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Ask HN: Take a Look At My Site - Studylance.com
15 points by slance on Nov 14, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 37 comments
Hi All,

I submitted my site for feedback here a while back and got some really useful feedback.

I'd be really interested in getting some more feedback now a few months have passed.

My main concerns are that the question posting process isn't working well enough and people are dropping out before posting their question.

Also the mechanism for responding to questions may not be clear enough,

Any feedback on design/usability/coding would be much appreciated.

The url is:


The site looks great!...

But, just by looking at the homepage, It could be difficult for a NEW user to understand what's actually going on, especially pertaining to the description where you say "decide the price"


1. Type your question 2. Decide the price* 3. Choose the best answer

I'd also suggest that the tutors themselves be verified some way or the other, because anyone can claim to be an expert.

I really do like this, because you are trying to please TWO user groups; Users (students/'askers') and Tutors. That can always be a challenge.

The language does seem a bit vague now you say that. Any ideas for a better 1. XXXX 2.XXXX 3.XXXX sequence on the homepage?

I'd suggest to have two sections.

One for 'Students/Users' who have questions 1. XXXX 2.XXXX 3.XXXX, and another for 'TUTORS' 1.XXXX 2.XXXX 3.XXXX

I hope this helps

1. I'd really like to see some copy. A nice 1-2-3 big and bold where I can see it.

2. Your sort/search isn't well thought through. Ideally I'm looking for high-dollar questions, in either CS or mathematics (fields in which I am knowledgeable), that need answers. I can sort by cost, (ascending cost is first? wtf?) but I get a lot of "deadline expired" questions. If I sort by "deadline", I lose the cost sort, which isn't what I want. I can filter by one field at a time, but not, say, the union of CS and math. As an answerer, seeing questions that already have answers or that the deadline has expired is totally worthless to me. People wanting answers to a specific question will probably come through Google anyway, rather than searching your site directly.

3. After looking for answered questions to get a feel, the first "answered" one i found was this: http://www.studylance.com/question/pos355-introduction-to-op... Seriously? There's no question and no answer.

4. After failing to find a truly "answered" question, I'm mystified as to how the site works. I see references to "bids", yet it appears that the question-askers name their prices. Is this an auction format, or a price-as-listed format? Also, see #1.

5. Your FAQ link is broken (Safari 4, OSX)

6. Most of the questions on this site are simple CS or math problems (like algebra 1). Something about the relative quantity and distribution of the questions makes the me suspect the number of real users is virtually nonexistent (for instance, I find it hard to believe this 20s guy with a GCSE can't plug-and-chug two variables into an algebra 1 equation given four possibilities: http://www.studylance.com/question/how-many-of-each-color-of... ).

I definitely like the concept. My hang up is -- how is this different than mahalo answers? (more focused, sure, but the mahalo folks could answer these questions, no?) Doing something to verify the tutor's expertise might help with this (could be simple quizzes or something).

Another general note -- as a tutor, I'd like some assurance that I will get paid for answering the question. This may lead to less questions, but significantly more answers. This obviously introduces quite a bit of complexity for the poster, but I think its necessary. You could potentially start people with a few pounds in their account that you finance to get things rolling (or, give people a few pounds when they sign up and add a credit card).

Next -- visual design -- I was impressed with your design, there are some nit-picky things to tweak, but overall it is visually appealing. -In safari, the sign in/register links at the top have the descender part of the g gets cut off (probably because the containing div is too short). -The font color in the "Post My Question", "View All Questions", "Answer Question/Make Bid", etc is a bit difficult to read. This one nags at me quite a bit because it makes the buttons look pixelated or something -- i'd fix this up right away. -Really like the visual representation of description of service -> ask a question call to action. looks great/leads the eye the way you want it to!

As others mentioned -- the about us could use some copy. Don't want to spend too much time on it, but it adds a lot of credibility (or rather, it takes a lot a way to see 1 line of text there).

I have to run here in a second, but one last thing -- you might want to think about requiring signup AFTER someone has answered the question (as you do with the asking of a question). Once someone has spent time answering a question they are more likely to sign up.

Wish I had some more time, but the site looks good, keep up the great work!

Good luck!

Really useful feedback, thanks...

a) I think it differentiates itself by being a targeted vertical, a "destination" to go for homework answers from tutors who are rated and can provide full and in depth answers. Mahalo answers doesnt really focus on anything.

b) The assurance of getting paid is a potential problem, I dont think theres any way of giving that assurance...

c) The buttons problem is definitely something that needs changing.

d) About us - yes, doesn't look professional!

e) The last issue, allowing people to signup after theyve typed an answer is a really good idea... I think however that it's going to be much harder to get people to post questions than getting them to answer them. I've had lots of tutors sign up, just not that many students...

  b) The assurance of getting paid is a potential problem, I dont think 
  theres any way of giving that assurance...
Of course there is. It's called escrow. I pony up the money when I ask the question. You pay it to the answerer that I designate the winner. If I don't designate a winner, you pay the money to a random answerer, to keep me from never picking a winner, but benefitting from their answers. Finally, of course, if nobody answers, the money stays in the account to use for the next question.

