16 May 2012

Ideas for PL/SQL Challenge 2.3

We are now planning new features and enhancements to the PL/SQL Challenge website (version 2.3).  I'd love to hear what you think - both about these ideas and your own. Now, you might be thinking that I already asked for such feedback on the blog and that's true - sort of. In my 9 March post, we discussed some possible changes in the way the daily quiz is played. I am still sorting through those ideas. But for our next release, we will be making smaller-scale changes to the site, keeping the basic quiz structures in place, but improving overall usability and access.

So first:

What's Missing from the PL/SQL Challenge?

What features and content would you like to see on the PL/SQL Challenge? What would bring you back to the site more often? What would help you get your jobs done faster and with higher quality? And now our ideas for 2.3:

"Rank Me" for Competitions

Today at the PL/SQL Challenge, you can either play competitively or for educational purposes only. If the latter, then your performance is not ranked. This setting applies to all the quizzes and also affects all results since you started taking quizzes. It's an inflexible model that is showing its age in many ways. We plan to enhance the PL/SQL Challenge so that you can indicate for a specific competition (such as the daily PL/SQL quiz or the weekly SQL quiz) that you want to be ranked or not. We will keep track of when you start and stop competitive play for each quizzes. So, for example, if you have a vacation coming up, you can ask us to not rank you while you are away, and you will no longer see all your previous rankings disappear.

As you can probably tell from the way I wrote the above paragraph, we are definitely going to do this, but we are still happy to hear any comments on it, of course!


Several players have asked for the ability to mark a quiz or feature or author as a "favorite", so that they can easily find and reference that information. Would you use this feature? What sort of information would you want to be able to keep track of as a "favorite"?

Recent Activity

There's a lot more going on, on the PL/SQL Challenge website, now that we have discussions on quizzes directly on the site, Quizbooks that can be shared, and so on. It's hard at the moment for a player to know about the new happenings on the site, so we'd like to show a list of recent activity on the home page.

Featured Discussion

As of 2.2, you can now ask questions and have a discussion about specific quizzes. We are thinking that it might also be interesting to post a topic each month and invite discussion on it, independent of any particular quiz. Examples of topics we might explore: "Should exceptions be trapped in the block in which they are raised or simply handled at the top-level block?" or "Should all (or most, anyway) SQL statements be encapsulated by procedures and functions?" or "What are your favorite techniques for debugging problems in your code as quickly as possible?"

The discussion topic would be shown on the home page, with links to the full discussion thread and past discussions.

Better Library Search

Today, the Library lists quizzes by the order in which they were taken. You can perform searches against the text displayed in the table, and that's about it. The Practice and Quizbook features now let you find quizzes by a feature (handy when you want to check out all the quizzes and related information for dynamic SQL, for example). We'd like to offer the same kind of searching to the Library.

Changes to Home Page

I feel that it is time for the home page to "catch up" with changes in the PL/SQL Challenge, both based on new features in 2.2 and the new ideas listed above. Here are my ideas regarding the home page:
  • First, whatever changes we make, you will be able to choose the "classic" home page that is currently offered. People generally don't like change and I expect that whatever we do, we will hear complaints that the "old way" was better or, at least, preferred.
  • Move Top Ranked Players to a pop up. Rather than use valuable real estate on the page, give you access to this information with a click of a button. Perhaps also show this information on our Rankings page.
  • Remove myLibrary: this will be effectively replaced by Recent Activity (see above).
  • Remove myAccount: this information can be made available without taking up so much space.
  • Shrink the Play a Quiz table. It contains information that I expect very few players even see, much less care about (number of quizzes in the competition, for example, which is almost always just 1).
  • Add a Search field to the home page to provide a "short cut" into the Library.
  • Add the Recent Activity, Features and Featured Discussion sections.