Getting discussions by e-mail now better

Did you know that you can also get Cyclescape discussions by e-mail?

In fact, Cyclescape can be used like lots of mini e-mail lists, which you can choose to subscribe/unsubscribe to on a per-thread basis.

We've made a number of improvements over the last month.

Firstly, you can now enable digests, so you can read what's happening by getting a single e-mail a day. Just head to your e-mail preferences and enable digests. Of course, the option to get one e-mail per reply, like an e-mail list, remains available.

emailpreferences

Firstly, e-mails are now properly threaded. Not the most earth-shattering change, perhaps, but for power users this is an essential bit of inbox cleanliness.

Threading

Next, we've added deadline reminders, so you'll get a reminder a day or two before a date in a thread you're subscribed to. So fewer excuses for missing deadlines now!

Reminder e-mails

Another small improvement is that we automatically strip e-mail encryption keys from messages, to avoid unnecessary attachments appearing in discussions.

We plan to redesign the layout and wording of e-mails soon, so that things like privacy settings and options are clearer. We'll also be making the new digests laid out more similarly to the classic 'mailman' layout.

In terms of general e-mails relating to signup:

  • New users now receive a welcome e-mail to confirm their signup, and to point to the settings and other things they might wish to set.
  • Users also receive an e-mail upon successfully joining a group. Committee members of the group can configure the contents of this e-mail.

This work to facilitate work by local cycling advocates has been possible thanks to grant support from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. Thanks also to our developer, Nikolai!

Search system overhauled to give much better results

We're pleased to announce that we've replaced the search result system with a completely new engine that gives much better results.

After a week of tuning the results, we think this now seems to find what you're looking for pretty consistently.

A bit of history: the search system that we launched with was really just a basic text search that didn't have any proper ranking system. Accordingly, this meant that the issue or discussion thread you wanted appeared hidden randomly amongst lots of other results.

The new system is a proper search engine, with rankings that we can tune and improve over time. We've already added various tweaks.

Search results

Let us know via the feedback link on the site if you get a search result hasn't found what you know is there.

Secondly, we've added pagination, so you're no longer limited to one page of results.

Another long-awaited improvement is that searches within a group's area will only return results from that area. So if you're in, say, Camden Cyclists' Cyclescape area, you won't get results polluted with issues from Cambridge, Sheffield, Leeds, or wherever.

Next planned improvement is to integrate the planning application search into the main search area.

This work to facilitate work by local cycling advocates has been possible thanks to grant support from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. Thanks also to our developer, Nikolai!

Improvements for groups

We've made various improvements for group managers.

If you didn't already know, cycling groups are able to create their own Cyclescape space, giving a custom web address and various personalisations.

You can of course use Cyclescape as an individual, but have you seen if there are any groups near you? Have a browse of the groups gallery:

Groups gallery

You can create a group using the 'Request new group' form in the top-right:

New group form

Groups can now add a photo to help personalise their page, alongside information about the group.

Each group's home page has a custom web address, e.g. http://camcycle.cyclescape.org/ (Cambridge Cycling Campaign), http://camdencyclists.cyclescape.org/ (Camden Cyclists), etc.

You can also join a group from their home page:

grouppage

For group committee members, we've also made various improvements to the user management area.

Join a group now!

joingroup

This work to facilitate work by local cycling advocates has been possible thanks to grant support from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. Thanks also to our developer, Nikolai!

Privacy improvements

Summary: We're changing how names are displayed on the site. Please take the opportunity to review use of your display name in your settings.

We're rolling out some privacy improvements, taking effect 20th June 2015.

Some groups have told us that it is important to them that they are able to operate on the basis of member discussions using real names, so that members know who they are talking to. However, we recognise that this could be in conflict with the entirely reasonable desire not to have one's name on the public internet if wished.

Accordingly, we have worked to implement a solution to this, whereby you can set your real name which people in your groups will see, but set a display name for everyone else. Previously the display name was always used.

