Category Archives: Week 13

A case study of an online test prep website – Magoosh

By Xiaoyang Wang and Galib Abbaszade

One of the most important stage for enrollees (potential students) to be admitted to Universities is successfully passing test exams and getting required scores. Utilizing Internet power and capability, Bhavin Parikh, CEO of the company, and three his companions launched Magoosh on-line tutorial portal in 2009, which is focused on preparation for test exams – GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, SAT, etc.


Interface design as cognitive artifact – Minimalism and flat design

The home page of Magoosh is a good example for user experience design. To explain why it gives users such a deep and direct impression, it is necessary to answer some questions at first:

  • Why do users want a website like Magoosh?
  • What do users expect to learn from Magoosh?


These two questions are easy to answer. Actually, be it Educational Testing Service(ETS) who designs TOEFL and GRE test or Graduate Management Admission Council(GMAC) who designs GMAT test, students are hard to get enough practice only with official guidebooks or questions sets and as well are unable to get enough information to make summary. Therefore, they need someone to provide them with what they need to know to prepare for those exams. After figuring out why users want a website like Magoosh, the answer for the next question is clear: users need to know the category, quality and quantity of information that they can receive.

Then let’s check the definition of minimalism and flat design. Generally speaking, flat design is the application of minimalism, which intends to leave users as little as information. The features of flat design include the utilization of pure-colored block and regular geometries. A famous design example of flat design principle is Microsoft’s Metro Design used in Window 8 and Windows 10.


As I mention above, the expectation of Magoosh’s users is simple. The flat design style just clearly show users the category of tests, which is definitely the things users mostly care about. It is natural for users to type in keywords like “GRE”, “online test” or “practice” in Google, so selecting names of exams and place them at the most conspicuous location is a perfect choice. In other word, it is a great example to show users the affordance, telling them what Magoosh is for. Other information presented on the home page like “100 million questions” and “2 million hours of video lessons” is exactly what users are interested in too.

Modular design with self-adaption algorithm


From Persian language Magoosh means wise, highly-learned and generous one. This interactive portal is designed by combining modularity and abstraction principles to provide users with certain services by using both technological features and accumulated knowledge and experience gathered from previous tests takers and tests organizers. In general, designers of this portal did not create something new, not any single part of the whole system. Rather they wisely used already existing hard and software affordances to construct the whole portal “building” from the available construction blocks, such as searching engines, communication and computational devices, commonly accepted media symbols, photo and movie appliances, etc.


Once the whole portal was constructed from these “blocks” they “breathed” life to its functioning by uploading it with knowledge gained from previous cognitive experience of organizations or individuals who were affiliated to the test takers process. Based on this knowledge they could designed this portal as an interactive application which has ability to define the level of test taker knowledge and propose recommendation for further preparation period. Also, its “brain” algorithms make possible to complicate assignments momentarily reacting to accuracy rate of a test taker. This progressive and regressive evaluation approach for answers accuracy helps to provide test takers with the same condition which is supposed to be at the real exam.




Brilliant App with affordance and feedback

This portal is the best example of how symbolic technologies and cognitive artifacts are combined altogether to improve preparation process and apply more individual approach for each test taker. There are perfectly tuned computational and math software and algorithms support each abstraction layers. The engineers of the site immensely use graphics, images and other digital media tools to organize to organize the test preparation process in more practical way. To make the preparation process more friendly, interactive and attractive, the designer of the portal created very useful interfaces and affordances tools.


To increase accessibility of customers and provide them with the options to use the portal capacity, Magoosh company designed the phone application in 2014. Using modularity design principles they could adopt the complicated test preparation process for the smart phone users and give them a chance to save their time by memorizing words for verbal section or math formulas for analytical section of the chosen exam.


In general, the whole preparation process is huge field to test different type of semantic mechanisms and programs to evaluate the accuracy of test takers. Also, it is a good chance to customize various of symbols and signs to help test takers perform and train quick reaction to the questions which should be answered within short time frame, usually about 50 seconds per each. Considering that all testing exams have transferred to be taken through Internet interactive programs, it gives Magoosh more chances to increase the number of its clients having the same approach and mechanisms for tutorial reason.


