Friday, November 30, 2012

Enterprise Apps Are Moving To Single-Page Design


Editor’s note: Alexander Aghassipour is chief product officer and co-founder of Zendesk. Shajith Chacko is lead software engineer at Zendesk. Both contributed to the development of the new Zendesk product. 

The Web is a far different place than it was when Zendesk launched six years ago. As more and more people use consumer apps like Twitter and Facebook, enterprise applications need to build an interactive experience that doesn’t look old or slow when compared to the rest of the real-time Web.

As a cloud help-desk software provider, we recognized that our customers’ needs were also changing. A few years ago, web support meant email. Today there’s chat and click-to-talk voice support, and most customers demand instant answers and help. These real-time channels benefit from a more modern application approach than our original HTML application afforded. Fron the support side, customer support agents might be chatting with one customer while simultaneously updating another customer’s files. Meanwhile, large support teams need to collaborate in real time. The platform can’t slow the pace of work.

As our customer expectations have grown over the years, so has the application. Any evolving application reaches the point where another incremental change just won’t do. Rip and replace was the only option in order to balance the complexity of features with the simplicity of design. Moving to a single-page, Java-based app enabled us to create an interactive, real- time experience that’s streamlined and agile.

Selecting A JavaScript Framework

From a technical perspective, a single-page Web application is delivered as one page to the browser and typically does not require the page to be reloaded as the user navigates to different parts of the application. This results in faster navigation, more efficient network transfers, and better overall performance for the end user.

When it comes to designing single-page applications, there are several JavaScript frameworks available to facilitate the task of writing complex client-side applications. While the choice of frameworks is a rather subjective decision (and each developer will have his or her own opinion), we ultimately went with the Ember JavaScript Framework due to several key reasons:

  • Ember.js is constructed with large applications in mind and fits a larger team and project like Zendesk.
  • Ember.js has more conventions and structure, and these established conventions make it easier to bring new developers on board.
  • Ember.js is primarily based on dynamic bindings that automatically update the UI when data changes; this allows us to easily describe UI that knows when to update.
  • Ember has a vibrant, growing community of very clever people.

Other Technical Considerations

In addition to selecting a JavaScript framework, there are a few other things to keep in mind if you’re considering a similar move to a single-page app.

  • Before we could begin writing in JavaScript, we needed to significantly build out the API to cover everything. Modern one-page apps have a really effective API with the JavaScript client written on top. This was a large task, but the final API can now be used by the whole Zendesk community.
  • A JavaScript application relies on browser features, such as advanced CSS. Therefore, supporting advanced features requires a fairly modern browser. Early on, we decided not to support IE8 and below in order to keep our development costs down. It’s important to define the supported (and not supported) browsers from the start.
  • While JavaScript tools are maturing by leaps and bounds, they aren’t quite on par with what developers may be accustomed to using with HTML. For example, we didn’t find an out-of-the-box testing automation tool to use, so developers needed to rely on manual testing or writing their own test scripts for testing in the browser.

Transitioning Developers From HTML To Java

Before we began the shift to a single-page application, only about 10 percent of our engineering resources went toward JavaScript coding. That was about to change dramatically. We ended up hiring just two JavaScript-only programmers, and for the rest we relied on ramping up the JavaScript skills in our existing engineering staff.

While learning any new skill takes time, we got buy-in from the engineers early on. Convincing our engineering teams to take on this challenge was relatively easy. This transition gives everyone the enviable opportunity to work with modern methodologies and tools. However, there still is a learning curve that must be factored into the project schedule.

Preparing For The Adjustment Period

No matter how fantastic the next-generation application may be, the simple fact is that existing end users have been happily accustomed to doing things a certain way. Getting used to changes to the status quo takes time.

To help ease the transition, we rolled out the new version of Zendesk for new accounts and trials. Existing customers are free to stay with the original Zendesk version for the time being. In addition, we started with a soft launch to a small subset of customers. This was followed by a four-month beta period, which allowed us to see how customers responded to the new design and workflow.