Improved controls over how your name is displayed to others

We provide privacy controls that enable you to avoid your name being shown publicly on the internet while still visible to fellow members in a discussion. These are available on the account details page, and the two fields for your name will work as follows from 20th June:

  • your real name (visible to members of groups you are in); and
  • an optional display name (for all other situations); if you don't set one, you'll be shown as anonymous.

The visibility rule described above is used whenever your name is shown to others, e.g.:

  • next to each posting you make;
  • in the list of people subscribed to a discussion thread; and
  • on your user profile.

As the site is intended for collaborative discussion and working, we think it is helpful to your colleagues to use your real name when identifying yourself. Some groups using the site operate discussions on a real-names basis, so they may require that you identify yourself by your real name.

Once this change has been made, we'll be removing the temporary block from search engines indexing thread content that is set to be public.

This requirement to private groups with the ability to operate on a real-names basis was one of the drivers for this improvement.

Better control of your profile page

In order to foster a sense of community, we provide each member of the site with a user profile. This shows only the details you have chosen to enter on the Edit my profile page.

As of 20th June, you'll be able disable your user profile at any time (again via the Edit my profile page), so that it is not visible to others.

Privacy policy

Lastly, the site now has an explicit privacy policy, linked to from the bottom of each page.

This includes the points above, as well as others, such as that we don't share your information with others e.g. for commercial purposes, and has the usual information on cookies.

We also clarify that we only use EU-based server hosting (in fact, currently UK only).

Illustrate discussions with Street View posting

During a discussion on cycling issues, it's often helpful to be able to show other people the location you have in mind.

For instance, a long road with multiple sideroads can be hard for other people to visualise.

So we've added a helpful feature for campaigners: Street View message replies. While it's of course possible to navigate off-site, get a Street View link, and return, we've taken out that extra stage. The Street View button also tries to find a sensible default location.

In a thread, just click on Street View in the reply box, position the map where you want, add a comment and press submit.

People will then be able to see where you mean, straight from within the thread.

Street View messages

(Hopefully in future an open source equivalent in the form of Mapillary might become possible!)

This work to facilitate work by local cycling advocates has been possible thanks to grant support from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. Thanks also to our developer, Nikolai!

Planning application integration now live

We're very excited to announce a major new feature on Cyclescape: integration of planning applications, which we pushed live last week after much work over the last 18 months.

Planning applications strongly affect nearby cycling conditions. A new development could cause safety issues or, more positively, provide developer funding to add nearby cycle tracks. Councils are often not attuned to these, leaving campaigners to raise them.

However, that requires awareness of planning applications in the first place. Currently, that alone means:

  1. finding a regular volunteer; then
  2. the person navigating through badly-designed council websites; then
  3. identifying relevant items; then
  4. transferring the information into e-mail; then
  5. determining interested people; then
  6. contacting people and taking things from there.

In practice, all this rarely happens because it involves much administration / IT knowledge. Consultations are missed and opportunities lost.

The feature means that group members will be able to know about a new planning application within a day of it being submitted to the council. This gives potentially an extra 6 weeks of time to study a planning application, so that the group can see:

  • how it could affect cycling conditions in an area
  • whether measures are needed (Section 106 / CIL funding) to mitigate any problems
  • whether cycle parking is sufficient
  • whether it could create opportunities such as a new route

Cambridge Cycling Campaign is the group we've been testing this with and where the work has mainly been undertaken.

This is 6 weeks of extra time to talk to the developers, and the Council, rather than deal with everything last minute - e.g. just before it goes to Planning Committee, as has happened in the past!

 

List of planning applications, from the 'My Cyclescape' page:

Planning applications

Click on 'Convert to an issue', and this pre-fills the usual issue form:

Cloned planning application

As there is no way for us to determine automatically (yet) whether a planning application is relevant - and there is a lot of irrelevant stuff like tree works - we have provided a button to enable an application to be hidden. If enough users in the group vote to hide the application, it will be hidden for all. In this way, group users can crowdsource relevant applications, and make it faster for others to work through to find relevant things.

