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Site Optimization Tutorial – Lesson 4

Now test your own site and all your benchmark sites for download times, and make copious charts of the results. We’ve tried different methodologies for timing page downloads, and finally hit upon the best trade-off between time required and accuracy of results. To get meaningful comparisons with a minimum amount of effort, use this method.

Contents

  1. How to Time Sites
  2. Automated Timing? No Such Thing!
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Site Optimization Tutorial – Lesson 3

So far, we’ve learned how to shrink page layout code and how to effectively compress images. Still, there are a few more techniques you can apply to optimize your pages, and most of them spring from smart design sense (Here are the On Page Search engine optimization guidelines). Follow these helpful design tips and your page load time will be about as miniscule as humanly possible – short of running your code through a Frinkian Debigulator.

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Cliqset Relaunches, Joins the Real-Time Streaming Club

The web service Cliqset launched a beta version of its new website Wednesday.

The service has undergone a significant makeover with this release, having transformed from a developer-centric platform to a user-centric app for following, posting to and interacting with real-time activity streams around the web.

The redesign puts Cliqset in the same camp as other real-time services like FriendFeed, Facebook and Plaxo Pulse. It also opens up a new set of tools to developers that should prove to be a huge help for anyone building real-time web apps.

The launch is still a private beta, but Cliqset has offered to let in 200 Webmonkey and Wired.com readers — just go to this URL. The first 200 people to register will be automatically approved. Everyone else will have to wait a couple of weeks.

If you have a Cliqset account from the last version of the site, that should also get you into the beta.

When we last wrote about Cliqset earlier this year, the company was putting the finishing touches on its application platform. It was busy recruiting developers to code up some apps for engaging all the photos, links, status updates and videos being posted on the social web. But without too many apps to show off, things were pretty quiet on Cliqset — it basically served as a glorified address book.

The site has changed direction since then, and for the better. The Cliqset team has built in an impressive top layer of user-facing features that show off the robust, real-time streaming platform underneath.

The timing is right, as the real-time social web is undergoing a period of explosive growth. Dozens of services are competing to be your social hub —- a place to aggregate and interact with the streams of data coming out of Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Flickr and all the various nodes on your own social map.

Facebook in particular has taken a specific interest, beefing up its own real-time mojo by purchasing FriendFeed in August, and shortly thereafter releasing its code for serving real-time data.

It makes sense then that Cliqset has much in common with other social aggregation sites like FriendFeed. After you sign up, you tell Cliqset what your username is at all of the other social web services you’re into — Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Tumblr and so on. Cliqset offers to pull content from around 70 social sites right now. It pulls all of your activities from those sites and posts them in a stream that refreshes as new stuff flows in. You can import your contacts to find other people you know on Cliqset. Once you do, you can see their updates appear in your stream, comment on each others posts and cross-post anything they share (to your own Twitter account, for example).

The new user interface is downright beautiful. You can tell Cliqset has really focused on making the stream as clean and uncluttered as possible. Extra functions and sharing buttons only appear when you hover over a shared item or click on one with your mouse.

A huge bonus is that Cliqset is using the emerging Activity Streams data specification to make all this happen. Activity Streams is an open-source XML-based format that uses a common actor-verb-asset model to report an activity on a social website. For example, “Amy shared a video” or “Mike rated this photo.” It’s a simple organizing principle that allows social web services to more easily talk to each other about what their users are doing.

But if not everyone is reporting their users’ activity data using a common model, it becomes harder to get two services to talk to each other. And only a handful of sites are supporting Activity Streams right now.

As Cliqset co-founder Darren Bounds tells Webmonkey, Cliqset is actually re-writing all the aggregated data streams into the Activity Streams format, physically cleaning up the social web’s mess as it goes.

By presenting such clean data, Cliqset is able to do some very cool things with its new user interface.

You can filter your stream by content type or activity using a set of icons at the top. So if you just want to see photos, status updates, or videos, you can click on the camera, the speech bubble or the movie camera. Likewise for bookmarks, likes, ratings. You can also build Boolean filters by including or excluding multiple content types.

Along with Wednesday’s new user-facing site, Cliqset is also releasing a set of APIs that expose these nicely-formed streams. So, if you’re a developer who wants to write a real-time updating web app, you can build it on Cliqset’s platform and avoid the headache of coding around various non-conforming stream formats.

And all that business about “finding your friends” — Cliqset is also supporting the open-source Portable Contacts format for importing and exporting address book data safely. When you check your Gmail contacts to see who else you know is on Cliqset, you’re not handing over your Google login or password. There’s still an annoying step where you’re asked to spam everyone you know and tell them about Cliqset — a truly poor practice everyone should just stop right now — but Cliqset leaves everyone unchecked by default and makes it easy enough to skip that part altogether.

Bounds says it was extremely important to him and his team that Cliqset implements and promotes open data stream and identity standards across the whole platform.

As such, the company is implementing OpenID and OAuth to handle logins and authentications, but something you won’t find as an option is Facebook Connect, which uses proprietary code.

It’s also notable that Cliqset is dumping its old iPhone app for a mobile client that better reflects the new real-time streaming experience. Bounds doesn’t have any details to share about those plans, but we’ll certainly be watching for something along those lines in the future.

