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Ways to Trick Out Your Startup’s Office Environment

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Last week we showed you some of the startup world’s most creative office spaces. These colorful environments with airy floor plans and comfortable conference rooms put the cubicle to shame — but before you start shelling out for employee skate parks and rock climbing walls, consider that not all office luxuries will serve your workspace equally well.

Mashable spoke with several startup employees to find out what they loved about their unconventional office spaces, and the results were fairly unanimous: An open floor plan and quirky extras encourage communication, collaboration and general satisfaction far more than cramped cubicles.

“The more comfortable our employees feel in the office environment, the more comfortable they are to speak up and share their opinions and insights with the team,” ZocDoc CFO Netta Samroengraja says in an e-mail.

Most startups have certain crucial design elements in common. These include employee lounge areas with cozy seating and colorful accents, snack-filled kitchens where employees can chat as they refuel and TV monitors used for everything from video-conferencing to gaming.

Startups with enough square footage also tend to shell out for recreational spaces — ZocDoc has a game room outfitted with beanbag chairs, a ping-pong table and an acoustic guitar — that contribute to a playful work environment that’s not just about punching the clock.

Some office add-ons will make sense for only a small segment of businesses; TastingTable, for instance, rents a test kitchen and dining room staffed with two full-time chefs near its SoHo offices. The extra kitchen space is a boon for the food-and-drink newsletter, but is probably a less prudent investment for a software firm.

At Zazzle’s sprawling Redwood City headquarters, everything from the communal desks to the wallpaper was custom-made to reflect the company’s design-it-yourself ethic, according to co-founder and CTO Bobby Beaver. Likewise, Etsy takes a DIY approach to office design with colorful knickknacks, quilts and plushies, all made by Etsy sellers. “My apartment is so boring compared to the office,” says Sarah Starpoli, Etsy’s Employment Experience Manager.

Quirky office additions such as HowAboutWe’s popcorn machine — which one employee assures us is regularly put to good use — or Zazzle’s ping-pong table may not rank as “strictly necessary” for your startup, but they undoubtedly contribute to a more welcoming work environment. “Go to your local IRS office to get a taste of the dark side of an office landscape,”Squarespace’s director of interface, Michael Heilemann, suggests.

There is, however, a fine line between a morale-boosting office perk and a misallocation of your startup’s precious funds. So, when you’re decorating that new exposed-brick loft space, go the more sensible route and avoid the 10 extravagant accessories in the gallery below — ball pits, bike repair shops and Bengal tigers are on the list — that only Google and Facebook can really afford, at least until you’ve made your first million.

Next Great Apps are from Kids!

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Are kids these days really as hopeless and self-absorbed as we claim? Perhaps not.

The next wave of tech extraordinaires seem to get younger and younger, and the app-creating students mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg.

Check out the apps below from impressive, pint-sized developers, who’ve accomplished much more before high school than most people more than twice their age.

Chow Checker,

New Hampshire’s Hampstead Academy is a strictly peanut-free zone due to the relatively high number of students with nut allergies.

This inspired the school’s eighth graders to create the cleverly named Chow Checker app, which identifies food allergens to determine if certain foods, from grocery stores or restaurants, are safe to eat.

You can create a profile and select up to 12 allergens, and then search for a product name or scan a barcode. Either option pulls up a list of ingredients in that food, as well as nutritional content.

The app taps into the daily updated Nutritionix food database, which includes more than 300,000 food items. You can add notes about the food for future reference.

Hampstead students worked with the MIT Media Lab to write the app, which was a Verizon Innovative App Challenge winner in 2013.

Available for free on Android.

Bubble Ball,

When he was 14 years old, Robert Nay’s physics-based puzzle game, Bubble Ball, unseated the seemingly indomitable Angry Birds for the iTunes App Store’s top spot in January 2011. Not bad for someone who created his first website in third grade and already owns his own company, Nay Games LLC.

Nay wrote Bubble Ball with Corona tools from Ansca Mobile. It took him roughly 4,000 lines of code.

The app capitalizes on players’ creativity, prompting you to set up lengths of wood and metal, and activate various power-ups to manipulate your bubble for the sake of reaching the goal.

There are 144 official levels, and because anyone can create a new level, the game is constantly evolving. There are already more than 200 community-created levels to explore.

Available for free on iOS and Android.

Back Door,

David Singer’s app, Backdoor, removes a key component of communication — identity.

Backdoor, which launched in July 2013, is an anonymous messaging app that lets you reach your friends by signing in through either Facebook or Google+. The app gives you clues to learn more about the sender’s identity. In-app purchases provide additional clues, such as gender, likes, interests and more.

Cashing in on people’s desperation and curiosity? Color us impressed.

Singer, who considers himself primarily a UI designer, was 13 years old when he wrote the app. He’s the same kid behind YouTell, the popular website that allows you to post questions and solicit anonymous feedback.

Available for free on iOS.

