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Stray Thoughts


Happy Valentines Day!

February 14th, 2013

Just wanted to wish all our users and friends a happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s hoping you and your furry, feathered or scaled friends are feeling the love today!

Happy Valentine's Day animal lovers

For Irish animal lovers

Lost & Found Pets in Your Pocket – Android App Released

January 8th, 2013

OK, so I’m not a natural born blogger and its been a while since I last published anything here but hey, its the quality not the quantity right?

Truth is, I only ever blog with I have something to announce or something to complain about and this post is no exception.  Happily its an announcement in this case as you may have guessed from the title.

Today, version 1.0 of our free app for Android phones went live in the Google Play Store.  Being version 1.0 and the first Android app I have developed, we’re starting off pretty simple.  The current feature set for the app is as follows:

Features

Listings Near Me

View our current listings in your area using Google maps and the geolocation facilities on your phone, depending on which providers you have enabled, radio, wi-fi or full GPS.  You can limit the display of listings to either lost, or found, or both.  Each listing on the map is represented by a marker just as on the maps on our website, red ones for lost listings, green for found and also, just as on the site, tapping on any marker will reveal a summary of that listing along with a photo of the pet if available.  Tapping on a summary takes you to the listing details screen – see below.

Listings Search

You may also search our listings using a simple form which allows you to filter results by listing type (lost, found or both), pet type (dog, cat etc.) and county.  Results are returned most recent first, 10 at a time to use as little bandwidth as possible with 10 more being pulled down as you scroll down through the list – infinite scrolling of a finite list – confusing, I know.  Each result once again features a summary of the listing and a photo if available and just as with the map view, tapping on a listing will take you to to the listing details screen.

Listing Details

Just as with our mobile site, each listing gets its own details screen featuring 3 tabs, one for the pets details, one with facilities to contact the person who posted the listing and the final one to allow you to easily share listings.

On the pet details tab, you can view all the details for that particlar pet as well as a photo if one is available.  You can expand this photo to fullscreen by clicking on the little expander button at the top right of the photo.

The contact tab provides the contact name of the person who posted the listing as well as buttons to allow you to easily directly call that contact, pre-populating your dialer with their number, email them via a simple form or send them an SMS which we also pre-populate for you – all you have to do is add your own personal message.

The sharing tab features a single button which launches the standard Android sharing dialog from which you can choose an app (email, Facebook, Twitter or Google+ etc) to share a listing with family, friends or colleagues.

Additional Features

Finally, the app features facilities to send us feedback via another simple form and to share the app with others – obviously, the more phones we are on, the more chance we have of getting pets reunited.

Does It Run On My Phone?

Currently the app only supports phones running Ice Cream Sandwich or above (ICS – Android 4.0+).  I  would like to support older devices but I don’t have anything to test on so if you have an older android phone or device running Honeycomb (Android 3.0) you are no longer using that you would like to provide/donate for testing, please let me know.

Will There Be An IPhone App?

Unlikely.  Due to the time and resources necessary to develop on IOS it’s pretty unlikely we will release an iPhone app (at least without some form of sponsorship).  However, iPhone users still have the mobile version of our site which contains all the functionality of our Android app – at least at present.

Ratings Count!

If you find the app useful and want to show your support for the site and the idea behind it, please rate the app in the Google Play Store and share it with your family, friends and colleagues.

Screenshots

I’ve thrown up some screenshots of the app below for your delicatation but you can go ahead and install the app right now direct from the Google Play Store.

Website Comes of Age – Self Service Listing Updates

November 25th, 2011

Up until recently, the main focus in the development work on the site has been on getting the listings out to as many people as possible via the social networks where we have communities.  Now, at long last,  I’ve finally finished coding up the listing update facility.

If you have posted a listing on the site and need to amend it, you simply go to your listing page and choose the ‘Manage’ tab at the top of the listing.  You will now find a link there to initiate the update process.  When you click that link, we send an email to the email address originally posted with the listing which contains a link to a web page which allows you to update your listing, add a photo, amend the gender etc – basically whatever you need to change.

Initially at least, we won’t have an approval process, so updates you make will be immediate.  The listing will retain its original web address so links to the listing you have already shared and posters you may have printed out will still point to the correct location on the site.

In addition to updating the information displayed on your listing page, we automatically send out a post to our Facebook page, and a tweet on our Twitter account to alert folk that the listing has been updated.  In the case of Facebook, we also add a comment to the original post, alerting anyone who may be subscribed to the comments that the listing has been updated and that they should go check it on the main site.  We also alert the search engines again to let them know that the content on your listing page has been updated and that they should re-crawl it.

If your listing didn’t originally feature a photo but now does, this photo will be also sent to our Flickr account, as well as to our accounts on Twitpic.  Same thing happens if either your listing keeps its original photo or you decide to replace the original one with a better/clearer one.  In those cases we also upload the new photo to Flickr but this time we also add a link to the original photo to the new photo and vice versa so folk can find any previous information that may have been added before and after the update.  The photos are also reissued on Twitpic.  With the launch of Google Plus, we are ceasing support for Picasa for which we have exceed our upload allowance for in any case by a factor of 4 at this point.

You may have noticed there is no mention of Bebo and MySpace in the update process described above and that is intentional.  With the virtual demise of these sites in terms of their popularity here in Ireland, and with the launch of Google Plus, I feel it makes more sense at the point to put our limited resources into the communities which are thriving and engaged and neither Bebo or MySpace has ever really shone for us in terms of user engagement or interaction in any case.  Eventually my intention is to phase our presence out on those networks entirely.

