Archive for August, 2007

Selecting Stickymap Icons: Performance Upgrades

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Some knowledge of the web development process is required for this post…

Some of you Internet Explorer users may have noticed that while using the sifter or creating a marker the icon selector was way is slow. Well, not anymore – we’ve introduced some upgrades yesterday, so be sure to clear your cache and enjoy fast loading of the icon selector.

Why was is slow? Was the server taking too long to respond with the icons? Were the images taking too long to load?

It turns out to be neither. The problem was string concatenation. Yes, after the information about the possible icons are retrieved from the server and before the images of each icon are loaded, the HTML list of icons is constructed. The code was doing that was very inefficient – going through each icon and concatenating it onto a very long string. IE constructs a new string every time that happens. That means if there are 100 characters for every item in the list, and 100 icons in the list, that’s

100 + 200 + 300 + 400 + … + 10000 = 505,000 character operations!

That’s too much. So after discovering this issue, I switched to a more efficient method for concatenating the strings.  I put the HTML string for each row into an array.  Then I used the array.join(” “) function in javascript to put them all together.  My guess is that the time for this operation is proportional to the number of characters involved.  Using the same assumptions as above, that’s 100 x 100 = 10,000.  It seems like a lot, but your computer can do this very quickly.  That’s fifty times as fast as the way we were doing it before!

So for all you javascript programmers out there, there is a moral:  if you has a large number of strings that you want to concatenate, use array.join(” “) instead of looping through the values.  Thanks to that, you can enjoy a better experience on Stickymap!

Categories: Interface Upgrade Planned

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Categories are a little-known feature in Stickymap. When you log in and click a location, you can select “categorize” to bring you to the categorization screen. From here, you can place locations into different categories which are labeled by text (or “tags” as we call them). After doing some studies, we’ve concluded that the interface for categories is a little bit hard to follow, so we’ve decided to try to simplify it for our users.

It’s important to get people using this because it will improve our site’s search capability and general organization. It also allows users to create their own maps that are subsets of Stickymap.

Right now, users need to mark off a series of check boxes, and fill out some text boxes. If you put a tag in a text box, it won’t be added to the marker unless you click the check box. I believe that’s been tripping up some of our users.

We’re in the final stages of preparing a release for a new interface. Let us know what would get you to use this feature.


Stickymap Reviewed on

Friday, August 17th, 2007

The UK site decided to review8 mapping websites, and was selected as one of the eight.  All eight of these websites are unique in their own way, and we’re happy to be selected among them.  We’re trying to increase that score on usability, but I think our performance is generally okay (loading markers is faster than on comparable sites). You can check out the review stub here.

You need to be a member to see the full review, which I am not. If anyone here is a member, we’re obviously interested in knowing what else it says.


Spotlight: The Sifter

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

It’s been a long time since we’ve discussed the sifter – if we’ve ever discussed it here at all.  The seemingly mysterious feature to new users was introduced on our site last summer.  It has turned out to be a fun way to view markers on the map, and it’s usefulness grows as the site itself grows.

The sifter allows you to immediately see every marker posted with a certain icon.  For example, if you want to see all the ice cream places posted in the country, just open the sifter and select “ice cream”.  If there are too many ice cream places, you may have to zoom in, but once you do that they will all come into view, and you won’t have to zoom in any further to find them.

As the number of markers on our site grows (10.5K at the moment), the sifter will become a more powerful tool when there are too many markers to “view all” and too wide a range to search.  The sifter also gives us a quick visual sample of how densely populated with markers an area has become, and where certain icons are being more frequently posted.


Stickymap links considered “inappropriate” on Wikipedia

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

This morning, I received a second email from one of our users describing how some of his links that he had placed on Wikipedia to specific Stickymap markers were being considered spam. I was surprised, and after checking some links that he forwarded, it appears as though a Wikipedia administrator has recommended that Stickymap, a social action community building project, be placed on a special list! Stickymap has been accused of using Wikipedia to promote our website. As a policy, we do not spam websites or engage in abusive linking practices.

We’re very surprised, as plenty of other Google map driven applications do not seem to be under their microscope. Right now, we’re trying to do what we can to prevent Stickymap from being placed on this list, as it does not seem right to punish the entire Stickymap community for one user’s poor (questionable) behavior. We just hope that the administrator will be reasonable and understanding.

Community Group Update

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Now that we’ve fixed up the interface a bit, we have turned our attention to our community group toolkit. I’m not going to get into too many details today, but I will say that the toolkit will come out in the next 2 month, and it will help community groups share their neighborhood and demonstrate the impact that they’ve had on their community.

If you work at a community group, non-profit, local government organization, or business association and you are looking to expand your presence on the web, please email us at We’ll get you prepared to use our software when it comes out, and we’ll give you some assistance.

The New Local Search Feature

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Until last weekend, we had a confusing 3-tabbed search area which was overlayed on top of the map.  Now we have a new search feature which I believe is easy to use and more streamlined, and I’d like to talk about it today.  Basically, it’s a local search that asks 2 questions:

1) What are you looking for?

2) Where are you looking?

If you answer both questions, and our site recognizes your location, the map will travel to that location and proceed to search for whatever you typed in the first box.  All relevant search results will be displayed, and you can click them either on the map or on the sidebar.  Yay!

Notice there’s also an AND/OR designation.  That means that we don’t require you to answer both questions.   If you only want to tell us what you are looking for, we’ll just search for it in wherever you happen to be on the map.  So, instead of answering question 2, you can just move to map to the place you want to search.  Likewise, if you omit question 1, we’ll simply bring the map to the location that you specified so that you can look around on your own.

This gives our users a far more useful tool for searching our site.  I encourage you to try out all the features it has to offer.  Let us know if you have any ideas on how we can make it easier to use or more intuitive.


New Interface Upgrade Complete

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

Dan and I are pleased to announce that the new interface is live.  There hasn’t been this major an upgrade to our interface since January.  Please check it out and tell us what you think!

Interface Upgrade Release Today

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

We’re on a sprint schedule here at Neighborhood Resources, and we can now announce that by tonight, we will have released a new interface upgrade for Stickymap. It will contain a few new features which are more than cosmetic. I think it will go over well, but as always there will be room for improvement. Please check in later when this process is complete to give us your review.


Time to Start Thinking About New Icons

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

Yes, the time has come to start thinking about what new icons we want available on Stickymap.  We’re going to look at a few factors in determining which are a priority.  First, we’ll take a look at the thumb tacks, which are generally used when no other option is available.  If there are a lot of tacks for a certain type of place, then I feel that’s a good indicator that a new icon is necessary.  We’ll also be looking at which icons can bolster the value of our Community Group Tool, the details of which we have not yet released.  And finally, we’ll be taking input from our testers and most importantly our users to find out what new options people would like to see.  In addition, we’re going to be upgrade some of our older (and lower-quality images) so if you have that kind of request, we’d like to hear about it as well.

Feel free to use this blog post for your input, or to email us directly.