Social-technology system with profound impact

From social implications points of view, this site brings more equality and equity to range of students with different backgrounds, financial opportunities, accesses to the source of knowledge, opens broaders for international students to compete each other, what leads to rising of the average cognitive (GPA and IQ) level of students in each University. Being relatively cheap comparing with intramural type of tutorial courses, it makes possible for enrollees with low income to get access to better international schools. This site does a good job by giving stage to alumni of the preparation program to share their ideas with new enrolled students. Social aspects of the site are implemented through such links like “press”, “blog”, and being opened from other social networking portals. Students with technical background using this tutorial site may improve their knowledge in English language grammar and those who has humanitarian education can upgrade their skills in math and fast calculation. Also, it is globalizing education process giving a chance for students from different continents and countries to interact and study at the same Universities, to know more of each other and keeping up international relations.


Evernote: A Case Study

By Jieshu Wang and Mariana Leyton Escobar


Evernote’s Home Screen: “Remember Everything”

Evernote is cross-platform app designed for note taking, organization, and archiving.

As a cognitive artifact

From Evernote’s blog: “Our goal is to improve the lives of everyone around the world by giving them a second brain and a perfect memory.”

Things you can do with Evernote: notes taking (text, image, & audio), record thoughts, manage lists, collect articles…


Evernote information model, from a user’s perspective

  • From an individual view, Evernote changes the nature of tasks.
  • From a system view, Evernote enhances the performance of the system of human and Evernote.

As a modular system


Evernote high level architecture

Evernote high level architecture

  1. Shards (Pre-Google era):
    1. Modules for storage: 1 shard for 100,000 users. Each as an island, with no cross-talk or dependencies.
    2. Physical structure: 2 two SuperMicro boxes + 2 Intel Processors + RAM + Seagate drives + RAID configurations
  2. Hub-and-spoke centralized structure:
    1. Hub: web servers
    2. spoke: your devices
  3. Networking: through HTTPS port 443
    1. all “web” activities
    2. all client synchronization via Thrift-based service APIs (Evernote is a module in the whole Internet)
  4. Modular Data Structure
    1. UserStore
    2. NoteStore
    3. Each has more modules in them. Interfaces (arrow lines, UserStore Service & NoteStore Service)
  5. Business layer & organization
    1. servers in Google (also modular)
    2. app development in Evernote
  6. Set up separate companies to deal with specific issues
    1. Evernote GmbH in Switzerland to manage data (with two data centers on the west coast of US)
    2. Yinxiang Biji for China




From a consumer’s point of view, synchronization is a process through which files in different locations or devices are updated to the same latest versions.

How to sync?

  1. Each NoteStore object has two identifiers:
    1. A globally unique identifier (GUID): unique
    2. An update sequence number (USN) : increase when change
  2. Protocol: Evernote Data Access and Management (EDAM) is a protocol for exchanging
  3. Evernote data with the Evernote service.
  4. Each Evernote account has a variable called updateCount. it is the highest USN.
  5. Sync type: full & incremental
  6. steps: serials of functions

As a socio-technical system

Marketing strategies can be telling

Looking for users offline


And online.blog_image_vivo_final-1


Evernote’s partner in Brazil is Vivo, local branch of Spain’s Telefonica


Samsung was another partner through its Galaxy Note Phablet


Legal agreement between user, Evernote, and now Google

Data storage presents a challenge for services that store data for users. Evernote announced recently the choice to switch from having their own servers to hiring storage service (cloud service) with Google.


The choice for this particular cloud service on top of others has to do with Google’s Machine Learning tools.


And legal agreements have to do with how data is handled too, for which Evernote, on top of a range of legal information, lists its Three laws of Data Protection

Evernote's 3 Laws of Data Protection

Evernote’s 3 Laws of Data Protection

And link to Google’s.

Both companies explain they have to respond to law enforcement data requests but that they are stringent in accepting the request. Both produce transparency reports (though these are limited in how much data they can share).

Business strategies

 Yinxiang Biji (印象笔记)

Yinxiang Biji (印象笔记)

A separate app to work better with the Chinese Internet, A separate company and a separate data center located in China.

  • Political factors
    • banned public notes and notebooks
    • no allow to share to Facebook and Twitter
    • avoid to lose the whole Chinese market due
    • to migrating to Google Cloud
  • business factors
    • Payment method: Alipay, WeChat Pay
    • Social media: Sina Weibo, WeChat, Douban
    • Chinese customer support
    • Chinese APIs