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Active Product Development

69 Posts authored by: JeremyGThomas

Coming Soon.

Posted by JeremyGThomas Feb 20, 2009

Based on what our analytics tools tell us, many of you go straight to what we call our "event details" pages on active.com.  These pages are designed to showcase information about, say, a 10k, to help you decide if you want to register or not (check out the event details page for the Niantic Bay 10K, for example).

 

We think there's a lot that can be improved about this page.  Namely A) it's design, B) the speed at which it loads, and C) its lack of focus on, well, you.  So we're starting into a sequence of updates that will spice things up bit.  Here's a preview of what's coming in the first update.

 

 

It's got a completely re-vamped look and feel.  We've also modified the reviews system, making it so people who review an event also rate it on a scale of 1 - 5 (using our fancy stars). 

 

Future releases will include Youtube and Flickr integration as well as a host of other goodies.  But look for this update in the next month or so!

1,870 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: active, product_development, event_details

We recently rolled out a private Beta for our new Search solution.  Not only is it a good functional test for us, we're also experimenting with Amazon EC2 and S3 for hosting and data storage.  And from what I've seen so far I'm impressed with Amazon and the approach they've taken to cloud computing. 

 

Amazon has made it dead easy to provision new servers.  They've created a collection of webservices to integrate to for starting and stopping instances.  It seemed odd to me, at first, that I'd have to manage my infrastructure through SOAP calls.  But client-side tools like Elasticfox and now Amazon's own AWS Console make it easy to manage.  There's also a good selection of Windows and various Linux flavors to choose from when setting up servers (we're running mostly Ubuntu 8.1.0 in Labs).

 

We wanted to make our Labs infrastructure extensible so we can new pilot applications quickly, regardless of platform.  To do this we're setting an Apache server on an EC2 Ubuntu host that routes http://labs.active.com to the appropriate app.  Requests to the base URL will be sent to a CMS/wiki that describes the various things we're working on.  Search, which currently resides in the root, will soon be available at http://labs.active.com/search.  Any future pilot we rollout will be available, then, at http://labs.active.com/{pilot-name}.

 

We're also setting up "global" memcached and MySQL servers, so that any application deployed to labs might benefit from these services (we love memcached by the way). 

 

Each pilot application will be responsible for load balancing its requests.  The Search application uses HA proxy running on a dedicated Ubuntu server to route requests to a collection of Apache instances running mod_rails distributed across Ubuntu "workers" (we can scale horizontally here, pending load, by adding more workers).

 

So far (and it's been about 1.5 months) we haven't had any Amazon-caused downtime.  Personally, I think this is a game changer.

2,537 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: cloud_computing, amazon, ec2, infrastructure, labs

We now have over 100 users in our Search Beta, and the feedback we've received so far has been positive. One user has asked:

 

"I would love to see something interactive where I could quickly access different multimedia from past events. It wouldn't necessarily be official race photos (I'd actually prefer that they weren't) but even links to a search results page for the event's name in Flickr or YouTube would be great. Even a search OUTSIDE the active network, bringing me to different bloggers who have posted about the events or written race reports from past events would be great to see."

 

I couldn't agree more.  There's a ton of interesting, relevant content out there in the cloud that would add value to search.  We're working now to implement this feature, pulling in photos from flickr, videos from youtube, tweets from twitter and blog posts from technorati (a blog search engine).

 

Sign up for access to our Search Beta at http://labs.active.com/users/new using the invite code "blogsearchinvite".

 

update: we've just rolled out integration to Twitter, Flickr and Youtube!

1,750 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: beta, active, search, product_development

We've been listening to our users, like bikehugger, who asks "Possibly not enough coffee, but has anyone else just stared at Active.com wondering how to register for an event?" (http://twitter.com/bikehugger/statuses/998940596).  Our users want to a) find the events to register for and b) run through a no-hassle registration process.

 

Here we're addressing "a" - making it easier to find stuff to do.

 

So we've been working to make search a bit easier and a bit more relevant.  I'm happy to invite you to our highly experimental, closed search beta.  The first 100 users can sign-up at http://labs.active.com/users/new, using the invite code "blogsearchinvite".  

 

Watch this screencast to get a better idea of where we're headed.

