Building an On-line Community

Carving out a niche

This week I will be sharing a new social platform with you, the platform will be called Amla, and will focus on fitness and health. The platform will attempt to bridge interests of users with different sporting and fitness goals by quantifying their progress into a number. The platform is designed to enable users to be competitive by encouraging them to set, reach and share their fitness or sporting goals.

Competing for a Niche

The platform will allow users to ‘export’ their daily, weekly, monthly or yearly progress to share on Facebook or other platform to increase awareness and allow our users to show the benefits of Amla to others. By having a unique selling proposition Alma believes that sharing this content between competing communities will attract new members who are interested in fitness, health and competition.

Getting Critical Mass

To acquire critical mass the platform will again allow and encourage users to export progress reports to other social media platforms. This makes the uses actions in the community visible to their social circle (or, at least their Facebook friends) who are outside of the Alma community and attract them to the new platform.

Attracting Early Members

The platform will be attracting members with a limited scope initially, and then open up the scope to encourage growth and new members to join. Initially the focus of the website will be on the ‘score’ the user receives each week. As the scope opens up new types of scores will be added for progress in different activities to more accurately represented

Early Adopter Benefits

To provide early adopters with an expectation that the website will be a success, having professional website design is imperative. This combined with a ‘lifetime total’ score which will consist of the total number of points a member has earned using the platform. Early adopters will have a clear advantage simply because they will be able to start stacking up on points earlier than those who start to use the platform later.

Network Effects & Skype

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/Skype_logo.svg

This week we will be looking at a Network Effects and their impacts on services. The types of network effects we will be discussing are direct, indirect, cross-network and local. To further explain and provide an example of where these network effects impact services today we will be using Skype.

Skype was released in August 2003 and is a telecommunications service which allows users to connect with voice and video chat. Skype’s functionality currently extends to instant messages, file transfers and conference calls. Skype offers free calls to other Skype users using an internet connection or paid calls to land line or mobile phone numbers.

Direct

The direct effects of increasing the Skype network is simple. The more Skype users, the more people to call for free. While Skype allows users to make calls to people using landlines or mobile phones, calls which are made to other Skype clients are free. This means that the more friends or family you have using Skype the less you need to pay to stay connected.

Indirect

The indirect effects of Skype are more products which are tailored to, or assist with voice and video communication. Since the increase of Skype users there has been an introduction of Skype (or VOIP) specific telephones. These devices utilize Skype’s free voice and video communication services and are able to replace traditional land line telephones.

Cross-Network

The cross-network effects of Skype is simply a better service. As more users signup and use Skype the advertising and paid call revenue will increase. This will have an effect on all users as Skype is consistently finding new ways to improve the service. An increase of social Skype users will help improve the service for commercial users and vice-versa.

Local

Skype can even have an effect on an individual’s local network. As Skype is often used for both business and recreational purposes, it is likely that they will also adopt use of the service to easily keep in touch with social or business groups.  To summarize Skype is currently leading the way in peer-to-peer communications and with Skype’s growing popularity this is likely to continue in the future.

References

Online Marketing Trends. (2015). The Making of Skype ” Timeline and Competitors. Retrieved from Online Marketing Trends: 

Richter, F. (2013, August 30). Skype Connects up to 70 Million People at the Same Time. Retrieved from Statista:

Lightweight models and cost-effective scalability – Stack Overflow

This week’s blog will be focusing on lightweight models and cost effective scalability. I will be using Stack Overflow as an example because the website follows many of practices expected of a website which has lightweight model and cost effective characteristics. Stack overflow is a website which serves as a platform for users to ask or answer questions and also rate this content. Any user can both ask and answer questions, however, answering a question can result in a gain of reputation points to display. The website is almost entirely run and moderated by the users, they rate the content, flag duplicate questions and report users who engage in either ‘disruptive behaviour’ or show ‘no effort to learn’.

The first practice we are going to look at is viral marketing. Stack Overflow took an interesting approach to marketing, in the sense that it does not actively do any marketing. Despite this Stack Overflow is currently ranked as number 57 on Alexa. There are two reasons for this. The first is ‘word of mouth’ many people find this website useful and share it with their friends. The second is because of Google (or any search engine) and keyword searches. While Stack Overflow marks duplicate questions (and posts a reply to the original or best answer) they do not delete them. These duplicates actually give Stack Overflow extra traffic by multiplying relevant keyword hits in search engines. It’s an interesting method of doing getting to the top of a Google search, but it clearly works.

