apps

Rise of the App Economy

As a technical architect and a start-up enthusiast, part of my work is consulting organizations on how to go about implementing and monetizing their ideas. The past decade’s experience of working in this field, as well as having successfully built the product and development teams of two start-ups (which secured VC fundings) ensures that a lot of people are willing to share their ideas so that I can advise them on the implementation.

Each year has its set of trends. These trends become apparent when people read about them in TechCrunch / Mashable and then integrate them somehow in their plans. In 2014, Kleiner Perkins’ analyst, Mary Meeker announced that the Education and Healthcare industries are the ones to watch out for. A lot of individuals started thinking and re-shaping their ideas along those lines. Similarly, since 2013, the famous analyst has been saying that mobile Apps are going to dominate the way consumers are going to engage with the brand.

I am seeing more start-ups gravitate towards this concept every year. Everybody who has a product, wants to also have their apps in the app stores (both Apple’s and Google’s). Back in 2000, when the DotCom Boom was apparent, everybody wanted to have their own site. Currently, we are definitely seeing the App Boom, where not only do entrepreneurs want to have their apps, but also individual celebrities are launching their own apps.

App Development can be a costly affair, with native apps costing as high as 2000 to 3000 USD to develop for the most basic apps. Add multiple platforms (iOS, Android, Win8) to the mix and the development costs surge.

This is where app template marketplaces like this website help tremendously. The core functionality is already in place, what has to be created is the creatives and voila, a custom app is read! Not only is this approach a faster method, but also it is extremely profitable. With the app economy maturing, we are seeing retail consumers using their handheld devices more than television sets!

This means that the media consumption is changing, thus an app is slowly eating away at TV’s timeshare. With tablets growing at 80% Year on Year, I’d say that both mobiles and tablets are here to stay, and with them a horde of enterpreneurs, developers and investors who would be happily launching multiple apps!

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Taking WordPress to Scale

I originally wrote this post on the 13 Llama Blog.

 

Having your own website and maintaining it has its own set of wins and losses. If your site is not popular enough, that’s a heartburn.

Then one fine day, you get TechCrunched or Mashabled or Redditted – and boom, comes a spike. Or even better, you start doing well on your own and the traffic grows. Soon, this traffic becomes so big, that your existing hosting plan starts creaking and squawking under this load.

This post is for those of you who have a site which has loads of traffic, so much so that the site performance is under impact due to it. Like quite a few of our clients. *Touchwood*

Too much Traffic, a Bad thing?

There’s never such a thing as too much traffic. However, what happens when your existing server hits the peak capacity at which it can serve the responses reliably?

The site seems slower, sluggish – the horde of traffic which is coming to your site start complaining – hey, this site does not load.

This is the next heartburn – you spent all those efforts in building traffic and now you do not want your visitors to have a bad experience because of speed! So what do we do? Do we say no to the additional traffic?

Never! Here’s what we did for one of our clients.

Case Study

Clients: One of the top TV Channels in India in the Food and Lifestyle segment

Problem: Their site was being reported as sluggish and slow. We checked it, and found that the server was taking more than 70 seconds to respond, and a whole 2 minutes went by before the screen showed any elements on the browser!

Impact: When you are such a popular brand, any fault (however small) is blown out of proportion in Social Media. The brand was facing such taunts on their own Social Media Channels, that this became a gigantic issue.

Solution: What we proposed was web performance optimization of their site. Since the site was based on WordPress, most of the things we did to speed up the site can be referred to as ‘Performance Tuning WordPress for Scale’.

Phase I

The first job was looking at the server configuration and changing it to ensure that the memory utilization of Apache and MySQL is optimum. We did this by tweaking the mpm_prefork settings in Apache and by changing the MySQL connection settings in my.cnf.

After this, we installed a caching mechanism on the WordPress platform. We looked at multiple options, and settled on WP Super Cache. The ease with which this plug-in installs and starts serving cached content is simply awesome.

Apart from caching (which had huge savings), we also installed the PageSpeed module which Google has published, on the web server. That, and image smushing.

The result –

Tuning WordPress for Scale
Tuning WordPress for Scale

The loading time dropped from 70 odd seconds to 7 seconds. The site was loading faster and it could handle more requests. This was in the month of September. Over the next 6 months, this site has grown with us.

