We don’t have an iPhone app, and that’s a good thing

This post adapted from a post appearing on Education Week

Often times, we’re asked about we’re asked whether we have an iPhone app. The answer is that we don’t. There’s a good reason for it, too.

The reality is that there are not infinite resources in a small company, and by offering the cross-platform Edthena Video Tool, we can ensure a great experience for all of our users across a variety of video capture devices.

Here’s a bit more on where we stand…

The deficit-based claim about Edthena by a competitor:edthena iphone app

Edthena doesn’t have an iPhone app. This is going to make uploading videos a cumbersome and inefficient process. You’ll need to take the video to a computer to do your uploading. We built an iPhone app that makes this very easy for you to upload your video directly to our site from your phone.

Edthena’s view:

Others may focus attention on their iPhone app and how it represents that their technology is more advanced or their technical team is more sophisticated. But the reality is that almost everyone is utilizing a specific third-party company to serve as the underlying technology to power this process.

To be honest, we’ve heard varying reports about the success of uploading long videos on those apps, because it’s a lot of data that needs to be moved off the phone. The apps work best for three-minute videos captured at birthday parties, not 30-minute videos of classroom instruction.

And for all that focus on an iPhone app, how do others meet the needs of non-iPhone users? If there is an option, it’s secondary and not as good as the iPhone method. Get ready for a Java-based uploader and/or an 18-step method for how to compress your video.

It’s true that we don’t offer an iPhone app today — at some point we certainly will — but for now we have prioritized the Edthena Video Tool. The Edthena Video Tool is technology built in-house. This means we can manage and control the entire process. We can react quickly to any issues so that we can deliver on the promise of successful uploads by any user while supporting a multitude of camera devices.

We’ve learned from our partners that equity of access is a big concern when you start thinking about larger deployments. Not everyone has an iPhone. Our current partners confirm that requiring an iOS device is an unreasonable financial burden to place on their users or organization just to have an opportunity to try the “recommended method” for getting videos online.

The Edthena Video Tool enables any user to upload videos from an iPhone with the same level of drag-and-drop simplicity as a three-year-old camera. There is no first-class and economy-class treatment in our model. Everyone gets an excellent, headache-free experience.

As our company grows, we have plans to support native applications for both iPhone and Andriod platforms. But in the meantime, we’ll be staying the course with the Edthena Video Tool and directing our resources toward some really exciting and advanced features for our web application set to release this fall.

photo image credit: apples.jp cc

Quantifying the Benefit of the Edthena Video Tool

This post originally appeared as part of our ongoing series for Education Week.

The everyday experience of interacting with video online is best summed up as “instant.”

When you visit a site (including Edthena) and press the play button, the video starts playing almost instantly.

cute_kittens_20_great_pictures_1_by_skylertrinityrapture-d67m2f6[1].jpgWhile nearly everyone I know (including my 90-year-old grandmother) has watched a video online, very few people have actually uploaded a video. And the few that have uploaded video have uploaded things like “Cat mom hugs baby kitten.”

So most people don’t have an expectation that getting video online might take more than an instant.

Recently, we surveyed a segment of our users. Much of the feedback was really positive. But two people (seriously, only two) identified that their biggest frustration was, “The amount of time needed to upload a video.”

Sigh. Compressing and uploading videos is something that we’re doing a great job as a company.

I realized the best response to this mindset about everything needing to be more instant would be to share data to quantify the benefits of our video tool.

We’re inherently constrained by someone’s upload bandwidth. We can’t give someone more speed. But we can reduce the amount of data they need to send to our servers to dramatically speed up the process of getting a video online.

On average, Edthena users see an 80% reduction in the amount of video data they need to upload. I’ll go ahead and say… That’s a lot of savings.

But let’s look at what this means in specific terms for a real user who recently uploaded a video.

File Size

The original video was 28 minutes long and a hefty 2,737 MB. For comparison, the size of one mp3 song is usually 3-5 MB. The total amount of data we uploaded to our servver for this user was 129 MB. In this case, we achieved a 95% reduction in file size!

total file size edthena.png

Time for Upload

The user in question happened to live in Indianapolis. We don’t know her exact connection speed, but we can take the average upload speed for the Indianapolis-area based on speed test data (see note below). On a perfect connection, we estimate the original file would have taken at least 63 minutes for the user to upload. And then there would still be some time for server processing to make the video ready for viewing. With the Edthena Video Tool, the user had successfully uploaded the video and it was ready to watch in only 17 minutes!

time for upload edthena

Note: Speed test data is a measurement of burst speed versus sustained bandwidth. While it might be possible to send a small amount of data at the advertised “average” speed, users rarely get sustained upload bandwidth at these levels. Sustained bandwidth availability is needed for uploading large files. Additionally, Internet Service Providers can prioritize the speed test data in such a way that users experience better transmission speeds during the test. This is to say that the upload of the original file, if it had been attempted, would likely have taken much longer than our estimate.

Response to Heartbleed Security Threat

Earlier this week, a security vulnerability known as Heartbleed was announced. This was an important event because Open SSL, the underlying library in question, powers security and encryption for approximately two-thirds of the internet including sites like your bank.

heartbleedFirst and foremost, we have no evidence that leads us to believe this vulnerability was used to access Edthena data or Edthena servers.

Because Edthena focuses on maintaining a high level of security for our users, this was a major development that demanded quick action. This is how we responded:

  • Within an hour of the security patch being released, we successfully updated and restarted our servers. This means that we were no longer vulnerable to the security exploit.
  • Within 18 hours, we revoked our existing cryptographic keys and completed the necessary steps to generate and implement new keys for accessing our data.

