Bitmaker Labs final project

Edit – Check out the real thing at http://mondiale-five.herokuapp.com

On March 14th, the Bitmaker Labs Cohort 5 session ended. To my knowledge none of us stayed overnight in the lab or overdosed on Red Bull. We had a fun demo day where students presented their final projects. Certainly we had some creative presentations, including one-act-plays, a song, and even a nicely-filmed commercial.

My final project is called Mondiale. It provides a nicely-designed platform for travelers to share their travel stories broken down into logical trips and chapters. Travelers are able to upload photos and provide text to describe their trip in any order. Chapters can describe any length of time as desired by the author.

This gets away from the frenetic reverse-chronological post-driven model promulgated by pretty much every other sharing site on the internet, something that classmate and design facilitator Barbara memorably called a “tyranny.”

It allows you to describe and guide the audience through the trip – as you experienced it.

Brainstorming

One exercise that was very clarifying was the process of coming up with a vision statement that would serve as general guide to further design decision-making. This process would also help to clarify our pitch later on.

During the vision statement process the word “guide” became a key word – that is, the designed solution should guide the audience through the narrative in the path intended by the author. Another key concept that arose was the notion of organizing a series of posts into a ‘chapter’ and sequential navigation between chapters.

We also spent some time drawing up wireframes to illustrate our ideas. As we worked on the idea started to look a bit like Medium.com but for travel, which was a convenient shorthand for us to use when explaining to others in tech.

User research was a few things – first brainstorming ideas and concepts as to who would use this product, why they would use it, and the expected use cases. We imagined what we ourselves (Both actual travelers and photographers) would want out of the product. For my own part I disliked how the order of photos in a Facebook album is relatively unimportant, whereas for the purposes of telling narrative story, the order is quite important.

I also asked some friends who posted travel photos on Facebook. One comment I had from a travel blogger was that she frequently blogs on the road and that the WordPress mobile interface handles photo posting from phones very poorly. I also received a comment from a friend whose workflow (Like mine) generally involves processing pictures on a computer somewhat before uploading to a sharing site. (i.e.: Not a direct post from the image capture device.)

Still, for the purposes of having a nice presentation to possible employers, we decided to focus on the audience experience rather than the creator experience.

New team

After pitches we were approached by another pair of developers in the class who were interested in what we were doing since it seemed similar to what they had in mind. Barbara’s final project ended up being an excellent data visualization but her help was invaluable and can easily recommend her for your design project. (barbarashain.com)

Scott’s idea was a web tool to document and record learning experiences as posts that could be grouped together into topics. This topics could then be ‘cloned’ by another user should that user also want to follow that learning experience.

For example, a user studying web development could document her experiences with different learning media such as videos, blog posts, and books. Another user could then clone those experiences if he wanted to also use that sequence of specific videos, blog posts, and books, and then add their own comments.

There were a lot of similarities between the two ideas – each experienced medium was roughly equivalent to a post, each chapter would be a subject, and each trip could be a sort of learning journey (e.g.: Web development, portrait photography) For one or two days we tried to combine the two ideas but we were eventually advised by one of the instructors to focus on a single concept that would help us make decisions.

The travel idea won out as it was easier to explain to other people, and easier to fill with nice travel pictures for a nice effect.

Code

Three of us worked on the core codebase together at first, but then we split off into different functionality. Scott worked on the code for the front-end effects such as off-canvas navigation, and also the geo-located search. Kevin worked on geo-located search and also the ability for users to “upvote” certain posts. I prepared wireframes, was the ‘product person’ and worked on image uploading with carrierwave, image deletion, picking profile photos. as well as laying out the grid and type. I also used jQuery .sortable to implement a drag-and-drop re-arrangement of chapters in a trip, which was generally impressive although relatively simple to put in.

For the first week we kind of experimented with the code and different features but by the Tuesday of the second week I asked everyone if we were OK with focusing on something that look finished and polished – overlooking the “covert” bugs and focusing on the “overt” ones.

For example, we had a div that contained description text – if the text entered was too long, it would corrupt the sizing of some of the other divs on the page. That we agreed was “covert.” Conversely links that caused immediate server errors were definitely “overt.”

Presentation and next steps

 


Overall we got some pretty positive reactions – Scott’s effects were quite nice and people seemed to respond positively to the geolocation and the overall idea of a platform designed for travel stories. People we interviewed with seemed to like it too.

With more time I think I would have deployed the website it would be accessible over the internet. On the audience side I think there needs to be a stronger distinction between the presentation of trips and chapters. We also got carried away with the use of Google Maps which made our page load times pretty long and the pages themselves a bit sluggish on older computers.

Finally I think we need to continue work on the interface to make the creation side of the application to make the creation and uploading of pictures and trips much smoother. The creation side is still based heavily the “one form – one object” model of creation records, whereas it would be nice to upload a mass of pictures and input a lot of text at once, and then to arrange those masses of text and pictures into trips and chapters at once.

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