When creating my account, I left the default of "Student" so now I can't answer questions. I suppose I'll have to create a new account and chose Tutor so that I can answer questions. How about making it an editable value in the account page, or also letting students answer questions?

these types of sites are a dime a dozen, you really need to differentiate yourself from cramster, justanswers, etc. + there are a whole bunch of free options.

Thanks, I hate it that HN doesn't allow clickable links in stories description. Isn't the web all about links? Lame.

Upvoted. While there may be reasons that this was done (I assume to minimize using HN for google juice) I don't understand why you're being downvoted for this.

This is inconvenient, and expressing that is reasonable, especially as it wasn't even a random rant, but in direct response to the clickable link being posted.

Seems like a little javascript would address this issue. PG could make the link unclickable in the HTML, but add a JS function to make it clickable, thus reconciling the goals of user convenience and google juice withholding.

Edit: Or add (rel="nofollow") of course, would be even easier.

Please, don't send passwords over the clear via email:

Your account has been activated.

Login: somename Password: [redacted]

Thanks, will be sure to change that...

I sure hope you aren't storing passwords in plaintext...

Rather than storing the actual passwords in the database, you'll want to only store a digest of each password.

For example, storing a keyed HMAC using SHA-2 is great. An easy similar method is to store the SHA(password + some server secret value + user's email address) In this case the user's email address serves as the salt. The server secret value prevents a database-only compromise from leading to locally brute-forced passwords. When the user logs in, on the server, re-compute the digest and see if it matches the stored digest.

I didn't notice any HTTPS -- you might want to use it for queries involving the password and any financial transactions.

Overall it's pretty nice.

I like how you can post your question and it gets you to sign up slowly step by step. UI is pretty nice and also fast.

About us should have some more meat. FAQ and Contact us at the top don't work. Should have a similar quick way for tutors to get started like you have for questions. Clicking on cost to sort by cost causes an exception. Overall maybe a bit too many rows with links which is a bit confusing. Maybe simplify the navigation a bit. Why have the see all categories? Why not just show them all? NOt that many anyway.

I wish you a lot of luck!

Thanks! Good to hear some positive feedback about the question posting process.

Users have to confirm their email before the question goes live, any opinions on whether that is necessary?

You are protecting against spam right? Or why would you want this? You might try testing alternative question posting options and see which gets a high follow through. Obviously you want some way to protect against spam but by adding as little overhead as possible. You also have captchas in the registration - maybe it's enough.

It was to protect against spam, ensure the user is a real person who can be contacted etc.

But I can see that a few people sign up, post a question, but never click the link so their question never goes live. I may try removing the requirement to confirm emails...

Or give them assurance in big bold letters that their email is safe with you, and won't be published, but is only used to forward answers to them.

Site looks nice. However, the area where you post the questions could use a little tweaking. A few thoughts:

- You have the page numbers and the "Finish" link. I instinctively clicked finish without looking, because I assumed a "next" and "previous" would be there. I think you should add those.

- Actually, the word "Finish" is a bit strange. Usually I think the word used is "Last"

- I think you should add a default expiration time or require one. Questions with 33 days left till they expire seems unrealistic to me.

During sign up, please change "accept TOS" to something like "accept terms"... the lay person may not understand what TOS is... just a suggestion.

Looks pretty :)

Question: What is the default timeout for a question? It seems that homework help is typically one of those "I need this answer sometime tonight, before I have to turn it in." So, wouldn't it be wasting tutor time if the question is old and the asker is no longer interested?

The user can choose a "need answer by" date in the question posting process, there is no default timeout at the moment...

When you click on the ? next to qualifications to become a tutor, it shows a wad of lorem ipsum in the notification.

Oh and please don't display bids publicly to Tutors that have already been answered (still have it show up for Tutor who answered) or timed out.

Post Your Question.

What kind of question? Can I ask how to get rid of my cat's fleas?

The title of the site makes it somewhat obvious, but you should make it even more obvious in your call to action.

Also, I can see that you're using jQuery. I'm curious what you're running on the server.

While trying to set up an account the menu boxes freeze up. OS: Ubuntu 9.10, Browser: Chromium.

Also, I should be able to bid to answer a question at something much less than half a pound. I answered a question for someone in like 2 seconds, and I was just going to charge them a 0.1 pounds.

If an individual answer costs less than 50p - I lose money as the transaction costs are too high...

You can make the minimum deposit/withdrawal for your system 50p or higher, while still allowing smaller transaction amounts for questions and answers.

Thanks.... If you were feeling really kind you could send a screenshot to info@studylance.com

How do you pay?

Paypal... Going to include Google Checkout soon too.

And what is the threshold? These are important things to add to your FAQ.

does the person paypal the tutor directly or do you guys act like the middle man?

It goes through studylance...

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