Archive for June, 2011

Mind Reading, Number Crunching and Time Travel

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

By Avishay Lavie, Software Engineer at Sears Social

One Step Closer to the Physically Impossible

We’ve been busy these past few weeks adding quite a lot of promotional content to your newsfeed. One thing that troubled us during this time was that this promotional content was randomly selected, so more often than not you ended up with promotions for things that you really didn’t care about.

Now, we could’ve left it at that and called it “expanding your shopping horizons” (in fact, we actually did), but deep in our hearts we knew it wouldn’t be enough. So today we’re starting to repay this debt to you: the promotions you’ll see are now personalized just for you, based on your Sears Social activity.

But wait, there’s more! This is just the first step. One of the most important goals we have for the future of Sears Social is to further tweak this personalization, up to the point where we give you precisely the content you’d like to see, ideally by reading your mind through your browser, or, failing that, decoding the subtle signs of your body language as they reflect in your mouse gestures. This could pose some technical difficulties, as nothing remotely like it has ever been done before, and in fact our scientists kept telling us that it is physically impossible. So, we relocated them to a small island the name of which we can’t remember, and we’re going to try anyway. Stay tuned.

Some Numbers About You

Another thing we’ve been working on is showing you some info about yourself on the homepage: we added a reference box in case you forget who you are, and then we made your catalogs beat each other up just so we could fill your “top catalogs” box. Today’s release adds some handy statistics about your profile and how people interact with it. It’s called “Your Recent Stats” and it looks like this:

See, 2 new people have started following you today! If you keep this rate up, you’re going to be too popular for your own good. Better start practicing on your signature before the groupies start pouring in and demanding your autograph. Here’s your early warning. You’re welcome.

Buying Stuff from the Future

All this social and personalization stuff is really heart-warming, but let’s not forget we’re here for the shopping. With this release we add another important element of shopping: buying stuff that isn’t even for sale yet. It’s called “pre-ordering” and we’re pretty sure it involves one of our associates traveling to the future and getting it for you, then hanging around until you finally arrive at the correct time. We would’ve asked our scientists about the exact procedure, but apparently some moron relocated them to… what was that island called, again?

Anyway, you can now take advantage of our superior time-travel technology on Sears Social to pre-order items before their release date, while supplies last. Yes, we can let you buy stuff from the future, but we can’t promise the future has enough copies for everyone. This is called the Uncertainty Principle and is a fundamental part of time travel physics.

Bottom line: if you want something from the future, you better order it now. Luckily, we’ll let you know about new items as they become available for pre-ordering, so you can keep track of the latest time-travelling products.

The Tale of the Goldfish and the Shareholder

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

By Avishay Lavie, Software Engineer at Sears Social

I keep trying to come up with ever-more-contrived titles for these blog posts. I think this one scores pretty high.

Catalogs for Goldfish

So we have this cool concept of organizing products and other stuff in catalogs. That’s really swell, but sometimes it’s just too much effort, picking the right catalog and all. If you’re like us – a lazy slob with the attention span of a goldfish with ADHD – you probably want something quicker that would give you instant gratification with minimum clicks.

Well, all you goldfish out there can rejoice for the next couple of seconds, because your wish just came true. Simply hover over any product in your newsfeed or search results to get this nifty popup frame:

Click “like it”, “want it” or “have it”, and we’ll take care of putting it into the right catalog for you (that’s “Things I Like”, “My Wishlist” or “My Things”, respectively). And if these aren’t enough, you can always just add it to any other catalog in the usual manner. But that requires at least two more clicks and possibly some thinking, so we can’t see why anyone would want to do that.

Sharing is Caring

Over the past few weeks we’ve been experimenting with many kinds of promotional content in your newsfeed. Until now, these promotional stories were only shown to you. But what if you see something you really like and wanted to let others know about it? Well, we’re not called Sears Social for no reason. Starting from this release, you can share promotional content that you find interesting with your followers. It’s as easy as clicking the intuitively-labeled “Share” button:

Because really, if you have something to share, just share it. Don’t hold it in. Don’t be… wait for it… a share-holder. Get it? Get it? It’s an immensely clever play on words!

Anyway, as a bonus, those of us who are actually working instead of making horrible puns have designed a set of pleasant-looking icons for all promotional stories, so you can instantly recognize what they’re about even when we blur the images on the blog. Enjoy!

Mobile Improvements and Fighting Catalogs

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

By Avishay Lavie, Software Engineer at Sears Social

Yes, fighting catalogs. Let me explain.

The Harsh Reality of Catalog Fights

Remember that reference box of you from a few releases back? Well your catalogs were feeling a little left out, so we had to show some of them in there as well. But which ones? We weren’t sure.

So, starting from this release, we’ll make your catalogs regularly compete amongst themselves for your attention, with the top three getting an honorary featured spot on your homepage. The others are left behind to lick their metaphoric wounds. It’s a little cruel, but catalogs don’t have feelings so we reckon it’s OK. Besides, they seem to love the action.

