As part of today’s release Helium has made some upgrades to the assignment system. Members can now quickly accept or withdraw from multiple assignments by clicking the check boxes next to titles and then clicking “Accept,” or conversely “Withdraw.”

One thing to note, if you click the check box on some assignments on say page 1 of 10 but don’t click the “accept” box and move on to page 2 to claim some more titles before clicking “accept” those titles will not be added to your My Assignments. You have to click “accept” before moving on to the next page of titles.

We’ve also added question marks for members who have questions about what each section — Announcements, My Assignments, and Available Assignments — of the My Helium page means. Clicking on the question mark image will show text explaining everything in detail.

Another helpful feature is the numbers next to Open, Restricted and Personal assignments. This number reflects the number of available titles for each section.

We’ve also added some new details associated with each title. You can now see the title, article type, number of submissions (meaning how many other writers have claimed this title), payment, when it was posted and when it closes. The number of submissions area, for example 1/5,  is a new feature and one members really wanted.

Sorting assignments also got an overhaul. Now simply click once on “Payment,” “Posted On” or “Closes” and it will sort titles from, for example, highest paying to lowest paying, or lowest paying to highest paying title.

In Open Assignments you can filter titles by channel. In Restricted Assignments you can filter by any writing group you are a member of, for example, Marketplace Approved, Marketplace Premier or Home & Garden – Home Interior Senior Writer. If there are no titles available for that group it will not appear in the list. You can also search for a title in the “Title Search” bar.

Changes to the My Helium page 

Members’ My Helium page also got a fresh look. Writers’ stats and photo are now at the top of the page so you can easily see your writing score and rating score.

The Announcements section on the My Helium page has changed as well. Now there’s only only section of announcements at the very top of the page, under your writer stats.

To read all new announcements simply click on “Announcements” in the left navigation bar. This will show all active announcements for members. Helium can now share news, promotions and updates to not only the entire community, but to specific writing groups, or to individual writers. We hope you enjoy the new Announcements page and visit it often. The number next to the “Announcements” in the left navigation is the number of active announcements for you. It is not the number of unread messages.

Check out the changes as part of the Aug. 17 release and share your thoughts and opinions here!

As part of our upcoming release on Monday, Helium will get more social! We’ve cleaned up the social media sharing icons at the top of each article page and included the Google +1 button.

We’ve also created an action bar that moves as you scroll down the page. This bar includes social buttons for Facebook, Twitter and Google +1. You can even click “hide” if you want the toolbar to be hidden. When logged in as Helium writer, you will also have additional tools in the action bar. They include “Article Tools,” “Print article” and the “Write now” button.

It’s important to note that the “Write now” button will no longer be at the top of the article. It will now be housed in this action bar.

If you’re not logged in to Helium, the action bar will look a little different. It will not include the “Write now” button, and it will not include “Article Tools.” This creates a cleaner and more user-friendly presentation for readers of the site.

Earnings & Payments changes

We’re also adding a new feature to Earnings & Payments for all writers. Writers will be able to download an Excel spreadsheet listing their earnings on every article they’ve written on Helium (up to 1,500 articles). Now you can clearly see how much each article has earned, making it easier to see which articles have been more successful and which ones need some editing, or some promotion.

Become a subject-matter expert, show off your expertise, and get rewarded! As part of our release this week, Helium laid the foundation for new Writer Quality Groups.

Every night we run an algorithm that determines the writing quality of your articles. We then calculate which writers fall into the top 10 percent based on those quality ratings and place them in a Senior Writer group for that leaf channel. So, say you know a ton about cameras and love to write about them. If your camera articles show expertise and quality writing skills, you could end up in the 10 percent of writers in the camera channel — you are now a part of the “Consumer Electronics – Cameras Senior Writer” group.

Some Helium writers will notice they were added to Senior Writer groups today. Others will see it happening over the course of time — we run the process nightly to determine who has qualified for the groups.

What if I wasn’t added to the Senior Writer groups in my favorite channels?

Don’t worry! You can:

1. Working on improving your writing (we have lots of helpful posts here in the Helium blog!)

2. Write some new articles to those channels

3. Take advantage of leapfrogging

Every time you write a new article or leapfrog an old one it goes back into the pool to be rated, giving you more chances to advance to a Senior Writer group.