In short, while Heartbleed presented a potential threat to our data, we acted immediately to deploy a fix and restore the highest level of security to our systems and for our users.

Essentially every site needs to take steps to upgrade security measures, and they’ll need to communicate those upgrades to users like we’ve done here.

You can test any site for whether they’ve installed the updates by visiting http://filippo.io/Heartbleed

Image from Heartbleed.com

The Five Layers of Edthena Security

This post originally appeared on Education Week. It’s authored by Edthena CTO David Weldon. 

I spend a lot of my time thinking about security. In fact, “Will this be secure?” and “Will this scale?” are the first two questions I ask myself when contemplating any new feature. Adam’s first question is often “How soon can we ship this?”, but that’s understandable.

Preventing evildoers from getting their hands on your data comes in many forms: how we restrict access to our servers, how we interact with service providers, and how we transmit content to users.

Our users demand a place where their video and data are not only stored safely but also protected from unintended access. It’s the opposite of popular video sharing sites like YouTube, and we’d even go so far as to argue YouTube is not a good place for sharing classroom videos.

We believe we’ve built Edthena into the secured sharing platform that our users need. It’s one thing to say it’s secure, but it’s another to explain it publicly. 

I firmly believe that a secure system is one which can be explained in great detail and yet remains impervious to attack. In this post I will explain the five steps we take to ensure only the right people are accessing our users’ content inside Edthena.

edthena security measuresIdentity Verification

We go out of our way to make Edthena a social platform so you can feel confident you are interacting with only the people you know and trust.

The only way to activate an Edthena account is via an email invitation generated by our platform. This ensures that each account is associated with a unique email not shared by anyone else in our system. This approach of using email invitations to verify identity is considered a best practice for other scenarios like online contract-signing services.

In the Edthena platform, we also require every user to upload a profile photo during registration. From then on, your smiling face will appear in each one of your comments and groups.

Password Strength

We believe in strong passwords, but not in ridiculous rules. The Internet is replete with forms requiring a minimum of six characters with at least one number and one symbol.

Even with those restrictions, people still do a terrible job. I’ll bet I could unlock about a third of the web by trying every permutation of “P4ssw0rd!”.

It turns out that a simple collection of unrelated words like “correct horse battery staple” is incredibly hard to crack (and it’s pretty easy to remember). We use a sophisticated library which looks for things like keyboard patterns, industry terms, and known passwords to help ensure a sufficiently strong phrase.

Access Controlled Groups

By default, every video in the system can only be seen by the uploader. The only way to let others view your content is by sharing it to a group.

Group membership is controlled by the group admin. That person is clearly identified to the members of the group and is responsible for approving requests to join the group. Because you can always see exactly who is a member of your group, you can feel safe knowing that only a trusted set of users have access.

Unlike other platforms with complex privacy and sharing policies (I’m looking at you Facebook), Edthena has extremely simple choices of either unshared or shared to a group. This keeps things easy to learn for our users and increases confidence that only the intended audience will have access once shared.

Single-use URL

Every time you watch a video in Edthena, your browser is making a request to our content delivery network using a single-use URL. Not only is the URL generated on the fly, but the only way to initiate the process is to be signed in as a user of our system and access the video conversation inside one of your groups.

This is my favorite security feature. Even if a malicious person who was a known individual with access to your group could somehow figure out the address to one of your videos, the link is set to expire automatically to prevent further download of the content.

Data Encryption

Many sites, including us, can say that we utilize 128-bit, “military-grade” encryption to ensure that information is protected against unauthorized access. But we take things one step further.

Unlike some sites which may mix secure and insecure content, our servers make sure that all data—the comments, the pictures, and the video—are transmitted over a secure connection. This removes the possibility of someone listening in on your Internet connection and seeing any of your Edthena data.

That’s it for the overview, but if you would like to know more detail about any of the above please reach out to us by email.

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Why YouTube isn’t a solution for classroom observation videos

When explaining Edthena to someone for the first time, the common question is why YouTube can’t be utilized to achieve the same end-goals.

We’d like to think that there is a lot of value in the way we facilitate collaborative conversation on video. These are things that YouTube isn’t designed to do.

But let’s assume for a second that you don’t see value in things like a fully-managed video compression tool or time-synced annotations or the ability to upload attachments like a lesson plan. So now we’re evaluating based solely on the function of video storage and delivery.

Even on this level, I’d assert that YouTube isn’t the right place for classroom videos since it’s not a secure, private location for sharing video. YouTube is designed to make video sharing really easy. Almost too easy.

One of the most common ways to share information on YouTube in a “private” way is to make a video unlisted. This excludes the video from search. But this means that anyone with the URL can access the video. And if they have access, they can watch the video, embed the video in other places, and even download the video using 3rd party tools.

Potentially more concerning than a video set to unlisted is a video mistakenly set as public. After all, this is the default option for all new videos uploaded to YouTube.

Take a look at this search for “edtpa” which pulls back several classroom videos:

edtpa video

It’s completely possible that the video uploaders in the screenshot gathered permissions for public display of these students. But my experience and instinct is that at least some of the videos available via public search are not intended to be so easily discovered.

This is why having a platform like Edthena is so important. Our platform defaults all video to private, and each uploader chooses to explicitly share a video to a group of specific individuals.

When using Edthena, a program decision maker doesn’t have to worry about accidental exposure of sensitive information. We lock everything away inside our platform using several layers of security, encryption, and even a secure connection.

Edthena is the opposite of YouTube when it comes to security for video, and that’s a good thing in this instance.

Note: There is a mechanism on YouTube which enables private videos to be selectively shared via Google+ to other users. However, I’ve rarely met people who understand how to do this.

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