Ripping down an application to rebuild is a risky proposition. However, it’s sometimes the only way to move forward. The journey requires a commitment from all involved – including end users and developers. A major project of this scope won’t happen overnight, but the agility, performance, and real-time nature of the results are well worth the effort.

from TechCrunch

The Weekly Good: Gurbaksh Chahal, And Putting An End To Hate


[Note: This is a weekly series. If your company is doing something amazing to help a charitable cause or doing some good in your community, please reach out.]

Sometimes, it’s not only political powerhouses who have the power to change the world. Sometimes it’s true-blue entrepreneurs who live to solve problems. One such person is Gurbaksh Chahal, who, with some pretty impressive backers, launched after the shootings at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August 2012.

The point of the multi-million-dollar campaign is to put an end to hatred and to encourage self-pride. Using the web to help bring attention to this is a fantastic idea. I had a chance to chat with Chahal on his background and the future of the BeProud initiative.


TechCrunch: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Gurbaksh Chahal: I am a three-time Internet entrepreneur, with two successful tech ventures under my belt. I am currently working on my third business as the founder and CEO of RadiumOne, which delivers programmatic advertising across the web, mobile, and Facebook.

TechCrunch: What is it about your history that made you want to dedicate your life to making things better for others?

Gurbaksh Chahal: I’m a big believer in the more you give back to the universe, the more it gives right back to you. For the first 18 years, I faced immense racism and hardship because I looked different. I thought I had it tough growing up, but I never imagined at 30 I’d watch a massacre unfold when in early August a white supremacist stormed into a peaceful Sikh temple in Wisconsin and murdered six people and wounded several others. I was sickened. I realized the only way change could happen is if I made this my problem and did something about it. Violent hate crimes, including unnecessary gun violence, have escalated to a grotesque level; we need to do all we can to eliminate them. BeProud isn’t about raising awareness for any particular group. It is greater than any religion, culture, nationality or appearance. It’s about realizing we are all human first and we should be proud of what makes us unique.

TechCrunch: What have you learned along the way with that makes the foundation and campaign special and long-lasting?

Gurbaksh Chahal: I’ve learned that you need to give a voice to those who have something to say but aren’t being heard. BeProud is an awareness and advocacy program dedicated to ending hate in the world. By unifying this country under one common goal, we are putting a stop to this horrific epidemic. We have great traction with dozens of influencers (Nelson Mandela Family), various celebrities (Deepak Chopra), and international stars endorsing the cause to help raise awareness.

TechCrunch: What are your goals for this in the next 3-5-10 years?

Gurbaksh Chahal: We will continue to create thought-provoking campaigns that evoke powerful emotions. Hate is something that we’re taught not born with. I’m convinced if you can connect with people on a universal level, change will happen. Our initial campaign was just the beginning. Our next step will be to build deeper, engaging campaigns online and offline, allowing people to connect and become part of the solution. Hate takes effort. Love is constant.

TechCrunch: What tools have you used to help get the word out there, what has worked for you? What didn’t?

Gurbaksh Chahal: BeProud is a multimillion-dollar campaign that crosses traditional and social media. We launched a prime-time PSA that ran 133 times in November. Mark Cuban has also shown his support by running the PSA across his TV networks for free through January 21st. An extended web version of the PSA has already been viewed 100,000 times and can be viewed here:

We launched a Facebook application that turns profile pictures into your own BeProud stamp, created a Twitter account and a YouTube channel. Users are encouraged to upload 60 second videos to YouTube answering the questions: “What are you most proud of and what do you stand for?” including the tags, #BeProud and #EndHate. I’m a big believer in social media as a long-term outlet for social causes to elicit change. If governments can be overthrown through social media, then we have the power to evolve as a society by connecting everyone together to end hate.

TechCrunch: What are some of your personal favorite foundations that “do things right”?

Gurbaksh Chahal: I am a big fan of how the Kony2012 movement started and loved the viral nature of the “It Gets Better” campaign. The power of social media was the ingredient behind their success. I am convinced long-term, with over 1 billion people connected across various social networks, the power of information will
become the power of change.

