev: Do Leaner Designs Help Web Apps Load Faster?
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Web applications need to look great and perform well, but how do web developers strike a balance between form and function?

For the latest installment in our Ask a Dev series, web developer George Henderson explains why leaner designs increase web apps performance.

Simpler designs call for fewer elements, such as box shadows and gradients, which could leads to faster page rendering and scrolling, he says.

"Leaner designs can often require less requests and images to be downloaded from the server," he adds. "Any time you can reduce the amount of back-and-forth for the server, that's going to be more performant and increase page-load speeds." Read more...

More about Web Development, Web Apps, Web Design, Html5, and Tech

October 28 2013

Ask a Dev: How Do Web-Based Frameworks Perform in Real-World Apps?
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You've asked our iOS and Android experts a slew of mobile questions. Now, our web developers are ready to tackle all your inquiries.

The latest video in our Ask a Dev series is our first edition dedicated to web development.

In the video above, web developer Jake Riesterer explained how web-based technology frameworks perform in real-world applications.

"In general, for most of the apps that you're building, web actually holds up quite well, and it's getting a lot better," Riesterer said. "Software and hardware are both advancing at a very rapid rate." Read more...

More about Developers, Web Development, Tech, Dev Design, and Ask A Dev

March 16 2012

Best Practices For Writing For Online Readers

typewriter.jpgI have less than 30 seconds to capture your attention with this post, so here goes: if you read some, most or all of the next 750 words or so, you will know how to write Web copy that is more useful to readers of your blog or Web site.

As we reported yesterday visual content is continuing its steady rise in dominance over written content. But that doesn't mean we should give up on good writing: if anything, it means we need to think harder about how we write for online readers.

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Online Readers Are Different

Seems pretty obvious, right? But the fact is, many of us still write the same way online as we do for books, magazine articles and other long-form and traditional print mediums. Research hightighted in books like Reading In The Brain shows that online readers use vastly different sections of the brain than offline readers. In short, the brain is conditioned to skip around when online reading, as clicking on a link, for example, will reward the brain with new images and content.

With offline readers, we can take our time and develop points with long blocks of text and narrative, and with fewer visual elements. Offline reading rewards the brain that slips into a state of deeper concentration.

In Plain English, Please

shutterstock_eye.jpgYour writing - offline or online - is effective when readers take away your message. Writing effectively online doesn't mean that every reader reads every single word that you write (and even if they done, Dale's Cone of Experience argues they'll ownly remember 10% of what they read). It means they can quickly and efficiently get the information that is most important to them and move on.

People who read our blog posts come from all over, and from a wide range of backgrounds. The reason they choose to read a particular post will vary from reader to reader. Your job as the writer is to make sure they can find the information that is most important to them and move on to using that information.

Best Practices

I've spent a good portion of the past two years researching reading habits of online readers and have been sharing that research with writers, bloggers and journalists, as I did during my presentation at BlogWorld East last May and as I continue to do with my students at the college where I teach.

I can talk for hours on the subject, but if asked for the most effective ways to get online readers to read what you write, I would offer these strategies as the most important, which are backed up by eye-track studies as being an effective way to get your message across to online readers:


  1. Write compelling but clear headlines: Don't get cute. Online and in print, the headline is almost always the first thing readers look at. Make sure it is clear and gives a good idea of what the post is about, while still leaving the reader wanting more.

  2. Write in the active voice: Effective online writing is all about getting to the point, and on a line-by-line basis, the most effective way to do that is to use the active voice, which naturally lends a sense of urgency to your writing. The easiest way to do that is to start each sentence with the subject, immediately follow that with a strong, active verb, and then follow that with the direct object. Avoid adverbs: they're a telling sign that you chose the wrong verb.

  3. Online writing is visual: Long, dense paragraphs turn off online readers. Create white space in your copy by keeping paragraphs short and using bulleted lists when appropriate. Use bold text to accent key information and use block or pull quotes to draw readers into the copy.

  4. One main idea per sentence: Keep sentences on point. Avoid multiple clauses and phrases, and lots of information stops and commas. Make sure each sentence has one idea, and not much more than that.

