As one of the world’s largest educational websites, Quizletknows the importance of web performance. Founded in 2005 by 15 year old Andrew Sutherland, the company has more than doubled its user base every year for six consecutive years. With that rate of growth, the company is under constant pressure to keep pace with growing demand.
“Over the past 12 months, we’ve welcomed 70 million visitors,” says Quizlet CEO Dave Margulius. “Over the next 12, we expect 150 million. Many of those users are in grade school, high school or college – an audience especially impatient with slow website performance. They just expect the site to work and work fast.”
Data reliability is another major concern for the company. Each hour, their users upload huge amounts of data to the Quizlet site. “From the user’s perspective, a significant portion of our reputation rests on storing and protecting their hard work,” says Dave. “A reliable storage system that’s available all the time, with no unplanned outages, is an absolute necessity for us.”
The Quizlet team looked for a first rate cloud provider that could scale quickly and easily to meet user demand, and provide 100% uptime for their users. Joyent soon emerged as the most obvious choice. “The functionality we get from Joyent’s SmartMachines gives us a totally robust, reliable cloud environment that can handle big bursts in traffic,” says Ryan Gordon, DevOps and Backend Engineer at Quizlet. “It’s so easy to boot up our cloud servers, then resize them when we need to. We’re also working with Joyent to establish a virtual LAN so that we can increase security, communicate between multiple servers and rely on instant failover in the event of an outage.”
New Relic helps Quizlet monitor performance across all their web servers, taking a deep dive whenever intensive troubleshooting is needed. “I don’t know how I’d do my job without these analytics tools,” says Ryan. “I use them every single day. When I log into New Relic, the first thing I see is the throughput, then the error rate, then the app server’s response time. All three of those are crucial for assessing the overall health of the site. And we use that throughput data to plan the implementation of heavy duty database changes, because we want to make sure that any adjustment will impact a relatively small number of users.”
Benefits of Being Proactive
With Joyent and New Relic onboard, the Quizlet team can pinpoint the source of any problem within their increasingly complex code base. And today, the company is in a better position to manage its application performance then ever before. “These days, it’s unusual for users to catch a network issue or coding issue before we do,” continues Ryan. “And because we can diagnose those issues more quickly than ever, we can put far less energy into troubleshooting and more energy into strategic tasks that enhance the Quizlet experience for our users.”
Dave sums it up this way, “… Quizlet is here to create learning tools that every student on earth can use, no matter where they live and no matter how affluent they may be. And we’re committed to using the best technologies to help us grow and to give our users the best possible online experience. The Joyent cloud, optimized with New Relic monitoring, help us operate with the kind of efficiency and flexibility we need to deliver an even better product to even more people.”
Read the full case study to see how Joyent and New Relic help Quizlet scale to meet user demand and diagnose performance issues in real time.
And don’t forget, Joyent customers get New Relic Standard for free. To claim you free account today, go to newrelic.com/joyent for more information.
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Lets students create & share flashcards & other study games. Large library of card sets
Quizlet offers free online study tools starting with flashcards and other games, aimed at helping students learn material. Students can create their own study sets or can make use of the approximately 16 million flash card sets created by other students. In addition to "flashcards" the site also offers games.
How Does It Work?Quizlet helps students focus on the facts that they are learning by making lists (say, words and definitions), and then self-testing their knowledge of these facts by using online flashcards and games. Among the games included in Quizlet are
- Speller—Type what you hear in this audio-powered study mode.
- Learn—Track your correct/incorrect answers and retest the ones you've missed.
- Test—Randomly generate tests based on your flashcard set.
- Scatter—Race against the clock to drag and match terms/definitions.
- Space Race—Type in the answer as terms/definitions scroll across the screen.
Students can either create their own study sets or make use of the approximately 16 million flash card sets created by other students.
Quizlet has a "text-to-speech" function that lets students hear words spoken out loud in about 18 languages. It also uses "VoiceOver," a screen-reading technology from Apple that lets students hear what’s onscreen and control their keyboard without visuals -- making it possible for vision-impaired students to use the Quizlet app.
There is a (free) iPhone app as of August 2012. As of late 2012, Android and iPad apps were in the works.
In November 2012, Quizlet was piloting a multiplayer game based around words. In essence, Quizlet floats an unusual word and the players (or students) have less than a minute to write a unique (and frequently funny) sentence that uses the word. Sentences are displayed in some common space (such as a white board) and all the students vote for their favorite definition. Quizlet has testing the game in more than 40 classrooms in the San Francisco area. Teachers who have been trying out Quizlet's multiplayer game say their students love the competitive nature--and they like the learning moments.
Who is using it?Students and teachers: As of November 2012, the product is used by about 12 million unique visitors a month who spend an average of eight to 10 minutes there. The site does not require registration although by registering, students can create and save their own study files.
Business model? Quizlet has been entirely bootstrapped by founder Andrew Sutherland and CEO Dave Margulius. It has no outside investors as of November 2012. It makes money through modest advertising and by selling premium accounts. A "premium" account to Quizlet PLUS, which costs $15 per year, allows students to save images from their computer to their study sets. (This is a helpful function for, say, medical students learning body parts.) Premium accounts are also ad-free. Company managers say it is supporting itself.
Competition: There are a number of other flashcard applications available through the iTunes store; few of those are as comprehensive as Quizlet. One learning aid competitor used by many teachers is Quia. Quia has a class-based subscription fee in contrast to the either free version of Quizlet (or the student-priced model).
(Here's an EdSurge story about Quizlet.)