Monday, April 23, 2012

Code Avengers vs Codecademy

Which site, CodeAvengers or CodeCademy is the more fun and effective way for a novice to learn Javascript online?

I enjoyed the lessons on CodeCademy, but had reservations as to whether the lessons would be effective for teaching complete novices computer programming. So I got 6 friends and family members (novice programmers) to spend 30-60 minutes going through 'Getting Started with Programming' on CodeCademy. 3 got bored, and a 3 thought it was OK. But all of them commented that they didn't really feel as thought they had learnt anything after completing the lessons.

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding since its launch in August 2011. Thousands of blog posts have been written, some positive, some negative.

Negative posts have critisized:

Positive posts praise Codecademy for:

The mission for is to create a site that is both fun and effective for novices learning Javascript. Here is example feedback from initial users:

great job again, definitely addicted to this. Tried code academy was not addicted... I definitely believe you have a better product/lesson plan
I just wanted to start of by saying your website so far is better then Codecademy's

Anyone care to disagree? Try now.

If you have another online tutorial for any language, that you believe is the most effective, we would love to hear about it!

Friday, April 20, 2012 Learning to Code just got MARVELous

After 6 months work as a side project, the time has come to launch

The goal is to create the most FUN and EFFECTIVE online computer programming tutorials. The site currently contains a Javascript course for beginners.

Try it NOW at or read on about what Code Avengers has to offer.

The Level 1 course, has 40 interactive lessons with 5 tasks in each. There are also points and badges to earn.

In addition to CodeCademy style code challenges, Code Avengers adds variety with:

Bug finding lessons,

The robot challenge, which requires you to write to code to move a robot to its goal,

And review quizzes that require you to zap the correct answers as they wizz around the screen.

Variety is one of the keys to making Code Avengers as fun as possible.

Here are a few comments from our first few users:

"This is a MARVELous tutorial. I feel I am really learning JavaScript now."
"This is great - best way to spend a few hours in ages"
"I really liked the idea of coding to do something, be it moving a robot or creating part of an application, rather than coding just for the sake of coding. It's certainly a lot easier to learn by doing than learn in the abstract. Thanks for the great site!"

What are you waiting for? Script your future @!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Origins of Code Avengers

In June 2011 I began teaching my younger brother Javascript in the hope that he could help me with some web apps I was developing. Initially, I directed him to, a free resource I found useful when learning Javascript. I liked the ability to be able to type code, click a button and immediately see the results. My brother read a couple of the tutorials but didn't find it fun enough to maintain his interest. He claimed he was too busy with school work, and yet I always saw him playing games on the computer.

In contrast when I had shown him a Flash game called Light Bot, which taught computer programming concepts, he sat down and completed all the levels in a single sitting. I decided that if I was going to get him to learn programming, he needed a site that was more game like. Greenfoot was another another project I discovered that is along the lines of what I am thinking, but is for learning Java.

I searched for resources that were both FUN, FREE and at the right level of difficulty for my brother. I found a site called Code School that looks really nice and had great videos that accompany their interactive tutorials. The difficulty level it was OK for my brother, however it was not free and did not have Javascript lessons. I found some other sites that were quite fun, but were targeted at people that could already program.

In mid-September, 2011 I began creating my own interactive programming tutorials that I initially called AI Master. My goal was to make them fun and challenging. He enjoyed the 1st tasks I created so I made a few more.

Also, In September I discovered a new site called CodeCademy that had gone live in August, which was the closest thing to what I envisioned creating. I tried the lessons myself, and then on several family members. The site looks great, the difficulty level was perfect for beginners and they covered a lot of material in a short space of time. However, none of my testers really felt they had learnt anything by the time they got to the end of the lessons. Furthermore, none of my testers described the lessons as FUN.

In late October CodeCademy announced over a million $$ of venture capitalist funding. Over the past 5 months both the site and its lesson content have evolved into a fantastic free resource. However, I still believe there is room for improvement in the design of the lessons. Furthermore, it has to be possible to something that is more fun and game like.

On 21st November 2011, I sat down with my siblings to discuss possible names for the site I was creating. We decided Code Avengers was a good choice since the movie The Avengers was coming out in May 2012 and was available. At that meeting we also decided I should begin create lesson material for absolute beginners. My sister said she would work on a logo, by brothers would help out with testing and marketing the site when we got to that stage.

That night I registered and the following week uploaded the 1st version of Code Avengers.

New High School Computer Science Curriculum in New Zealand

In 2011 New Zealand introduced computer programming 'NCEA Level 1 Achievement Standards' into its secondary school curriculum for year 11 students. In 2012 standards became available in year 11 and year 12, and next year will be available for all 3 senior years of high school. It is hoped that the introduction of the new curriculum will increase the number of well prepared students that come into our University computer science classes.

