Programming

Book Review: Programming Collective Intelligence: Building Smart Web 2.0 Applications by Toby Segaran

Collective Intelligenge book

If you have not read this book yet, then you need to order it now. I was skeptical about the book because I thought it tries to cover too many topics, thus not going in depth about any of them. I was wrong.

Far from being a boring theoretical book on web development, this book contains a vast amount of useful information with easy-to-understand examples. The book covers the algorithms behind search rankings, online matchmaking, product recommendations and social bookmarking. The author walks you through the theory behind each algorithm and provides examples of how you can write one yourself. You don’t have to be an experienced programmer to understand this book.

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The work behind msnbc.com election maps

msnbc election 08 map widgets

Now that the election is over and I am well rested, I want to look back at what we have worked on all these months at msnbc.com. A few people wrote me asking about the process of creating a large scale project in a fast paced environment. Here is a longer answer to that question. Since this post will be a bit long, I will break it into several sections.

Pre-election content

We put a huge amount of effort into the Decision ’08 Dashboard data explorer map. Many people had been preparing interactive content for our election coverage for months before I arrived. By the time I started in July 2008, most of the core functionality of the map had been developed. My first assignment was to support other developers and designers, by preparing data and writing small utility classes. Next, I created the polling data display and helped with designing the fundraising data display.

msnbc election 2008 data map
Click on image to see full size.

We wanted to map every data set we could find that came with geographic information. There were at least 10 data sets we wanted to map, but we launched our politics front map with only six data sets. We added user opinion, polling, candidate appearances and fundraising data over the next several weeks.

Most of our data sets were huge and we needed the technology to support and serve them to a large audience. This is where the team that builds our publishing platform came in. They built a new, user-friendly database tool just in time for us to use for the election.

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Election '08: election night results widgets

Updated Nov. 5, 2008: 0:55 a.m.The widget maps turned out to be a huge success. We are approaching 100,000 installs and more than 10 million page views. The critical moment has passed and the number of installs decreased as expected, but I am positive the maps will be viewed and installed many more times before they become obsolete.

Updated Nov. 4, 2008: 9:34 a.m. The widgets installs skyrocketed today exceeding what we set as a goal by a huge margin. They got embedded on several major Web sites and thousands of blogs and social network profiles. By the time the results come in and the widgets switch off the countdown clock, I expect the number of installs to jump even higher. Let’s hope that everything will go great today.

Updated Nov. 3, 2008: I am happy that the widgets got a lot of installs and page views. All the three different versions of the widgets that we offer at msnbc.com get about the same amount of installs. That means we really hit the right sizes for most web sites out there.

The election is coming soon and we are almost prepared :) . Here is one of the widgets, part of our Election ’08 coverage from msnbc.com.

Adobe and Google Announce Flash Analytics

Nice, we will finally have a standard way to track stats in flash.

Here is more information from the original post.
“This feature is a translation of the current Google Analytics tracking code into the ActionScript 3 programming language that dramatically simplifies the ability to track Flash, Flex and AS3 content. This new Flash tracking code provides all the rich features of the current JavaScript-based version, including campaign, pageview and event tracking and can be used to track Flash content such as embedded videos, branded microsites and distributed widgets, such as online games.”

Visualization of how different sorting algorithms work

I have seen a few Web sites that show these kind of visualizations, but I particularly like this one because you can choose different initial conditions. The option allows you to see that some sorting algorithms are faster with certain initial conditions than the others.

Here is the link to the site.

Virtual Earth interactive map template

msnbc virtual earth map template
Click on image to view the map

This map is the first version of a more ambitious project that I am working on. Right now, it works like a tool for editors to map interesting news and events. An editor can create a collection in Virtual Earth and use the rss feed generated from the collection to feed the map. The tool is interesting in a way, because it gives editors control over what they want to display. They do not have to come to us, the producers, to make changes on the map.

The editors used the tool in a few projects and they seemed to like it. At one point, we had 3 or 4 projects using this tool from various sections on the site.

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Executive Pay: The Bottom Line for Those at the Top


Click on image to view the graphics

Compensation and accumulated wealth of 200 chief executives for large public companies that filed proxies for last year by March 28.

It is kind of depressing to see that some of these guys make more a year than what I can make in my whole life. :)

Click here to view the graphics

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