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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.

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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.

Web Apps to Hike Your Drawing Skills

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Drawing and sketching were once activities limited to pencil and paper, but for budding artists in the digital age, there’s a wealth of online, browser-based tools to let your creativity run wild.

It doesn’t just have to be a hobby or pastime, though — drawing is useful for brainstorming and problem-solving, and these web apps can aid in any profession.

VISIT ALSO: 3 Tools to Build Your Mobile Apps

We’ve picked 12 of the best drawing and sketching apps to suit any level of artist, ranging from professional-grade applications to simple tools for doodling. They’re all free, and since they’re all online, they can be accessed from anywhere.

Sketchpad,

Sketchpad is a browser-based drawing and image editor built in HTML5, combining WebGL effects with vector editing. Its rich, flexible feature set means you can create almost any image you want. It’s super simple to save your work — just click the disk icon in the top right of the screen, and the program displays your image as a PNG, which you can then save to your desktop.

The drawing tools include text, brush, shape, pencil, paint bucket, stamp, spirograph, calligraphy, marquee, crop, eraser and color-picker. Sketchpad also supports gradients, and the History palette allows you to review previous revisions.

PencilApp,

PencilApp is a recently released, simple, browser-based pencil application that is perfect for quick sketches and drawings. It features a minimalist interface with just a pencil, eraser and a text-typing tool. You can change the size of the text and choose from one of the five pre-defined colors.

While there’s no “undo” command, you can choose the eraser tool and edit out something you’ve drawn. The Save function allows you to save your artwork as an image.

PencilApp is built using HTML5, CSS3 and the (jQuery) jqScribble plugin.

AWW,

AWW (which stands for A Web Whiteboard) is an online whiteboard and drawing app that allows for basic collaboration with a group of people using a variety of devices. The simplistic nature of the interface and controls means there is a low learning curve and you can get started straight away.

It features a choice of seven colors, three sizes of pencil, an eraser and a text tool. To invite others to collaborate, just send them a link to your drawing board and they can join the project. You can save the drawing as a PNG image and upload, share or send through email.

You can embed AWW on your own site using the plugin or API.

Sumopaint,

Sumo Paint is a fully featured image editing and painting app, which at first glance feels like a browser-based version of Adobe Photoshop. You can edit existing images or start with a blank canvas, with a wealth of advanced features to make use of, including layering tools, blending modes, blur tools and the ability to make finite adjustments to an image to improve the quality.

Other options include contrast, color balance, brightness and more. Once you’ve finished your creation, you can save the image to your desktop in PNG or JPG format, or as a SUMO file that you can open and edit at a later time.

QueekyPaint,

QueekyPaint is a unique online drawing tool that allows you to create videos of your work while you’re painting. You can create your own speed paint artwork, or visit the galleries to learn from the creation process of other artists. It also offers you the ability to edit your photos, publish your artwork and collaborate in projects and groups to meet artists with similar interests. You can even create your own group for a specific topic and invite others to join.

Save artwork to your desktop or Queeky account, or export it as a JPG, GIF or PNG. You can edit images using the suite of tools provided, which includes generic tools, layer effects, filters and adjustment options such as contrast, brightness and more.

Pencil Madness,

Pencil Madness is a simple app that lets you draw and publish images to the Pencil Madness gallery. You can save Images to your desktop as JPG or SVG files once you’re finished. The app features a number of brushes and brush effects to draw whatever you choose, along with a range of colors. You can change the size and opacity of the brush, use the eraser, zoom in and out, and even undo and redo actions. Extract colors from an image to create a color palette to use within your drawing.

The app is also available on the Amazon App marketplace to use on your Android mobile device.

Sketch.io,

Sketchpad is a fun, feature-rich drawing application written in HTML5. It’s non-destructive and doesn’t limit itself to just drawing and sketching — you can even sign PDF documents and export them to your desktop, which is much more efficient than downloading, printing, filling in, scanning and so on. It features an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface with many tools, including text, paintbrush, pencil, calligraphy, stamp, spirograph, crayon, arrows and more.

You can undo, redo and erase any part of your creation, and even take images using your computers in-built camera.

Sketch & Paint,

Sketch & Paint allows you to get creative and get started quickly. Its simple interface and variety of sketching tools include a paintbrush, color kit, zoom view, eraser and opacity. You can set the dimension of the canvas, set your color and brush properties (such as size, pressure, diffusion, scatter and shake). Multi-level undo and redo is included, and every line you draw is treated as an individual object and can be dragged and deleted separately.

Keyboard shortcut functionality is provided, which makes it easy to select and adjust tools and settings.

Draw Island,

Draw Island is a simple web-based tool for creating drawings and GIF animations, with the option of various canvas sizes, and featuring pencil and paintbrushes. You can increase the brush size and opacity level, or choose between the shapes available to create your drawing. There’s an undo and redo function, as well as an eraser to remove any unwanted parts of your artwork. You can use the color wheel to pick any color you want, or you can enter your own Hex code.

You can import images, easily create a GIF, control the animation delay, and add text to any drawing.