  5. No sentence without a fact: Every line you write needs to move the story forward. If a sentence doesn't have a fact, cut it.


How long should it be?

I hate this question and always offer a smart-aleck answer: as long as it needs to be. If every sentence has a main idea and no sentence is without a fact, keep going. I do, however, recommend the 3-2-1 formula. For every 1,000 or so words that you write in an online article or blog post, be sure to include:


  • Three subheads: Subheads are bold, one-line headlines that break up long chunks of text and organize information. Keep the same headline-writing rules in mind when you write subheads.

  • Two links: Links offer additional information for readers who want to go deeper, and they also give your post authenticity and transparency about where you information came from without getting into long, narrative attributions.

  • One graphical element: A photo, a chart or anything else visual helps readers. Whatever you use, make sure it advances the story: don't just put a photo in the post for the sake of posting a photo.

Discuss


January 05 2012

How to Access the Best New Features in Google Analytics

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.

More About: contributor, features, Google, google analytics, Tech, Web Development

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January 04 2012

December 30 2011

September 12 2011

Samsung’s $100,000 Challenge to Devs: Connect Our TVs to Other Screens


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


7 Best Practices for Improving Your Website’s Usability


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.

Series Supported by join.me

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.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Kontrec

More About: web design, Web Design Usability Series


September 07 2011

New York Times & WNYC Launch SchoolBook to Foster Education Community


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

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September 05 2011

Could Google Fast Flip Have Survived on Tablets?


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.

More About: google fast flip, google labs

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July 28 2011

15 Tools to Help Speed Up Your Website

speedometer-photo.jpgThe speed at which a Website loads is paramount to maintaining a positive user experience and, as we learned last year, has a direct impact on the site's organic search rankings on Google.

The search giant's recent beta launch of its Page Speed Service gives us the latest in a long line of products and tools designed to help site owners boost page load speed. In what is by no means a comprehensive list, we've outlined a few such tools worth checking out.

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First, Measure Your Site's Speed

The first step toward speeding up your site's load time is to determine what that load time is. What you experience loading the site may be different than somebody on a different Internet connection, using a different browser or in a different physical location. There are quite a few tools out there for page load speed testing.

Pingdom

Pingdom is a site that tests page load time and breaks down how long it takes for every script, CSS file and media asset to load. You can use the resulting chart to make decisions about things like whether to consolidate your CSS files or whether a content delivery network (CDN) might help deliver images faster.

In addition to page load time, Pingdom lets you test your DNS settings for issues and perform a ping or traceroute to test network connectivity to your server.

YSlow

Yahoo's YSlow has been around for a few years but it's no less useful today, even with the arrival of several new competitors on the market. YSlow, which is available as a browser plugin for Firefox and Chrome, clocks page load time and then provides a detailed report card, complete with letter-based grades.

Unlike some other tools of this nature, YSlow goes the extra mile by offering specific, actionable tips about how to improve page load time. Their Best Practices for Speeding Up Your Website is a worthwhile read for any Webmaster or site owner, regardless of whether or not you use Yahoo's tools.

Google Page Speed

Google has been incresingly fixated on speed as of lately, both in its own products (see Chrome and Google Instant) and the Web at large, having announced last year that site speed now plays a role in organic search rankings.

Before releasing a few tools designed to actually speed up your site (more on that below), Google put out its own answer to Yahoo's YSlow called Page Speed. It's available as a browser extension and also a Web-based test. It's pretty similar to YSlow in that it returns a series of specific action items that, if undertaken, would improve a site's load time. It ranks those suggestions by priority, which is helpful in assessing what to tackle first.

Improve Your Site's Load Time

Once you have an idea of how much improvement is needed, you can begin implementing the right solution. Inevitably, some of the necessary changes will require some manual coding, but there are a few turnkey tools that will help.

Google's mod_pagespeed and Page Speed Service

In addition to its site speed measurement tools, Google offers a few ways to actually do something about your sluggish Website. The first is mod_pagespeed, a module for Apache that rewrites the HTML, JavaScript, CSS and image assets on a page and serves them to visitors more efficiently. More recently, Google introduced Page Speed Service, which achieves the same thing through DNS changes. Google may charge for this service in the future, but for now the beta is free.

