We've been hiring like crazy here and have had to move some furniture out of the way to open up space for new folks. I took this as an opportunity to improve the work environment. Previously, our setup looked much like this:
We tore down those cube walls and assigned teams to sit together in pods of four. Engineers, QA and Product Manager are all mixed in together. Here's the result:
The environment is much more open and collaborative. And, perhaps counterintuitively, it's quieter. I suppose folks are more aware of each other and keep their voices down as a result.
At 1:30 PM PST on 2 March, 2010 we flipped the switch and started serving www.active.com through Akamai. We then watched our average load time and bandwidth consumption stats decrease as the DNS change propogated across the world. The end result has been significant. Below are just some of the improvements we've noticed.
Active.com homepage load time reduced from 6 seconds to less than 1 second
Community homepage load time reduced to an average of 2 seconds
Datacenter bandwidth consumption reduced by at least 30%
Concurrent sessions on our webservers reduced by 45%
The update to active.com last week brought with it a significant improvement in load time and page size. We met last month to determine how we could give the site a bit more zip and came up with a solid list of about 8 items. One of those items, removal of VIEWSTATE, was included in our latest update. VIEWSTATE is a variable used in ASP.NET to make HTTP, a stateless protocol, act like a stateful one. Most of the pages on active.com, however, dont require state, making VIEWSTATE extraneous. And on average VIEWSTATE added an additional 50 to 150 KB to page sizes to the site.
In our latest release we turned VIEWSTATE off. Data shows us that the site is about 23% faster and, with an average page size reduction of 27%, well lower consumed bandwidth out of our production data center by about 500 to 800 GB/month.
I’d like to address feedback we’re received about active.com from our uservoice forum and Twitter. I know I’ve written a few posts here already but thought it appropriate to take the time to introduce myself before diving in. I’m the Director of Product Development for what we internally call “Web Properties”. This includes half of www.active.com, results.active.com, search.active.com, community.active.com, coolrunning.com, sportspower.com, laxpower.com, developer.active.com and a slew of services that support these products. My job is to oversee a team of developers and quality assurance engineers administratively and architecturally. My team and I work closely with Product Management who’s job it is to prioritize features and bugs and communicate important information with the rest of the company. I came on board in February, 2008 with a background as an Enterprise 2.0 guy (I co-authored this book) and Management and Technology consultant where I talked to large companies about how best to leverage social media (Web 2.0).
In 2006 a bunch of smart people (Tim O’Reilly, Martin Fowler, John Musser from Programmableweb) met to define attributes of Web 2.0, and these attributes highlight a positive mental shift in the approach to developing web-based products. The first of the six attributes they identified was “Do one thing well”; stay single-purposed. Looking at the current active.com homepage it’s hard to tell what we’re trying to get you to do. We have information about events. We also have links to articles and blog posts produced by our Content team. And we have ads (gotta pay the bills somehow). We have a lot of purposes manifested on that page.
I have a passion for Web 2.0 and believe firmly that web properties should focus on you, the consumer. The fourth attribute the group defined was “Encourage participation”. To-date we haven’t always done a good job there. We have a lot of very interesting information that could help runners discover other runners – to make you want to connect with other like-minded athletes - but we’re not exploiting the data to that end…yet. We do have a strong Community team that oversees community.active.com where it is easy to participate. But we haven’t presented a clear path for you to understand that this option is available to you after you’ve registered for an event or when you’re planning your events for the year.
Web 2.0 preaches “Honest voice over Corporate speak”, and in following this spirit I wanted to address some of the feedback we’ve received over the past few months. We do get a lot of positive feedback, such as this "@activenetwork love active.com and use it for the races i sign up for. any opinion on my idea for sunblock+running? http://twurl.nl/wrws3h", and our page view metrics seem to indicate that people like using our site. But here are some not so positive things people have said.
“Pardon me but your site is the most ridiuculous site I have ever used. It is not only confusing, it is difficult to navigate. Please hire a pro to re-organize the site, otherwise we "Active" people will be forced to use a crappy monopoly like ticketmaster to preregister for events.”
This is fair, in part, as we’re not giving you clear direction as to what we want you do to on our site. Regarding the half of www.active.com that I oversee technically, we’re working to make navigation more intuitive and consolidate the site’s purpose to make things much clearer for you. We’ll be launching the redesign in Beta in the next few months and will be looking for user feedback at that time.
We’re also working on a new registration platform (the part of the site I don’t oversee) that will improve user experience significantly when it comes to race registration. That product isn’t scheduled to be released for several months, but I’m excited about what I’ve seen so far.
“you send out unwanted e-mails and then your unsubscribe link doesn't work so you tell people they can write to an address to unsubscribe. I don't think so. Fix your link!!!!”
Our unsubscribe links do work, but in most cases only unsubscribe you from that specific newsletter. Generally speaking, unsubscribing to newsletters is a complaint we receive often, and I understand how this can be frustrating. Soon we will be releasing a new page on www.active.com where you can view all of our newsletters, view those you’ve been subscribed to, and either A) opt-in to more or B) unsubscribe from each.
We know that search.active.com is far from perfect, and we set out at the beginning of the year to deliver a significantly enhanced search experience on active.com. While still in early alpha, we’re expecting to unveil the new search.active.com in Q4, and will reach out to a handful of you when we release our closed Beta for feedback.
When you sign up for a race you have the option to opt-in to Active Advantage – a program that provides discounts on race registration and other products. And that program costs $59.95 annually. To be fair, the “opt-in” checkbox used to be automatically checked (a year or so ago, so it was an “opt-out” checkbox), and we received a lot of complaints like this one. But that’s no longer the case, and you have to check the box to be signed up. Regardless, if you think you were erroneously signed up for Active Advantage, firstname.lastname@example.org can always help you out.
I’m excited about how far active.com has come, and for where we will be in the near future. We have a bunch of new features and enhancements (such as improved page load times) in development now that I, as a Web 2.0 enthusiast, find enticing. More to come on these enhancements as they become available.