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Site performance optimizations: a look back at Election 2012

4 years ago, in 2008, we first met what is now one of our longest ongoing clients, Rasmussen Reports. There was some stress and urgency to their problem, as their site was crashing leading up to the most important time of the year for them -- the US presidential elections. We managed to stabilize their site and imagined a time in the distant future: a less stressful 2012 election period! The month leading up to November 6, 2012 turned out to be a record-breaking traffic month for a couple of our clients, including Rasmussen Reports. This time around, we had no website hiccups during an election season that saw more than twice as many visits in the peak month and an almost 3-fold spike in pageviews from the previous major election's 1-day peak.

Here are some of the site performance best practices we implemented in advance of the 2012 elections.


Weather widgets and API with Weather Underground

Many weather sites offer embeddable widgets to display weather forecasts on your website. However, if you want to customize the look of the widget, your options are usually quite limited. Weather Underground far surpasses the rest of the options by providing a JSON-based API so that you can use their data to build and style your own widgets.

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eep case study: Author name resolution in The 49th Shelf

The problem:

One of our favourite projects, The 49th Shelf, aggregates a lot of data from a diversity of sources. Naturally, there is a range of quality; but even more than that: different sources often refer to the same physical object in different ways. Specifically, a person who writes several books can be referred to in a variety of ways:

  • John Reynolds
  • John L. Reynolds
  • John Lawrence Reynolds

There are some heuristics to resolve most of these cases, but there are always seem to be some that defy the code and require a manual fix.

This process has to be performed on the production site, so we want to minimize the amount of time that the data is inconsistent and we don't want to run untested code.


eZ Flow case study: landing page for Rasmussen Reports Election 2012

For many media sites, news changes fast, and the timely updating of content is key. Landing pages are the main information funnel, and it is important for editors to be able to update the content shown on landing pages as easily as possible. Where relevant, content should also update itself. The Rasmussen Reports Election 2012 page is one such example, where we've empowered editors to make content and layout changes in a graphical user interface, without having to contact a web developer. In this article, we will show you how various areas of the Election 2012 page are updated using the eZ Flow extension for eZ Publish.


Read Local map: user interface design and optimization

Recently, we built a map interface for The 49th Shelf's Read Local: The 100-Mile Book Diet website project using the Google Maps API. The website is an online book community focused on Canadian books. Users can visit the map section to find Canadian books by geographic location, and they can also pin books on the map, selecting locations that are meaningful to the books in some way. 

Allowing anybody to participate in the evolution of the Read Local map means that we have to pay particular attention to the "Add a Book" user experience. If the user experience is intuitive and pleasant, people will be much more willing (and able) to pin a book and help make the map more useful and fun. On the other hand, a confusing interface can hamper the accuracy of the pin data (in the case where books are pinned in the wrong location) and turn people off from participating.

Here's a look at two main considerations regarding user interface design and optimization in the "Add a Book" workflow.