Other Content Delivery Networks

One of the most effective ways to boost a site's load time is to deliver its static elements over a content delivery network (CDN). There are many CDN's available at different price points.

Some of the better known commercial CDN's include Akamai, Limelight Networks, BitGravity. Here at ReadWriteWeb we use MaxCDN, which is a relatively affordable solution. CloudFlare is a product that specializes in Website security but has content delivery and site speed enhancement features built in. Amazon Web Services customers might want to look into Amazon CloudFront.

Minify and Merge Your Code For Faster Load Time

Another common culprit that drags down a Website's loading speed is code that hasn't been consolidated, especially CSS and JavaScript. While you could manually remove whitespace from the code and consolidate the number of external files, there are a few automated tools to help make it easier.

MinifyJavaScript is a simple, Web-based tool for compressing JavaScript right in the browser. Similarly, this site will do the same thing for JavaScript and CSS using Yahoo's YUI Compressor.

Minify is a PHP-based tool that developers can use to automatically compress and consolidate external scripts and stylesheets. There's also a Wordpress plugin for it.


Photo courtesy of Flicker user Nathan E. Photography


Discuss


July 19 2011

“Music as a Service” Platform Makes Licensing Easy


Boutique music licensing agency Audiosocket is launching a new service that will make it easier for content creators to get access to music legally.

Audiosocket has just unveiled Music as a Service, a platform that can be plugged into third-party photo- and video-sharing services, gaming platforms, digital and ad agencies, and social networks. Users of those services can access the agency’s catalog of more than 33,000 songs for use in their projects.

Audiosocket tells us that it has signed “several major partnerships” with companies planning to use Music as a Service, but declined to reveal any specifics. However, we do know that Audiosocket’s API is open and available to developers (via its website), so any platform that wants to integrate Music as a Service can do so (after being approved by Audiosocket). Partners stand to gain 10% to 50% of revenues generated via music licenses, depending on scale.

We can see this platform being a boon to content creators on bigger platforms — much like YouTube integrating Creative Commons video into its video editor. We can also see it gaining more revenue and recognition for artists across platforms, as their music will be easily available to a wider variety of customers.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, shulz

More About: api, audiosocket, licensing, music, music licensing

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July 18 2011

MuteMath Releases New Track Via Interactive Audio/Visual Remix Board


Each Monday, Mashable highlights an exclusive new video or song. Check out all our Music Monday picks.

Watching a music video is usually a passive experience. But this is not the case with a new vid/art project from New Orleans-based MuteMath. The band has created an interactive video mixer to introduce “Odd Soul,” the first song on its upcoming third album, also titled Odd Soul.

The mixer, dubbed “Visual Stems,” features six different videos that comprise parts of the song: drums, guitars, bass, vocals, synth and BG vocals. Users can mute various sections of the song (a cool tool for aspiring musicians, as you can listen to a certain part of the song all by your lonesome), check out solos and change the volume levels of each of the six videos. There are two versions of the project: one for up-to-date browsers featuring six separate vids, and one for slower browsers boasting four videos (with two parts crammed into one video).

The project was created in collaboration with Teleprompt Records, and was brought to fruition by graphic designer Andrew Le.

MuteMath is no stranger to inventive music videos. Back in 2007, it created a video for the song “Typical” during which the jam was played backwards.

We asked the band members if they felt any pressure to come up with increasingly elaborate videos over the years — given their first viral foray into video-making, and the recent influx of interactive, unconventional music videos (see: “The Wilderness Downtown,” “3 Dreams in Black,” “Back From Kathmandu,” etc).

“It’s not really pressure as much as just getting bored with releasing music the same way every time,” lead vocalist and keyboardist Paul Meany told us. “We find ourselves on ‘what if’ rabbit trails a lot. Someone will start an idea ‘What if we…’ And then one of us will answer, ‘but then what if it…’ Until we keep pushing the idea into something that is obscenely impossible, and then we go back a few ‘what if’s’ and there’s the idea we usually go with.”