Why Senior Writer groups?

By creating Senior Writer groups, we can now target titles to those writers. These assignments will show up in the “restricted” assignments tab. We’re posting the first batch of targeted titles tonight. If you don’t get one, keep checking back because we’ll be targeting different groups every day.

Or, better yet, use our new Notifications feature to sign up for text alerts for the groups you really care about! Just go to your Account Settings and go to the Notifications tab.

If you do happen to drop out of the 10 percent of writers to a channel through rating cycles, don’t worry, we won’t remove you from the Senior Writer group.

Why am I part of the Baking Senior Writer group?

You may see some you’ve been added to some groups where you did not write much to the channel, but you wrote well. This process is not interested in quantity — it’s interested in quality. We can’t go into depth about how the ranking works, but I can assure you that if you got assigned to the group, you were in the top 10 percent in our quality ranking. So even if you wrote hundreds of articles to a leaf and half of them rated well, if you were in the top 12 percent but not the top 10 percent, you wouldn’t be in the group.

The Creative Writing channel has not been included. Creative Writing is a slightly different beast. It’s not that we don’t love it, but it’s more esoteric than knowledge writing. We are not trying to downplay Creative Writing; rather, we’re trying to recognize the difference between it and everything else.

How can I find out what Senior Writer groups I’ve been added to?

Go to your Notifications tab on your Account Settings page. It’s after Contact Info, Pen Name, Charity, etc. Not only can you sign up here to get text messages to your cell phone, but you can also see which writing groups you are a part of.

You don’t need to have a smartphone. Any cell phone that allows you to receive text messages works! If you do have a smartphone, you can go to HeliumNetwork Mobile on your smartphone browser, click on the Restricted button and accept your assignment right from your phone.

Start getting targeted assignments today by writing high-quality articles to any leaf channel. Need more motivation? Take advantage of our 10 Squared promotion!

Helium now offers members the option to receive SMS notifications (better known as text messages) about new available writing assignments. If you’re a member of any writing groups on Helium you can choose to receive text message alerts about new assignments that have been uploaded to the assignment system for groups you are a part of!

For example, say you’re a Marketplace Premier writer on Helium and you want to know every time new assignments have been posted, now you can!

To subscribe to receive SMS notifications about new assignments, visit the Account Settings page (accessible through My Account on My Helium) and click the “Notifications” tab on the top menu. It’s listed right after Contact Info, Pen Name, etc.

In the fields available, enter your mobile phone number, select the country your phone is registered to and select your mobile carrier. After entering this information, click “submit.”

A confirmation will appear at the top of the screen indicating an activation notification has been sent to your phone. Now an activation code box will appear in the “Notifications” tab. Enter the code you received via text message into this field.

Helium writers can select which writing group assignments to be notified about. They can also select to stop receiving notifications at any time too. It’s an opt-in program! Check out our Help page to learn more about how to set up your alerts.

Got a smartphone? Don’t forget to check out Helium’s mobile assignment system!

Today is a great day for Helium as we release our mobile version of the assignment system for writers. The mobile version will work on any Android phone or iPhone.

This initial mobile release for the assignment system will allow writers to login to Helium, view all assignments available to them, claim assignments and withdraw from assignments.

Like on the main site, writers can view assignment details including how many submissions are accepted for each assignment, the deadline and how much it pays.

This initial release does not have filtering or sorting of assignments in the Open, Personal and Restricted sections but we’ll be adding that functionality soon in an upcoming release.

Visit this URL (http://heliumnetwork.mobi) from your phone’s browser and bookmark it for easy access. Some phones even allow you to add the bookmark to your home screen.

Helium mobile strategy is to make use of smartphone browsers rather than creating apps for these reasons:

  1.  We can immediately support both iPhone and Android without creating two apps and go through the various app approval processes.
  2. When we release improvements,  the community will get them right away without downloading new versions.

Check out our how-to video!

One of the first projects I worked on when I started at Helium over 2.5 years ago was our Debate product.  When Helium first started, we only had one knowledge type.  Debates were on the site, but they were using the “knowledge” product – which was inefficient.  People would rate down opposing views, it was hard to separate the ones for side A or side B, and most of the time people would just “straddle the line” and present both sides of the argument.