Al this has been possible thanks to work by our contact Andrew who is working on a new planning application data portal, PlanIt (building on an earlier system by Openly Local), which we in CycleStreets are hoping to collaborate on and support formally.

Not all areas of the country are yet covered - Cambridge, featured above, has been specially funded. We'd like to thank Cambridge Sustainable City for their grant support.

Get in touch with us if you are interested to have coverage in your area in future.

We'd like to thank our developers Andy Allan and Nikolai Berkoff, as well as Andrew Speakman whose work has made this possible.

What we’re working on

We're busy on various updates to Cyclescape.

As discussed on our mailing list, the current priorities are as follows; we've included a link to further details on each:

  • Ability to set a Google Street View location as a reply type (#78)
  • Enabling the planning applications integration to go live (#76 and code branch)
  • Improvements to make the integrated collision data much more obvious in the user interface (#34)
  • Improvements to privacy controls, which will particularly benefit groups who wish to enforce a real-names policy (#218)
  • Set the creation of an Issue to prompt for Thread creation (#43)
  • Improving the discoverability of enabling receipt of discussions by e-mail (#198)

Much of this work has been funded thanks to the Polden-Puckham grant.

We are also grateful to Cambridge Cycling Campaign and a personal donor for funding a few of the objectives above most important to them.

We'd like to take the opportunity to welcome a new contributor to the code, Nikolai Berkoff. (Naturally, others remain very welcome to get involved too!)

Site running faster – thanks to new hardware

The Cyclescape website is now running rather faster than before, thanks to a hardware upgrade completed today.

The change has seen the site move to a dedicated server. Previously, it was on a virtual machine on a server shared with one of the CycleStreets journey planner servers. The change was part of a larger set of moves being worked on over the coming two months being undertaken by us (CycleStreets, the organisation running Cyclescape). There has been a noticeable and much-needed performance boost.

For those of a technical bent, we have also taken the opportunity to resolve various other things:

  • Upgraded the operating system
  • Upgraded the webserving software and database software
  • Removed old legacy references throughout the code dating from before the 'Cyclescape' name was chosen

Thanks to Andy, our developer, for some of the work to migrate the code to enable these various changes.

Part of the hosting upgrade cost has come from the Polden-Puckham grant.

The upgrade has been also contributed to by our hosts, Mythic Beasts, who have kindly waived the server management fee which helps ensure we run a professional and properly-monitored service. Naturally, the site hosting also has redundancy and regular backup. We remain grateful to our friends at Mythic Beasts for their support.

Grant from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation

We are delighted to announce that Cyclescape has been successfully awarded a grant from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation for the next phase of development on Cyclescape.

The grant covers £10,000 of development work this year, and £8,000 in 2015-16.

The Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation (PPCF) is a grant-giving trust with Quaker family roots in the United Kingdom. It aims to contribute to the development of a just society based on a commitment to nonviolence and environmental sustainability.

poldenpuckham

Key things that we want to work on, which the funding will contribute towards, are:

  • Launching the automated planning applications integration - changes when datasource finalised (see previous blog post)
  • Show Google Street View at any location automatically
  • Membership management system for delegated groups
  • Ability to invite decision-makers and others into specific discussions
  • Enhancement of the Library system, which enables key resources to be shared nationally
  • Subscription on the basis of themes (e.g. cycle parking) rather than only defined areas
  • Private messaging system
  • Much better search
  • Deadline reminders
  • Show photos in nearby area automatically
  • ... and more.

You can see many of these within the list of outstanding issues in our public bug-tracker.

We are currently looking for a developer to work on Cyclescape using the funding from this grant - which is open-source code written in Ruby on Rails. Do get in touch if you may be interested.

New development mailing list and developer resources

We've set up a new mailing list for anyone interested in helping maintain and develop the Cyclescape code. Do join if you want to get involved, want to discuss the development of Cyclescape, or have any questions or ideas.

The list is public and open, and you can subscribe to the list.

We've also created a list of key developer resources via a new 'Help with the code' page on this blog.

We hope these will help get new developers involved. We're very happy to help give advice on getting you going - just post to the new list.