The “Visual Stems” project is certainly a fun way to engage with the band’s new single — if you want to listen to the unencumbered version, we’ve embedded it above — but it’s more of a toy than a real remix board. However, the band is also launching a remix contest in which fans can download the song stems and give them a real makeover, so we can see the project being a good starting point for aspiring remix artists.

More About: music, music monday, mutemath, remix, video

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July 16 2011

Discovered a New Band? Find Out Which Songs To Check Out First With GoRankem


The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: GoRankem

Quick Pitch: GoRankem is a crowdsourced ratings site that helps users discover new music, complete with suggestions for which songs to listen to first.

Genius Idea: A cheat sheet for music discovery.


When checking out a new band, the first album that you listen to can have a huge effect on your opinions from there on out. You might stumble upon a musician’s best song first, allowing you to forgive any artistic oversights said musician may later fall prey to. Or, you know, you might be the victim of that Western movie-themed solo album that the bassist decided to bust out in the off-season.

GoRankem aims to help music lovers wade through the morass of tunes out there, so as to get right to the good stuff (according to fans, at least) at the get-go.

“The inspiration dates back to my high school days when I was trying to embrace a band like Widespread Panic — loved what I was hearing, but their monster catalog was just too damn overwhelming,” says founder Adam Wexler. “All I wanted was a cheat sheet so I could figure out which songs to check out in the ideal order.”

To cure this ill, Wexler launched GoRankem at Digital Music Forum East in New York City. Wexler has basically bootstrapped the project, raising a chunk of cash via Kickstarter. He has yet to try to monetize the site.

Still, we can see Wexler capitalizing on some kind of affiliate program, garnering money for albums and songs sold through the site, because GoRankem is actually pretty useful. Create an account, and start clicking around. Search for a specific artist (via its 500,000-artist catalogue courtesy of MusicBrainz) and you’ll be presented with a list of their songs (which you can order by song, album or year) that you can drag and drop in order of quality. You can rank between five and 20 songs per artist.

After rating, you give yourself a “fanstanding” — or a ranking of how big a fan you are — between one and 10. The average fanstanding of raters of a band is supposed to indicate the accuracy of the rating (although we don’t know why a “one” would bother ordering songs). You can then share your rankings via Facebook and Twitter.

Of course, there’s all kinds of game-playing aspects involved: People can “rec” your profile if they think you have good taste, and you get badges for sharing, etc. However, all those aspects seem kind of arbitrary. The simple, cool root here is that one can get crowdsourced recommendations based on specific songs. Yes, you may not agree with the verdict, but if you’re, say, a new Pulp fan and you’re looking at a giant discography, it’s good to get some guidance on where to start.

One aspect that this site notably lacks is some kind of music player, a failing that it shares with fellow music-ranking site, MusicGrid.me. Adding even 30-second clips to the site would make it a much more useful tool, and users wouldn’t have to navigate away to check out new tunes.

How do you find new music? Would you take the word of the crowdsourced masses?

Image courtesy of Flickr, Julia Folsom


Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark


Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: gorankem, music, startup

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July 15 2011

Spin With Stephen Coates of The Real Tuesday Weld in Mashable’s Turntable.fm Room


Hey, you, stop drooling on your desk. We know that it’s Friday, and you’re zombified, but Mashable‘s got the remedy in the form of tunes. Stephen Coates of The Real Tuesday Weld is spinning in our Turntable.fm room and we’re fixing to chair dance.

Last week, Mashable teamed up with the MuseBox to host musician Gavin Friday in our joint Summer Fridays Turtable.fm room. Friday spun some awesome tunes, and we even had English author (and Turntable addict) Neil Gaiman drop in. The place was busting at its digital seams.

Today, Coates will be hitting the decks between promoting his new album The Last Werewolf (appropriately, it’s supposed to be a full moon tonight). The disc is the soundtrack to a book by the same name, written by Glen Duncan.

All the action starts here at 4 p.m. ET, so start queuing up those tracks!

More About: musebox, music, Stephen Coates, The Real Tuesday Weld, turntable.fm

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