They are now doing really well on Social Media. In fact a huge 40% of their traffic is due to Facebook!!

With traffic comes one more overhead, the cost of increasing bandwidth! Now, I do not see enough people complaining about this, but if your site is popular and contains rich media, then soon enough, your hosting provider is going to start charging you extra for bandwidth. Don’t be surprised – even Amazon and Rackspace charge for bandwidth.

With around 18,000 visitors hitting the site every day, the hosting provider of the site was facing big issues. Not only was this one server clogging up the network and using up the 10 MBps pipe he had allocated to it, it was asking for more.

 Phase II

Websites which have a lot of static content (js, css, images, etc) should look at this route. Having a CDN ahead of your hosting not only takes the pressure off your server, but also improves the response times of your pages.

We typically use the WordPress’ CDN via JetPack’s Photon. However, in this case, we went with CloudFlare. CloudFlare does multiple things for you and it’s definitely worth checking out. What they do is cache all the static content of the site, and serve that from their network.

The end result –

Taking WordPress to Scale
Taking WordPress to Scale

Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough to take a screenshot when the number was above 250 :-)

Using CloudFlare ensured that more content could be served to more number of people at the same time! All of this was done on a single server (Dual Core, 8 GB RAM).

Conclusion

In a lot of the discussions we have had with clients, it seems they think of WordPress as a simple blogging platform instead of a kick-ass powerful Content Management System. One of the major concerns we keep hearing is – Can it Scale?

Well, does this post answer your question?

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Food for Thought: Part Three

Desperately trying to keep this series to a one a month affair, so that my blog does not look like a link farm … eep! I am even afraid to type that … but I have to say this .. I don’t want my blog to end up being a link farm. There I said it!!

Having said that, there were quite a few articles which I wanted to share this month!

The Top 10 Algorithms in the 20th Century

Computer.org put together this list of algorithms which had the greatest influence in the 20th century. Now, that’s a lot to think about … some of the algorithms which are mentioned, I had studied as a student! I would not say cutting edge, however, they did have a huge impact.

Funny, I did not see the Y2K or the Bubble Sort algorithm (which every green gilled programmer ends up using).

The Ultimate Guide to Leaving Comments On Blogs

I am a big fan of Darren Rowse and the words of actionable wisdom he shares on ProBlogger. Every blogger wants comments on his posts and although I haven’t had much comment love from you folks, I would still prefer genuine comments as opposed to spammy comments from Black Hat SEO agents.

In this post, ProBlogger teaches how to correctly post comments on popular blogs. It’s a great way to get noticed, start interacting with like minded people and get some trickle down traffic on your blog.

Why did Google make an ad for promoting “Search” in India where it has over 97% market share?

In India, Google has a huge 97% market share in search engines. That’s huge! If you have been an internet user in the past month or so, you would have noticed a slew of Ads on Google Search. Warming and touching this Ad reminds us of how we use search and how Google search is now accessible for mobiles.

I am not going to give the answer away, read this article on Medium!

Financing a Start-Up

Starting an organization is difficult. Especially when you have to arrange the financial support to aid your endeavour. This article on Edupristine helps us in finding different ways in which one can raise money to fund their venture.

This article is close to me for personal reasons as well .. not only have I worked with this organization, but also I am trying to start an organization and this article has come of use already!

Deep Learning 101

Step aside Big Data, there is a new buzzword in town … it’s Deep Learning!!

Yes, we already have Neural Networks, and Machine Learning … Deep Learning goes a step further. Do take some time and read this. It’s on the climbing slope of the Hype Cycle right now. If you can talk more about it, it will get you noticed Winking smile

Why I am not canceling class tomorrow

It is not often when students talk in awe of their teachers. I have been fortunate to have met such teachers … some of whom I have already mentioned in the past.

In this case, the university staff were on a strike, but the professor still went on to teach his class and emailed them in advance to come attend that lecture. It’s a heartfelt email where the professor brings the focus on the value one must place on education and how individuals should look at learning.

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Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies

2012 Emerging Technologies

Every technology that is embraced by the world goes through a process of adoption. Gartner instituted this as the hype cycle.

What is the Hype Cycle?

The hype cycle talks about how any technology goes through the process of being talked about, being heralded, being written off and finally being adopted in mainstream businesses.

