Building a Better OpenCourser

I'm proud to announce new changes and features that will hopefully make it easier to find courses that matter to you.

In late December just a couple of weeks ago, I posted to my Facebook and to Reddit's /r/learnprogramming letting the world know about OpenCourser. The response was overwhelming, both in the number of messages I've received and the Google Analytics reports.

Among the messages were suggestions for new functionality, advice from other developers, and incredibly constructive feedback.

Here are a few of the changes I've made in response to those messages and in thinking of new ways to improve the site.

Learning is priceless, but...

It can be pretty daunting to find something new to learn when there are 100+ subjects and 4,000+ courses to choose from.

How do you know which courses will give you in-demand skills? Could the time and effort you invest in taking a course lead to a raise, a promotion, a new job, or even a new career?

Well, you won't need to wonder about that anymore. That information information (along with the the course details and reviews you've come to enjoy) are now all on one page!

Introducing: the new salary widget.

It doesn't just give you one salary. No, no. It gives you four related job titles and their salaries from along the entire career progression. That's entry level to senior/director level. What could be a better way to benchmark the value of a course?

The OpenCourser salary widget.

There are still a few kinks to work out. The matching algorithm is still pretty weak at times. There's a job for dairy equipment repairer that keeps coming up for certain courses about Data Analysis and I'm not really sure why. Point is, if you spot something funny going on, drop a comment below or contact me through the nifty contact form.

Also, please note that these salaries are taken from across the U.S. and are median salaries. Wages in some cities might be above or below the national average, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

OK. Onto the next one.

It's trendy to show what's trending

Starting now, you'll be able to find courses that people have searched for and interacted with the most in the "Trending Courses" section. It's a great way to see what others are learning about!

Interestingly, Portuguese-speaking visitors who found OpenCourser through our recent post about Learning How to Learn have helped the Portuguese version of the course (Aprendendo a aprender) trend.

This is still a really early version of the trending section, so definitely pass along your feedback.

Infinite scroll

You've seen infinite scroll before. It's when you've reached the bottom of a site and more things just magically load and you just keep scrolling and scrolling until you get to the bottom (if you get to the bottom). It's the thing that makes Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter browsing such endless fun.

Well, surprisingly (maybe not surprisingly), it's also the most common feedback I've gotten about OpenCourser's search and browse pages. People LOVE infinite scroll apparently. So I did the one thing I could, rolled up my sleeves, and tossed it in there. Give it a spin. Search for something and when the results are loaded, don't stop till you get enough (scrolling).


A couple of people asked me on Reddit if I'd be monetizing the site. As of two weeks ago, I didn't have any, but seeing that implementing them is another learning experience and, well, money, I decided to experiment a bit with the idea.

Before I say more, let me make this clear. I don't like ads. I use Adblock. I avoid sites that detect Adblock and make my browsing experience impossible if I have it turned on. On the flip side, I turn off Adblock for sites that design their ads around a good user experience.

Right now, the only form of ads I have on the site are Amazon affiliate links in the sidebar of course pages. They're just about the most un-ad-like things I've seen. They look like this (in case you have Adblock on):

Yay, ads.

The cool thing is, I've crunched the numbers. It seems just three or four books purchased through the links could probably keep OpenCourser running for a month! Part of that is because of how amazingly affordable DigitalOcean is (not so subtle referral link drop: get $10 when you sign up here) and how relatively low traffic OpenCourser still is at this point.

The example you see above is an ad unit generated from a course about web development. It took a few hours to set everything up and have course content match the books that Amazon recommended.

There are a few kinks still. The few courses there are on Plant Biology pull up results for books about Plants Vs. Zombies, which I can't say is terribly relevant. Amazon's ad tools seem pretty closed off to further customization though, so as long as Plants Vs. Zombies is a thing, aspiring botanists who have Adblock turned off will have to deal with the PvZ literature, but I digress.

If there are two things you should take away about ads and OpenCourser, it's that:

  • They'll never disrupt your browsing experience
  • Just a few conversions each month could keep OpenCourser running FOREVER

Anything else?

Not for now. I'm getting ready for a trip to Asia, but I'll be working on OpenCourser (along with other projects) while I'm away. If you've got suggestions, feedback, or anything else I should know about, drop a comment below!

So what are you waiting for? Go check out OpenCourser right now!


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