The following is an excerpted conversation between Extemp Central’s Logan Scisco and Ian Panchèvre, the founder of Prepd. You can reach Ian by emailing email@example.com.
Logan Scisco: This is Prepd’s second year of availability. How do you feel the first year went?
Ian Panchèvre: Year 1 was really encouraging. Obviously, when you’re bringing a new product to market, there are unique challenges. You don’t have an established brand, the technology hasn’t reached its full vision, and there’s a lot to learn about the community you’re serving. That said, I’m happy with the progress we made. We ended the season with over 130 registered teams. And before NSDA Nats, we released our second version of Prepd, which is a substantial upgrade from the first version people were using through Year 1.
Scisco: What’s new with the second version of Prepd?
Panchèvre: A lot of things… We abandoned the first version and built a completely new version from scratch. Our main focus was improving Prepd’s performance, and we’ve certainly accomplished that. When it comes to loading the Dashboard (LS: Prepd’s web application) or synchronizing with the Offline App, Prepd V2 is nearly four times faster than V1, which is tremendous.
Additionally, we added a bunch of new features. With Prepd V2, users can now create sub-folders beneath a primary folder. For example, China can be broken down into the sub-folders Military, Economy, Environment etc.
Another big feature: PDF uploads. This feature is perhaps our biggest technology achievement to date. We took a really unique approach towards building out PDF support. It wasn’t easy, but I’m proud of what our team accomplished.
What else? There’s now a Team Analytics page, which allows everyone to see filing data for their entire team. There are also unique User Profiles, so you can review your specific activity as well as the activity of your teammates. The Coaches Corner (LS: the feature that coaches use to manage their team) got some new features as well…
Oh, and Smart Search. With V2, you can enter keywords and Prepd searches through all your articles – not just those in a particular folder – and returns articles algorithmically, based on the relevancy of their content to the keywords.
Finally, to go along with the improved performance and the new features, we gave Prepd a brand new interface. We received a lot of compliments about Prepd’s aesthetics and usability with V1, but Prepd V2 blows the older version away. This version is definitely more beautiful and easier to use.
Scisco: Wow, “a lot” isn’t an understatement. Tell me more about the PDF feature, how does that work and why is it so special?
Panchèvre: Support for PDFs was our most frequently requested feature last year. With the Article Catcher, you can save any article from a news site, but it wasn’t compatible with PDFs. There are a couple of problems with PDFs that made us explore alternatives to the obvious solution of just “storing” a PDF file.
First, PDFs are huge. A PDF file is at least 1,000 times larger than an equivalent text file. Uploading PDFs directly to Prepd would slow down the entire technology, especially the synchronization process with the Offline App. We don’t want to introduce a feature that will impede Prepd’s performance.
Second, PDF content isn’t accessible. PDFs are tricky because they save each character to a specific geospatial point on the page, which is why they aren’t easily editable. As a result, some of our features, like Highlighter and Smart Search, couldn’t be built on top of the PDFs. We don’t want to limit access to article content. If you can highlight the content of PDFs just as you do with web articles, or search through the content of PDFs, that’s a pretty big innovation that no other software offers.
So we decided to take a different approach. When users upload a PDF, Prepd will first “unpack” the PDF to extract its raw text. As you can imagine, building the technology to do this was not easy. There were a lot of challenges and it took time to overcome them, but we persisted. We noticed that sometimes, though, when the PDF gets “unpacked,” the content isn’t ideally formatted. So we allow students to grab a block of text and reposition it on the page so that everything looks nice – they can’t delete or manipulate content, just reposition blocks of text to make sure it is well positioned. Finally, you enter article information, like the PDF’s publication source, date, and URL, and then it’s saved!
Now all the content from the PDF is stored as text. With this approach, we not only maintain high performance, but we can also build other features on top of the content. There’s still a lot of work we want to do to improve the feature, but we’ve overcome some major technical hurdles and we’re quite proud of that.
Scisco: That’s great to hear. What do you have planned for Prepd next?
Panchevre: There’s plenty of work ahead of us. Right now, the big item we’re working on is an iPad application. We plan to release a beta to our customers in October, and we’re aiming for public availability in the App Store later in the fall.
We’re also planning to improve existing features, like the user experience for uploading PDFs and the algorithm behind Smart Search. And then, of course, we regularly receive awesome suggestions from coaches and students. There’s a lot of feedback we plan to incorporate. Prepd is only going to get better!
Scisco: What has the progress been so far, a month into Year 2?
Panchevre: Fantastic. We have over 200 registered schools and just last week, our 400,000th article was uploaded to Prepd! We’re seeing a lot of activity; more activity now than we had during our peak last season. It’s exciting and humbling to see Prepd gain so much momentum. But of course, none of it would be possible if it weren’t for our coaches and students, who have been so supportive and helpful.