The graph you see above you shows the x-axis as the different stages of technology adoption, starting from the trigger or the invention of that technology, to the expectations of that technology by the enthusiasts, to the stage where it is discarded by early adopters to being finally understood and put to good use by smart users.

Obviously on the y-axis you have the expectations of the world.

Gartner brings in a third dimension to this graph by indicating a time period on when the technology will be a mainstream one. In this graph for example, the Cloud Computing technology is supposed to go mainstream within the next 2 to 5 years. This was made in 2012, so to interpret it correctly we should say that Cloud Computing will be embraced by all around 2014. People who are following the news of Cloud Computing can relate to the Trough of Disillusionment!

How do you interpret the Hype Cycle?

The hype cycle represents the time when a certain technology gets adopted by businesses. So, it has different implications for different people.

Software Developer

Learn to work with this technology early on, preferably in the Slope of Enlightenment phase. It will open up doors to many career pathways. Learn technology while everyone else is learning and learn it fast!

CTO of a start-up

Basing your product on a certain technology base will help your start-up catch the eyes of an investor. Your organization needs money and making the smart move to get the market talking about your technology adoption can get you that added PR. Keep an eye out for technologies lying in that Trough of Disillusionment phase, see how they can mesh with your product/services. Try a few prototypes, it’s well worth the efforts.

CTO of a mature organization

More often than not, you would be in charge of the operations team as well. In some few cases, you would also be the visionary of the organization (this should actually be your role). Try to find technologies which are about to hit the Plateau of Productivity and see which ones suit your requirements. It will bring efficiencies in your operations.

Keep in mind, that for most of these cases the idea would be to beat the competition in adopting a certain technology, so the focus would be on adopting the technology before it becomes mainstream.

At the end of the day, it is all Hype

Hype is after all extensive publicity. It is used to get the attention of people.

Bear in mind that if you do not want undue attention and if it is not broken, then you do not need to fix it.

However, some times you do get cues on possible disruptive technologies, be on top of those, since they have the potential to change your world. For e.g the way aeroplanes changed the shipping industry.

Sometimes all talk is still action!

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Personal Lift custom made for you

King Henry VIII had come into power in the 15th century. Now being a ruler who commands (and demands) respect, he also participated in jousting matches. In one such jousting match he was heavily injured and had almost lost the ability to climb stairs. In order to continue functioning as a ruler, he had a special system of blocks and tackles made, wherein his servants could lift him up and down the stairs. One would wonder why not simply lift him on four shoulders and carry him … to those I say, you need to know how heavy he was … 30 stone, that’s 190 kgs!

stairliftThe same principle is used in stair lifts these days. A stair lift is a device used to transport wheelchairs and people up and down a flight of stairs. The lift is attached to a rail which either runs along the ground or along the wall, and it is strong enough to bear the weight of one person. Here’s a brief schematic of how it works … simple and yet ingenious. The system involves a chair attached to a rail (which goes along the stair case), in most cases the rail is taking the support of the wall, however it can also be running parallel to the ground. The individual has to sit on the chair, and he is transported along the stairway.

This device shows great promise … especially in nations where the average age is on the other side of 30. A device that can help the disabled, the elderly to easily navigate stairs. Now this is an interesting device. Technology that not only enables, but also aids the needy.

This is not a new technology, there are companies out there like this one for example, who have the capabilities to fully customize a stairlift in your home. Not only will they make a custom design for you, but also deploy it at your home. This device seems to bring joy to so many people.

Kudos to Henry VIII for coming up with this solution, and thanks for modern manufacturing, this device is not just meant for the royalty anymore!

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schema

Scheming the Schema: An Introduction to Structured Data

SchemaOne of the major traffic sources for personal websites and blogs is Organic Traffic, i.e traffic originating from search engines. People working on the web would quickly realize that search traffic can also be bought through Pay Per Click (PPC) Programs such as Google Adwords and Bing Search Advertising. However, for those of us who do not have Venture Capital funded blogs to run, we still do things the old fashioned way … we write good content.

 

Content is still King

The good thing with this idea is that search engines such as Google do give more weight to things such as meta descriptions, meta keywords, and other Search Engine Optimization (SEO) wizardry which was erstwhile known to a few. Web applications like Google Webmaster Tools (GWMT) and Bing Webmaster Tools (BWMT) are making it easier for website owners to recognize these things and highlight important data to search engines.