While this can be good sometimes it’s better to have passionate discussion that picks a side.  Conservative/Liberal, Microsoft/Apple, Red Sox/Yankees – these are arguments much better defended when one picks a side and sticks to it.  So we started working on Debate in January 2007.  Shortly thereafter we announded it at DEMO.  Which was a bit nerve racking to us in development since we were still, you know, working on it.  Part of the answer to the title of this question lies in the press release:

While popular community sites, blogs and social networks encourage “debate” through comment or feedback forms, message boards or member forums, the lack of structure and fair presentation of both sides of any difference of opinion makes such disputes hard-to-follow and uninteresting for the reader. Most debates are merely “battles of the post” or inflamed re-writes of what is perceived to be fact. With no definitive format for a clear pro versus con argument and no way for audiences to also provide feedback, true online debate has yet to work until today.

As identified above there were many issues with the current models for debate on the internet.  Our product was designed to combat the flaws while leveraging the pros – interesting and impassioned content on topical subjects that engage readers.

In May of that year we officially launched Debate.  Personally this was my first ever “real Helium launch.”  Internally, it was such a big architecture change that we closed the 2.x branch before Debate – it became 3.0 and was the beginning of the current 3.x development environment that resides on Helium today.

But back to the title – one of the quesitons I see asked and am asked time and time again is “Why is Debate the way it is?”  I.e. why can I only write, vote and rate for one side and not both?  Simple, and I’ll use our very own Mr. Ranalli’s words:

Our goal is to give people an organized, rational outlet to voice their opinions online.

One of the main problems with debate online before Helium Debate was the fact that passion and opinion often got in the way of honest discussion.  Good debate topics stir emotions and empower people to voice their opinion – voting, rating, writing or some combination of the three.  However, anytime you stir passion like that it’s hard for people to be impartial when they are interacting with the side they oppose.

The reason we make you stick with a side once you pick it is simple – abuse.  In envisioning and specifying the product we quickly came to the conclusion that it’s very likely that if someone were able to “play both sides” then it’s very likely that abuse (via rating) would occur.  It’s hard to provide an “organized, rational outlet” if people are skewing the results because of a bias for either side.  Now, this is not to say everyone would do that – but it only takes a few to ruin it for everyone else.  And even the most rational person can get heated on certain topics – being a Massachusetts native I would be hard pressed to be unbiased for the Yankees side in a Red Sox/Yankees debate.

If you think about it, it makes sense as well.  The side you pick is likely to be the side you are most interested and passionate about – so you’re more likely to rate and rate well for that side.  It’s also more likely to fuel your competitive fire – not only do you want to show your passion for side B but also rank #1 for it so that you can do battle with side A and prove your side is best.

Will this ever change – will you ever be able to straddle the fence, specifically for those debates that you don’t feel strongly for either side?  Probably not.  The consensus seems to be that we picked right path.  Nothing is ever 100% certain – nor applicable for every case study – however against the other options the one we chose yielded the best results.

I hope that helps.

One of the least used, misused, and misunderstood features on Helium is – in my opinion – our favorites.  Favorites come in 3 flavors:

  1. The ability to favorite a writer.
  2. The ability to favorite a title.
  3. The ability to favorite an item.

The purpose behind these were very simple.  Our original bio page was very simple.  As Helium grew, we thought to make it out more like a blog page.  Your articles were already “posts” of a sort on the “Helium blog” (main site) – so we had that.  What we didn’t have were other common featuers – the ability to make a blogroll (favorite writers), and the ability to link to other “blogs” (titles) or “posts” (items) that you wanted to promote.

The original intent behind the feature was also to build and foster a sense of community on Helium.  You would be able to promote other writers you liked, titles you enjoyed reading, and well written items that you discovered.  Unfortunately, most people simply link to their own items, defeating the community aspect.

While it’s understandable to want to do this to increase one’s earnings, sometimes it’s better to spread a little “link love” around.  Helium is a community and what goes around tends to come around.  Even the greatest writers acknowledge those that give them inspiration, joy, and drive them to improve.

Now, onto the features themselves.

