New features live

Various new features have been made live on Cyclescape recently:

Direct messages: You can now direct message another person (i.e. a private thread between two people). To use this, click on someone's name (e.g. in a discussion thread listing), and that takes you to their profile page. You will then see a green 'Send private message' button. This creates a discussion thread like any other, except it's just between you and the other person. Such discussions will be listed on the 'My Cyclescape' overview page like any other, and there is also now a Mail icon in the top-right (which we will soon make 'light up' when you have a message).

CycleStreets Photomap integration: You can now add to the thread discussion a photo direct from the CycleStreets Photomap, using the 'CycleStreets photo' button, alongside existing options like Text, Photo, etc. Click on 'CycleStreets photo', then find the image (the geographical starting point will use the issue's location), click the green button to choose the image, and that will pre-fill the caption, which you can adjust. Scroll down and submit. Also, each issue page now has options to see both collisions and CycleStreets Photos.

Leader of a discussion: You can now set yourself as the 'Thread leader', to indicate that you will take responsibility for ensuring a discussion moves forward. This is helpful so that people have a clear contact point if a discussion is going nowhere rather than resulting in useful activity like letter-writing or press work. Click the new 'Thread leader' option in the reply area. You can give a brief additional note if you want, before pressing submit. This will add a message to the thread noting that you have become thread leader. The thread leader will be indicated on the right sidebar. This feature will see further user interface developments, but we've added the main mechanics now.

Membership link: The Committee members in a group now gets an additional 'Membership' link in the main menu, giving an easier link to the membership list.

Planning application improvements: Last year, we added planning applications to your 'My Cyclescape' page. Over the summer we've fixed various bugs relating to planning application processing. We identified a scenario where a failure in processing a particular application (e.g. if it were somehow incorrect with a missing field for instance) in some cases could cause the import not to complete. If you become aware of a planning application number and it does not appear in a search, please report the number and Local Authority on this bug report page and we can check further.  Planning application integration is now live for around 55% of the country, thanks to PlanIt. Over-long subject lines for planning applications are now avoided, and there are numerous other bugfixes.

Tag cloud: There is a new tag cloud on the Tags page in the main menu. This gives an entry point into common themes. It's not the most earth-shattering improvement, but we hope you like it anyway, as we needed a way into the tags listings.

Library items now are geographical: Adding a Library item now enables a geographical area to be added. We will gradually enforce this once a complete reworking of the area-setting workflow has been done.

Library listings: The library is now paginated. This is one of a number of long-needed improvements to the Library, which had been left in prototyped state for many years, but we're now starting to prioritise this a bit more.

Spam filtering: Various admin controls have been added.

Twitter sharing buttons: A button to 'Tweet this' has been added on each issue page.

We've gone HTTPS: For your further improved privacy, all traffic to the site is now HTTPS (i.e. encrypted). Previously, just password login pages were HTTPS. Any HTTP links will redirect to HTTPS automatically.

Leaflet.js: We've completed a major change 'under the hood' which is to replace our map framework from OpenLayers 2 to Leaflet.js. Now that this is in place, this unlocks a major interface change that we're planning.

Developer API: A fledgling developer API is now documented. London Cycling Campaign are using this to create a map of current consultations in London, thanks to work by Camden Cyclists. More will be added in future. Let us know if you have any particular requests for the API.

Lots of other little bugfixes! We welcome any suggestions via the feedback link at the top of any Cyclescape page, or via our Github issues page, which is read directly by the development team.

This work has been possible kindly thanks to grant support from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. Thanks also to Nikolai and other developers who have made these improvements possible.

Filtering planning applications

We recently added a feature where planning applications in your area are automatically pulled into Cyclescape, so that new developments which affect cyclists can be turned into issues easily.

We knew this would need some tuning, and a common request has been to filter out tree works, advertisement applications, and similar applications that are almost never of relevance to cycling.

So we've added a feature to filter out planning applications on an area-by-area basis.

For instance, in this listing, the first application is useful and has been converted to an issue, but the second issue is a tree works application and so ideally shouldn't have appeared in the list at all. So ideally we should aim to filter out this type of application for the area listed:

Planning filtering

For instance, in Cambridge all the tree works applications like 13/046/TTCA end in /TTCA , so we've added that as a filter.

Because each Local Authority area has its own web-based planning application system (though some use the same backend), the filters currently have to be defined as patterns to exclude.

Please look through the applications and see if you can spot the patterns for your area, and let us know via the feedback link at the top of any Cyclescape page.

(We plan to make this directly editable by groups directly soon.)

What we’re working to finish

Cyclescape has been used now for three months by Cambridge Cycling Campaign as our test group. We added them even though we knew not everything was in place, as it was important to get good feedback on real campaigning usage, even though that has meant some confusion in the short-term.

Over 180 issues (cycling infrastructure problems) have been posted, over 250 discussion threads on these, containing over 2,000 messages.

We've also had meetings with CTC, Cyclenation, and London Cycling Campaign to show the site as it currently stands and talk through what's done and what's not, to see what they most need:

   
Meetings with London Cycling Campaign and Cyclenation / CTC

A lot of the work going on now is about tidying up and finishing off pieces of functionality, reorganising things a bit, and making things more flexible. The site isn't quite ready for wider usage, but things are falling into place.

These are the main things left now, not in any particular order, to ensure that the site will be a big step up for campaigners:

1) Settings: "What do I get told about?"