While the “whats” of a social campaign for change are great, it’s nice to hear about all of the thought and mechanics behind it. If you’re a company or non-profit wanting to grab awareness and support for your cause, then Chahal is someone worth reaching out to, asking questions of and getting advice from.

The web is a wonderful place, you just have to dig a little bit deeper to find the good sometimes.


The Weekly Good: Cory Booker On Public Service, Twitter, And…Burning Buildings

from TechCrunch

Backops Outsources Your Startup’s Back Office Using The Best Enterprise Apps, Raises $1.5M

Screen Shot 2012-11-30 at 3.24.42 PM

Early-stage startups die if they don’t nail their core products quickly. But like all companies, they also need to process loads of paperwork required for basic operations, from crunching numbers in Quickbooks to churning out piles of human-resource forms for new hires. So, as any startup executive knows, the balance between product development and rote paperwork is a constant frustration — which is where Backops comes in.

The company, which has just closed a $1.5 million seed round, combines 15 or so modern business productivity tools with crowdsourced labor from stay-at-home workers. Startups get a simple dashboard that shows them what’s happening across the organization, from accounts received to job offers accepted.

If the exec wants more detail than the dashboard’s accounting summaries and human resource statuses provides, they can request custom reports or data dumps from Backops.

So, sure, there are a few established office outsourcing businesses out there already, like TriNet for human resources, but a closer look at Backops plans shows why it’s such a smart new idea.

The first is the overall “consumerization of IT” trend. A wave of well-designed online business software has been gradually rising over the past decade, sweeping away expensive legacy systems for accounting, HR, content management, customer relations, and more. The result is that workers can learn new systems and produce results more easily.

This fits in well with the other trend that Backops takes advantage of, which is crowdsourcing labor from people who work from home. A long list of companies, like Amazon and its Mechanical Turk, have created marketplaces for workers. Perhaps pushed by high unemployment and underemployment, more and more workers are looking for additional income through online jobs.

Backops does a few other smart things to capitalize on these trends. On the software side, it’s staying nimble, swapping in new productivity apps as they become available. Right now it’s using Expensify to help process expenses, for bill processing, and popular accounting software like Quickbooks. It doesn’t disclose the full list of vendors, but cofounder Mark H Goldstein tells me that they just brought in a new HR system over the weekend. That adaptability is in sharp contrast to the time it would take a business to change its own internal software, or the time it would take a traditional vendor.

Even if business software is getting easier to use, experienced workers can do a better job faster. Goldstein adds that Backops has gone looking for past employees from firms like H&R Block to help staff its accounting needs.

All in all, Backops is becoming a platform for hot new enterprise startups.

The biggest issue could be defensibility. In addition to its list of vendors and its experienced employees, it also has proprietary software knitting its vendors together. Others, including modern market leaders like Salesforce and Google, could take a similar approach. In fact, both already offer platforms for other vendors to reach existing enterprise clients — just not tightly integrated like what Backops does.

The startup also has some early momentum and great investors. So far more than 50 startups have signed up, including AngelList, BadgeVille and Socialize. After raising an initial $1 million from angels including Zynga’s Mark Pincus, AngelList’s Naval Ravikant, and others last month, it has added another half a million from additional ones, including Max Levchin, and closed the large seed round.

Backops’ founding team is also well-equipped to grow the company. The CEO is Kristen Goldstein, a long-time financial officer who has dealt with these problems across the companies she’s worked at — including startups that her husband Mark has cofounded. As successful serial entrepreneurs, they have the experience, skills and connections to go big.

And going big is the plan. Mark Goldstein tells me that the plan is to grow niche by niche. Early-stage startups are an obvious place to start given the needs and the team’s familiarity with the problem (he adds that right now it’s designed for companies in seed through Series C stages, not later ones). The plan is to eventually expand into other areas, like NGOs, and various small business verticals, with Backops setups templated for the needs of each type of business.