Stack Overflow is also a great example of a website which scales with demand. The users ask, answer and rate all of the content on the website. The means that as the user base grows, so does the number of moderators and contributors. This also serves as an example of why the user base is more important than the platform. Stack Overflow is a platform where the moderation team and knowledge base grows with the number of users, because the moderation team and knowledge base are the users.

This concept of self-moderation is comparable to the web 2.0 concept of ‘outsourcing wherever it is possible’. The website is outsourcing the function which is most appealing, getting fast and informative responses to programming questions. Because of this Stack Overflow is set to remain the top knowledge base for programmers and developers. With an ever growing user base, and therefore an ever growing moderation team and knowledge base, Stack Overflow is here to stay.

References

Alexa. (2015). stackoverflow.com Alexa. Retrieved 3 27, 2015, from Alexa: Atwoord, J. (2010, November 11). Dr. Stragedupe: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Duplication. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from StackExchange Blog: 

Dropbox – Perpetual Beta

Dropbox is a service that allows users to store files on the cloud and on personal computers, simultaneously. The files automatically synchronise and update allowing the Dropbox folder to act as a shared folder between computers. Dropbox was originally released publicly in 2008. In January of 2015 Dropbox was valued at $10 billion (USD). This week we will be focusing on how Dropbox follows the web 2.0 design pattern, The Perpetual Beta, which is when online services release regular updates and patches instead of big changes at longer intervals.

One of the key characteristics of a Perpetual Beta is releasing early and often. This means that developers should be consistently releasing updates and features as soon as they have been completed instead of releasing one huge collection of fixes every few months (or years). Dropbox publishes their release notes, which clearly reflect the ‘Perpetual Beta’ characteristic.

A perfect example of this can be seen in October 2014 where Dropbox released 6 patches from minor performance enhancements to major compatibility updates for OSX. This characteristic allows Dropbox to keep up with its competitors and remain as a viable option for cloud based storage.

Another characteristic of the Perpetual Beta is to use dynamic tools and languages. While Dropbox has changed its back-end infrastructure it has always used simple and dynamic languages. Initially, Dropbox was primarily written in Python. Python is a great language for web services because it is easy to learn and has a multitude of compatible frameworks designed specifically for web (e.g. Django). Despite all of its advantages Dropbox realised that if they migrated performance critical back-ends to new infrastructure developed with Go they could drastically increase execution speed. Showing their commitment to this characteristic Dropbox had almost completed the migration from python by July 2014.

This migration brings us to the last practice we will be discussing today, engaging users as co-developers. Dropbox did not re-develop the entire back-end of their infrastructure and then release it. They did it slowly, replacing one section at a time and looking at how the change impacted the user base. This enables users to slowly (but thoroughly) test the impact which the changes have on the service.

With their consistent updates, easy to use design and a user base which boasts more than 175 million, Dropbox is poised to remain competitive even with Google launching Google drive and Microsoft launching One Drive. Dropbox has shown that through releasing often, using dynamic languages and engaging their users as co-developers they can continue to grow as a company and as a service.

References
Django. (2015). Overview. Retrieved from django project: 
Dropbox. (2015). Release Notes. Retrieved from Dropbox: 
GoLang. (2015). Try Go. Retrieved from golang:
Hoff, T. (2011, March 14). 6 Lessons From Dropbox – One Million Files Saved Every 15 Minutes. Retrieved from High Scalability: 
Lee, P. (2014, July 1). Open Sourcing Our Go Libraries. Retrieved from Dropbox Tech Blog: 
Mitroff, S. (2014, Feburary 19). OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box: Which cloud storage service is right for you? Retrieved from Cnet: 
p, C. (2013, July 10). Dropbox now boasting 175 million users, wants to synchronize your app data. Retrieved from Phone arena: 
Suba, R. (2015, January 20). Dropbox market value estimate tops $10 bn after getting $250 mn funding from BlackRock. Retrieved from Tech Times: 

Rich user experience – codingground

tutorialspointThis week I will be looking at the web 2.0 application ‘codingground’ which is a perfect example of an online ‘Rich user experience’. ‘codingground’ is a free online programming tool provided by ‘tutorialspoint’. The platform allows users to write, compile, debug (although I wouldn’t recommend it) and run programs, partially or entirely, online. Without even registering, users can access 88 different IDE’s and 12 Terminals for various platforms and systems. Everything from Lua, C++ and even Matlab (MathWorks sells a Matlab IDE for $2,850.00 AUD) is made available to anyone with a web browser that supports html5 and an internet connection. While these were obviously designed to be used in conjunction with ‘tutorialspoint’ free and premium online tutorials there are no restrictions on the use of these IDEs or Terminals.