Content is KingThis move gives the power back to the people, instead of focusing on complex discussions such as Information Architecture, Content Taxonomy, Tagging and Keyword Optimization, you just have to worry about one thing, and one thing only. Good quality original content!

How do these search engines make sense out of this content? Well, they look for patterns within the page. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, one of my classmates (who went on to become an ethical hacker) had written a similar piece of code for his final year engineering project. It’s a decade since he wrote the code, we can assume without a shadow of doubt that the search engine algorithms would be a lot smarter now to extract the right content. Smart enough to discern between the signal and the noise.

So how do site owners help search engines find important data?

One method is to use the tools that they provide us – the WMTs. However, each search engine has it’s separate nuance, and hence there was a need felt for a common standard … a standard which we, the content creators can use to signal to the search engines … that hey … this piece right here … yes this bold sentence … is meant to be special. It might mean something special to the person searching for it … it’s a beacon … a beacon of data.

 

Defining Schemas for better results

This is where structured data comes into picture. In early January of 2011, the major search engines came together and helped define the format of this structured data via schemas. You can see these formats on schema.org. An excerpt from their home page –

Search engines including Bing, Google, Yahoo! and Yandex rely on this markup to improve the display of search results, making it easier for people to find the right web pages.

Many sites are generated from structured data, which is often stored in databases. When this data is formatted into HTML, it becomes very difficult to recover the original structured data. Many applications, especially search engines, can benefit greatly from direct access to this structured data. On-page markup enables search engines to understand the information on web pages and provide richer search results in order to make it easier for users to find relevant information on the web.

What this means for us, is that if we use the mark-up defined for each of the individual schemas in our content, then the search engines will display this data in interesting manners to the people searching for that very piece of information. Wan’t to see an example at work? Here is one

Schema Display

Last week, I instructed my developers at EduPristine to start making use of certain schemas in our mark-up. It’s less than a week, and we can already start seeing them pop-up all over our search engine results.

 

Why Should You Bother

It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that in the game of organic traffic acquisition, the more interesting and relevant your search engine listing, the higher the chances of getting a click on your listing. Thus, marking of your content is bound to increase your organic Click Through Rates (CTRs). You can get this data in Google Webmaster Tools, better to check your current set of keywords (and their CTRs along with average ranks) and then compare the change when you start including schemas in your content.

If you have not heard about structured data or implemented schema.org before then I can guarantee you an increase in your CTRs and in your organic traffic.

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Car Customization

In India, the moment you say the words car customization, the name Deepak Chhabria automatically crops up. DC used to be the pioneer of car tuning and modding in India. Back then, changing the looks of your car was not considered as the “in thing”, and people almost always made do with the factory settings.

With the successful launch of the Need for Speed series, the Indian market has slowly warmed to the idea that even cars can be customized and do not have to be kept in their pristine form in which they had been shipped from the factory.

Yes, we have finally started tearing away that smelly plastic from the upholstery and consider sticking on cute little dog stickers on our bumpers as well!!

The really elite ones do the smart thing and get a better looking car from abroad, and then go ahead and get customizations which are worth that car! In the digital era, almost everything that you purchase has a little CPU of it’s own … yes, even the fridge knows when to milk goes bad! Then it comes hardly a surprise that most cars are also smart cars. And smart cars require smarter customizations and mods.

This is where brabus comes into picture. Brabus is a German company which absolutely rocks the customization scene. Especially if you own a Mercedes. In fact, in the past the BBC has covered the brabus in their automobile show, Top Gear. An excerpt from one of their episodes,

It’s unlikely, but should you find the standard Mercedes SL600 wanting in the power department, mentalist German tuning firm Brabus may have the answer. By throwing away most of the standard Merc’s motor, adding new turbochargers and fiddling with the many onboard computers, it’s created the most powerful convertible car ever.

Now, why would I recommend that you definitely get this for your Mercedes? Well, if you can afford to get a custom made car through customs, then it has to be either a Mercedes, a Ferrari or better yet, a Maybach. Interestingly enough, Brabus do tuning for all these brands. So the next time you are thinking of car tuning, don’t say DC … say Brabus :)

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