Slimber,

Slimber is a browser-based app that allows you to draw, replay and save your artwork. It’s easy to get started — just choose your canvas dimensions and begin creating. A palette of tools is provided, which includes a pencil, brush, line, shapes, paint bucket, eraser and color-picker. You can choose the size, spacing, shape, overlay and flow of your paintbrush and specify your preferred RGB color.

Once you’re finished, you can click “play” and it will rerun your artistic process. Then you can save and write a description of your artwork. Submit your piece to the gallery to see your creation and receive the URL address or embed code to share.

deviantArt Muro,

deviantArt Muro is an online HTML5 drawing application, released in 2010 as a celebratory offering for deviantArt’s 10th birthday. It’s perfect for both hobbyist doodlers and professional artists. Your work is saved automatically (to your Sta.sh account) from your first brush stroke, and you can share your creative process to be replayed, published and shared. There are more than 20 brushes to choose from, and you can specify brush opacity, size and fill opacity. You can add or remove layers and adjust brightness and contrast. Filters include blur, sharpen, high pass, emboss, noise and more.

Images can be exported as PNG, layers or saved to your Sta.sh account.

FlockDraw,

FlockDraw is a seamless collaborative drawing and painting tool that makes it easy to draw in real-time with other people (or simply create your own art). To begin, click “Create your session” and start drawing, and invite others to join by providing them with your unique URL.

Use shapes, text, lines, the brush tool and the provided color palette to create your own drawing. You change the size of your brush, and save your image to the gallery or share it on social media or via the unique URL.

 

Ways to Write Recommendations on Amazing LinkedIn

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Most of us have worked with great colleagues, bosses and employees over the years who we’d be happy to recommend on LinkedIn (or anywhere, really) in a heartbeat if asked.

Problem is, of course, that sitting down and writing said recommendation always takes more time than you think it will. What should you say that will make your contact stand out — but still sound genuine? Should you describe every amazing skill this person has — or keep it short and sweet?

Don’t worry. We’ve turned that daunting task into a five-step (and five-minute) process. Next time you’re asked to recommend someone, follow this template (complete with sample lines to cut and paste.

VISIT ALSO: Does Entrepreneur Need a Mentor in their Business

Start With a Knockout Line,

As with any good writing, you want to start with a line that grabs your audience and makes them want to read more. (After all, what good is a great recommendation if no one reads all the way through?)

Ideally, this line will show right away what an awesome person your recommendee is. Be careful, though, to avoid phrases like “one of the best” or “one of my favorite employees” — while, no, not everyone’s going to be the ultimate superlative, there are plenty of words and phrases that sound just as strong, but less qualified.

“It’s rare that you come across standout talent like Mike.”

“Few people have the opportunity to report to a manager who is also a coach and mentor— but I did when I worked for Susan.”

“‘Ridiculously efficient’ is the phrase that comes to mind when I think about Tim.”

Describe Your Relationship,

Next, you’ll want to give the reader some context as to how you know the person, including your reporting relationship, what you worked on together and the length of time you’ve known each other. While you don’t have to give all the details (LinkedIn will show the company and both of your job titles on your recommendation), it’s important to let readers know why you’re qualified to give the recommendation. (And, of course, be sure to note that it was a positive working relationship.)

“I had the pleasure of working with Jim for two years at the Smith Company, collaborating on several project teams.”

“I hired Carrie as a freelance designer in 2011 after seeing her online portfolio, and she’s completed six flawless projects for me since then.”

“Mark expertly filled the role of social media coordinator for my company’s marketing team for just over a year.”

Share a Standout Trait,

If you’re recommending someone, there’s a good chance you think he or she is smart, talented, organized, wonderful to work with, the list goes on. So, there’s no need to use the limited characters in your recommendation to state the obvious.

Instead, think about one or two things this person does better than anything else — or that really stand out to you above others — and focus your recommendation there. You can also ask the person if there’s something he or she would like you to talk about: For example, if she was your executive assistant but is now applying to her first management role, she’ll likely want you to highlight her experience managing volunteers over her organizational skills.

“I was particularly impressed by Kelly’s ability to handle even the toughest clients — and effortlessly. That skill often takes years to develop among customer service professionals, but it seemed to come perfectly naturally to her.”

“I was always in awe of Fred’s ability to command a room and get people on board with ideas — even people who were initially on completely different pages.”

“Matt’s ability to juggle multiple projects was unlike any I’ve seen before and made a dramatic difference in the productivity level of our team.”

Add a Touch of Personality,

Let’s face it: Everyone wants to hire someone who not only gets the job done, but who’s also great to work with. So, if you can share a tidbit about what it’s like to work with this person or some insight into his or her personality, do so! (Just, you know, know your audience. “Sophie planned the best office happy hours ever!” might not go over so well with her future employers.)

“Oh, and she made sure our Monday morning staff meetings were never without bagels and coffee. Talk about motivating a team!”

“And we still miss her on the office softball league!”

“No matter how tense a meeting, Annie made sure everyone left with a smile.”