The ‘codingground’ provides the user with a great combination of online and desktop experiences. By Default the IDE will appear similar to many desktop applications such as Bloodshed Dev-C++. Users have the ability to develop using the same interface as a desktop application with the added bonus of being able to use any machine with an internet connection. This provides the functionality of a desktop application with the mobility of a mobile device. Users also have the ability to compile and run programs through the interface just as they can with desktop based IDEs.

Online ASM IDE
Online ASM IDE

The service also offer users with the ability to directly access external source control services which is a great example of how ‘codingground’ matched the technology usage to the requirements. There is built-in functionality allowing users to pull their projects from cloud services including Dropbox, Github, Google Drive and One Drive. These projects can be saved directly back onto the users cloud storage giving the user full control over where their project is saved. Users are also able to upload and download projects or files directly from their computers.

The ‘codingground’ was obviously designed with usability and simplicity in mind. The application does not have additions like Microsoft’s ‘IntelliSense’ (which will warn the user of error in their code before they have compiled it). While compilation errors will still be descriptive enough to find code faults (similar to some IDE’s such as vanilla Bloodshed Dev-C++) new users will not be overwhelmed with a multitude of errors every time they write a line of code. The exemption of this type of feature is also likely to prevent new programmers from becoming reliant on tools such as these.

A sample of the available IDEs
A sample of the available IDEs

Despite a few limitations ‘codingground’ remains to be fantastic example of a ‘Rich user experience’. The vast number of different IDEs is impressive and allowing users to access these tools without registration or limitations makes ‘codingground’ a great web 2.0 application. I am excited to see how this website and other online IDE platforms will develop into the future.

References

BloodshedSoftware. (2015). Dev Cpp. Retrieved from Bloodshed Software MathsWorks. (2015). MathWorks Store. Retrieved from MathWorks Microsoft. (2015). Using IntelliSense. Retrieved from Microsoft Developer Network tutorialspoint. (2015). codingground. Retrieved from codingground.

tutorialspoint (2015). tutorialspoint Logo. Retrieved from http://www.tutorialspoint.com/images/logo.png

Data is the new ‘Intel Inside’ – Steam

Steam-Logo

Steam is a digital distribution platform based entirely online. Developed by Valve software and released in September 2003 Steam provides millions of users around the world with a virtual store, social networking, automatic updates, cloud saving and a free VOIP service. While Steam was initially developed to provide updates to users who had purchased games developed by Valve, by 2005 other third-party games were being sold on Steam.

In 2012 the Steam Workshop and Steam Greenlight were released. The Steam Workshop allows users to create and share modified game content such as new maps or skins, while Steam Greenlight allows small game development companies to submit their game to be tested. If a game is well received on Steam Greenlight it will be added to the Steam store and sold.

Although Steam is a platform which is based entirely online it is comparable to other platforms such as Amazon an eBay.

Steam eBay Amazon
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Steam’s strength comes from its constant updates which are making it easier for users to create, share, buy and sell their custom content. Users can also rate and comment on all pre-existing content.

Steam has managed to encourage and thrive on both explicit and implicit user participation. The most obvious being the ability to create video games or modifications for existing products. Steam also allows users to rate any content which they have purchased or used and actively encourage this with Steam Greenlight. The users decide if the games which appear on Steam Greenlight are good enough to be sold on the Steam Store.

The passive participation comes from simply buying and playing games. Steam will recommend games based on your previous purchases and on the purchases of your friends. This data is a valuable marketing tool as it allows Steam to recommend games based on the user’s personal interest.

Steam currently dominates the online games market and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future. With constant additions to the platform like Workshop and Steam Greenlight which explicitly encourage and reward users for creating and testing content, Steam is likely to remain competitive for years to come.

References

CDOXON. (2013, Feburary 13). eBay vs Amazon. Retrieved from cdixon

Valve. (2015). About Steam Workshop. Retrieved from Steam Community

Valve. (2015). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from Steampowered http://www.steampowered.com/steamworks/FAQ.php

Valve. (2015). Valve Legal Info. Retrieved from Valvesoftware

Valve. (2015). What is steam greenlight? Retrieved from Steamcommnity

Wikipedia. (2015). Amazon.com. Retrieved from Wikipedia

Wikipedia. (2015). eBay. Retrieved from Wikipedia

Wikipedia. (2015). Steam. Retrieved from Wikipedia

Valve. (2015). The Steam Logo. Retrieved from http://gamingtrend.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Steam-Logo.jpg