Things To Thing About,

Second through fifth graders from Jackson County, Mich., worked with two high schoolers in the same district to create iPad app Things to Think About.

Its premise is to jumpstart and foster children’s interest in writing and critical thinking, as well as encourage dialogue about challenging ideas and issues.

The app asks kids to dream big, think through “what would you do” scenarios and expands horizons past kids’ environments.

The students brainstormed 100 writing prompts in 12 categories, including Friends, Family, School, Fun and Feelings. A student’s original hand-drawn illustration and the option of a child’s short voice narration accompanies each prompt.

Available for free on iOS. An Android version is under process.

Google’s Contact Lens is Now With You

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Welcome to this morning’s edition of “First To Know,” a series in which we keep you in the know on what’s happening in the digital world.

VISIT ALSO:Now Your Classes into Google Glasses

Today, we’re looking at three particularly interesting stories. Google is fighting the good fight against diabetes in true Google style. The company announced a smart contact lens project on its official blog, and even included a photo of the prototype device. According to a report onRe/code, Twitter could be launching an attack on e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay. And, according to 9to5Mac, Apple is making it easier and less expensive for users to have their broken iPhone screens repaired.

Check out the video above for more on these stories.

New Thoughts Web Analytics Trends for 2014

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Last year was a great year in the web analytics world. We saw awesome advancements from just about every vendor in the web analytics industry.

Some of my favorite achievements of the past 12 months were:

  • Google rolled out the Google Tag Manager to the masses and launched very cool functions such as auto event tracking.
  • The addition of demographic data in Google Analytics has led to amazing insights.
  • Adobe launched a new (much improved) interface to Adobe Analytics which showed how useful a web analytics solution can be when owned by a company that made its name with UI design tools.
  • Tag management companies such as TagMan and Tealium landed many great new customers as well as big rounds of funding.

With the start of 2014, we have more experienced web analysts out in the field than ever before and organizations are now relying (rather than hoping) upon analytics for improvements in their bottom line.

In the year ahead, I am optimistic that we will see the pace of advancement in the web analytics world accelerate. Below is my top 10 list of trends that I would love to see over the next 12 months.

VISIT ALSO: Ask Professional; For Designer/Developer Roadmap

Better Content Analysis Tools,

When it comes to engagement with content (text, graphics, video, etc) most web analytics platforms show the same data – views, landing page visits, next page views, exits, goal contribution, etc. To get reporting on actual engagement with the content, analysts need to implement other tools to track engagement such as scrolling, mouse movement, zooming, and highlighting. This divide in reporting is a major challenge for content producers.

Better Tools for Integration with Third Party Data,

If 2013 was the year for “Big Data” then 2014 should be the year for data integration with web analytics. While platforms like Adobe Analytics and IBM CoreMetrics did a decent job at enabling analyst to integrate data from multiple sources (i.e. CRM, Call Center, Lead Nurturing) with web analytics data, most platforms are lagging in this area. This year we want to see web analytics platforms help site owners to have a more 360⁰ view of their prospects and customers by providing excellent tools for integrating data from other platforms into the web analytics environment.

Multi-visit Click Paths,

Unless you’re selling competitively priced pencils at auction, odds are that your visitors are looking at your site multiple times before (and after) converting. But today almost all web analytics platforms focus on reporting for a single visit. There are persistent tracking variables that can be used to show multi-visit attributes. But site owners need to see how visitors’ behaviors change as they learn more about products/services and as they start to interact with the organization offline (i.e. sales calls).

Physical Interaction Tracking,

The way we interact with websites is changing. Touch screen laptops, smartphones, tablets, gaming systems with web browsers, etc all allow us to physically interact with a website. Web analytics platforms need to help us track pinches (zoom), swipes, device orientation, tilts, and other physical movements. With the current platforms tracking this type of activity requires a lot of custom JavaScript. In 2014 we want to see the web analytics tools provide out of the box tracking of this type of interaction.

Better Video Tracking,

Sites have been using more and more video content every year for the last 5 years. But most web analytics platforms still don’t do a very good job of helping analysts understand how visitors engage with videos. There are a lot of fancy things people can do to track video engagement with integrating with players (i.e. YouTube) and custom JavaScript functions. But this level of complexity prohibits most site owners from tracking common video functions (i.e. Play). Web analytics vendors should provide better out of the box video tracking functions. It would be great to see specific video reports in web analytics tools the way we see specific mobile reports today.

Multi-domain Tracking,

Many corporations big and small have multiple sites across multiple domains. Their prospects, customers, partners, employees, etc likely traverse across domains in multiple visits or possibly single visits. But today, most (not all) of the web analytics platforms don’t do a thorough job of enabling site owners to track visitors across domains. While this is not a problem for most site owners, for companies with diverse initiatives in marketing, demand generation, lead nurturing, and customer support this can cause a major gap in tracking the customer journey. In 2014, we want all major web analytics vendors to solve this tracking problem with easy to use configurations.