Favorite Writers

Your favorite writers show up on your bio page in the right column between your stars and recent articles:

favorite_writersYou can have up to 10 writers in your list.  If you try to add an 11th writer we will prompt you and ask if you want to replace the oldest one on the list with the new writer.  In the example above, if I tried to add a new writer it would ask me if I wanted to remove Paul.

If you want to add a writer to your list, you can do this from their bio page.  Click on their name and under their avatar you’ll see a “add to favorites” link with our favorites icon next to it.

add_fav_writer1

Simply click the link and they will be added to your favorite writers.  If you want to remove writers from your list, you can simply click on your name at the top of Helium when you’re logged in.  In the right column, you’ll see your writer list with “remove” links under each name.  Just click the one below the one you want to remove:

remove_fav_writerFavorite Items / Titles

Your favorite items and titles show up on your biography section of your bio under “briefly me” and above your featured article:

my_favorites1

As with favorite writers, you can have 10 of each of these.  To add a favorite title, simply click the “add to favorites” link on the item list page:

add_fav_title

To add a favorite item, go to the item page and click “article tools”:

add_fav_item1

That will trigger the Article Tools dialog box and you can click “add to favorites” from there:

add_fav_item2

If you want to remove any of the titles and/or items later on you can do it just like with favorite writers, click on your name at the top of Helium while logged in and in the left column you’ll see something like:

remove_favorites

Click “remove” under any link to remove it.  That’s it.

Hope this helps.

Your bio pages are the most important public facing pages you own.  It’s a way for visitors to see all of your items, to get to know you, and to see your accomplishments (and therefore have a measuring stick for what you are saying).  Each user has 2 bio pages:

  1. Your articles page: the default for most pen name links.  Contains all your articles.  The URL being helium.com/users/[user_id]/show_articles
  2. Your biography page: contains all your personal bio information and favorite titles/articles.  The URL being http://www.helium.com/users/%5Buser_id%5D

These two pages share a lot in common.  Let’s dig down deeper into them, see what they have in common and how they differ.

For the screen shots the following users have graciously, and unknowingly, donated their about me pages:

Shared

Bio Picture

All the shared content is currently in the right column.  First, we have the bio pic, location, and the “contact writer” / “add to favorites” links:

bio-pic

It’s useful to have this filled out for several reasons.  One, unless you have a realistic bio pic you don’t qualify for some containers like featured writer.  Second, some publishers take this into consideration when purchasing content.  Third, it gives readers an idea of who they’re dealing with.  Finally, your location gives users input as far as your expertise on regional articles.

This is akin to the picture you see at the end of a novel.

Credentials

Next are your Helium credentials – all the little badges and stars you’ve earned as a result of your hard work:

credentials

Here again we’re building trust in the writer.  Obviously if a new reader on Helium comes to your bio page and you have 5 writing stars and multiple badges then it becomes easier for them to trust that you know what you’re talking about and are not just some anonymous person on the Internet.

Our professional badges will also help this moving forward.

Links

Helium allows you to post 3 external links.  This allows you to showcase other work you may have done like your blog, your art portfolio site, or your flickr photography.  This is also a useful way to build up some “link juice” to your other works:

links

Stats

An unappreciated area that lists how many articles you’ve written and how many writers have accepted your invitation and joined Helium.  A strong indicator of your contributions to Helium (thank you):

stats

Favorite Helium Writers

Similar to a blogroll this allows you to list up to 10 other Helium writers that you enjoy reading.  Give a little “link love” to those writers who you most enjoy reading:

favorite-writers

The gray links are just indicating that I’ve visted some of those bios recently.

Recent Articles

A simple showcase of your 10 most recent articles:

recent-articles

This has become a lot more useful and interesting since we started sorting your articles page via rank instead of recency.

My Channels

This is very similar to a categories list on a blog.  It allows a reader to filter the articles you’ve written by base channel.  This is especially useful on users who have hundreds or thousands of articles so that if you like what they’ve written in the Relationships & Family article you just read, you can find others in the same channel:

channels

Articles Page

The articles page consists mainly of… well… your articles:

articles

One noteworthy thing is the RSS feed link which allows you to plug it into your RSS reader of choice (I use and recommend Google Reader) and anytime they write a new article it will show up fresh and minty for your viewing.