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Adobe Debuts New Flash Tools for Building and Tracking Social Apps

Software maker Adobe has announced a new set of Flash Platform Services, a group of tools that give Flash developers an easier way to build, deploy and track their apps on the social web’s various application platforms.

Adrian Ludwig, group manager for the Flash Platform, tells Webmonkey the new Flash Platform Services will “help app developers building on Facebook and other social networks reach a larger audience.” Ludwig also promises that the new components will make it easier for developers to manage and track their apps — who’s installing them and using them, and how often, for example — thanks to a clean, simple stats-tracking package.

When social networks first started rolling out their application platforms, it seemed like anyone could release an app and the viral nature of the social network would take care of the rest. But those days are long gone. Now, releasing an app on Facebook, MySpace or other social platforms now is like tossing a needle into a haystack.

This is the conundrum Adobe is hoping to solve. Using Flash Platform Services, designers get tools to speed common development tasks and automatically create elements like “share this” buttons, e-mail links and mobile delivery options. All of the new Flash Platform Services are component-based tools, so adding them to your application is just a matter of drag-and-drop. The components themselves are ActionScript libraries, so it’s easy to customize them, though Ludwig tells Webmonkey that everything should “just work” right out of the box.

The components themselves are free, but Adobe has a few extra, enhanced capabilities available on a pay-per-use basis. See Adobe’s website for details.

Also part of the announcement is a new partnership with Gigya, the widget distribution service, which will give developers access to usage statistics pulled from Gigya and displayed in a nice looking AIR application that will available as a separate download.

While its not part of today’s announcement, in the future Adobe plans to release more Flash Platform Services including a package named “Social” which will give developers a way to build write-once, run anywhere apps that work on all the major social networks.

So far Adobe has not set a time line for the Social Service, but the distribution and statics services are available for download today. If you’d like more details on how the new components work head over to Adobe download center.

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Let’s Be Friends: Facebook Acquires FriendFeed

The two best websites for connecting with your friends have suddenly connected with each other.

Facebook has acquired the life-streaming website FriendFeed, the companies announced Monday. The sites will both continue to operate independently for the time being until the companies can decide the best way to integrate their products.

The integration will be delicate work: While the two sites have much in common, there are several hurdles relating to privacy, feature redundancy and the big question of what to do with all that FriendFeed data  that need to be overcome.

“The exact plan for how the integration is going to be handled is something we’re still discussing,” FriendFeed founder Paul Buchheit tells Webmonkey. “In the short term, nothing changes.”

Friendfeed and its API will both remain working normally until further notice, the company explained in a blog post Monday. Also, according to the official press release posted at Facebook, FriendFeed’s employees will join Facebook, and the site’s four founders will take on new roles within Facebook’s engineering and product teams.

At this point, details are slim: Both FriendFeed and Facebook folks have made it clear that the long-term plans for merging the products are still being ironed out.

Webmonkey’s biggest question is what this means for the “stuff” currently residing on FriendFeed’s platform. Right now, the default is that all posts are published publicly, and there are millions of comments, files and links stored on FriendFeed that will need to be forklifted over to Facebook. What changes will we see when that data is moved over, if any at all?

Buchheit says long-term issues such as that one are still being resolved.

“We want to look out for our users,” he stresses, “so obviously we want to make sure everything is preserved. But as far as the long term and how those integrations will happen, we’re still working on it.”

It’s not surprising to see these two companies come together. Both Facebook and FriendFeed offer easy ways for friends to connect online, share links, photos, status updates and other socially relevant media. Both sites also emphasize the importance of providing real-time updates. The big difference is that, while some users publish exclusively to FriendFeed, the site is more broadly used as a funnel — an aggregation tool that pulls in data streams from a plethora of social websites using streams.

Facebook has a much more fleshed-out platform. Granted, you can set up your Facebook profile to pull in activity streams from other sites like Flickr and Twitter, but most Facebook users prefer to just post everything to the native publishing platform provided by Facebook.

When Facebook updated its site design about a year ago, it brought the two products closer together visually as well.

But it’s the differences that are going to stand out. Both Buchheit and Facebook VP of Engineering Mike Schroepfer, to whom we also spoke, say that there are some particularly difficult challenges ahead, like the fact that many of FriendFeed’s features, such as Groups, don’t correlate exactly with any of Facebook’s current features. There are some features that come close, but the rest present headaches the companies will have to cure down the road.

And what about FriendFeed users who are not Facebook users? Will they have to sign up for Facebook to continue using FriendFeed?

Again, both Buchheit and Schroepfer said that their teams are working on the long-term details for transitioning user accounts.

One thing that should make the integration easier is that Facebook supports the emerging Activity Streams standard, a way of structuring data streams that standardizes the way events are announced. For example, “Scott posted a photo” or “Heather commented on a video.”

One point we didn’t get to ask about is the fact that FriendFeed recently added a file sharing component to its service that lets users pass MP3s to one another, and to publish them for streaming and download on the public web. It will be interesting to see if this will be integrated into Facebook, and what shape it will take if it is.

Developers who are working on apps that push to or pull from FriendFeed can watch for developments in the FriendFeed News group. Likewise, Facebook developers can keep up to date with changes at developers.facebook.com.

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