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Archive for the ‘Site Features’ Category

Website Comes of Age – Self Service Listing Updates

Friday, 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+

Thursday, 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

Monday, 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.

Our Pet Listing Shortcodes Explained

Monday, February 7th, 2011

What Are They?

You can think of the pet listing shortcode assigned when you post a lost or found pet listing on the site as the reference number for that free ad.  Each is a 6 character, alphanumeric code uniquely identifying your listing.  You should note that the case of the code is important; for example, the shortcode n83bji does not refer to the same listing as N83bji.

For Contacting Us

If you need to contact us regarding your listing you should always quote the shortcode associated with it which is available on your listing page and is also sent to you when your listing is originally approved.  This way we can be sure we are dealing with that particular listing.

For Sharing

Every listing has a standard URL or web address – http://www.lostandfoundpets.ie/shortcode or http://lostandfoundpets.ie/shortcode so you can use these to link to and share your listing from other sites.  The latter form of the URL can be particularly handy for use in situations where you don’t have many characters to spare, such as in SMS messages or in tweets.

New Site Feature

If you want to view a particular listing you can type or paste the corresponding shortcode into the shortcode field in our search section at the top left-hand-side of every site page and we will automatically take you straight to that listing – no need to click any buttons or press any further keys.

What’s the Story? Lost and Found Pet Listing Outcomes

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Several times during the life of this site so far, one question has come up again and again; what happens all the lost and found dogs and cats and other pets listed on the site? Up until now unless those posting took a proactive approach and contacted me to inform me of the outcome of their listing there was no way to answer that question for many of the pets that are listed here.

When I started the site, the focus was on getting the maximum exposure for listings possible.  This involved making the process of posting a listing as easy as possible, building out the mechanisms for posting the listings to the third party social networking sites we connect to and working to build up communities of active and involved followers and fans there, optimising the listings for accurate and efficient indexing by the search engines and putting tools in place for site visitors to easily share listings both off and online.  With all that to do, outcomes had to take a bit of a back seat.

But not anymore.  Now when a listing is removed manually, the user is presented with a form which they can complete to let myself and the community know the outcome of their listing – good or bad.  I’m hoping that presenting the form as an integrated part of the removal process will encourage people to let us know how things worked out in their particular case – happy ending or other outcome, we want to know.  However, in line with our ethos of not obliging users to engage with the site any more than strictly necessary to publish a listing, completion of this form is totally optional.

In addition, listings that expire automatically after the 30 day active period will now be flagged with that particular outcome.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be working on mechanisms to automate the communication of these outcomes back to the community which, in additon to keeping you all much more informed, should free up some time for me to start work on building out the next phase of the site.