Community, Feedback, and Software
When I wake up and go to work, I bring people and ideas together, write software, and do what I can to make people’s lives easier. When I think about what I get to do for a living, I have to stop and realize I stand on the shoulders of giants.
I can attribute some of the greatest impact to my career and skills to the open source software movement and the people committed to the ideals it represents over the decades.
In particular, the idea that communication should be open, shared, and reinvested in the community has helped my learning and inspired a commitment to give back to the community.
Last month, we decided to ship an early version of our new Communities Map.
Borrowing a page from the hacker “ship early, and ship often” mentality, we put the software out in the world, opened up a means for public contribution, and waited for the feedback to come in.
I’m happy to announce the release of “v2” of this map.
The new map address two major threads of feedback:
- “I want a list of upcoming events so I can find which one I can attend”
- “I want a way to filter the map to events happening this upcoming weekend”
Given this feedback, we were able to add two major features.
Upcoming Events Filter
The first is a custom control area to activate special features on the map. While many facilitators use the map for specific activities, this is useful because the general public might not be as interested in specialized filtering.
So instead, we have a control area that opens and closes to reveal a checkbox for active city filtering. Here’s how it works:
When the active city filter is checked, the map determines the current day and hides any cities that don’t have an active event in the most immediate weekend. Unfortunately, at time of writing, there aren’t Startup Weekend events happening this weekend so there isn’t much to show.
However, this should prove useful to facilitators who want to save time creating “Also Happening This Weekend” slides in their intro deck.
Upcoming Events List
Other users told us the old map helped them find events through time to attend or to make their plans as facilitators. For these use cases, we built a dynamically generated scrolling list of events for quick searching through time.
It starts by loading all Good or Working events in the next 30 days. Here is how that looks:
As you can see from the screenshot, events are grouped by their start date. We can see in this example that the “15 February” group has only one event, but the weekend of February 17th has quite a few.
Keeping the initial list to events within the next 30 days keeps the experience fast and snappy for the majority of our users. However, if you want to look further out in time, you can click the “Load More…” link to pull the next 30 days’ worth of events into the list.
Collaboration and Open Source
The UP Global Tech team decided early on to open source this map plugin so that others can use, learn from, and contribute back to it.
The coolest thing about this release is that our most active contributors weren’t developers.
That’s right: you don’t need to be a developer to make an impact on an open source project. Sharing ideas, reporting bugs, helping with documentation, and guiding direction are all as important as actually writing the code itself.
UP Global and Open Source
We’ve leveraged the power of open source software to build our internal tools and give back to the community. We’ve also contributed patches and feature ideas to projects like Mongoose and LocomotiveCMS.
However, we’re also exploring ways we can honor our innovative, driven, and creative community.
We want to commit this year to opening up the efforts of our development team and release more software for public consumption and collaboration. Be on the lookout for more open projects as we dive in to 2014!
How to Get Involved
If you’re a developer, then you can keep an eye out for projects as we open them up on our organization page.
If you have a new idea or see something you don’t like, file an issue or fork and submit a pull request.
But what if you’re not a developer? That doesn’t have to stop you! You can create a free account on GitHub and file issues to report bugs, request features, and carry on discussions. For an example to see what I mean, you can see how we interacted with an active member of the UP Global community to iterate and refine on one of the new map features here.
Finally, if you’re still not excited about collaborating on GitHub, you can always leave feedback to our customer support team and they will make their way to the Tech team.
Thanks for reading, and happy hacking!
This post was written by UP Global’s Technical Director, David Pierce.
One of the most exciting things about working at UP Global is knowing we serve a global community. We move fast, work hard, and think creatively to support the efforts of our community and showcase the entrepreneurial movement.
If you’ve known about Startup Weekend for a long time, you’ve undoubtedly encountered our global events map. Though it has served us well, I am happy to share that we’ve retired the old map and I’m excited to introduce you to its newer, smarter sibling: The UP Global Cities Map.
First, we should talk about why we would improve on what we had before. The major goals of the map were to:
- Show Startup Weekend’s global reach
- Help entrepreneurs find events in the communities they care about
While it was able to show the reach, it had some challenges with the second goal. Let’s discuss some of those challenges.
We only showed pins for a given community if there was an event in the currently selected month. We didn’t have a good way to help users look for their city or for a city that hadn’t had an event for a while.
Having to scroll through months and then search for a city was clunky and unfriendly. Understanding the state of the map was difficult without understanding what the different pin colors meant. Without going into detail, the original code design for the month selector was also quite brittle and was not future-proofed.
One of the biggest pain points is that we weren’t able to help anybody if a city didn’t have an event coming up soon or hadn’t had one in a while. The usefulness of the map was highly tied to the current activity of the organizing team.
The map worked by querying for events within a given date range from our in-house event management system called SWOOP. Asking for many events across a wide time-range was already slow, but the code that managed the pin rendering was also quite slow. This made the map unpleasant to use.
Ultimately, what we want to provide a map that is useful and that represented our mission and community in a meaningful way.
This project was actually born out of an unrelated effort to make better use of our ecosystem in terms of cities and communities rather than events. This makes sense since we are in the work of community building, and events are more transient than communities. This new effort is a step in the right direction.
While there may not be an event happening every day, your community is always there. Since this map focuses on communities rather than events, we are able to map any community that has ever hosted an event.
You probably know where your community is on the global map. With this new design, you don’t need to know when the event is, or even click around to find it.
First, we start by clustering pins at high zoom levels to reduce clutter and show regional grouping. Next, we offer a city search box that guides the user directly to the city when the desired search result is clicked.
We also greatly simplified the colors and meaning of the elements on the map to make communities the focal point of the experience.
Probably the most exciting change is what we are able to do when a community does not have an upcoming event. For example, let’s imagine I’m interested in the activity in the town near where I went to high school:
In this example, there isn’t an upcoming event in Omaha. However, I can either apply to organize a future event or drop my email into a mailing list to be notified when an event does get organized. This becomes useful for future organizing teams who need help marketing their events.
If a city does have an event, I can either learn more about the event or click straight through to the Eventbrite page to sign up:
This gets especially exciting when multiple events and different verticals are happening close to each other on the calendar since this display will render them all one after the other.
We actually had a few more things we wanted to add to this map, but in the spirit of shipping early and often, we just launched it with the hope of getting community feedback to advise the future direction.
Some ideas to improve the map plugin are:
- Add keyboard navigation to the search results
- Local browser caching to improve performance
- Automatic location detection and map refocusing
Our tech team is hard at work supporting your efforts and making technology work for the community. We hope you like our work so far and we look forward to bringing you more cool things in the future!