The key for the company now is to grow quickly and establish itself as the de facto back office solution before other startups (or nimble big companies) decide to move in.

from TechCrunch

Settle Down, Facebook Users, ‘Cause You’re Not Getting $1M For Sharing A Pic Of A Fake Lottery Ticket


In today’s edition of Facebook scams comes the story of Nolan Daniels and his $1 million lottery ticket picture. “Looks like I won’t be going to work EVER!!!! Share this photo and I will give a random person 1 million dollars!”, says the Facebook pic. Of course this is legit. It’s on Facebook. Never mind that the numbers on the ticket are out of order.

It doesn’t take Gawker to figure out that this is just a well-timed scam. But that hasn’t stopped 638,006 people (and counting!) from hedging their credibility for a chance at a chunk of this guy’s winnings.

The fake picture was uploaded Thursday night, the day after a $550 million Powerball lottery drawing went to two winning tickets. When the pic was uploaded, only one of the winners had come forward. The second winner has yet to claim his riches.

But alas, the picture is fake. While the ticket has all the right numbers, they’re not in the proper order. Per the Powerball FAQ: “The tickets print the white ball numbers (the first five numbers) in numerical order.”

Sorry, folks. The only way to make a quick buck is to play the lottery.

I didn’t reach out to Nolan because this is a harmless scam.

from TechCrunch

Innovative. Albuquerque.

from Entrepreneur

WebRTC plus Social API: Mozilla demoes browser sharing in Firefox like you’ve never seen it before

1330423 30661575 520x245 WebRTC plus Social API: Mozilla demoes browser sharing in Firefox like youve never seen it before

Mozilla on Friday decided to showcase its progress for what I’m simply going to refer to as “browser sharing.” The company is making it possible for Firefox users to video chat, instant message, and share in real-time, all while browsing, as if your friend were in the same room.

Late last month, Mozilla launched Firefox 17, which featured its new Social API. Earlier this week, Mozilla released Firefox 18 beta with “Preliminary support for WebRTC.”

That’s Firefox 17 and Firefox 18 though. Here is nightly build of Firefox 20, which attempts to put the two together in a meaningful way, as outlined by Todd Simpson, Mozilla’s Chief of Innovation,:

For those who don’t know, WebRTC is an open project that provides Internet users with the ability to communicate in real-time via voice and video by simply using a Real-Time Communications (RTC) compatible browser. It enables Web app developers to include real-time video calling and data sharing capabilities in their products.

WebRTC has been widely viewed as a great way for enabling cool games and improve the availability of video conferencing apps, but Mozilla is thinking of taking that a step further and hoping it will prove useful for social apps as well. The company explains:

Sometimes when you’re chatting with a friend, you just want to click on their name and see and talk with them in real-time. Imagine being able to do that without any glitches or hassles, and then while talking with them, easily share almost anything on your computer or device: vacation photos, memorable videos – or even just a link to a news story you thought they might be interested in – simply by dragging the item into your video chat window. This has become a reality.

This is possible thanks to DataChannels, which Mozilla is the first to implement and allow the sharing of data almost any data that the browser can access over WebRTC. In the video, the company is touting two new features, both of which are very difficult to implement in an app without the browser’s help:

  • getUserMedia allows a developer to easily capture the user’s camera and microphone data (with the user’s permission). Expect to see browser apps that can capture and readily manipulate camera data (think Instagram) popping up as this new technology takes off.
  • PeerConnection enables the audio and video calling. It is secure, hassle-free, and peer-to-peer. This means you can expect high quality, low delay, encrypted calls from one WebRTC browser to another.

Currently, Mozilla says it supports basic person-to-person video calling and data channels in Firefox 18 beta, but it has to be turned on in about:config. Eventually though, as you can see in the above video fusing a Firefox 20 nightly build, the company plans to add support for video conferencing apps, faster call connection, and additional audio/video options.

Chief of Innovation indeed.

See also – Google releases developer preview of WebRTC, its open real-time voice and video platform and Impressive: Video and voice calls in your browser without a plugin in sight

Image credit: Eastop

from The Next Web Feed