1. International local alerts

    Back from holiday in Edinburgh last week, where amongst other things I went to see NTK-recommended Coelcanth about an alternate reality England which didn’t get deforested, and where tree climbing is a national sport. It was excellent.

    Currently my goal is to do stuff for the launch of PledgeBank in the US. At the moment I’m adding signup for local alerts in other countries. Then there are quite a few small URL and text tweaks do to do. For example, displaying US and global pledges only on the front page of the US site.

    The hard question about all this is how to present all the slices of PledgeBank data that there are. By country, by local place, by language, by category. I’m completely ducking it by just worrying about there being a UK and a US site. This is often a good approach when your head is tangled by over complex abstract software requirements – focus in and solve the part of the problem that’s actually needed next.

    Plenty more trees to climb later.

  2. YCML work

    Today, I have been working on YourConstituencyMailingList (which will thankfully not be its final title, I keep spelling Constituency wrong myself 🙂 ). The database now has knowledge of which member of a YCML is the MP, and records comments made by that person, so that they can appear differently in the thread of comments. Also comment email alerts for when new comments are posted to a particular message; I guess I should add RSS feeds of comments, messages, and so on too. A Welsh translation of PledgeBank is coming along nicely, hope to have that up as soon as it’s ready.

  3. Boiling boiling hot

    Today is the sort of muggy, hot day, which makes you believe that old story. The one about the British having an empire because of the bad weather. They could actually concentrate, plot and do under the clouds, rather than just dozing in a field, lazing in the sun. How true it is I’m not sure, but it definitely seems quiet everywhere today. I’ve got fewer emails than ever, and I’m still amazed I’ve managed to think all day at all.

    I’m leaving PledgeBank behind for a bit, as most of the obvious bugs are fixed, and features added. Earlier this week, and at the end of last, I put in local email alerts. Now if you sign up to local alerts you’ll get mailed at most once a day when a new pledge is made within 25km of you. PledgeBank really is having a proper beta test, with about 100,000 visitors since launch a month ago. This has been fantastic, the feedback has made it a very stable and hopefully more usable site. Good software is software which is used lots, with a virtuous feedback loop from users into making it better.

    So this morning I went back to WriteToThem. We still haven’t updated county councils after the elections. So I’ve been writing some three way merging code, to import changed council data from GovEval. It is merging, rather than just loading, because we’ve also altered the data. This was to make the ward names match up consistently with those from our mapping data.

    Things are working pretty well for councils where neither GovEval or us have added or deleted any representatives. There are unique identifiers, and very few clashes. Only one throughout all the data which has been caused by one of us editing the ward name, the other editing the councillor name, and so the repersentative really being neither.

    The hard case is additions and deletions. Obviously, I’d like to keep our work of mySociety additions. But this is no use, as eventually one day they’ll be wrong. The councillor we thought should be there no longer will be. So how do I detect when?

  4. Awooga! Awooga!

    For pretty well the last week now I’ve been adding various new messages and alerts to PledgeBank. First up were a set of emails which go to creators. Two of these are “chivvying” ones, which remind the creator to do publicity, and give them some advice.

    Quite a few people make pledges and don’t realise that they have to publicise them themselves. Ambient traffic to PledgeBank will get you some sign ups, especially at the start of last week when we had lots of media attention, but pledge creator’s also have to do some of their own work. So we chivvy the creator once after a few days if they don’t have many sign ups.

    Secondly, even if you’ve got some publicity and some signups, sometimes you just haven’t got a high enough rate to reach your target on time. I’ve added some code which checks signup rate on average over the last week (for pledges at least a week old). If things were to carry on at that rate until the deadline, and the pledge still wouldn’t succeed, it sends an email with ideas about publicity/marketing of your pledge. Now we just have to hope this is useful rather than annoying…

    Another thing we noticed is that lots of pledge creators hadn’t sent a message to their signers after their pledge succeeded. Admittedly this was partly because of a bug in our announce message code (there was no action= in one of the forms, which caused problems on some browsers). So I also added a successful pledge reminder email which is sent a few days after success.

    All the stuff above was done using the nice “message” tables which Chris made a while ago. They make it easy to send messages which go out only once, and to creators, signers and late signers as appropriate. However, for the next set of emails, some new code was needed. These are optional “alerts”. For example, to email you when new comments are added to a pledge, and when there is a new local pledge in your area. So, the last day or two I’ve been coding that.