Biography Page

The biography page is all about you.

About Me

First, you have an area to talk about anything and everything you:

about-me

We recommend being original but also keeping it professional – as publishers will look at and have access to this information.  Also keep in mind that if you use your real name, or a name associated with your “brand” that this information is crawlable by Google.

Briefly Me

For those that don’t know what exactly to talk about we have a rather infamous list of questions to pry out some information in quasi-reporter style:

questions

Helium Favorites

A place to showcase your 10 favorite titles and authors.  Originally imagined as a way to showcase works of others you’ve enjoyed unfortunately many users highlight their own works instead:

favorites

As bio pages tend to have some traction in search engine rankings it’s a good way to share deep links with your friends as well.

Featured Article

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is your Featured Article.  The default, unless overridden on your My Articles page is your newest contribution to Helium.  This is the area to showcase your best work or, perhaps, a personal favorite – either because it’s a high earner or simply because you like how it turned out:

featured

Remember that as a Helium writer this is both a showcase for your work and a resume outlining your skills and experience.  Use it to your advantage.

I hope that helps.

One’s “My Articles” page is the “command center” for any writer for managing all their articles – including past versions replaced by leapfrog or deleted.  However it is not a simple page to navigate and use.  I figured I’d continue our feature review by examining the ins and outs of this page – hopefully helping new users and maybe showing “old hands” at Helium a new thing or two.

When you first vist your My Articles page you see a simple list of your active items, something akin to this:

my_articles1

Each arrow in the picture points out a unique item.  Trailing two items in the example you see previous versions of the item – in this case past versions replaced by leapfrog:

my_articles4

You’ll notice these differ from active items in a few ways.

  1. They don’t have anything in the channel, article title or creation date columns
  2. They don’t have a rank icon.
  3. They have a red status at the top of the article column, in this case “Replaced by Leapfrog” and the date they were replaced.

So, what exactly can you do from this page?  Well, first, you can view the options available for the item by clicking the link here:

my_articles2

Once you do that it will trigger a show/hide and give you the available options for that particular item:

my_articles3

In this case you can set or change the donation status by selecting the charity of your choice from the drop down and hitting “Submit”, you can set it as your Featured Article, or initiate a Leap Frog.

Now, this page can get very cluttered if you have a large number of items.  If you have a large number of items it’s also difficult to browse through all the pages and find the specific item you’re looking for.  Luckily, the page offers two means in which to change the view – search and filter.

On the left at the top you see search:

my_articles7

This allows you to search for specific phrases either in the title or the body of the item.  This is convenient if you know you’ve written to a certain series of titles – i.e. “Web design tips” – or if you remember a specific phrase from an item you want to edit.

Alternatively, if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for you can filter your articles using the options on the right.  You have two options, first you can filter by status:

my_articles5

Second, you can specify how many results you want on a page, a convenient option if you are expecting to get many items back:

my_articles6

After setting one or both, you simply hit Go.

Hope that helps.

I wanted to continue our future feature series.  One of the biggest features in the next release is what we call widgets. .  They’re actually designed mainly for the non-Helium writer – the person that wants to add additional content to their site/blog such as a political debate or a discussion of a bestselling new book. Basically, these will be bits of JavaScript code that they can copy and paste onto their site or blog and share articles or debates

This means more traffic and earnings for you, the Helium writer, as more people share the content they find on Helium.  The first one we are planning on launching is the “Top Article” widget.  Basically, this widget will give you the top article (or top pair for a debate) from an item and display it.  So what will that look like?

First, they’ll navigate to an item page as normal.  Once there they’ll see something like this at the top:

They of course click “Get a Widget for this title” and then they’ll see this:

They can just copy the embed code and paste it where they want the widget to show up.  We don’t have it set up in development mode just yet to work on external sites, but clicking preview gets a general idea of what it might look like on an actual page.  It’s using development data, so yes, that is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Don’t judge us:

widget-3

Again, they can just paste the little embed code on the site of their choice and they’re done – the box at the top will show up (i.e not with the grey box at the bottom and without “preview” at the top).  Pretty neat.

Note again that this is still in development and QA – so things may change before release.  But this gives you a rough idea of what to expect.

Hope you enjoyed the sneak peak.