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 key areas of Helium is a user’s My Articles page.  I like to think of this page as a user’s “command center” because it is from this page, and this page only, that you are able to manage all of your articles – including past versions – as well as leapfrog your articles.  As a user this is likely the most important page to you because it allows you to manage your content which in turn allows you to manage your income – the more easily you can improve your content the more likely you are to be able to earn more income from Helium.

In testing the site as a developer and in talking to users I’ve found that this page is likely a usability issue once you reach a certain threshold – i.e. you have a lot of items and/or leapfrogs.  I’m thinking it’s somewhere in the 25-50 article range but could be higher or lower.  As a user, you might not even notice the issue if you don’t leapfrog much – i.e. you only write new content.  When you do have to leapfrog or find one of your articles for whatever reason though it’s likely a pain to use.  It’s even possible that the usability issues cause this page to be used less than it should and, therefore, causes pain to both users and Helium – in that both miss out on improved content.

There have been several threads on the boards about perceived issues and potential solutions.  My purpose here is to provide a central location to identify potential issues and solutions as well as open the discussion to the community to confirm, deny, or expand upon.  Note that these are only my own thoughts and opinions and not necessarily opinions of Helium nor indicators of future functionality.

Issues

  1. Large volumes of content are not easily managable via the current system
    As I mentioned, once a user has a certain number of articles, which we’ll call X and assume for now to be 50, this page becomes unwieldy simply because of the sheer number of entries and pagination – including past versions of articles.
  2. The current sorts / filters are not enough
    Although we offer sorting and filtering, there are certain instances that cannot be easily found.  You can filter by various statuses – replaced by leapfrog, marketplace active, etc – and even use the channel and creation date headers to sort in ascending / descending order.  However, you cannot sort by rank – which would be useful to find lower ranking articles to leapfrog.  Search also seems to focus on item contents (although I could be wrong) so it’s difficult to find an article if you only know the title
  3. Current sorts / filters don’t save (i.e. can’t set preferences)
    Several users have mentioned on the boards that although it’s useful to be able to list more than 10 results on the page, or sort via date submitted these are not saved on a return trip.
  4. Listing previous versions of the article clutters the page
    Currently we list any leapfrogs – successful or not – under the active item as well as other versions of articles for marketplace, etc.  This means that even with only 10 articles listed on a page it can be very large if you’ve done a lot of leapfrogging.  It’s doubtful that you regularly want to see past versions of the article regularly – so it makes little sense that we serve them up regardless.
  5. Vast amounts of information are presented in a small space
    In a small table we list title, channel, creation date, status, and even a teaser blurb.  A lot of this information is likely not regularly used and better represented in other methods.  This is not even mentioned article options which includes leapfrog, featured article and donation functionality.

Solutions

  1. Create a new page – “manage article” or “my article” – which is linked to from My Articles
    As part of this we move a lot of the clutter off the My Articles page including leapfrog, donation, featured article, and past versions.  Basically if you want to interact with an article it’s another click but that new page would contain only the information related to the article instead of having one page containing all the information on many articles.
  2. Move channel and creation date columns out of the article list and into a filter option above the list
    Likely this would require a new object and line up the top as we are out of space and it doesn’t really fit into either of the current mechanisms.  This would allow us more horizontal space and take care of some of the crowing issues – specifically if you’ve written to long channels or titles.
  3. Combine title and article columns
    Combined with #2 this would change us from a 4 column list to one column, which will buy us more space horizontally and likely readability (think very similar to an article list page on a knowledge title).  Likely would have the title bolded above the blurb.  Outstanding issue would be how to effectively show the 2 status – title and article.
  4. Create a new tab in account settings for preferences
    I originally thought to create a new page here but account settings likely seems a better home.  This would enable you to set your preferred default sort (channel, creation date, rank – ?) and preferred number of results per page.
  5. Enable advanced search of articles
    Likely very similar to the current advanced search except that it would return only your own articles and the links wouldn’t be to the live versions but rather the new page from #1.

So that’s what I have for a first go around.  Did I miss any issues that have caused you pain?  Is the page not as bad as I feel it might be?  What do you think of the improvements?  What other improvements would you suggest for this page?

I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

If I’m not mistaken – we work on current and future builds in development, so it happens sometimes – with our release last week you should now see title when you select “praise and feedback for writer” from the rating screen.

Many users have expressed confusion because there was no reference when they got these e-mails – usually with edit suggestions for their articles.  It should now say something like “This is in regards to your article on: [title]” at the top.

As I said, I’m pretty confident it was in the release last week however it might not have been communicated.

Hope this helps.