Compensate for “Not Provided”,

As Google continues to encrypt more and more user search submissions we have seen the percentage of users with Not-Provided search phrases grow by over 100% across sites that we monitor in the last year. This makes measuring SEO performance and optimization very difficult. Analysts need Google to provide some sort of help with this. If not showing the exact search phrase, perhaps they can expose search phrase categories or better integration with Web Master Tools. It would be easy for tools like Google Analytics to create reports that show which search phrases generated traffic without associating the phrases with individual users. This would help site owners with SEO reporting without risking user privacy or website security.

CMS integration with Web Analytics,

The most commonly used administrative tool on most sites is the content management system. This is the area where people making site updates need information on how pages and pieces of content are performing and how visitors are interacting with the site. We are hopeful that some CMS vendors will make big improvements in 2014 by enabling plug and play integration with web analytics tools to empower their internal site owners.

Better Data Exports,

Google made some great strides in 2013 to share Google Analytics data with other platforms and a large number of dash-boarding companies built/updated plugins for Google Analytics. But almost every other vendor in the web analytics space does an insufficient job at sharing data which makes dash-boarding and analyzing closed loop sales cycles unnecessarily difficult. We are hopeful that the other web analytics vendors will follow Googles lead this year.

Data Manipulation within Web Analytics,

Platforms such as Google Analytics, Webtrends, and Adobe Analytics are great at tracking visitors and then presenting the data. But the platforms do no provide much functionality in terms of manipulating the data once it has been brought into the platform. Providing tools for editing fields and values would provide web analysts with powerful Business Intelligence capabilities to fit the tracking to the organization.

This year has barely started, but I am very hopeful that it is a defining year for how organizations worldwide gain and utilize customer intelligence in the digital channel. While few organizations fully utilize the web analytics tools they have in place today, there are progressive teams pushing the limits of what website tracking can do to improve digital experiences and I am optimistic that in 2014 the industry tools are going to evolve even farther to drive the entire web industry to new heights.

Ask Professional; For Designer/Developer Roadmap

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Developing apps requires many people, so it’s crucial to establish a workflow to organize the parties involved.

The latest video in our Ask a Dev series looks at ways developers and designers can collaborate. Android director Ajay Pall says teamwork and communication are key when developing applications.

“This ensures fleshing out of concerns from both developers and designers, which enables the team to deliver the application successfully,” he says.

The video, above, also looks at how developers can create links in their applications that open a second application. Pall explains that this function is handled with the intents system on Android.

Similarly, deep linking is another way to link to your app. In deep linking, search results that appear in Google Chrome on an Android device can be linked with a native application. For example, when searching for a movie online, a result using deep linking would automatically launch a movie app instead of its mobile web page.

The deep linking feature is new and available to only a small number of test developers. However, Pall recommends studying the system now, so developers can be ready to use the tool once Google rolls it out to a larger audience.

Our developer experts are from Mutual Mobile, a leading development and design firm that builds mobile strategies for top companies such as Audi, Google and Citigroup. The team is eager to answer your questions about mobile, so ping us with your top queries on Twitter, using the hashtag #AskaDev. Don’t forget to check out our Ask a Dev YouTube channel and subscribe.

Google’s Fiber Project Backbones Increase Internet Speed

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Google is creating a fiber optic network to bring faster connectivity to one of Earth’s biggest, yet somehow most internet-disconnected, continents: Africa. With Project Link, the search giant is offering Uganda’s capital city a reprieve from dial-up speeds and shoddy uplinks by offering local internet providers and mobile carriers access to its broadband network, which they can in turn offer to their respective customers. According to Mountain View, only 16 percent of the continent’s some billion residents are online; hopefully this initiative is the start of bumping that number significantly. Still, the implementation is in the hands of Kampala’s data providers — we’re crossing our fingers that they don’t muck up Google’s graciousness with greed and high prices. As it stands though, this seems like a much more, ahem, grounded method for bringing the internet to remote areas than balloons ever did.

VISIT ALSO: Now Your Classes into Google Glasses

Squashup Videoclips with Morzilla’s Popcorn Maker

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Have you seen this before: A web application that fuses Soundcloud, YouTube and Vimeo clips to help you create your own masterpiece? PopcornMaker by Mozilla has left us in utter awe because it does exactly that. The application is so well thought out and put together that it feel like it took all the components of iMovie and pressed it all into a web application for use with existing and popular web media outlets.

Just to test out the application we took our favorite commercial of the year, Chipotle’s Scarecrow and merged it with the “I’m So Fluffly” clip on Despicable Me to create an very scary rendition of the otherwise joyful and cute clip. And we did it all so quick and easily that Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker becomes to be creative. Controls are limited in comparison to editors familiar with After Effects, but layer panels, easy media insertion and loading, volume controls, and display options with run length makes for a more then useful application.

Helping you remix web video, audio and images into mashups that you can embed everywhere makes Popcorn Maker a place to be creative easily and quickly.