End With Your Solid Recommendation,

Finally, it’s always nice to seal your recommendation with a final line that makes it clear that you give your contact an enthusiastic thumbs-up. You don’t need to do much here — think short, sweet and solid.

“Allison would be an asset to any team.”

“As a team member or a leader, Steve earns my highest recommendation.”

“Any employee would be lucky to have Michelle as a manager.”

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Your Favourite Moments in 2013 are Highlighted in Facebook

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Last year, Facebook gave users their own personal Year in Review. This year, the social network is turning the spotlight on users’ friends.

Facebook added a separate Year in Review feature that highlights the top 30 moments and life events from users’ Facebook friends.

SEE ALSO: What Does Facebook Profile Tell Us About You

Users can check out their own Year in Review by clicking on a “See Your 2013 Year in Review” button located below their profile picture. Once a user is at their own Year in Review page, they can click on a button labeled “Your Friends in 2013” to see the top moments from their Facebook friends.

Facebook uses a different algorithm than the one that surfaces News Feed content. The Year in Review is made up exclusively of “life events and popular posts,” according to a spokesperson. The “popular posts” are determined based on engagement like comments and Likes.

Users can also click on images of their friends featured at the top of the page in order to see that friend’s personal collection of moments and posts. If a friend visits your Year in Review page, they will only be able to see the moments and posts that were shared with them throughout the year.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Does Entrepreneur Need a Mentor in their Business

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“Being an entrepreneur isn’t an easy job,” says Andres Teran, cofounder of Toplist, a social shopping recommendation startup. “There are moments that you have nothing and feel like things are never going to getting better.”

Teran is referring to the days before his company’s vital pivot point, when he and his team had dedicated their lives to creating a site they loved with features they themselves would want.

“Toplist, before being an app, was a website where people shuffled around cool products curated by their own interests,” says Teran. “We worked hard to develop this cool site with great features that showed amazing products. After we launched the site, though, we noticed people didn’t use all the great features we had built for them. They weren’t engaging with the amazing content we had curated for them. Worst of all, they weren’t coming back to use our service.”

VISIT ALSO: Ways to Globalize Your Career from a Startup

At that point, his team set out to raise capital for what they had built, hoping to secure enough money for marketing, hires and anything else it might take to help the concept catch on. But, with low user numbers, the Internet odds were stacked against them and time was running out. No one fronted the cash.

“We were just about to let everything go and end the project when we landed a meeting with the CEO of a micro-credit company that had just gone public in Mexico to see if he wanted to be involved as an angel investor in our company,” says Teran.

It was the only lead they had, and soon, he would become the first investor. But not in the company’s current state. First, there were essential pivots to be made, honest realizations to be had and hard-earned advice to be taken. The Toplist team needed an outside perspective and some guidance to find their way.

“On that day, he made us realize two things,” says Teran. “One, the product we had been working so hard on did not work for the users; we thought it would, but it didn’t. Two, not everything was a complete failure: We had learned a lot about how to build products that people could be engaged with, we learned about working together as a team. We had learned from our mistakes actually.”

What was supposed to be a pitch meeting turned out to be a crucial pivot point for Toplist — one that wouldn’t have happened without the right guidance and advice. Teran’s team took the feedback seriously, made the necessary changes and their luck started to change. The company’s new and influential mentor had saved just saved them from near failure.

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“Before we left his office, he said that if we changed our project into something more attractive he would definitely invest,” says Teran. “Sometimes you need someone else to honestly point out what is wrong. We were amazed by his good will.

He could have just said, ‘No,’ and we would have gone on with our failure and him with his success. But he took our side.

He could have just said, ‘No,’ and we would have gone on with our failure and him with his success. But he took our side.”

Mentorship has been a hot topic in the startup world for years, with incubator and accelerator programs offering it — among other things — in exchange for stock in founders’ ideas. Outside of incubators though, finding a good mentor is challenging. But finding the right mentor is a lesson in luck, persistence and not letting opportunities pass you by.

“We did look for mentorship before we found someone that was right,” says Teran, explaining that his company’s mentor was discovered by chance. “I think the way to go is talk with people that can give you advice on certain topics and, most important of all, help you to make good decisions.

A big thing, though, is not to obsess about finding mentorship, because you could lose focus on what’s really important as an entrepreneur — executing the concept,” he says.

So how do you stumble upon your own honest and willing mentor without losing sight of your first priority (your company)?

“Good mentors will be hard to track down, and their time is extremely limited,” says Brett Hagler, cofounder of Hucksley, a marketplace for discovering one-of-a-kind brands. “Reach out creatively and always try to take the ‘backdoor’ approach by getting introduced through a mutual contact. Certain platforms such as LinkedIn allow you to have direct access to your targeted mentors. Always be creative on your specific ask and make it as relevant and direct as possible.”

Look hard for a mentor and network as much as possible, but don’t make finding a mentor your primary focus. Perhaps Sheryl Sandberg said it best in Lean In: you don’t need a mentor to excel, “Excel and you will get a mentor.”

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.