Single-Sign-On – Now on iPhone

We recently introduced Single-Sign-On for the website. The iPhone equivalent proved trickier, but it’s finally here. Now you can use your username and password from Sears.com, Kmart.com, and a host of other sites to sign in to the Sears Social app. That’s one less password to remember, and half a dozen new sites to explore.

Shop-In Everywhere

We know you love to Shop-In, and we know there’s a tiny insignificant part of your shopping that is not done at Sears. That’s OK with us. In fact, to show you we’re not mad, we’ve expanded the Shop-In feature to, well, everywhere. As long as Foursquare knows about the place you’re currently at, you can Shop-In there. See, we play well with others.

Postcards from the New Newsfeed

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

by Avishay Lavie, Software Engineer at Sears Social

Friends, another batch of newsfeed goodness is upon us. Three new types of stories are now included in the newsfeed:

Catch the Trend


Trending products are a way for you to discover things as they become popular. As opposed to featured or top-selling products, here we show you the products that are gaining increased interest right now. This way, you can pick up the trend while it’s still young. The early bird gets the cool new products, you know. Ride the new wave, seize the iron while it’s hot, that sort of thing.

(CAUTION: Do not attempt to literally seize any form of hot iron at home, unless you’re a professionally-trained trend-finding computer algorithm. That’s what we use at Sears Social, and they still get burned some times. You’ve been warned.)

Introductions Are in Order

Without further ado, let us introduce “let us introduce”:

“Let us introduce” stories present a user who’s been active lately, and whom you might want to follow. You can think of it as trending users instead of products. One major difference between users and products is that if you play your cards right, you might end up in this box too!

Surveys

Surveys are a fun and simple way to participate in the growing Sears Social community and get a feel for it. It’s easy, really. We ask you a question. You answer the question. We show you pretty numbers and a chart. And as everybody knows, charts are awesome.

More New Features!

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

by Avishay Lavie, Software Engineer at Sears Social

Frankly, I’m still a little excited over the last release, and here we are with a new one already. It’s a big one this time, so I’ll get right to the new features. Here goes:

Checkout (For Real)

I know, I know, we already had checkout before. But this… this is totally different. This time we’ve integrated the full-blown checkout process from Sears.com. What does this mean for you? Well, to start with, it means…

Buy Online, Pick Up in Store

You can buy stuff online on Sears Social, and then pick it up from a Sears store. Let me say that again: you can buy stuff online in a few mouse clicks, and then pick it up the same day on your way from work. If you don’t get how huge this is, let me give you a line break to allow that to sink in:

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Got it? No delivery dates. No shipping charges. And with over 1,500 Sears stores nationwide, we’re pretty sure there’s one near you.

Now, of course this only applies to some items: you can’t just waltz into a Sears store and pick up a car (I mean, it probably belongs to one of the employees, and that would be awkward). But we’ll try very hard to make as many items as possible available for store pickup. That way you can get it earlier and we don’t have to deal with the hassle of shipping it to you. It’s really a classic “Everybody Wins” situation, except maybe if you’re the delivery company.

Buy It with Plastic

You can now pay for products using your credit card, instead of being limited to PayPal. No offence to the fine folks at PayPal, they run a fine service; but some people just like the feeling of hard plastic in their hands. Or maybe they memorized their credit card number, I don’t know. Anyway, we support all major cards now, like any other self-respecting e-commerce website.
Personally, we recommend paying with a Sears card and earning ShopYourWay Rewards points, but we’ll understand if you choose to use one of the other, obviously-inferior cards.

Better Prices

You get to enjoy the sales and deals from Sears.com. There isn’t really much we can say about this. You give us less money, and we soak it up like the tough boys we are. Oh, and we’ll let you know when that happens, because that doesn’t cost us anything and it makes you somewhat happier.

Single Sign-On

Single Sign-On means you can now use your Sears.com username and password to sign in to Sears Social. Or, if you have a Kmart.com or a mygofer.com account, that would work too. Or Craftsman, Kenmore, or The Great Indoors. They’re all cool.
It works the other way around, too: you can use your Sears Social account to access any of the above. Sign in to Sears Social once to make the initial connection, and then you’re free to roam wherever you want. Whee!

Your Info on the Homepage

We’ve been getting some anonymous reports of people forgetting who they were while browsing Sears Social. That’s understandable, what with all the cool stuff that goes on in there.

OK, so that didn’t really happen… yet. Nevertheless, we added a handy little reference box to the homepage. It shows your name, and your profile image, since it’s a known fact that the human brain recognizes a face in like a millionth of the time it takes to recognize text. It also has your latest status update and some useful links to other parts of your profile.

This little feature proved immensely popular with our QA folks, but I guess that’s because they use a dozen different fake made-up profiles as part of their daily interaction with the site. Then again, I only use my own profile, and I can attest it’s pretty sweet to see my face up there when I sign in. It makes me feel special, you know? Well, now it can make you feel just as special. And when all our users feel equally special in exactly the same way, we know we’re on the right path.