I hope you find the new features useful.  They will also hopefully free up a little time for me to add yet more new features to the site.  If you have any questions  or comments, feel free to leave a message below or drop me an email.

Ireland’s Lost and Found Dogs, Cats & Other Pets Now on Google+

November 10th, 2011

In our continuing drive for complete Web domination  for our lost and found pet listings we are happy to announce that you can now find  our official page on Google+ (or Google Plus if you prefer).

A screenshot of Lost & Found Pets Ireland on Google Plus

Our engagement with Google’s social networking efforts has been relatively sparce up until now.  We did have a Google Buzz account to which we piped our listing Tweets and we also had a dedicated Google Wave, I even went so far as to code a bot to automatically respond to listing requests from our Wave participants but both these services have since been axed by Google.

However, it looks like Google+ is here to stay, particularly with the fundamental seachange in search to a social model.  Now when users who are logged into Google (including GMail users as well as those using Google Plus) conduct searches, the results they see are increasingly influenced by the activities of others in their social circles that Google is aware of such as friends, family and colleagues, in an attempt to increase personal relevance of the results.  Much like the Facebook ‘Like’ button, the Google +1 button aims to fuel a recommendation engine for the entire Internet to make its search results, more relevant and therefore more useful to its users, and more users equals more advertising revenue for them. To put it another way, if one of your friends ‘+1′s a particular web page or site, you are much more likely to see it in your results than if your friend had not ‘recommended it’.

So, what does this mean for Lost and Found Pets Ireland and more especially the visibility of the listings here in Google search results.  Well, as with our listings on Facebook, in order to maximise the reach of the listings in people’s searches and their news streams on Google Plus, those who list here should ‘like’ and ‘+1′ their own listings and make a concerted effort to get their family and friends to do likewise in order to get the listing out there to the maximum extent possible.  All pages on the site, including the listing pages, include a ‘+1′ button as well as a ‘like’ facility and I cannot stress highly enough the importance of using these.  While I have done my best to automate the distribution of listings around the web via our networks, the change in search I spoke of above now gives YOU the power to make the absolute most of the technology.

Similar to Facebook Fan Pages, this week, Google opened up facilities to businesses and organisations to create Google+ Pages.  As mentioned above, users = advertising revenue for both Facebook and Google and therefore it is difficult to imagine that Google will not use its substantial lead over Facebook in providing search to promote its own social network by favouring its own ‘pages’ in search results and that is basically why we are now on Google+.  Its also worth noting that our presence on there makes accessing the listings from mobile devices somewhat easier for folk as there are Google+ apps now for all the main phones out there and these will compliment our own mobile site.

At the moment, I am posting listings there manually while I await Google to provide a facility to automate that process as Facebook have.  With on average around 10 listings per day, this is obviously quite a time consuming activity and  I will be closely monitoring (both in terms of user engagement with our Google+ page (whether folk are adding it to their circles and +1′ing the listings & site and in terms of performance of listings in the Google search results) whether the extra effort is really worth it or if I should simply wait until an automated solution is possible so again, you basically get to decide on the resources I put into this.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Google+ and any ideas you may have to make it even more useful for folk using the site.  Just drop a comment below.

Pets in your Pocket – Mobile Site Goes Live

June 13th, 2011

First off, belated happy birthday to us as the site is now two years old.  As a practical form of thanks to everyone who has given their encouragement, support and advice on this project, I have today released version 1.0 of our mobile site.

Will It Work With My Phone?

The Lost and Found Pets Ireland mobile site should be compatible with the majority of  ‘smartphones’ out there now including iPhone, Symbian, Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile based devices.  While it is not intended as a full replacement for the main website in terms of functionality, I think there is enough there to make it useful for many – especially considering that almost 8% of our traffic at this point is coming from Facebook mobile.

Mobile Site Home Screen

So What Can It Do?

The mobile site allows users to search and view our listings just as they can on our main site.  Search results can be filtered by status (lost, found or both), species (dog, cat etc) and county.  Full listing details are available along with facilities to easily call or text the person who posted the free listing.

If you have a GPS device built into or attached to your phone and a browser that supports it such as Mobile Safari (iPhone/iPod) or a Webkit based browser such as those found on Android and Symbian devices you can view a map which displays the listings around your current location.

Lost and Found Pets Listings Near Me powered by GPS

Finally for now, there is a simple feedback form which you are welcome to use to let us know how you are finding the site, your ideas for improvements etc.

OK, Sounds Good – Where Is It?

Those using mobile browsers will be automatically redirected to the mobile version by default.  You can disable this by clicking on the ‘View Full Site’ button on the mobile site homepage.  For those of you on regular PC’s and those of you who wish to re-enable the default redirection, there is a graphic link just below the logo on the main site.

The Mobile Future

I hope later in the year to release an Android app which will provide full site functionality.  Given the costs involved in creating an iPhone app it is unlikely I will be providing one in the near future without some form of sponsorship.

Final Thanks

Building a mobile site which works consistently across so many different devices is not a simple endeavour  and I want to think some folk for their help with testing, specifically Siobhan Borgo for help on the Android side of things, @CookiieDivine for the indispensable iPhone/iPod screenshots and @SoniaKd and @LindaHayden1 for feedback on the UX.