A key aspect of the site is to avoid the 'e-mail list syndrome' where everyone gets absolutely everything, which puts off people who don't have enormous amounts of time. Instead, users can outline places they want to hear about things.

a) Three months' usage of the site has clarified what the various settings should now be. This is now being finalised, as top-priority work. [Done]

b) We need a clearer route through to encourage people to set their preferences.

c) The ability to subscribe automatically to discussions based on keywords (e.g. 20mph zones) rather than purely map-based areas.


Users have found that the settings don't give them quite enough flexibility yet. The key addition about to be added is auto-subscribing, rather than just being notified.

2) User interface

Much functionality is now in place, but users are having trouble finding things. So:

a) The search box will be moved to a more accessible position and cover all types of data (issues, threads, library) [Done]

b) Reorganising the various listing screens.

c) Removing scrolling past previously-read replies. We're aiming to avoid pagination (which people don't like).

d) Tags (categories) just need an auto-complete so that 'cycle parking' comes up as soon as you start typing: p.. a...

e) Getting a more natural (and 'frictionless') connection between an issue (basically the container for discussions) and threads (the actual discussions). In general, starting a discussion on a completely new issue involves a bit too much friction, which we need to address.

f) General little bits of tidying up, improving the labelling and making the site as 'warm' as possible.


This shows three of a number of ways of viewing what's going on. There are more, and we are gaining a better insight into what users need to see to help them campaign.

3) E-mail integration

From the start, it has been a core principle that people can interact with Cyclescape via e-mail as well as the web, much like a Yahoo Group for instance.

a) At present, a discussion thread can't be started by e-mail. A key question is how to ensure this gets grouped with other discussions on a topic.

b) The ability to move an existing thead into a different issue.

c) Finishing off the work on attachments so they can be attached to an incoming e-mail.

4) The Library

The Library is a place for useful resources to be 'tagged' (categorised) so that Cyclescape can automatically suggest them in discussions. For instance, if a 20mph zone is being proposed, it makes sense for the key guidance on this to be handed to people 'on a plate'.

a) Adding to the library isn't a very smooth process at the moment. We intend to enable any reply to be 'promoted' to be a library item retrospectively.

b) More types of library item will make things a bit more flexible and improve how they appear in discussions.

c) Adding the category tags needs to be made more integrated.


The core Library functionality is there - it just needs a bit more development to ensure it's a genuinely useful campaigning resource.

5) Other features

a) A key need in Cambridge, for which we have grant funding from Cambridge Sustainable City: Getting planning applications landing on the map automatically, something we're very excited about. OpenlyLocal have been making good progress with developing the new PlanningAlerts. We've done some initial work to determine how this will work, interface-wise, to avoid lots of roof extension planning applications (etc.) appearing and cluttering things up.

b) There isn't a listing of My priorities, so there's currently no incentive to set this. Currently you can set this but it's not actually then used. [Done]

Stay tuned for news as these each get ticked off!

More features in place

Work is continuing apace with Cyclescape, with more features now in place as we work up to a wider release.

There are still quite a number of unfinished areas, but we're getting there. Andrew and (most recently) Andy have been busy adding more in place for us.

  • Deadline setting
  • Collision data
  • Per-thread attachments
  • Committee-only privacy setting
  • Popular issues

Read about these below:

Deadline setting:

Deadlines (or other dates) can now be set.

Our experience of cycle campaigning is that it's often easy to miss a consultation deadline or some other date, if there's a lot going on. By then, it's too late, and the opportunity to see improvements to cycling are missed.

The set dates are now listed in 'My Cyclescape', the user's main summary area. We'll be developing this interface further.

Collision data:

Collision data is now integrated, using a new data feed from CycleStreets, and linking through to their collision reports.

This feature has been developed for the Cambridge group, pushed forward because of the large number of planning applications in that area, for which collision data can often provide a useful context.

Development of this feature, and various underlying code pre-requisites, has been possible thanks to a grant from Cambridge Sustainable City, whose support has been invaluable.

This screenshot, for instance, shows the site of collisions in Mill Road, an area subject to continuing pressures on cyclists from lorries. Several planning applications in recent years would have benefitted from this data being available.

The finalised interface for collisions isn't quite in place yet - buttons for this will be added to finish it off.

Per-thread attachments:

Attachments can now be added to individual discussion threads. Previously the only way to add an attachment was to add it to the Library, which is always public.

Currently there is a slight limitation that, if e-mailing to the discussion thread (since you can reply to things via e-mail, not just via the website), attachments do not get through. We're working on this!

Committee-only privacy setting:

There are now three privacy options for each discussion thread:

  • Public (publicly visible)
  • Group (i.e. available to all members of the group)
  • Committee (available only to current Committee members)

The latter option means that groups can discuss sensitive matters in privacy if required, e.g. pre-consultation plans from a developer.

There is a setting in the group's area which sets the default (public/group) when their members start a discussion thread.

Cyclescape has a voting system, which now results in a list of popular items, ensuring that key strategic issues can stay floated to the top.

More will be done to expose this feature in due course, as the rest of the interface is improved, but the underlying functionality is now in place.

 

The What's New? link at the end of each page on the site has a log of individual features and bugfixes as they are put in.

Bit by bit, the site's functionality and interface is falling into place!

In our next blog post we'll talk about what we're currently working on, i.e. what's missing and what's not yet finished.