The new Computer Science curriculum is a great improvement on the old curriculum and is definitely a step up. However, one of the worries is that many of the teachers are not familiar enough with the more advanced material to teach it. Furthermore, there are a lack of resources available to teachers. Creation of resources to supplement the achievement standards is left up to the private sector, and it may take a year or two for companies to develop workbooks for the new standards.

Code Avengers has been created with the new NZ curriculum in mind. The Code Avengers Level 1 Javascript Course covers the concepts in the NCEA Level 1 Computer Science achievement standards. Future Javascript courses will cover the computer programming concepts in NCEA Level 2 and NCEA Level 3.

Code Avengers also has a teachers only page that gives real time feedback of student performance. This allows teachers to easily identify the students that need extra help with the material. Code Avengers simplifies the administrative work for the teacher, allowing the teacher to focus on teaching.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How to get 10,000 likes on Facebook

As software developer I love to build things but have almost ZERO marketing experience. So after 6 months building Code Avengers 1.0 we were ready to launch.

My equally inexperienced brother Adam (1st year marketing student at University) suggested we start by trying to get 10,000 Facebook likes in 4 weeks. It sounded like a tall order, but worth a shot.

On day one he put up the following post...

Hey everyone,

When you have a spare minute, can you go to our new website for learning computer programming. CLICK the 'LIKE' button in the top left hand corner. the link is

Our goal is to get 10,000 likes by the end of the month. Help make this possible!!!!!!! Thanks!!!!!!!!

To begin with my immediate family shared the message on each of our FB pages as well as our extended family FB group (if we can't get our cousins to click like... we got no show of getting 10k). Within 6 hours the site had received 124 likes. OK... not bad... but I could tell 10k was not going to be easy.

So how would we get the other 9,876 likes?

The more activity (comments, likes, shares) there is with a post, the more likely that post will stay on your friends news feed long enough for them to see it. So how do you get people to like and comment on your post...

A quick look at my news feed revealed the following types of posts seemed to have a lot of activity...

  1. Pictures of babies
  2. Posts that concluded with a simple but often random questions
  3. Posts from pages with thousands of followers, e.g. famous actors and TV shows
  4. Pictures of people (particularly famous people) doing weird things
  5. Emotional stories or pics on topics we can all relate to

We both failed to come up with any creative ideas that fit any of that criteria.

Adam figures that all we needed was someone like Bill Gates to endorse our page and we will have the 10k in a day or so. So Adam went straight to Bill Gates Facebook page and sent a private message... Surprise, surprise no message back.

Adam also reckons he has a couple friends that wield a bit of FB power. One mate from the US has 5k FB friends and gets 300 likes on random comments he makes. Turns out his level of influence with Code Avengers was negligible...


So it turns out there was no quick and easy path to 10k likes. Two and a half years of hard work later, we are getting there. Now past 6,000 likes but still a long way from 10k!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Web app goes LIVE! But how do I get users?

After 6 months of development... Code Avengers finally went live on April 1st 2012. What do I mean by "LIVE"... essentially we replaced the old home page which showed a COUNTDOWN to April 1st with a new home page that links to the lesson material. With the site now live and ready for public consumption... the next task is figuring out how to get people to the site?!?!

So how do we market a site like this? Here are our ideas so far...

1. Social media - We will post to Facebook and share with Facebook friends. I don't have many FB friends I think would be interested in learning Computer Programming, so not sure how much success this will have. We added FB like and google plus buttons to the pages on our site and created a Facebook page and Twitter account. And today I created this blog.

2. Bloggers - Email people who have blogged about CodeCademy and other sites similar and ask them to write about CodeAvengers. It seems that one of the keys to going viral is getting influential bloggers & tweeters to write about your site. When I say influential I'm talking people with 200k plus followers. Want some evidence, check out the graph in this link ( that illustrates the influence of hot shot tweeters in the success of CodeCademy's Code Year marketing strategy.

Or checkout this TED talk that includes examples of the influence of top bloggers on viral YouTube videos...

3. News sites - Email people who wrote news articles about CodeCademy and see if they will write one about our site. Just like influential bloggers, influential news sites can have a big effect!

4. Comments - Write comments after news articles and Blog Posts about CodeCademy. Also post a couple responses on question answer sites like Stackoverflow, Yahoo and Quora.

5. YouTube - Email people who have created YouTube videos about CodeCademy. Also get my 8 year old brother Matthew to make and post videos about our site. An added bonus of this idea is it will get him out of mum's hair for a few hours. Two drawbacks with this idea are even with YouTube videos posted... you still have to get people to watch them. Number 2, I will have to broker a deal with mum to get Matthews 1 week ban from the computer (for playing games when he wasn't supposed to) partially lifted.

Well that's enough for now. We will have a go at the approaches above and see what happens in a week...