2,774 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: video, beta, search, product_development, invite

Dailymile Launches

Posted by JeremyGThomas Dec 18, 2008

Congrats to Ben Weiner and Kelly Korevec for the public launch of dailymile.com.  I admire the way dailymile focuses on building user communities around events.  The UI is easy to use and intuitive, and they've amassed a good userbase while in private beta.  I especially like the feature where users can submit events, and this is something we're contemplating doing here at Active too.

 

You can read about their launch here.

 

update: turns out we have an older feature that allows users to submit events here.

2,405 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: endurance, competition, dailymile

Shout out to WePlay

Posted by JeremyGThomas Dec 9, 2008

Our friends over at WePlay posted a great video about Agile standup meetings the other day.

 

 

We're particularly impressed by their guest star!  Check out the blog post here.

1,651 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: competition, agile, product_development

Scaling results.active.com

Posted by JeremyGThomas Nov 10, 2008

results.active.com is our hub for communicating race results to people.  We train event timers on how to use the backend portion of the system, and after a given race is completed the timers upload results, making them available to the world at large. 

 

We typically see a lot of traffic on results.active.com after large events, such as the Marine Corps Marathon or the Chicago Marathon.  And to be fair, results.active.com hasn't had an exemplary performance record when it comes to handling the volume spikes we get on the Monday after major events.

 

We've just released a major update to results.active.com adding 3X the scalability we had before.  We've also made tweaks to the architecture so that we can add additional servers to the load-balancer should we get any unanticipated increases in volume.

 

So if you see any issues with site responsiveness please let me know (here on this blog) and I'll look to it personally and immediately.

1,735 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: development, speed, results, scalability

Linking Events

Posted by JeremyGThomas Oct 28, 2008

Predominantly people use our site to find events to participate in.  Events like the  or the Turkey Trot in Cartersville, GA.  We have over 300,000 relevant events in our system.  And by relevant I mean things that have recently happened or will be happening in the near future.  Past events are archived and are a lot harder to find in our system, but we're working to fix this.

 

For example, the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon happens every year.  Yet if you search through our system you'll only find next year's event (and possibly last year's).  But what did people say about the event in 2004?  Was it well run by the event organizer?  What was the weather like?

 

Linking data from past events is one of the projects we're working on in our Directory Initiative.  You'll be able to understand what people have said about previous occurrences of an event and can make a better decision about whether or not you'll participate this year.  

 

Oh yeah and we're also working to make our event details pages load faster.  Right now we receive a YSlow score of 'F', which we're not proud of.  But I can say things are in the works in our prototype environment that will give us a better score.  Changes will be rolled out incrementally, as we're touching several areas to "lighten the payload".

1,565 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: development, speed, product_development, event_details

It's all about the Core

Posted by JeremyGThomas Oct 21, 2008

On the Product Development side here at Active we haven't done a great job of communicating with our audience.  We're hoping to change that now. 

 

I'm a Development Manager with the Participants side of the Active Media Properties (AMP), the team responsible for www.active.com, results.active.com and community.active.com (we also have a few services/widgets we develop and support behind the scenes).  We are distributed, with some people working from China, others in Michigan and even others in LA.  But the bulk of us work out of the San Diego office

 

I worked for a long while as a Management Consultant implementing waterfall-based projects with various Fortune 1000 companies.  Consulting companies love waterfall.  Changes in scope = more dollars in the pocket.  But I've always been troubled by the inefficiencies that are inherent to waterfall and to the disconnectedness it brings to the parties involved in delivering a project.  So I was keen to implement Agile software development with my team here.  Agile is hard with remote resources I quickly discovered.  But I digress. 

 

But then came our "Directory Initiative".  In simple terms, we use the word "Directory" to describe search.active.com and the mechanism through which we submit information to it.  Active is a network (my company is actually called "The Active Network"), and we are a conglomerate having acquired multiple companies throughout the years.  Each of these companies have interesting artifacts (or "nouns"), such as classes, campgrounds, marathons, training plans etc., and search.active.com aggregates these making them discoverable to our consumers.

 

Directory is the core of what we do here within AMP.  And we've recently launched a major program, the "Directory Initiative", to enhance and harden those features on our properties that are related to it.  To do this we've split the team into smaller teams and have aligned each with a Product Manager.  Although we've only just begun, organizing our resources in this way has already paid off (at least with internal demos).  So, while we may not be fully Agile, the hybrid model we've adopted is promising. 

 

More to come.

1,922 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: development, directory, agile, product_development
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